Copyright 2020 by Rani Jayakumar
few years, my family travels to India,
particularly Chennai, where my parents grew up. It brings us a chance
to reconnect with our heritage and help the children understand their
own history and culture. On this particular trip, we spent just long
enough to make note of the differences and similarities in ordinary
feels the norm right now - there is a sense of constant vigilance. As
a mom, this is something we know a lot about. After all, we're the
ones who hear the kids cry in the middle of the night. We are
chatting with someone at the park but with one eye on the monkey
bars. We have a whole bunch of work but check in to see how the sick
kid is doing. We know vigilance.
it's exhausting. While I'm here in Chennai, the level of vigilance is
both empowering and draining. Every morning, we listen for the
whistle of the trash man. When he whistles, we must have packed up
the trash already, and take it to him downstairs before he moves on.
When the milk arrives, it must be stored in the fridge or boiled, or
it will curdle in this weather. The water motor once turned on to
fill the tank, must be turned off before it spills. Food, including
most fruit, cannot be left out or ants will gather, or it will spoil.
The floor must be swept and mopped every single day or the dust will
take over. Clothes must be washed and hung on the line early, while
the sun is strong, and we must be vigilant over the sky to bring
everything in if rain begins. Everything has switches and knobs to be
turned off, including the fans, tv, hot water, air conditioning, and
gas stove. I must feed my children their malaria pills and slather
them with insect repellent or they will be eaten alive by mosquitoes.
Neighbors may drop in, and someone must be around to open the door
and offer them coffee and invite them to sit.
so much to be vigilant about here. It's tiring, and I do long for the
ease of my California days - fruit on the counters, everything
plugged in all the time, trash day once a week, reliable and cold
refrigeration, running hot water, clothes dryer, a mosquito-free
home, quiet. But I know vigilance is a quality I have now developed,
that I'm capable of, that makes me stronger. Like a primitive cave
woman, I have honed some instincts that allow me to heighten my
awareness of all that goes on around me. I can see more, and
therefore respond to it wisely. Like the pregnant woman seeing the
pregnant women all around her, I notice things now. I'll return, and
maybe the instinct will wear off, but for a day or two, I'll listen
for that whistle, I'll sweep, I'll watch my water use even more. This
is the vigilance I will use, and which I will want to keep for the
sake of common sense, and the planet.
is also nice to take a break to be by myself because it's a moment to
drop that vigilance. To let shoulders relax and let the world go on
without you. To say, "the success of this does not depend on
me," and "i don't have to be responsible right now."
What a glorious relief to just let go of that weight and
responsibility, the oppression of that vigilance.
then we return - we watch the kids play and step in before the first
harmful words are said. We watch dinner simmer. We answer the texts,
we ensure that kids and partner and house and meals and finances and
everything else are well and running smoothly, and we are vigilant of
ourselves, too. Our inner compasses, our looks, how in shape we are.
We are sensitive to all this. It all comes back.
I'm trying now to remember that it's a choice to be vigilant. That I
can be in relaxed awareness without an anxious scanning gaze.
That I can choose to be vigilant, and I can choose not to. Life
requires some vigilance, and sometimes more than others, some places
more than others, for some people more than others. I want to learn
to walk the line - to be vigilant when needed, to relax when not, and
to let the in-between times go, without worry, without thinking too
far ahead. I'm not sure yet how. But this is what I want: To notice
what's happening now, ready if needed, but using even my vigilant
moments as rest.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
Rani's story list and biography
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