So You Wanna Build a Barn Door?

Growing up on a farm in Western Pennsylvania, my siblings, cousins, and I spent many hours running around in our crumbling old barn. I still remember fondly the sweet smell of the stacks of hay we kept for the sheep. Maybe that’s why ever since I saw a barn door at a friend’s house in Philadelphia, I’ve been wanting to get one for my own condo. Turns out though that barn doors are quite the fad these days, and these babies aren’t cheap! I saw some that were over $1,000!  If that’s just the cost of the door, you have to wonder how much that whole barn cost…!

Cost aside, as I researched more, I realized that there were several other factors I needed to consider. For starters, living in a Philadelphia condo, space is scarce; spots spacious enough to accommodate a large, heavy, sliding door are hard to come by. Luckily, I did have one spot (literally, ONE spot in our entire condo) where I could install a barn door: As a replacement for our laundry closet door.  BUT…there were other issues to address:

  1. The width of my laundry closet door opening is 38 inches, so the 36-inch width of most standard doors was too narrow for my needs. I wanted a door that was at least 40 inches wide.
  2. At the same time, the 84-inch height of most standard barn doors was too tall; I needed it to be about 78 inches at most to fit.
  3. To make matters worse, our ceiling is atypically low by the laundry closet, so I only had a maximum of 3 inches of clearance above the door opening; in other words, the wheels and the railing of the barn door would have to squeeze into that 3-inch space…!
  4. Additionally, since our water heater is also installed in the same closet, I needed a door design that would maximize airflow. Typically, you would install a louvered door — but then it wouldn’t really be a barn door.

Given all these constraints, it became obvious that we needed a custom-made door, but I wasn’t willing to pay the premium that would entail.  Yet, not willing to let my dream die such a quick death either, I decided I had only one option left: I had to make the door myself.

Thus began my journey over the winter holidays. To be clear, I’m not a “professional” DIYer; I’m a hobbyist. Which means I don’t have tons of tools. Since I live in the city, I also don’t have the space to work on major projects, and as it turned out, building a barn door isn’t exactly the easiest DIY project. But after multiple trips to Home Depot, a generous dose of trial and error, and pure doggedness, this bad boy finally came together — and all for the bargain price of $220 (not including the cost of blood, sweat, toil, and tears).

The Door Design
In full disclosure, this beauty isn’t the most DIY-friendly barn door design. There are far simpler designs out there for you to choose from. But, I didn’t like the look of those designs. Also, I didn’t have the tools or the space to make something out of plain plywood and paint/treat it to get the look I wanted. So, I designed this door literally on the spot while standing in the lumber aisle at Home Depot and eyeing what they had readily available. The Home Depot lumber associate — let’s call him “CJ” — showed up, and lickety split, I had him cut several pieces of the pre-treated trim for the door slats along with two pieces of black shiplap for the side borders.

Designing the door on the spot at Home Depot

On a whim, I had CJ trim the leftover pieces of the shiplap to match the length of the inner slats. This proved to be a smart move because as I learned later, CJ failed to cut all the slats to the same length!  I was not a happy DIYer when I got home, laid out all the pieces, and THEN found out that several pieces were cut too short!

Painful Lesson #1: No matter how professional “CJ” looks or how many measurements he takes prior to cutting the wood, measure the pieces yourself before you take off!

Nevertheless, I rallied and tried different ways to put the door together. My first attempt, which consisted of gluing the slats horizontally to the edges of the vertical shiplap pieces, started off well and good. However, when I tried picking up the “door” several hours later, all the slats fell off with a thunderous clatter.

Painful Lesson #2: Glue by itself was not going to hold the pieces together!

