Over the holidays I joined my immediate family on a trip to India. It had been five years since I had last been there and had a chance to reconnect with extended family.
Much had changed in my life since then, and even more had changed for the people I knew. People had started college, careers, marriages and their own families.
I’ve really only been able to experience the life of my extended family through snapshots. Throughout my childhood we visited India roughly every four years. We never took any other vacations, so our India trips were the big trips we invested time in.
We would carve out a month during a summer vacation and travel all around southern India catching up with family members.
One big difference between this visit and all the other visits I’ve done in my life was I got to experience it with my partner.
Of the many things that changed in my life since my last visit the most significant one was that I got married. My partner is not Indian so I was initially a bit worried that India would be overwhelming.
And it was, but not in the ways I originally imagined. My whole extended family was incredibly welcoming. As we bounced around different cities we exclusively stayed in different family members' homes.
They treated my partner as if she had been in the family forever. There was someone to catch us everywhere we went, and it was that love that was overwhelming in the best of ways.
It was this trip that made me realize that I had taken my prior trips to India for granted.
Growing up there were always parts that I connected with, but I mostly took away a superficial understanding of my time. I mainly focused on the temperature, the bathrooms that were built differently, and the lack of video games available to waste away the summer days.
Although this time our visit was much shorter, there were a few experiences that made me realize just how important and strong our family bonds are even over so much distance. In every city we visited, friends and family would come from far away to say hello and offer us blessings.
When we met up with my cousins we would carry on conversations like no time had passed. When we hung out with kids we hadn’t seen grow up they immediately treated us like aunts & uncles.
When we talked to and asked for blessings from those older than us they would embrace us as if we were their own children.
So much of my writing in the past year has focused on the importance of creating, fostering, and investing in a community that you can support and that can support you. It felt awe inspiring to go to a place I hadn’t been to in nearly half a decade and be folded in as if I had never left at all. It gave an even deeper sense of warmth as the most important person in my life was embraced wholeheartedly by that same community.
If you would have asked me a few years ago what my most important value was in life, I would probably say the pursuit of success. For the longest time success was defined materially.
The changes I’ve gone through over the past few years allowed me to visit India with open eyes and learn new lessons. The importance of building a community where you can give and receive unconditional love has never been more important.
Editor's Note: The "Notes on the Valley" blog is written by Monith Ilavarasan, who grew up in Pleasanton. After a career in tech, he took a sabbatical to be a community organizer. He has continued to work in tech and shares his thoughts on the people, places and events that make up and shape the Tri-Valley.