The only constant is change as it fluidly moves us along the tracks of life. It’s often more about the journey rather than the destination. People come and go, day turns to night, and that’s the way it is. The more we try to grip and control the more it seems to slip from our grasp. Let the train gracefully take you away, wherever that may be. Trust the process and let it be. Maybe cliché, maybe not – whatever is will be and that’s purely up to you. My train from Mumbai to Agra, where I will visit the Taj Mahal, has just pushed off and may be the culprit of this word purge.
I cannot believe I have already been here for a month. My time in India is flying. Teaching has been going wonderfully. Our magic students are learning some basic sleight of hand and they are eager to learn more – the power of our hands becomes evident as we learn to skillfully make an ordinary pack of cards come alive with magic. The girls have a big show on April 26th, and my friend, Peter the magician, will meet with them once or twice while I am away to help them prepare. My English students are learning important vocabulary and eagerly practice the slang phrases I teach them such as “what’s up” when they greet me. This week, I taught a basic first aid program to the staff and caretakers that work in each of the 4 residences that make up Prerana. I was grateful to have the help of Mike Collins, our fire chief on Samish Island, who sent me some great powerpoints for basic first aid. The presentation was really well received and it seemed important as many of the employees had not yet been exposed to performing CPR. Prerana has requested me to teach a more basic, interactive session to the children. This is a great way to connect my work with Magicians Without Borders to my career in medicine.
Speaking of medicine, after a 9 month application process, I finally know where I will be attending medical school this fall. I will study Osteopathic Medicine at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, CA. This was my second choice program and is ranked as the most selective osteopathic medical school in the country. My first choice was to attend UW, but after my double interview for the TRUST Program, I was not accepted to the program. Although disappointed by the rejection, I truly feel it is a blessing in disguise. The UW was my first choice for what might have been the wrong reasons: huge financial savings from in-state tuition and a little more prestige. I was a strong candidate and it was great to make it to the interview phase – I think the universe was sending me a message by my not getting accepted. I am much more passionate about osteopathic medicine as I will not only become a fully licensed physician, I will also learn Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine, which is soft tissue manipulation. I will learn to heal with my hands. And trust me, being a magician, I believe in the power of my hands.
During the last month, my hands have delivered about 25 magic shows (with the help of my friends, Ashish the magician and my drummer friend, Kunal) to various charitable organizations throughout the city of Mumbai. Performing magic is one of my favorite things in the world. When I look into the faces of my audience in that sacred moment of surprise, I see not only amazement, but I also see dreams being awakened. I have had people ask me to make more money, to heal them, and to bless them with magic. Although I do not have special powers other than the skills that I have developed from countless hours of practice, my skills can convince these people that the impossible is possible. When their lives feel impossible, that glimmer of light, laughter, and hope can make all the difference. I recently performed at Tata Memorial Hospital which is the largest and best free cancer center in India. In India, there is health insurance. Although medical care is significantly less expensive than in the United States, Indian citizens must pay for medical treatment out of pocket and many of their pockets are empty. People come to Tata for free cancer treatment from all corners of India. Their treatments often require them to stay in Mumbai for months. The majority of these patients do not have the resources for a hotel or apartment, and most of them are illiterate. Not only did they spend nearly all they have to travel to Mumbai, they will also loose months of income in the process, and this is multiplied by two because they need to have someone with them for care. Many patients at Tata end up on the street during the course of their treatment and street life is not conducive to battling cancer. Fortunately, there are homes such as Tata House that provide greatly discounted housing for these people and their families. With that said, there are hundreds of people that either can’t find a place in one of these homes or are not able to pay the very small fee. It is a complicated situation and my show at Tata House was one of my favorites thus far.
For the past two weeks, I have been staying with a new family, Ravi, Kalyani, and their cat, Noisy. They are tons of fun and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with them. Ravi, with his British-Indian accent has an interesting fact or nugget of insight to share for just about every topic of conversation. Kalyani has a gentle yet firm when necessary mothering quality to her. She can get down in the kitchen like no other and she helps run a few group homes that support and mentor girls over 18 who have jobs, but not enough money to pay rent. Many of these girls formerly lived at Prerana and are now too old to stay in the program. And as for Noisy, well, her name speaks for herself. We have grown to have a bitter-sweet fondness for one another despite her initial spite for me due to the fact that I took over her room.
Last week, I spent a full day volunteering and learning in Sion Hospital’s health outreach center located in the heart of Dharavi slum, the largest slum in Southeast Asia. After spending the morning in the mini slum hospital, I was offered to be taken around the slum in order gain a better understanding of the programs in place to serve the dire health needs of the community. I was walked to and left with a group of volunteers at a different, much smaller outreach center. They spoke very little English, and there was some confusion. I was expecting a tour of the community. They were expecting a magic show. One of those volunteers had seen me performing at the hospital the previous week and he demanded that I “make miracles” for them. I had nothing with me other than my cell phone and wallet. After I accepted the fact that I was not going to get a community tour, we played some games and I did a few less than impressive tricks with my hands and coins from my wallet. No matter how much I tried, I did not particularly enjoy myself that afternoon. I consciously realized this impatience from within and tried to let go of the frustration, but it was fruitless. It was difficult to communicate and they were asking for things I could not provide. It was easier to accept the change of plans when later that day, I was invited to speak about the healing power of magic to the medical residents and professors at Sion Hospital. After returning home and sharing this with Ravi, he said “you can’t have expectations in India.” Maybe he is right. At times it is wise to not have expectations. This may have been one of those times. On the other hand, expectations guide our ambitions and if we set the bar high enough, they can lead us to incredible places and experiences. I think there is a balance to be found and that balance lies in flexible expectations and acceptance when things do not go according to plan. I can articulate this easily. Putting it into practice, however, is a much greater challenge.
I am at the beginning of my month-long journey to Agra, Delhi, Kashmir, and Nepal. I will be doing a healthy mix of performing, sightseeing, and trekking. In Nepal, I will be hiking the Annapurna circuit with my wonderful friends, Joe, Wendy, Scott, and Gabe. What more could an adventure-seeker ask for?! This is it. I return from India on May 28th and will begin a summer medical school prep program in LA on June 16th. My two years of wanderlust freedom will soon be in transition to the next chapter of my life. Becoming a physician has been my aspiration since I was a young boy and I could not be more excited for this next phase to begin. But not without first making the most of every moment here in India. It’s time. My train has come. I hope to share a seat with you at some point along the tracks. Enjoy the wild ride that your journey will take you on. Remember that it is your choice to do so – at least to some extent. Do well, live well, be well. Namaste.