Back at square one, I shifted all the lumber outside and laid out the door again.  This time, instead of gluing the slats, I hammered in nails at an angle from the edges of the shiplap into the horizontal slats on both sides. Lining up the slats so they were equally spread out with the top and bottom pieces not sticking out above/below the shiplap borders was a bit of a challenge, but I managed this by securing the top and bottom slats in place first and then working inwards.  As a workaround for the shorter pieces, I used metal “strap ties” to attach them to the shiplap. To ensure that I had a sturdy central frame, I attached the two inner shiplap pieces to the outer ones with metal T-plates. To secure these T-plates, I used a bolt+nut in the center for the strongest grip possible (also because the hex bolt gave a nice look in the front) and used longer screws on the sides. I had initially planned to use bolts+nuts on the sides as well, but I ran into another problem: the thickness of the door. Another downside of my design choices described above: I had to be extremely stingy with the door thickness. Every millimeter of thickness increased the risk of the door scraping against the wall (which in my initial trial it did). So jutting bolts+nuts were a no-go.

Painful Lesson #3: If you’re going to spend several hours kneeling on concrete, get a pair of knee-pads; your knees will thank you later!

With this work completed, I finally had a respectable door. What’s more, because of the gaps in between the slats, there would be ample air circulation for the boiler. However, I didn’t like that the slats didn’t sit flush with the shiplap borders. Thankfully, shortly after my failed gluing attempt, this possibility had occurred to me (some good came out of that failed experience after all). So, I had preemptively adjusted my design and decided to add pieces of shiplap over the original shiplap borders to “sandwich” the edges of the horizontal slats. This hid the edges of the horizontal slats and resulted in a much nicer-looking door.

One of the last things I added was a door handle. I opted for the slightly more “premium” Everbilt Heavy Duty Gate Pull because I didn’t want to cheapen the look of the door after all the effort I had put into building it.

Everbilt heavy-duty handle

Railing & Wheel Hardware
I was hoping to buy the railing and wheel hardware ready-made. However, due to the limited 3-inch clearance I had between my door opening and ceiling, I didn’t have much of a choice. I had to make the hardware myself, too. Thankfully, the ladies over at Shanty 2 Chic posted a very detailed DIY video and step-by-step description with links to all the parts they bought. I found their post incredibly helpful and based my hardware design off of their work. However, because I was making a far heavier, actual door and not a small cabinet door like they did, I changed a few things:

  1. Instead of the nylon clothesline wheels Shanty 2 Chic used, I used the metal wheels from Everbilt 1.5-inch pulleys
  2. Instead of 1-inch nylon spacers like theirs, I used 1.5-inch metal ones (from Amazon); I needed them longer than 1-inch due to the greater thickness of my door (the issue I mentioned above)
  3. For the base of the railing screws, I used 1.25-inch fender washers from Home Depot
  4. I added “stoppers” on both ends of the railing to prevent the door from sliding off the edge. I accomplished this by screwing a single hex bolt+nut encased in a nylon spacer on either end. To that end, I had to drill an additional hole on either end of the aluminum bar for each stopper.


One upside of using the metal Everbilt pulley wheels was that after I took the pulleys apart, I was able to use the original bolts and locking pins for the door wheel assemblies.

To cut the aluminum bar, a friend loaned me his grinding machine, which got the job done. I was able to make do with only one 96-inch flat bar by cutting it into one 78-inch piece for the railing and two 9-inch pieces for the door wheel assemblies.

Other than the variations I’ve listed above, I was able to follow the Shanty 2 Chic instructions to build out the railing and wheel assemblies.

Demo Day

As a big fan of Chip and Joanna Gains from HGTV’s Fixer Upper, when the day finally came to start the installation process, I couldn’t wait to say Chip’s magic words: “It’s Demo Day!” 😉

Granted, I didn’t have to tear down nearly as much as Chip usually does on the show, but I made the most of it!  In addition to removing the old bi-fold door, I also had to remove the existing door trim. This was because of the limited space I have; I have seen other DIYers just leave the original trim as is.

Trial Assembly

Thankfully, by the time I got to the really “heavy-lifting” part of this journey, my brother-in-law, Fawad, and his family flew into town for the winter holidays, so I conscripted him to help out. Thank God for family 😉 Once the parts were completed, we assembled all the pieces and hung up the door. This helped me understand where I needed to make adjustments. For example, this is when I learned I needed longer spacers and was able to mark off where the bottom bracket to prevent the door from swinging would be installed.

