Take for Granted – to value (something or someone) too lightly :to fail to properly notice or appreciate (someone or something that should be valued)
Merriam Webster Dictionary
As someone who had grown up in difficult circumstances, I was always and constantly conscious of the idiomatic phrase “take for granted”. When I started earning my own money, I was aware of the privilege of my world class education that allowed me to get a job with a financial conglomerate. The money itself I used as judiciously as possible, spending it mostly to take care of my very old parents and then living in a thrifty manner, assuming a frugal life is a good life. This was also true of my relationships; I invested all I had in making sure people around me knew that I valued them and I appreciated them and was grateful to have them in my life. I never passed up an opportunity to celebrate “my people” and every birthday, wedding or promotion was a hoopla, an event for rejoicing. Even my ruthless ambition was governed by this principle, which made me take up lost causes and a constant refusal to give into shortcuts, that cost me many promotions. I made every effort to not take anyone for granted or anything for granted, because I knew what it was to not have things, not have money, to not have friends. I had through sheer hard work and self-discipline mastered the art not taking anything lightly or not giving enough appreciation. This was one habit I was confident off and knew in my bones how not to overlook it, manage it all circumstances and mould it as per situations.
The thing about life is that there is really no knowing if you are good at something, until you are forced to tread through every possible situation that can test you. My real test came when I was diagnosed with Cancer 3 years ago and over these 36 months, I realised that I had barely scratched the surface of the habit of not taking anything/anyone for granted. The initial weeks after the surgery and especially the last 6 odd months since my metastasis was discovered have especially been crucial in learning and unlearning this habit and rediscovering what it truly means to not take for granted, those very important things in life, that we do not even know are important until we lose it.
My health and control of my body was the most important thing that I took for granted. I had always been healthy, not even a common cold seemed touch me. I could go on for hours moving from one activity to another – work for 15 hours, then cook for 4 hours and be a hostess for the evening party. I did long road trips with little or no sleep and could eat and digest just about everything. I read through long nights and then went to work and pulled of a dozen hours easy. Nothing bad was every going to happen to me physically until, something did. Cancer treatment kills the bad cells, but it also kills the good cells like the red blood cells, depletes muscle mass and bone density, plays havoc with your gut and completely destroys your immunity. These days walking from the bedroom to the dining table exhausts me. I have not left the house in the last 4 months except for 3 occasions. Taking a shower is an effort that requires hours of self-pep talk. Cooking is out of question and some work days I do the bare minimum before I can log out. Most days I cannot taste any food and someday, even talking is exhausting. Gone is my long red hair and my flawless complexion with even skin tones. Internally and externally, I am nothing but a hollow mess trying to get by one day at a time.
But because I am a hollow mess and am forced to live in a confined manner, I was forced to learn to not value the small things lightly and appreciate those every day routines, which earlier I dismissed without even stopping to see them. These days, the few foods that I can taste, are the meals that I cherish the most. Like a hot Toast with some butter or Jam; for me it equates to food worthy of Gods. Or the delicious pasta my sister makes using garlic, fresh tomatoes and some olive oil, perfection! Though I take a lot of time to take a shower, I love the sensation of the water hitting my skin and the feeling of cleanliness and rejuvenation. I love that hot cup of tea that is accompanied with long chats with my sister as the evening dusk turns into night while some jazz plays in the background. The sense of quiet bliss after you wake up in the early morning. Always a reader, these home-bound months have given me time to re-read many of the old favorite’s, rediscovering nuances I had missed and ah-ha moment when the title suddenly made sense. A care package of pickles and savories sent by my cousin 1800 Km away brings untold joy as does seeing my house plants shoot up new branches/flowers. And when I can, the little walks around the park watching the tress shake the leaves to the Windsong. And the small outings to a café, chosen carefully by a friend near the parking so that I do not have to walk too much.
These small gestures of kindness, these perfect moments in time, I have now learnt make up for most of human happiness, or atleast my happiness. Everything else is just fluff, immaterial and even pointless. There is this whole craze of “slow living” and for the first time I see the sense in it. It is only when I was forced to slow down and the road to recovery was/is long and arduous, only then I had to dig deep amongst the things around me to find true happiness and to appreciate the mundane, the everyday, the boring! I had missed years of these simple joys, not valuing them and instead trying to connect the dots of the bigger picture, without seeing what those dots were. I am not sure if I will ever regain my health, atleast the quality of health and body integrity I had before Cancer. That was one thing, that I took for granted that may never come back. But that will be the only thing; despite everything it is so good to be alive and to see, hear, feel, smell and touch all the small and big wonders that life brings with it and I am determined to appreciate all of them, live through all of them.
This post was written in response to a prompt from The Isolation Journals by Suleika Jaoud. This week’s prompt was contributed by – “Write about something you once took for granted, but no longer do“. You can read the full article on The Isolation Journal