29: A Magical Life of Possibilities

29: A Magical Life of Possibilities

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

A Magical Life of Possibilities

Never mind searching for who you are. Search for the person you aspire to be.

~Robert Brault, rbrault.blogspot.com

When we first landed at JFK airport I was eight years old. I instantly realized that this 747 Air India jet plane had taken me from Kolkata’s oppressive schools and transported me to a candy store called the United States of America. I found school easy, so I had time to explore other interests, such as art. That enthusiasm would not be easily dampened until one fateful day when I was twelve and my father had his first heart attack. In one day, my world changed from childhood freedom to heavy responsibility. My mother in turn suffered from hypertension and pondered the possibility of becoming a widow. How would she manage two kids and a house mortgage that she was still calculating in rupees instead of dollars? My own question became how I could make their struggles worthwhile, and make my life count somehow.

Though my father miraculously survived his first massive heart attack, it changed everything. Every expectation for my brother and me intensified: straight A’s; all household chores done with a smile; and plans to attend Ivy League colleges to ensure a livelihood of a certain social esteem. On the surface, I acted like an angel and made good grades, but with equal zest I participated in hidden acts of rebellion.

I often skipped school, choosing instead to hop on a bus from Livingston, New Jersey to New York City. I would usually find my way to the Museum of Modern Art to study paintings. All my transgressions were well hidden because my grades were good enough to get me into the Engineering School at Cornell. I was the daughter of an engineer who had left his homeland as part of the seventies “Brain Drain” — when the USA was granting work visas for doctors and engineers from Asia.

While my mother had jumped at the opportunity, my father came reluctantly to the new land — giving up his own dreams to be a writer, actor and musician in order to raise his young family. With that kind of family history, I was not allowed to take advantage of the art scholarships I had received. It was much more practical for me to get a degree in Electrical Engineering. My parents’ gloating rights amongst their social circles would only grow as, over time, I got my Doctorate in Biochemistry from Stanford Medical School, and my brother got his PhD in mathematics. The unspoken part of our story was that my brother and I had fled from our parents to the West Coast for continuing our education, in an attempt to create distance from the pressures of keeping up appearances amongst our East Coast Bengali community.

Having graduated from Stanford I had moved to Seattle for postdoctoral research, still searching, still wanting, still waiting for my real life to show up. By all measures, I was a good scientist who had received many awards and grants, and I had impressive publications of my work. Yet there was a seemingly intangible element that was still missing from my life. Meanwhile my father informed me that I was being talked about as a loose woman in his Bengali social circles, still unmarried at the advanced age of twenty-nine. I stopped speaking to my beloved father for a month after that comment. But then I caved and said yes to what happened to be my seventh marriage proposal. My first husband was unaware that he was asking for my hand at a time when I was most lost and confused.

He may not have been the man of my dreams, but one fortuitous day, he brought home a brochure on a health product that gave me goose bumps the first time I read it. I was not a pill taker in general as they usually made me nauseous. But this product was made with a technology that struck my scientist brain as ingenious. Add to that, it made a huge difference in my health when I started to take it. I immediately started sharing this revolutionary product with everyone who crossed my path. I also started researching the benefits of nutrition. And this led me to a big moral dilemma. The National Institutes of Health and the American Cancer Society were funding my research to find a “cure” for cancer and Alzheimer’s. Yet, this product represented a larger possibility that chronic illness could be prevented in the first place through lifestyle and proper nutrition.

At that time, I saw myself as a scientist and a scholar. Furthermore, my Bengali upbringing had led me to believe that making money was not important. Yet, I was enamored with this product and wanted to get the word out. Another big catalyst for things to come was the fact that I had shared the product with a friend, Doug Barlow, who was an engineer looking for a career change. When presented with this new concept in nutritional supplementation, he figured there was money to be made here. And so I had the added impetus to help him find a new career. Thus began my new business venture.

What happened in the next few years is certainly a good story line for a novel. There were many trials and tribulations, as I turned the delicate vessel that was my life upside down, and shook out all the contents of my personal and professional existence. As a result, my existing social and professional circle raised their eyebrows in many shades of disbelief, contempt or genuine concern. However, I met some amazing new people that introduced me to the concept of owning my life — every bit of it. I opened my heart to a different kind of education, reading books and taking courses I had never considered before. But I still had nightmares for six months that I was throwing away my career and reputation. And there was the inevitable divorce, after which my parents avoided interacting with me for years.

Awkward and bewildering as those few years were, I slowly got used to the concept that I alone was responsible for my happiness. I began to see my parents in a new light and have compassion for their own struggles. I appreciated them for what they were able to give me, and I began to remember moments where they too had sought out moments of pure joy and self-expression.

I ended up marrying my friend Doug, as we grew very close working night and day for several years to build a marketing team that would span the globe and provide us with a very comfortable residual income. He also had the same zest for life as I did, and together we had two beautiful girls. The greatest recognition I have ever received for having chosen the road less traveled has come from them, now teenagers. They have often expressed their gratitude for having such cool parents, and a magical life of possibilities abound. I am truly blessed.

~Mitra Ray

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