Of Strength and Courage

My dear son,

Growing up, I had a friend a few years older than me. She lived three houses down from us. We were thick as thieves.

She was crazy about animals; had two dogs and three cats of her own. Besides those, she looked after at least a dozen stray ones every day. She fed them, nursed them back to health if they were sick, and even took them to a doctor when the need arose, paying the doctor's fee from her pocket money. She wanted to grow up to be a veterinarian and start a shelter for stray animals. You should have seen her when she was with her dogs and cats. It was like she was home. She was happy. No more the recluse she usually was, when with humans. She was a single child; and I suppose, to her, these cuddly animals were the siblings she never had.

A few years later, we moved away from that neighbourhood. Our childhood was a world very different from yours, my son; a world before emails, Facebook, WhatsApp, in fact, even mobile phones for that matter. In that world once you lost touch with a friend or a loved one, you only had the benevolence of fate to count on, in your hope to ever meet them again. Fate did get us back together, my friend and me, almost two decades later, at a social gathering. But it wasn’t quite the reunion I had always imagined it to be; because although I was there, she wasn’t. Not the girl I knew, anyway. Instead, I met a woman well into her thirties still trying begrudgingly to fit into a life she had been handed. She was a chartered accountant now; someone had to keep her father’s practice going, you see. The practice incidentally, wasn’t doing very well since her father passed away four years ago. It wasn’t like she wasn’t trying, but her heart had just never been in numbers. The stress of it all was starting to show in her marriage too, she confessed. To cheer her up I asked her how many dogs and cats she had now. None, she said. Her husband cannot stand the mess.

Ever since that day, whenever I come across a stray animal in need of a shelter, I cannot help but wonder – do we really need someone to do our taxes, more than those animals’ need to be cared for?

I often wonder if her parents ever truly understood what they took away from her, in the name of giving her a ‘more stable’ career. A veterinarian is hardly even a doctor, they had said to her. And surely she could not go on wasting all her money on food and medicines for stray animals all her life? She must forget all this as a childhood hobby and move on, she was told.

Move on, she did. Towards a life she doesn’t recognise as her own. Towards a future which is as bleak as her present. Towards a life which is now, only broken shards of what it could have been. It hurts me to even think whether the memories of her past – her happy time with her cats and dogs – are a source of warm comfort for her or a burning pain.

I wish she had fought for her dreams. I don’t know why she didn’t. I just know that many of us don’t. Perhaps, it is because it’s very tiresome. It wears one out, eventually; the constant friction arising from the world sandpapering you into a version of you they approve of. So people just give up. But one has to wonder, if living a vanquished life like my friend does now, is any easier.

The thing is, when it comes to life, nothing’s really easy. But I believe, having made the choices for yourself instead of having them dictated to you, makes handling life’s difficulties worth it.

So go on, my son. Be what you’d like to be; be what makes you happy. I wish for you, all the strength you will need in order to do that. And then some more; to resist becoming what the world would try to turn you into.

Love, now and forever,

Your Mother.


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