Mitfreude

I’ve begun to write again is a bewilderingly good foretoken. Of unexpected signs of thaw from a long, almost cruel winter of deep freeze and bitterly cold headwinds. This past week I spent almost an entire day with Eric Horvitz, one of the best minds in all of artificial intelligence and computation ; a kindred spirit whose fierce and polymathist intellect is matched in equal by his geniality. We talked about approximate posterior inference, of Bayesian theories of human cognition close of those of Sigmund Freud, of stochastic privacy amongst other things. We walked a fair bit that day, oscillating between facing the cold Cambridge wind head-on at times and orthogonal during others. A metaphor, it seemed, for the sort of problems being discussed. As I tried to both listen to his thoughts and think of the processes that might have produced them at the same time, I was overwhelmed the import of what was happening. Here I was, walking through my beloved school with someone who reminded me of Albus Dumbledore, and I was feeling a palpable sense of excitement and vigor that I thought I’d never feel again. Clarity and possibility. It surprised me that I was feeling this way again – a milestone, perhaps in how far I’ve managed to come this past year.

The schadenfreude of loss

Illustration by qthomasbower.

I cannot think of a stretch of time in my life that was worse than the last year. The enduring pain and trauma that loss afflicts on the human spirit is too great to elucidate in words. As the sheer shock and gravity of my loss dawned on me, I had to question everything I ever knew about myself. A heart, shattered into a thousand pieces and a capacity for self-compassion that was no where to be found. Overwhelming and excruciating grief that engulfed everything from head to toe while logic and reasoning were seen missing with reckless abandon. A stark stratosphere of helplessness and sorrow and an ego that cried wolf. The I of me, the part that put stock in the belief that I was strong and could face Goliath himself, had been shamed to oblivion. Hope that started to leave in droves and a downward spiral into an abyss. Soon a rock bottom, and an inability to hold on to the last bit of hope that left me anyway. I lost my appetite and with it body mass. I will never forget what it felt like to live in darkness, where every attempt to light even a faint candle was doused away and where prayer just seemed like an empty echo chamber that mocked the pitiful lack of light. I was devoid of the thing I most valued in the world and laid bare; so many plans and hopes reduced to rubble, gone and dusted away in an acerbic wind. Visions of my grandparents burnished my mind almost every night. Where were they?  White stars in some distant galaxy? I finally surrendered and stopped trying to make sense of it all. Some vicissitudes of life will never make any sense.

Rock bottom is solid foundation

It is in the wallowing of abject darkness and of realizing that you’ve been laid bare that one can introspect without inhibition. It made me question every concept I had of the world and the way in which it works, even as I tried to discount biases of faith and upbringing. But perspective, the magic elf that all too often just disappears, taught me that even as I seemed to have shrunk to a rock bottom of despair, there were many others whose rock bottoms were even deeper than mine. Relativity applies everywhere, even as you are trying desperately to get a gasp of breath and a single ray of light. May be relativity is  perspective.

After months of sheer pain and incessant agony, I realized that I had more resilience and strength than I had ever fathomed. The fact that my work and research seemed to progress unimpeded even as I faced deep internal turmoil taught me that perhaps reaching the rock bottom meant I’d found a base that was a solid foundation. A realization that didn’t come with much fanfare or was necessarily stable, for I oscillated between numbness and overwhelming grief. But in those times, every ray of light, no matter how ephemeral it might be is welcome.

Relationships heal

Time is widely touted as second to none in its ability to heal. The mysterious thing about time is the past can be remembered while the future cannot be. The past cannot happen from the present, but we anticipate that with every point in time moving to the future, we are expected to heal. Some say, in a fit of rage, that time is money, while others say time is attention. Over the past year, I found that it is in the mysterious models of relationships that there is a magical power to heal. I’m more than convinced to say for a large swath of people, it is relationships that heal them. This is was true for me too.

Just as Paulo Coelho says in the Alchemist, there are occasions when the universe conspires to bring you aid when you least expect it. A reminder that there are good and great forces at work in this world other than the will of darkness. No set of words in the lexicon of any language is enough to describe the depth of gratitude I feel towards my friends, both old and new. Like a surge of Sarahtonin, they helped me heal in a way that befuddles me even today. A shredded heart, whose pieces lay as far from each other as they possibly could, started to return in little bits and pieces, like a regenerative model working quietly but magically to resuscitate. A ladder to work my way out of a rock bottom.

Empathy and karma are incontrovertible

Good karma never fails. Akin to a generative bayesian framework that expands with great and stoic generalization, our ability to put ourselves in others’ shoes, our ability to lend a helping hand, to give others the real notion that they are understood are our only and best weapon against the tyranny of the dark forces in the world.

When I was in the first grade, I once asked my grandfather why people would always say mean things about other people when they were alive and the nicest things about them when they were gone. I told him I’d observed that about his patients. Stunned into silence initially, he replied with shiny eyes that life was fragile and life was difficult, and that while it was always nice to be important, it was  more important to be nice. I can’t remember a single phrase that has stuck with me since – and I see it being proved over and over again.

There is strength and tenacity in the fresh spring air. Noble, protective and infinite forces are at work. The mitfreude of a new and better world.

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