Sunny Sarkar

The gift of light

[Speech delivered at Candid Culture toastmasters club]

My dear friends,

I know this inspirational section of our meetings is usually reserved for prayer. I do not have an inspirational prayer for you this evening. Instead I'll tell you a story, which I hope will inspire you as it has inspired me.

Imagine an old widow in India in her late 80s. Her entire life was defined by the so-called traditional value system. Socio-religious rules, all of them leftovers from thousands of years of gender discrimination, confined her to the traditional gender role for women. She is the mother of four, extremely caring, and a phenomenal cook. She is very intelligent, but she never got a chance to persue an advanced education. She is very smart, but she never got a chance to persue a career. She is very strong, but she never got a chance to become a leader. Not outside her home anyway. She spent almost all her life within the confines of her walls, and her rules. Imagine her in her white saree, no colors - exactly what the society dictates a widow must wear. Imagine her eating her simple vegetarian meal - exactly what the society dictates a widow must eat. She is also very religious. Imagine her in her prayer room spending most of the time of her last days praying to her Hindu Gods, waiting to meet them in the heaven - exactly as her religion dictates she must think.

What do you imagine her end of life wishes would be? What would a woman like her, growing up in her times, in a society like hers, and living a life like she did... what would she want after her death? Perhaps a perfect ritualistic cremation according to her religion. Perhaps a perfect ritualistic mourning to follow, ensuring her soul reaches her heaven. Perhaps also a perfect ritualistic offering to her soul every year so that her soul finds peace in heaven.

Perhaps.

Actually, she wanted none of these. Surprisingly, or should I say unimaginably, she wanted to forgo all these religious rituals. Instead, she willed to donate all her organs for helping someone who would need them, and then donate the rest of her body to scientific research.

She, my friends, I am proud to say, was my grandmother. I called her my "Dimma", a childish variation of the Bengali word for grandmother. I was very close to her. After I lost both my parents, and having lost all my other grandparents before that, she was the only person in the world I was directly related to by blood. Although separated by nine thousand miles geographically during the last few years, I thought about her all the time. I hungered to be that little boy who dissolved into her lap. I hungered for her warm embrace that made all my worries fly away. I loved her very very much.

We lost her in the spring of 2008. She died of cancer, so her wish of donating most of her organs could not be carried out, but it was possible to donate her eyes.

Now here is the best part of her story: a few months later, I received word from India that the eye bank has been able to use both her eyes successfully to bring back vision to the eyes of two blind men. Imagine that! She gave eyesight to two blind men! My dear Dimma has given the gift of light!

When I heard this, I felt such joy, warmth, and hope in my my heart like I've never experienced before. I do not know how it gets any more inspiring than this. This, my friends, is the human spirit at its very best. I'm confident that despite giving up all those religious end-of-life rituals, my Dimma met her Gods in her heaven, and her Gods were divinely pleased to meet her.

I hope my Dimma's story inspires each and every one of us to overcome our fears, our traditions, our boundaries, and do something beyond what is expected of us to make this world just a little bit better for someone else.

Thank you.

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