On this, my 200th blog entry, which happens to fall on Father’s Day, I think it’s only appropriate that I write about someone whom I loved very, very much.
His name was Ram Verma, and he was the closest thing to a father figure I ever had. I met him when I worked at the health department here in Jacksonville, Florida. He was the physician in charge of the tuberculosis clinic. A more caring and compassionate man you will never meet. In fact, he came from Burma by way of India because he wanted his children to have the freedom to choose the paths their lives would take (a right that the people of Myanmar, formerly Burma, do not have to this day) but even so, he often shed tears for the TB patients he had to leave behind when he came to this country.
He was one of those people with such a deep sense of inner calm that you could feel your blood pressure lower just by being in his presence. I wanted to learn from him. He was a true guru. We would often eat together and I would listen closely to everything he had to say. One day I said to him that I didn’t know what to call him. Dr. Verma seemed too formal. Ram seemed too familiar. I was honored when he told me I could call him Bapu, “father” in Hindi. I had never had anyone to call father before. His love was unconditional and his support and acceptance of me was unfailing.
Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to call him Bapu for very long. On my last visit to his home I was in a great deal of pain. I had strained my neck and couldn’t turn my head. I apologized but had to take my leave. He practically begged me to stay, but I just wanted to go home, take something for the pain, and try to sleep. Looking back, he knew. On some level he knew. That’s why he didn’t want me to leave. A week or so later he passed away. His wonderful, loving, generous heart, which he gave to the world without hesitation, had turned on him in the end.
Upon hearing the news I fell apart. I felt not only the loss of the man, but the loss of my future with him. Since every single moment with him was a gift, I was grateful for having known him, but utterly bereft because I could have learned from him for a lifetime. I wish I had pictures of him, but I see him in my heart and it makes me smile.
I went to his funeral, and when we got to the cemetery I didn’t realize we would be watching his body go into the crematory, typical Hindu that he was. I watched the smoke rise and become one with the air and I knew he was in a better place. We never spoke much about our spiritual beliefs, but if he believed in reincarnation I am sure he is an extremely enlightened being now. But drawing from my own tradition I comfort myself with the fact that I will see him again one day, and I will be forever grateful that for an all too brief period in my life, I finally knew what it was like to have a father.
Happy Father’s Day. Appreciate what you have. It’s precious.