By Lee Kravitz The greatest thing about writing an inspirational memoir is hearing back from readers who exemplify the book’s core values. I am nominating Uma Girish, 46, a native of Chennai, India, to be the first reader in the My Unfinished Business Hall of Fame. Uma sent me a terrific story about how she
By Lee Kravitz
The greatest thing about writing an inspirational memoir is hearing back from readers who exemplify the book’s core values. I am nominating Uma Girish, 46, a native of Chennai, India, to be the first reader in the My Unfinished Business Hall of Fame. Uma sent me a terrific story about how she learned the importance of being kind. But after you read this story, read on, for you’ll meet a remarkable woman who is finding a new and larger purpose for her life during our challenging economic times:
My deepest and best friendships have also been my worst emotional triggers. I had a friend (we’ll call her Nan) who always called me when she was in the middle of an emotional crisis, or needed a shoulder to cry on. When life was going well, I was usually forgotten. Or, that’s how I felt. And, we lived right next door to each other. This up-and-down continued; we talked about it, she promised to mend her ways, I forgave her, we restarted and then the same story repeated itself. It got to a point when I told myself I couldn’t take it any more. I cut the friendship. I stopped calling her. I wanted to have nothing to do with her.
Then life threw us a surprise… after an entire lifetime of living in India, my husband and I decided to move to Chicago with our daughter. I did not call Nan, or convey the news to her. She was officially out of my life. A few days before we were due to leave, Nan and I crossed each other’s paths. I walked on one side of the road, she on the other, each ignoring the other. When I got home I felt really bad about what had just happened so I picked up the phone and told her we were leaving. All she said was: ‘Good luck. Have a good time.’ We hung up.
One month after I moved, my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. Eight months later, she died. That left a huge hole in my life and a heck of a lot of existential angst. I suddenly woke up to the fact that life is precious and that we need to take this journey with compassion, kindness and love for all… for that’s all we leave behind. I wrote Nan a long email, owning up for my part in the whole drama and apologizing. She wrote back telling me how angry she truly was with me and how she hated me for giving up on her. I continued the correspondence with kind words, forgiving words and we renewed our relationship.
I traveled to India this summer and made it a point to meet her. We’d made big plans to catch up and lunch together but unfortunately all we got was an hour. My dad took ill and passed away on August 8 while I was on vacation. I’m so glad we had that one hour. We rediscovered the threads that bound us together and made a fresh start for what I’ve promised myself will be the friendship of a lifetime.
Like so many of us, Uma was motivated to become a more open and forgiving person after a loved one died. The death of her mother awakened her “to the fact that life is precious.. that we need to take this journey with compassion, kindness and love for all… for that’s all we leave behind.”
I was curious to know more about her, so I sent Uma an e-mail. An hour or so later she wrote back. In response to my questions about what she was doing these days, she told me how difficult it had been for her to get and keep a job since moving to Chicago.
“My mother’s death was a catalyst and I woke up to the powerful realization that I needed to make every day of my life count by making someone else’s life a little better, by making a difference,” she wrote me. “Ironically (and I didn’t understand it at the time) none of the jobs that I applied for in the U.S., jobs I was qualified for, came even close.” She applied for a job that involved grading English listening and speaking tests, work she had previously done in India. In order to be hired, she had to take and pass a qualifying test. “Every candidate is given three chances. I failed ALL three times! I was devastated but even as I sobbed on my husband’s shoulder, I said the words: ‘I don’t understand this right now, but when God closes a door, He opens a window.’
“To cut a long story short, I was hired to work in a senior living community. I neither knew what made an American senior tick, nor did I have any work experience in that field. But, soon I came to be referred to as one of the better-liked employees, had many successes on the job and although this was the job that paid me the least in all of my working life, it was the one that gave me the maximum satisfaction.”
In April, due to budget cutbacks, Uma lost her job. But on her own initiative, she put together a group of eight seniors at the facility. “I teach them ‘Life Lessons,’ offering them a chance to make peace with all the ‘unfinished business’ they have been carrying through their lives, so they can die in peace,” Uma wrote. “My seniors love the sessions we do… there’s tears and nostalgia and laughter… we talk about topics from their past and integrate it with stuff like a grudge they’ve been holding onto for years, or a phone call they’ve been putting off or a letter they know they should write but have been blocked about. My aim is to take this group to as many senior living communities as I can.”
Uma has faced several challenges in recent years — the death of her mother, a move to a new country, difficulty finding and keeping a job in a troubled economy. But instead of giving in to despair, she’s used these experiences to take stock of her life, become a kinder and more compassionate person, and to deepen her sense of purpose. Her off-and-on friendship with Nan taught her about the power of forgiveness and the rewards that can come when you open your heart and make sincere amends. Now she wants to help older people reconcile with friends and loved ones so they can live with joy and die in peace.
I’ve just finished reading Susan Krauss Whitbourne’s The Search for Fulfillment: Revolutionary New Research That Reveals the Secret to Long-Term Happiness. Whitbourne, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst and fellow PT blogger, studied the lives of 182 college students over a 40-year period, with a focus on their ability to adapt, change and achieve happiness. What makes us fulfilled — at any age — is this, according to Whitbourne: “It’s coming to believe in the value of what we are doing with the time we have on this planet. . .We all need to believe that our lives have meaning, that we can accept our flaws, and that what we’ve done has made a difference in the lives of others.”
According to Whitbourne’s research, the people who were most fulfilled in their lives were “non-defensive, interested in the welfare of others, able to establish emotional commitments, willing to work hard, and confident in their own identities.” Those qualities describe Uma Girish — the first reader in the My Unfinished Business Hall of Fame.
Periodically I will be presenting reader stories in this blog. It is my deeply held belief that, by sharing our stories, we can help others address the unfinished business in their lives and inspire them to do the right things. If you’d like to share a story, click here.