Once all the adjustments were done, we took the door back down and cleaned up the wall. Yes, you cannot forget this part: A nice-looking barn door hanging on a scratched up, dented wall will simply not do. So I spackled and sanded, then painted a white trim around the door opening, and touched up the wall around the door. I also painted the railing and wheel hardware black, but decided to keep the wheels themselves and the rail screws their original gold color because my wife and I liked the contrast.  Finally, Fawad and I reassembled everything and hung the door back up.

Final Assembly

As a final adjustment, I installed a “roller catch” on the right side of the door frame to catch the door as it rolls in.  This prevents the door from chipping the paint off the wall.  I made it using a framing angle and an IKEA adjustable leveler “wheelie thing” I had lying around.

My “roller catch” — and yes, it’s a homemade contraption using the wheelie things you get with various IKEA furniture

In Conclusion

Not only does the door look great, it’s also incredibly satisfying to know that it’s the product of my own blood, sweat, and toil 😉 But it has also addressed some really annoying issues we had with our old door:

  1. Previously, whenever we opened the bi-fold door, it blocked more than half of our narrow hallway. Passing through with the door open was a real pain, and our kids inevitably ran into the door several times.
  2. Because the bi-fold door didn’t give full clearance into the laundry closet either, we would struggle to pull out our laundry detergent bottle from next to the washing machine.
  3. Additionally, we could not open the washing machine or dryer doors all the way because the bi-fold closet door would be in the way.
  4. Finally, we constantly had issues with the bi-fold coming off its track or not closing properly.

Thankfully, with the barn door, all of these issues are now resolved!

I hope you find this post useful. If you’re trying to build and install your own door, feel free to ask me any questions in the comments section below.


Up in the Swiss Alps

On this beautiful Saturday morning, a colleague and I headed to one of the nearby mountains in the Swiss Alps. With the warm weather just starting to kick in, it turned out to be the perfect day for a hike up the picturesque mountain.

Flumserberg, which serves as a popular ski resort during the winter, is preparing for the Summer season. Snow is still visible across the mountain, but with the weather warming up, much of it is melting, setting small streams of clear, fresh water flowing down all over the mountainside. In some places, the water rushes under thick layers of snow and ice, giving us reason to tread cautiously as we hiked up the mountain.

It took us about an hour to get to the top, and it was quite the workout! But the view from the top was well worth it.

Searching for the “Ultimate” Swiss Chocolate

In my quest to find the “ultimate” Swiss chocolate, learning that there was a Lindt factory less than 15 minutes away from where I’m staying was like the moment Charlie finds the golden ticket in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Of course, another aspect of Switzerland that captivates our imagination is Swiss chocolate. Sure, we’ve all had Swiss chocolate before, but how much awesomer would it be to have Swiss chocolate in Switzerland?!  To go right to the source and drink straight from the maw of the gushing rivers of chocolate that flow through these lands?! So that’s what I decided to do. But which chocolate to choose? Go to the local Migros (Swiss grocery store), and there are shelves full of various Swiss brands. After trying a couple — all quite delicious — I still felt I needed to find the “one.” And so began by quest to track down the “ultimate” Swiss chocolate.

The first place I started was with my colleagues. Being Swiss or having lived here for a number of years, they, I was sure, would quickly resolve my predicament. So at lunch one day, I popped the question: Which Swiss chocolate is best? Their answer? Lindt. Seriously…? Lindt?! The very same balls of chocolate (the more technical term would be “Lindor truffles”) I can grab at a Ross discount store checkout aisle back home? Surely, they didn’t mean that Lindt? But they did. I didn’t travel halfway around the world on this quest only to go down on the first punch. I pressed on.

I turned next to Google. Surely this all-knowing, omnipotent algorithm would pierce through the “alternative facts” and “posers” and tell me who the real ultimate Swiss chocolate is?

