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I shouldn't be allowed to drive. Also, on Friday, you missed a cool Hindu holiday
I’m not a good driver. I shouldn’t be allowed to drive.
And you, the people, shouldn’t let me use your roads.
When I say this, everyone always thinks that my bad driving is due to the balance disorder that I’ve had over the last few years, but that’s just not true. Even before the disorder I was a terrible driver. In fact, now that I’m dizzy, I find that I pay far more attention to the road than I did before.
About once a month I have a nightmare about getting in a car accident. I’m sure that’s how I’ll die, and it’s nice knowing my destiny. I’m not worried about skydiving or getting murdered or cancer. For me, I already know my maker: it’s a pylon. The one that my dizzy self will accidentally swerve into. It’s on the left side of the freeway, underneath an overpass. I see it once a month, each time that I die, in my monthly driving dream.
Last week I was on the phone with my coworker who lives in India.
“Put a lemon on your car. It’ll make it so you won’t crash,” said Ananya, right after she told me she was leaving to celebrate the holiday Dussehra.
“A lemon. Like? Just place it on the car?”
“Tie it to a string and hang it from the outside,” she continued. “My grandmother used to do that. It really works, though I don’t understand why.”
“Hm,” I said, imagining my scratched up Hyundai driving past neighbors on the streets of Miami Beach, fruits dangling off the already loose bumper.
“He’s lost it,” they’ll say.
On October 15th, Hindus in India, and I assume, in many other places, celebrated the holiday Dussehra.
Dussehra is the battle of good winning over evil. It seems like a Marvel movie except very much not suitable for children and it’s all based around a woman named Sita.
There are a lot of versions of this story, but there’s one that moved me the most.
As a baby, Sita is abandoned in a bush. But taking a step back, her life began because she chose to reincarnate. And by ‘chose to reincarnate’, I mean that she killed herself. And she killed herself out of revenge because she had been molested, and the goal of her reincarnation was so that she could come back and cause problems for her molester.
Anyway, baby Sita is in a bush when she is stumbled upon and then adopted. As a child, Sita meets a couple of parrots, who are deeply in love. She takes them in, but then the parrots want to leave, and Sita, being just a child, doesn’t want that. She frees the male but keeps the female, who turns out to be pregnant. The female parrot dies of heartache and the male parrot curses Sita to a similar fate.
This fate is part of Sita’s dharma. Dharma, as I’ve understood it, is the stuff in your life that you are here to resolve. If you believe in reincarnation, like I sometimes do, dharma would be the unresolved problems, be it revenge for molestation, a lack of compassion for parrots, a balance disorder, or even a fear of crashing your car on the freeway, for which you will keep reincarnating until you get it all sorted out.
I guess, dharma is simply the debt of your soul. It is the culmination of the burdens you’ll bear for the rest of your life, and all the lives afterwards, and it is responsible for the things that keep happening, whether you choose them to happen or not.
Later on, Sita falls in love with a guy named Rama. Shortly after, a ten-headed king named Rava, also falls in love with Sita and kidnaps her to Sri Lanka, where he keeps her as a prisoner for fourteen years, while he continually tries to rape her.
Sita never complains about any of this, which astounds me, because every day when I wake up even mildly off-balance, I have to read twelve affirmations in order to convince myself that I am not the most victimized person ever to live.
Rama (the man Sita loves) + his army, end up rescuing Sita in an enormous battle where he defeats TenHeadedKing, but before Rama takes Sita back, Rama makes her walk into a flaming stack of wood to make sure that “her virginity is still unsullied”, which seems a bit much.
Anyway, Sita walks through the fire, unscathed.
She then goes back to the palace with Rama, where she gets pregnant, but then one day, Rama is walking around when he hears a washerman (someone who washes clothes) gossiping,
“Yeah I can’t believe Rama took Sita back after she had been living with another dude for fourteen years. What a loser Rama is,” the washerman says.
Rama then exiles his pregnant Sita, making her raise the kids as a single mother. She does a great job, but afterwards is kind of over being alive on earth, so Sita pings her mom, Mother Earth, and asks to leave. And then the earth splits open and Sita goes inside, which I find to be a strange ending.
When I first read this story, I was having a bad day. And I totally got it. How nice it would be, at times, to be able to phone it in. But I don’t think that’s the point of the story. Or at least that’s not the one in which I choose to believe.
Instead, I’ll focus on the part of the story where we, the Sitas, learn not to blame ourselves for being kidnapped or banished or dizzy. That we allow ourselves an amount of self compassion required to absolve ourselves of the burden we feel when we look at the delta of what our lives actually are compared to what we wish they would be.
In celebrating Dussehra, the TenHeadedKing represents evil. Evil which was only destroyed because Rava wanted to do so. And he only wanted to do so in order to get back his kidnapped wife. And so, perhaps Sita’s pain and suffering and kidnapping had some purpose for ending evil in some way she couldn’t have ever known.
And maybe her pregnant banishment from Rama’s kingdom only came because the washerman who gossiped about her was the reincarnated male parrot whose wife Sita had killed.
Or maybe not.
At times, we all believe ourselves to be suffering. Victims of some sadness or shortcoming. The embodiment of dreams that will never come true and lives that we’ll never lead.
But perhaps that, in itself, is the point of being alive — you and your dharma, existing only to see how well you cope. I find it helpful at times to believe this. To think of my human experience as one of many instances, where my soul, at least for this instance, is set to resolve something that I cannot pinpoint, be responsible for, or even understand. That it’ll all just happen. And that the only thing that’s expected of me is that I accept that it will.
“I don’t get the car thing though,” I said to Ananya. “What does that have to do with the holiday?”
“Oh, we perform puja (pray) to our vehicles to ask them to keep us safe. Like safety is good and unsafety is evil,” she said.
Last night I had my monthly pylon nightmare, and today, I happened to wake up dizzy.
As I type these letters on the keyboard, the world is still a bit off-kilter, but maybe that’s okay. Perhaps there is something about this that I need to experience, even if that something isn’t something that I will ever understand.
Maybe I’ll even tie a lemon to my car.