I was born in a small mission hospital in a village in southern India, in the state of Tamil Nadu. I wonder where my big sister was when I was born … maybe my grandparents had come over to India to take care of her while I was born. And to meet me, hopefully [I can hear them say, “yes, absolutely”]. My dad worked a lot but played with us when he came home so I rarely truly felt his absence. My mom was mostly a stay-at-home mom and a loving one, so that helped too!
I grew up in India at a time when all Western material goods were banned. There was no television, no 7up, no bubble gum. There were Tamil songs on the radio, Tamil movies in the theaters [though Jaws came–it was so terrifying I hid behind the back curtains for most of the movie], and there were Indian candies and sodas.
My older sister preferred to speak Tamil like her playmates. So on the eve of my [non-Tamil-speaking] grandparents’ visit, my parents had resorted to speaking only English in the house. As a result, I grew up knowing barely any Tamil. I could count; say hello and goodbye; and I most definitely knew how to express, “enough” because at our favorite restaurant they heaped on the curry until we said, “poathum” and held our right hands over our plates [never the left hand–that’s used for unhygienic tasks]. Oh, and I could sing the Indian national anthem [but that is not in Tamil]. That kind of thing.
Eventually, we moved to what is now called Chennai and was then called Madras. In Madras, the United States had a consulate, and every so often, the consulate would show American movies for ex-pats like us. I spent many of those hovering in my dad’s lap, too. Movies were frequently scary or upsetting for me. Frankly, they still are. So is the news.
Being sensitive means that I can hear Spirit, I can feel Spirit or other people’s feelings. It means that I am sensitive to energy and can pick-up on signals that other people might not. But it also means that I can pick-up on signals that other people might not. See what I mean?
I spent much of my life being told that I was over-reacting. It was only in my adulthood, as I began uncovering my gift, that I realized that yes, I was much more sensitive than most people. As with most traits, that comes with challenges and advantages. The main advantage is that I can tune-in to energies that others cannot. The main disadvantage is that I frequently am overwhelmed, disturbed, upset by stories or events or statements that do not affect others this way. That means I have to be careful about watching the news and movies or wondering what happened in an apparent tragedy [because I might start channeling the spirits involved in the tragedy, and I try not to do that unless i can actively help someone with the information I receive].
Luckily, I also grew up in what PBS once called the Empire of the Spirit. When Oprah visited recently, she also was impressed with how deeply infused the people and culture are with spirituality. As a spiritual person, a curious person, that was great for me. As a person who was sensitive to other people’s feelings, there were parts of it that were hard. The way animals were treated, the way outcastes were treated. We often had people waiting outside our house to talk to our parents to request financial assistance for food, medical care, education.
When we returned to that village years later, once again there were people lining-up on the porch before dawn, waiting to see my parents. This time, they had traveled, sometimes days, and brought gifts like towels or flowers from their meager bits of spending money to thank my parents. Gosh, can you believe that gratitude?! They never forget a kindness, and they rarely take generosity for granted. Mostly, my parents had supported their educations, thereby giving them a chance at better jobs and lives for their families. They developed a sort of policy: Give them just enough to help them help themselves. A leg-up. Gosh, that does a person’s soul some good. It’s good to do it yourself, and it is good to see your parents do it.
When I graduated from Duke Law, I received my class’ award for pro bono service [I had been the student leader of the Duke Law Innocence Project, which works to free the wrongfully convicted from prison]. The other awards were for academic achievements and seemed more prestigious to me at the time. As much as my parents emphasized education–having been educational missionaries and obtaining advanced degrees–my father said he was most proud to see me receiving an award for having been of service.
I can’t take credit for what I haven’t done or who I haven’t been. I can try hard to be who God created me to be, to live my life to its best and fullest. I don’t know who you are or who you are meant to be, but I do know God created you to be a spectacular you, and we can all be glad for that too.