Lo and behold, Google’s answer turned out be Lindt as well!

The Best Swiss Chocolates (as Googled)

Source: Ranker

Fair enough. It may not be the exotic answer I was hoping for, but let’s be honest, Lindt chocolates are pretty darn good. To sweeten the deal, I learned that there’s actually a Lindt factory less than 15 minutes away from where I’m staying! So, feeling the way Charlie felt when he came across the golden ticket in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I went to see for myself.

It turned out that the factory itself was not open for visitors, but that didn’t stop me from having a blast in the factory chocolate shop.

He turned and reached behind him for the chocolate bar, then he turned back again and handed it to Charlie. Charlie grabbed it and quickly tore off the wrapper and took an enormous bite. Then he took another…and another…and oh, the joy of being able to cram large pieces of something sweet and solid into one’s mouth! The sheer blissful joy of being able to fill one’s mouth with rich solid food!
‘You look like you wanted that one, sonny,’ the shopkeeper said pleasantly.
Charlie nodded, his mouth bulging with chocolate.

― Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Trouble in Paradise?

I heard from colleagues that on the May 1st Labor Day holiday in Switzerland there would be protests in Zürich, which had turned violent in the past. So, of course, I had to go see for myself.

Today, May 1st, is the Labor Day holiday in Switzerland — well, not ALL of Switzerland, but certain parts of the country (yes, it seems odd that a national holiday isn’t exactly “national,” but Switzerland, I’m learning, is a complex country). The city of Zürich is in an area that DOES celebrate the holiday, and as the site of the largest Labor Day celebrations in Switzerland, it is also a key site for demonstrations and protests on this day. What?! Protests in Switzerland?! Who can possibly protest against the “world’s best country”??! What do people find to complain about in a country with low unemployment, a skilled labor force and one of the highest gross domestic products per capita in the world?? Not to mention an abundance of well-preserved natural resources accessible to all??? Yup, my thoughts exactly.

So it turns out that Labor Day is also known as May Day or International Worker’s Day, a day that is celebrated across many countries in honor of workers. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know this. In my defense though, in America we don’t officially recognize May 1st as Labor Day.  Our Labor Day is on the first Monday in September, and the essence of the holiday is a day off and great discounts at your favorite retailer.  Now that I’ve Googled and Wikipedia-ed up some knowledge, I’ve learned that May Day — ironically enough — has its roots in the US, and when the US government did finally decide to designate a holiday in honor of workers, it purposely chose not to celebrate it on May 1st. You can read more about it here.

So yes, like pretty much people in all countries, even people in Switzerland have something to protest about. The primary issue this year appears to be equal pay, with Swiss unions marching under the slogan “Equal pay. Period,” demanding equal salaries for men and women (a topic we are quite familiar with in America).

Interestingly though, the demonstrations aren’t limited to Swiss issues. I heard from several folks that foreigners also tend to congregate here on May Day and demonstrate for/against specific issues. The following video from Zürich this afternoon is an example of that with the demonstrators marching in support of Rojava, a de facto autonomous region in northern Syria.

It appears that these demonstrators were also the reason for the stepped up police presence.

Besides this and a random assortment of dirty diapers strewn in front of a storefront (and some plastered against its shutter), I saw little else out of the ordinary.

Dirty Diapers
Dirty diapers strewn on the sidewalk and plastered on the storefront shutter.

Most shops and restaurants were closed, but many in the vicinity of the train station — which itself was running on a holiday schedule — were open for business. People milled about and enjoyed the balmy weather. As for me, I had a nice bike ride around town on a free bike rental courtesy of Zürirollt. Later, I got myself a nice mug of hot chocolate and had a great conversation with a lovely Swiss couple, Claudia and Corrado, while the police vans raced past.

Across the English Countryside

On a recent work trip I had the opportunity to travel across the beautiful English countryside and hear a number of different perspectives on life in the UK.

