Creation is a play of shadow and light; life alternates between expansion and contraction, rise and fall, triumph and tribulation, and when it is the darkest, you see the brightest star. Friends, with the onset of the Coronavirus, my teenage daughter was almost pulled into a state of melancholy. She had been affected by the daily news about people dying and was deeply troubled when she read the news about a boy in San Antonio who had lost both his parents. The Coronavirus stole the lives of his young parents as his mom and dad died four months apart. My daughter asked - why our creator, the ever merciful, would allow the horrible suffering of innocent children. Friends, the same question must have be raging your mind as the virus continues to ravage our world. As I grappled with this hopeless situation, I remembered a chance encounter I had with a Swami. I was recalling his questions, his analogy of life to light and shadow and how he ingrained in me a mantra – “only when it is the darkest one can see the brightest star”
Artwork by Prachurya Baruah
We all may be familiar with the term “Swami”, a guru or master, a seeker of truth who follows a path of renunciation to serve humanity as a spiritual teacher. Although I grew up in India, I never met a Swami; I was not even aware of Swamis and their purpose. Then I met a Swami through an astoundingly unlikely event – a Bollywood movie!
A blockbuster movie had been released and I and a few boys snuck out of school to go to the theater. During those days, a film was screened through a projector – as the film’s reels were rotated, light from the projector fell onto the movie screen, the images were created and we began to see the hero and heroine dancing. That day, as we settled down to watch the movie, there was a sudden power outage. The theater had a standby backup generator but that too failed. Thus, we had no option but to wait for the repairman to come to fix the situation.
As there was not much to do, I wandered around and then noticed the building adjacent to the theater. Although, I passed by it everyday, I never gave it much thought. But that day, as I looked closely I realized it was a shrine. As I entered the imposing building through the main hall, I felt a strange pull, and then I saw a figure in saffron robes – a Swami. I immediately felt a sense of calm and tranquility, a hallowed presence seemed to surround the master. When he saw me, he asked– what brings you here? I was a bit embarrassed but told him the truth- “Oh Master, I had come to watch a movie.” Breaking into a smile, he asked me– “who is the creator of the movie you see on the screen”? I muttered, “The actor and the actress”.
To my surprise, he replied “No, they are mere projections. It is the stream of light which creates the animation, sound and the movement.” I was dumfounded, transfixed by the Swami’s profound question, as if a divine voice had spoken to me. Continuing with the conversation, he reached out and lifted the window - the room was immediately filled with bright radiant sunlight. Pointing to the beam of light through the window, he said cheerfully, “creation is a motion picture; it’s all just a play of light and shadow”. The master blessed me, “my son, only when it is the darkest, you see the brightest star”
The message of the Swami on that beautiful day still resonates with me today. Four months after my daughter told me the news about the Texas boy who lost his parents to COVID, there was a follow up story. It was about his birthday and how the community came together to celebrate his special day. People in his San Antonio neighborhood turned up to fill his day with a parade of drive through cars, birthday cake, Santa Clause and an outpouring of love and kindness. By afternoon , cars were wrapped around the block as far as the eye could see; the whole neighborhood was filled with sounds of cheers, music as the little boy smiled and waved.
After watching the moving images of scores of people celebrating, I asked my daughter “what do you see happening in the news today?” She replied – I see people being kind to this boy. Her gloom and sadness dispersed as she broke into a smile; in the midst of life’s tragedies, she found peace and joy. Friends, we are going through an extraordinarily difficult period, we don’t know when it will be over, perhaps this the perfect time to remember the Swami’s mantra - life is a play of shadow and light , only when it is the darkest, you see the brightest star.
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Toastmaster Speech evaluation
· I liked how you used gestures to emphasize certain points.
· Use of personal stories to make your point (Swami).
· Effective facial expressions and vocal variety.
I was distracted by how often you were looking down (toward notes?)
I would hope that your personal stories are entrenched in your memory, so you can speak more from the heart as you describe your experiences.
At times, the pace at which you were speaking got in the way for me. It seemed slow and halting, like you were unsure of the next part.
Video rehearsals are always helpful to practice and see where opportunities lie.
· You chose a topic that is current and present on my mind.
· Your intense eye contact with the camera at times.
· Profound closing with nice use of props (light beam on ceiling.)
Bob Turel, DTM