A few months ago I wrote something short about how I have been dealing with Kalpna’s passing away, but I did not share it. Why? I am not sure. Perhaps because it is personal, perhaps because it is sad. Then, a few days ago I was thinking about Kalpna and the genuine and authentic person she was, and I felt the need to share this. That perhaps some of you are feeling similar emotions of love, sadness, regret, and joy, and that by sharing we would come together, and bringing people together is something I have always admired about Kalpna, so here we go…
What I remember most about Kalpna is her death, and that makes me sad because she had such a full life. A life full of life, which not many people have these days.
I was in my office, just getting used to the air-conditioned air after coming in from the hot summer morning. I look out at the water, and then at the piles on my desk – piles of articles wire requests, budgets, and reports – the day to day work of someone like me. I open my work e mail and decide I need a few more minutes. I check my personal e mail and a few websites. The computer screen is already starting to hurt my eyes and the blue sky outside seems appealing. As I surrender to the work ahead and e mail comes in that Kalpna Mistry died on August 4th in the Philippines. I didn’t even know she was there. I follow a link to a website and a beautiful picture of Kalpna appeared. She is wearing a stunning red scarf and gold jewelry, both outshined by her smile.
‘Kalpna received medical treatment and was among friends from her Fulbright Program,’ the black text on a gray background declare. ‘The family is working to get the body home and funeral arrangements will be announced on this site.’ Funeral – somehow that word makes it feel real. I search my e mail for the last time we wrote each other. I am disappointed when the most recent e mail is more than a year old. I quickly scan through Kalpna’s facebook wall, searching for my name, looking for hope, but find nothing except permission for tears. I feel different but I am not sure how, like a seed has been dropped into my heart and I must wait patiently to see what grows.
That night I have to write. I have to share memories of Kalpna so they do not disappear. I remember our first Voices for Africa meeting in graduate school. We were all so nervous and Kalpna came in with a huge smile, every tooth showing. Without any experience in Africa she just wanted to learn and help with anything. I write down everything I can remember.
For the next few days I read everything people wrote about Kalpna. I saw pictures of places and people she never told me about. I read about stories she never mentioned. I saw videos of meetings I missed for reasons I cannot remember. The stories that moved me most are of Kalpna as a teacher, her ability to connect to students and inspire them.
In the weeks after Kalpna’s death, I felt like I got to know Kalpna better each day. We were becoming better friends – my friendship with a memory. At night, we would talk, or mainly I talked and she would listen, or I like to think she did. ‘I’m sorry we did not spend more time together. I miss you. I hope to be a great teacher like you someday. I hope you can see how many people love and adore you.’
In the weeks that followed, Kalpna inspired me. I’d smile more, care more about others, try to show it more – like Kalpna did with her thank you biscuits, a habit I read about in a post. The seed that fell on the day of Kalpna’s death grew from anger to grief to friendship. A friendship with a memory and Kalpna is always a part of each of my days.
I wish I knew her better when we had the time, but I know I love her to my heart’s full capacity. She reminds me of all that is good in the world and to believe in change and in people. I wish she was around to see Obama win the election and to see her students graduate from high school and then college, as I know she would push them there. I like to think that someday our paths would have crossed again. She’s with me each day, more friend than memory.