On a recent work trip I had the opportunity to travel across the English countryside. I flew into Manchester on a Saturday, took a train to Nottingham (of Robin Hood fame), and after the weekend, took another train down to London. Then after some customer meetings I drove back up to the Manchester / Yorkshire area with two of my British colleagues.

Previously, the only part of the UK I had visited was London, and that was almost 10 years ago! So it was nice to not only revisit London but to also see a much broader swathe of the country.

The English countryside is truly beautiful. One of my favorite sights is of the sheep and cows grazing in the vast, green fields. Since it’s “lambing” season right now, there are multitudes of frisky lambs meandering around with their mothers. It reminds me of my childhood growing up on a farm in Pennsylvania. It also reminds me of Shaun the Sheep, the British animated series.

Along my journey, I had the chance to connect with various people. One was a guy named Marcus, a diehard United of Manchester football (soccer) fan, who was on his way to support his team in their match in Alfreton. Another was an Australian named Dan who was backpacking across England. I also met up with my cousin, Kamran, and spent some time with his beautiful family. Additionally, a Kellogg classmate, Nene, contacted me on Facebook, and we got together for dinner at fish! in London. These meetings gave me an opportunity to hear various perspectives on life in the UK. There were some common themes. The ongoing Champions League tournament is a hot topic, especially because an English team, Liverpool – starring the global, Egyptian phenomenon Mohamed “Mo” Salah – is in the running. I even caught the Liverpool-Roma match, and wow, what a game! Liverpool decimated Roma with a 5-2 win. Mo Salah, who led the goal scoring, is truly an extraordinary player. And it’s remarkable how his success has had such a positive spillover effect for Muslims worldwide, who are enduring a period of intense Islamophobia.

The birth of the third child, a son, to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (William and Kate) is another hot topic. As I write this, the public still does not know the name of the young prince. Bookies are taking bets, apparently, and last I heard, “Alexander” might be in the running.

It is also a time of great uncertainty and anxiety in Britain (not unlike the US). Political scandals are splashing across the headlines and screens everyday (e.g., Windrush, charges of anti-Semitism against the Labour Party, etc.). Preparations for Brexit are underway. It’s fascinating to hear the different sides of the debate on this deeply controversial topic. There are many who are fiercely opposed to separating from the EU. They believe Brexit will be a huge mistake, and as proof, they point out that the value of the British pound dropped to a 31-year low following the Brexit vote. This severely impacted the buying power of Britons. Property prices in London have also dropped, as investor confidence has deflated. Many in this camp believe that the referendum that decided Brexit was fundamentally flawed. They believe that it was more a vote against David Cameron, the unpopular Prime Minister at the time, than an actual vote on whether to stay in the EU or not. Of course, there are those who support it as well. In this latter camp, many believe that the UK gave up too much as a member of the EU and can do far better on its own.

There’s also an element of anti-immigration involved, something that we are confronting in the US as well. Interestingly, this latter camp includes some immigrant groups as well. These are generally non-EU immigrants (i.e., immigrants from countries other than the European Union) who feel that their economic opportunities have been compromised due to an institutional preference for EU immigrants. They worry that this has affected not only their own futures but their children’s as well who will not enjoy the same access and benefits as their EU counterparts.

Lots of questions remain unanswered. Will Brexit actually happen? If so, will it be a “soft” Brexit or a “hard” Brexit? The former would mean little to no changes whereas the latter could upend everything. What will happen to EU citizens living in the UK? What will happen to British citizens living in the EU countries? Will Scotland use Brexit as an opportunity to secede from the UK? Will Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have to create a customs border (a very sensitive topic, given Ireland’s violent past)? Can the UK separate from the EU but still remain within a “Customs Union?” Many more questions abound, contributing to the prevailing uncertainty.

Life’s Adventure by Leroy Merlin

In this touching commercial for French home improvement store Leroy Merlin, a young couple starts their life together, moving into a rundown house and “setting sail” in it.

