This particular story began when I was thirteen I began to develop a chronic, mysterious illness that only became progressively more painful. One day at school when I was fourteen, Google was just emerging as a tool to find information, so I searched for the symptoms of my illness, and this is what I found: a form of cancer six months to one year to live.
I remember that my mind numbed, my vision became sharp and blurred at the same time. I remember that I stood up from the computer and walked out into the hot sun. Students and teachers busily moved about me in a whirl, and one question echoed in my mind: WHY?
How do I describe how it feels to hear one’s own death sentence? At fourteen, I was planning all the things I would do the world to travel, schools to establish, people to meet and in one moment it had all been taken away from me. It seemed so unjust, so unfair.
With my deep nature and immature age, the weight of the mystery of life and death began to crush down upon me that day and for many years to come. I did not tell anyone what I had found. Instead, I searched for the meaning of life in scripture, in my faith.
The next several years brought in a merry-go-round of doctors. One doctor in particular looked at my condition and nearly declared that I had cancer and would need a very invasive surgery if I had any hope to live. Her diagnosis was incorrect, but the mystery persisted.
For my fifteenth summer, I flew to my childhood home of New Vrindavan. A spiritual teacher of the Hare Krishna movement was visiting then. One morning he was giving a lecture and I decided to stay. His lecture spoke about life and death the immediacy that at any moment we may die and the immediacy of taking to spiritual life right now. Tears streamed down my face because I knew he spoke from realization he must have heard his own death sentence in his life once, because his words resonated so deeply within me.
An elder woman who had known me for many years as a child saw me crying and came over to comfort me. She asked me what was wrong. All I could say was, “This is true.”
I struggled for many years with my illness, but I found shelter in Krsna consciousness, and I found shelter in the teachings of Srila Prabhupada.
A devotee once told me that in metalworking, gold is put into a fire to purify it. The hotter the fire, the purer the metal becomes. Our soul is like that sometimes if the Lord is especially loving and kind, He will put us into the fire of an experience to purify our soul.
More than a decade has passed since that fateful day at school. Several years ago, my illness left me just as mysteriously as it came. To this day, I still do not know its name or cause.
Or maybe I do: its name was “fire” and its cause was to purify my soul, to learn to live every day of my life, every moment of my life, every breath of my life for the Lord. Some days I weep tears of gratitude for that fire, and grateful to Srila Prabhupada for teaching me that that fire was one of the most beautiful blessings I could ever receive from the Lord.