I was immensely fascinated by an interview published in a recent edition of a Malayalam weekly. ‘I’m a little grain of sand in this world’ is the title of the interview. And that is spoken by the interviewee who is M K Sanu, well-known Malayalam writer, orator, social activist and a retired professor. Right in the beginning of the interview, the 95-year-old man says that he is a contented person. The humility in the titular quote and the sense of contentment that was palpable in the man’s words kept me glued to the interview to the last word. Here I wish to focus on that contentment which is something I would love to acquire as I’m moving rapidly towards the last stage of a person’s psychological development in Erikson’s theory.
Psychologist Erik Erikson would certainly approve of Prof Sanu who, at the age of 95, can confidently claim that he is contented with what he has done in his life. Sanu thinks that what really made his life worthwhile is the service he did for fellow human beings as another human being. That sense of contentment is what makes old age graceful. By around the age of 65, people begin to examine their own lives. How worthwhile has it been? Have I achieved what I wanted to? Have I learnt the essential lessons? Those who can answer affirmatively to those questions, like Prof Sanu does, are people who have acquired wisdom which rounds off life happily. Those who haven’t arrived even at the periphery of that wisdom are likely to be bitter about life.
Prof Sanu’s has been an ‘abundant’ life. He wrote, taught, spoke to huge audiences, and helped people. He has reasons to be contented. Not all are thus blessed. Forget all, not many are. Most of us have grappled with the inevitable horrors of life. The horrors may be caused by diverse factors. In my case, my own genes were my horrors. I was my own enemy. “There’s another man within me that’s angry with me,” as Thomas Browne put it.
Most of my life was a struggle to come to terms with that hateful man within me. A day before I stumbled upon the Sanu interview, I told Maggie during our evening walk that the futility of my life fills me with a sense of emptiness. The sun had painted the sky in front of us all crimson as it sank steadily. Maggie consoled me by listing a few of my achievements. Hmm, something.
When I read the interview the next day, I realised that I lacked the humility of “the little grain of sand.”
Humility was never my strong point. None of those great virtues of catechism classes were, in fact. But as I trundle along towards Erikson’s last phase, I see the fragments of my life struggling to gather together into a mosaic striving to make sense at least to me.
“Who hasn’t committed blunders?” Maggie’s question helps. If Prof Sanu is a little grain of sand, I’m not even a tiny atom of that grain. A tiny creature that failed again and again before the inevitable horrors of life. That’s okay. I hope I learnt at least some of the lessons those failures wanted me to learn.
I have never changed my self-description in my WhatsApp profile from the time I put it there years ago: “At school – always learning.” Some are destined to be endless learners. Prof Sanu belongs to the more fortunate lot. They teach. To Erikson’s surprise, I choose to discover grace in learning from them. To the last breath.