It was lunch time and I had gone to nearby postoffice to send a package to India.
United States Postal Office was fairly quiet that day, not many people were around. I had few heavy books to send to India. I packaged them nicely and then started writing the address on the packaging slip.
Indian addresses are very long and descriptive than US addresses. You have to add many details like “behind this statue, near that monument..” etc. in addition to the regular street address. It is always a challenge to write these details in the tiny space provided by US postal service slip. I was totally focused on cramming the address in that tiny space when I felt somebody watching me. I quickly glanced to see who that is. It was an elderly lady, may be in her eighties, perhaps even in nineties, I couldn’t tell precisely. She was standing close by with a purse in her hand and walking stick and she was looking at me, almost staring at me. I smiled at her and started writing again.
“Are you from India?” She asked now standing right beside me.
“Oh.. you startled me! Yes, I am. In fact, I am sending this parcel to India right now.” I said.
She smiled and said, “You know, I have lived few of my past lives in India.”
“Huh?” I was not expecting this. I looked at her surprised. She looked back at me even more surprised and asked “What? Dont you know about reincarnation?”
I didn’t know what to say! I understood that she expected a person of Indian origin to know about reincarnation but casual talks with strangers on past lives is not what people do in India and definitely not in a post office! On top of that, modern times in India are very different, not everybody believes in rebirth. There are occasional stories about people remembering their past lives but they are disputed and scrutinized for scientific evidence and most of the times turn out to be a hoax.
So with all this in mind, what should I tell this lady? I looked at her, she seemed to be at the very end of her lifespan. Should I tell her that I don’t believe in reincarnation? Isnt it as insensitive as telling a little kid that Santa Claus does not exist?
But then I remembered, her question was simple. She asked me if I know about reincarnation, not what I think about reincarnation. So answering her original question was very easy.
“Yes, of course, I know about reincarnation. I am just not used to talking about it like this.” I said.
She smiled back warmly and said “I am going there, for my next birth. I want to be born in India!” She was radiating same excitement my daughter does when we tell her we were going to Disneyland.
I wasnt sure where this discussion was heading. I looked in her eyes for few seconds, I could see her playful and bit mischievous spirit so I decided to play along.
I said, “Oh wow! Really? Have you been to India lately? Umm.. I mean, in your this birth?”
“No. I didn’t get a chance this time.” She said.
“Well, then you are in for a surprise. Lot has changed since your.. umm.. last visit.” I said.
She leaned closer and said, “I know! I can’t wait for the surprises.”
We both giggled at that.
Then she asked, “What about you? Where do you want to be born next?”
“Me?!! oh well, I never thought about that really..” I started saying but then suddenly remembered a strong wish that I had felt on a recent Europe trip. “Oh, I remember! I wish to be born as a bird somewhere in forests near Alps. It is so beautiful there.”
“A bird?” She asked ,”Why honey? You can’t go back like that. What is wrong with being a human?”
“There is nothing wrong being a human but don’t you think a bird will have more fun there? Fly around, nest, and eat in beautiful surroundings, sing songs. Small and sweet life.” I said.
She didnt seem impressed by that. She leaned closer again and said, “Oh honey! You haven’t figured out how to have fun as a human yet!”
I looked at her in surprise. Then, looking back in my eyes, she winked!
I was speechless. We waved goodbye and I watched her walk away slowly.
I finished writing address on the package and sent it on its way. When I came back to my car, I had to just sit there in silence for some moments.
Something important had happened in that post office but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Her question, “What is wrong with being a human?” and her statement “You haven’t figured out how to have fun as a human yet!” echoed in my mind but what touched me most deeply was her playful, joyous spirit that winked at me.
This was a woman who must have lived through world war two, lived her youth through economic crisis like Great Depression. Worked hard, raised a family, enjoyed kids and grandkids, may be even great grandkids. She must have had good times and bad time, may be even terrible times. She not only survived all that but she enjoyed it all. She must have gone through countless heart breaks and disappointments. She must have watched her body’s vigor slowly diminish as she entered her old age. Still she wasn’t bored with it, she wasnt looking forward to annihilation that death may bring nor was she afraid of it. She didn’t wish heaven to be her destination, she wanted to do this again and again. Still radiating childlike zest for life, she couldn’t wait to start this roller coaster ride somewhere else. What a spirit!
I realized something. I understood what spirit is.
Your spirit is your emotional response to life.
Spirit is not a ghostly substance that passes from one body to another. Spirit is also not memories or thought processes. Spirit is how you emotionally respond to what life throws at you. Do you respond to life with boredom or passion? Do you see life as a series of endless chores or series of fun games to play? When life throws challenges at you, you feel energized or scared? Do you play full on or sit on the sidelines? How you respond emotionally is what defines your spirit. Others around you may not be able to see your memories, may not be able hear your thoughts but they certainly can feel your spirit.
In that short interaction I could feel her spirit. She had a very playful and slightly mischievous spirit.
Can spirit be passed on from person to person? Of course! We see certain patterns of emotional response to life appearing again and again in human psyche. We even pass on our emotional habits to next generations, knowingly or unknowingly. In that sense it does reincarnates itself in a new host.
I can see emotional response to life like hers be present in some baby born in India. That baby will not have her memory, but her spirit will be there. And why only in India? Spirit like her can easily manifest in not just one but in many babies, in Australia, or Uganda, or anywhere really. Further more why restrict her spirit to only newborns? We all have seeds of that playful spirit somewhere in us, the question is, are we going to nurture it till its mature manifestation like her’s?
I sensed that I have seed of that spirit too. Will I let it take hold in me? Will I adopt thoughts and perspectives to nurture that spirit or will I burry it underneath boredom and fear?
Do I really want to be with that playful, full of life spirit? Not sometime in future, not somewhere else but right here in my heart and right now?
I got acknowledgement that the package I sent to India has reached its destination. I often wonder what happened to her. Did she reach her destination? I wish to see that spirit looking back at me someday because I want to return back her wink!
Photo Credit:Cristian Newman on Unsplash