Today, I replied to an email from my long-time subscriber, ‘Grandpa Truman’. It reminded me of my own grandpa, and how a conversation with him long ago touched my life deeply, and changed it.
It was 1999. My father had just had serious health problems – a major heart attack, followed shortly after by surgery for an aggressive cancer. My sister had moved to another town after getting married. And I had received an offer to train in pediatric heart surgery… in London.
In an Indian family structure, responsibility for parents lies with the eldest son. As an only son, mine was clear enough.
On the other hand, for almost 15 years in medical school and residency training, I had dreamed of spending time at a world-class center to hone my skills in neonatal and infant heart surgery.
Ambition vied with responsibility. Caught in the horns of a hard to resolve dilemma, I spent sleepless nights and restless days, caught in endless debate with myself about what to do.
Still confused and unsure about the decision to go abroad, uncertain and hesitant about whether or not it was the right thing to do, I went to visit grandpa.
Slowly I trudged up the three flights of stairs to his spare bedroom on the top floor. Knocked on the green wooden door, and entered.
He saw me and sat up slowly, showing no trace of irritation at being disturbed during his afternoon siesta.
At the time, he was 89 years old. A thin, shriveled, nut-brown man, with barely 4 of his teeth still remaining, and fewer hairs on his shiny bald head. Bags sagged under his eyes that were glazed with age, and deep furrows framed pinched lips. His back was permanently bent by age, his arms and legs withered, looking like match-sticks stuck on to his body.
He wore a dhoti (a length of white cloth wrapped around the waist) that he had secured, strangely enough, with a leather belt, and no shirt – just a sleeveless vest.
He greeted me with an affectionate grunt. And over the next half hour, we had a conversation that completely and radically changed my perspective, touched my life and has remained until today as a touchstone during troubled times.
I told him I was going to London for training. He congratulated me, and then asked me two piercing questions that, like a beacon, established a clarity I had been groping for all along.
“Will it help your career?” asked Grandpa.
“Yes. I will get to see and learn things I cannot do here.”
“Will you make money?” was his next question.
“Yes. It is a paid position, it will be profitable, too.”
“Then go. Train well. Then come back home and serve your people.”
I nodded, looking at the floor, but I guess the troubled expression on my face caught his eye.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
I told him what was worrying me – dad’s health, my responsibility, my desire to get the advanced training.
He looked straight at me and said these words:
“Go in faith. Remember, the same God who watches over you will watch over your parents.”
They echoed in my mind for a long time afterwards. On the drive back home. On the flight to London. On the even longer flight back, when the bad news of mom needing major surgery made the minutes seem like hours.
Remember, the same God who watches over you will watch over them.
I wrote those words in my book, “THE EMOTION PRISM” and have shared them with many others who were facing difficult times.
Very recently, my good friend (and herself a grandma of an autistic girl) Mary Donachy told me those wise words from Grandpa gave her immense comfort and peace to face a challenge in her life.
Grandpa passed away a few years back, at the ripe old age of 97. Whenever I think of him, I recall that special conversation – and smile.
That’s what grandpas are for!