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Sushama Kirtikar





                        By SUSHAMA KIRTIKAR

Imagine a tree. It looks so regal in its tall, stately stature, roots spreading deep into the soil for stability. With each shifting season, it takes on a different garb. In the spring, its branches sprout light green leaves seemingly flirting with the sky; in the summer it is laden with fruits and flowers, soaking in the warmth of the brilliant sun; in the fall, its leaves burst into flaming red and gold hues as the branches sway to the rhythm of the wind; and in the winter, it sheds its full foliage, standing bare and wiry, bracing against the bitter cold. It may appear to droop, yet all it is doing is going into hibernation to protect itself against the merciless elements, so that it can rejuvenate itself in springtime.  How delightfully resourceful is this tree!

It does not complain or protest, nor does it capitulate to the weather. It simply adapts to each fickle season. It develops special characteristics that become its strengths for that time. Such is adaptability. The ability to adjust, modify, acclimatize or evolve is an acquired art called adaptability. Some mistake it for a weakness rather than a virtue. Yet, not adapting would mean being inflexible, rigid and unbending. How can that be a good thing? 

When we are used to thinking, feeling and doing things a certain way, in response to our environment, we get into a routine pattern that is familiar and cozy. But let us say, there is an event that changes one’s external reality in a harsh way, such as a hurricane leading to the loss of one’s home, or a recession causing the loss of one’s job. Immediately, we react with discomfort. Let us say the change is in a welcome way such as a marriage, bringing one into a new household, or the birth of a baby ushering in joy and hope into the home. Either way, one is forced out of the erstwhile comfort zone instantaneously. We are forced to adjust to the new situation. Most of us do so fairly well.

But when the change is fraught with ambivalence, such as being immigrants who have settled here, adaptation becomes a hazy concept. If we know how to adjust to life’s challenges, we should be able to apply the same principle to the reality of immigration. If we can learn to be open to the host country without fully relinquishing our Indian culture, we will learn to be happy. 

Any change generates fear and uncertainty. Suddenly, the rules have changed and we do not have a handy script to read from; we must improvise. It becomes a test of one’s creativity. One has to have one’s feet planted firmly on the ground and at the same time be able to bend from one’s waist just like the tree. We need to be able to gauge the newness of the situation, figure out the risks and rewards and then respond to it effectively. 

It is not a particularly appealing concept if adaptability is viewed as vapid monkey behavior. But as Mahatma Gandhi taught us, “Adaptability is not imitation. It means power of resistance and assimilation.” Think about those two words. Just like the tree that refuses to change its basic nature, keeping itself firmly rooted with a sturdy trunk. That is the power of resistance. We hold on to our integrity and identity. That is not to be compromised. The tree makes only cosmetic changes to respond to the reality of the present moment (the season of the year). That is assimilation. It adjusts itself to respond to reality. How can that be a weakness? It is supreme wisdom with a desire to thrive. If it is raining, we cannot pretend that the sun is shining. But what we can do is take an umbrella and learn to enjoy the rain because it is the reality of the moment. We shift our mindset. 

Life cycles bring about changes within us, physiological and psychological. We take those in stride, transition from crayons and tricycles to laptops and hot rods. But it does not mean we give up our childhood totally. A day at the beach easily reconnects us with sand play. So too, can we learn that eating tofu and apple pie or wearing jeans and T-shirts does not mean we have given up paneer and gulab jamuns or discarded sarees and kurtas. We can combine both lifestyles. It simply means we are adapting. 

Learn from the tree. Listen to the gentle rustle of its leaves, watch the subtle motion of its branches, feel the gnarled hide of its trunk, and know its wisdom. It teaches us happiness. 

Sushama Kirtikar, a licensed mental health counselor in private practice, can be reached at (813)264-7114 or email sushamak@verizon.net





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Dr. Ram P. Ramcharran

There are many organizations in the Tampa Bay area that focus on helping special needs children but the one organization that everyone should know about it is STAND (Statewide Advocacy Network on Disabilities Inc.) This not-for-profit organization, which has been around since December 1996, was organized by a group of parents and attorneys to help educate people on their rights.

STAND's purpose it to inform the families of children with disabilities of their rights. It is dedicated to getting a child with a disability the right education that they are entitled to under the law. The three main laws that STAND is concerned with are: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation act of 1973. It focuses on three topics: advocacy, legal rights, and above all, education.

This year, STAND will be hosting SPARC 2007 – Stand Pinellas Accessing Resource Conference. The organization’s goal is to provide parents, teachers, therapist and other professionals with resources that help children with disabilities make achievements in their life. STAND focuses on children with Special Needs and they take this mission very seriously.

This year SPARC 2007 will be held at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School in Pinellas Park, on Saturday, Sept. 29, from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Morgan Fitzgerald is at 6410 118 Ave. N., Largo, FL 33773. Cost for the conference is $25 for pre-registration. That will include one entry to the conference, a lunch ticket and a program.

(Dr. Ram Ramcharran will be a guest speaker at the STAND event. He will be discussing how to better understand and deal with children with special needs. If you have any questions regarding this event, contact Melissa Tremblay, SPARC chairperson at (727) 784-8493 or visit www.standadvocates.org.)

Dr. Ram P. Ramcharran can be reached at ramramcharran@hotmail.com

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