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The Cost of Faith

I wouldn’t say I am religious, but I would affirm I am spiritual. I do not like doctrine and I find the word religion to be incredibly loaded. The practice of religion is very much a currency in India – every place of worship, especially the ones that we have been to, will be surrounded by shops and attractions that require money. It is impossible to estimate how much this brings in, but you can assume it is a hefty amount and it is inevitably mostly cash in hand.

When my parents brought me up, they were not afraid to admit that they did not have the answers to my questions. Whenever we conducted anything religious, there were always holes to be found in meanings and understandings, but it was a challenge to find out the answer – it was not something to be ignored. This inquisitiveness has never left me. In fact, it has probably permeated into every part of my life.

Our last day in Mumbai was important to my Mum. The school of thought within which my family has learnt about Hinduism is based in a small insitution in Mumbai. Early on a Sunday morning we made our way to the lecture theatre and sat in the room where the teaching had first begun over 80 years ago. Having seen it on videos and in pictures, it was like de ja vu when we walked into the courtyard and took to the benches at the back.

The man who started the movement demanded that it should not be outwardly publicised, but instead should be passed from person to person, so I will not name him here. However, this weekend would have been the celebration of his 95th birthday and so there were people present from all over the world. My mother had actually met him when he had been alive, and their first meeting was when she was only a girl, a little younger than me, just 20km away from where we stood.

He was responsible for the development of the first university in the world that was built on the ancient tapovan system of education – focusing on the development of the individual, rather than their future aspirations. This unassuming campus was tucked away in the suburbs of Mumbai and it was the beginning of my Mum’s faith. It would also be the birthplace of mine.

It is difficult to describe. There were very few buildings, but the place itself was inundated with nature. It was completely green and you could barely hear the sounds of the noisy highway once you were through the gates. The intention was to create tranquillity. To remove the impurities of the mind by purifying the landscape around them. It had a profoundly uplifting quality.

The students were mild mannered and wore simple white clothes. There was not much talking and people from all walks of life trundled barefoot through the landscape. It was only open to visitors on a Sunday afternoon for a few hours and so this was a chance for the outside world to creep in and take a peek. There was a point in my adolescence when I thought this could be my destination, but that seems like a long time ago now.

Before we left, Mum stood standing in front of the flowered gateway. She was crying and looking forward in silence. She told me how she remembered the last time she was here and spoke to the man who made this place a reality. He was sitting on a bench and greeted her like a distant uncle – she remembered seeing a twinkle in his eye but was too naïve to understand the impact that he would have in her life at that point. Years later she stood in the same spot and imparted that knowledge to us knowing that this was where it had all begun, where it had all started to make sense.

A stranger looking onward came over to ask her why she was crying. She said they were tears of longing joy. He smiled warmly and introduced himself and his wife. They made polite conversation and reminded us of the reasons why he was there – to reinvigorate his faith. Mum smiled back and looked at me with the same expression. She was not upset anymore. He took his leave and I never learned his name, but I remember his warm smile and the way his eyes lit up when we spoke.

That probably doesn’t mean much, but it made all the difference to me. There are many places here that will measure the size of your faith by the thickness of your wallet. They will try to fool you and capture your belief. However, I am forever grateful for the fact that my faith was presented to me as my decision. I was not told what to believe and not vilified for what I thought. It has always been a healthy process of re-assessment and contemplation.

I am happy to be a part of something that recognises the kindness and dignity of complete strangers. For a man to look at us and offer conversation as a means of solace, with no ulterior motive. When you can instil a thought like that, there isn’t the need for expensive prayers. Humanity is enough.

Meet Ann and Trevor

These stories are such bittersweet reading. You feel your heart pound as the details of these sufferers is laid bare in their own words, but you are empowered by their courage to do one simple thing: be brutally honest. I can’t think of a better couple that empower this ideal than the Reeds, Trevor and Ann whose lives were wrecked 7 years ago.

To make matters worse, it was Christmas morning in 2007 when Trevor started to shake uncontrollably, when he should have been opening presents with his children and sipping champagne. It became clear after a few hours that Trevor had contracted meningococcal septicaemia, where poison was getting to his brain, and he was hours away from death. He was a mere 51 at the time.

On the day when everyone is resting at home, the Reeds were slowly fighting to keep their family together. As his organs slowly started to give way, he fell into a coma, and it was unclear whether he would get through the day. From x-ray to scan to medication, doctors were desperately trying to treat the infection before it started to spread to other parts of the body. He was hanging by a thread.

But the human spirit is not fragile. And belief is a wall that stands up in the quicksand of despair. Ann said “…I just talked. I could not lose him and I hoped he could hear me” and the sound of his wife’s voice was enough for him to tell her “How I love you” groggily as he started to make his recovery, three weeks after falling ill. He had survived. Though the disease had left its mark – Trevor had to have his fingers and toes amputated as they had deteriorated in the process of recovery and he was suffering from memory loss.

“But I am alive. In my heart I know it was the skill of the doctors in ICU who helped, but I honestly truly believe it was the love of my wife and family that pulled me through. Plus that amazing thing called willpower.” Usually I can write the words for others, but in this case, Trevor says everything that there is to say.

The money that is donated to the Meningitis Research Foundation, funded the befriending system that saw the Reeds matched up with a couple in a similar situation so that they could have some support. Trevor says this help was invaluable. Contracting meningitis and septicaemia can make life a lonely place, even if you have all the support in the world. It helps people to realise that in the darkest most isolated room in the hospital, there is someone there to offer a hand or an ear.

That is why I am asking you to support the work that is being done here. Read it, share it, talk about it. Give something back. Because none of us are safe until we have got it of it for good.

To read Ann’s story then click here and for Trevor’s testimonial follow this link.