I love how Leroy Merlin, a French home improvement store, blends the literal and figurative in this poignant commercial (by BETC Paris) to produce a truly poetic piece. The young couple starts their life together, moving into a rundown house and “setting sail” in it. Over time, they turn the house into a home, working together to rebuild and renovate it.  All the while, you can see the gentle rocking of the house as it sails along — a visual representation of the pattern of daily life.  Inevitably, they run into “stormy seas” (again, a blend of the literal and the figurative), but they work their way out of it together. The soundtrack, a cover of Rod Stewart’s “Sailing,” is incredibly touching as well.

Guten Tag from Switzerland!

It’s been said before, and it’ll be said again, but wow, is Switzerland beautiful! Granted, I’ve only seen a limited area, mainly the Zurich canton area on this trip, but so far, Switzerland is living up to the hype.

It’s been said before, and it’ll be said again, but wow, is Switzerland beautiful! Granted, I’ve only seen a limited area, mainly the Zurich canton area on this trip, but so far, Switzerland is living up to the hype. What continues to strike me is how clean the place is. Prior to coming here, a colleague of mine had remarked that when you’re in Switzerland it feels like that every night, while you’re asleep, somebody goes through all the streets and vacuums up all the tidbits of trash. By the time you wake up in the morning, everything is astoundingly clean. I can see what he meant, and I’m half-expecting to catch some elves scurrying around at night tidying things up (yes, that’s a reference to the Harry Potter books, which, in my defense, we’re reading to the kids these days).

Another striking feature of this area are the snowcapped mountains ever present on the horizon. It is a breathtaking site, truly postcard-perfect (more photos below). While I think most people, whether they’ve actually been to Switzerland or not, have an appreciation for the fairy tail-like beauty of Switzerland, I don’t think anyone can match the fascination that “desis” (people of South Asian origin including Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh) have with the place. The credit for this, I believe, goes largely to Bollywood, which has been operating practically as an unofficial marketing agency for Switzerland for as long as I can remember. Of course, Hollywood has also contributed to marketing the Swiss brand, but I doubt it has matched Bollywood. An 80s’ or even 90’s kid of desi origin who’s watched even a handful of Bollywood movies can attest to this: Bollywood loves frolicking on the Swiss mountains. Be it a snowcapped mountain (where a heroine performs some seriously remarkable dance moves, considering she’s wrapped in a sari) or a lush green slope (down which the heroine inevitably rolls to her waiting love interest), it certainly seems like at least one musical interlude (of the many) had to be shot in the Swiss mountains. This has resulted in fantastic images of Switzerland being imprinted in many a desi mind. Who, after all, can forget the visual of Sri Devi (RIP) dancing on these very mountains with Rishi Kapoor in the cult classic, Chandni?

From the Bollywood hit, Chandni

As a child of the 80s who watched more than his fair share of Indian movies despite growing up in America, I can’t help but feel a certain giddiness in being here. These are the iconic images I saw in the movies growing up, and now, I’m actually here! I’m half-tempted to go running around these hills singing at the top of my lungs 😉

Not actually me. Shown for illustration purposes only.

A Long Hiatus

Many of you may remember that about eleven years ago I set off on a solo backpacking trip abroad, starting with London, that led across Europe, North Africa, and Asia over the course of seven months. It turned out to be a pivotal time in my life, one that culminated with me meeting my future wife and settling abroad in Dubai for several years. One of the most gratifying aspects of that journey was the time and motivation it gave me to write. I started this blog, Wandering I, and in it I wrote about my observations, adventures, and discoveries. However, the obligations of gainful re-employment followed by marriage and fatherhood changed my priorities, leading to a nearly decade-long hiatus in my blog-writing. Yes, I have written some pieces here and there, but many have never actually made it onto this site.

I have long wanted to restart my writing. Writing is something I have loved since I was a child. Now, in fact, I feel it has become a personal calling. So I’ve decided to dust off the digital cobwebs on Wandering I and get it back up and running.

As I pick up my pen again – so to speak – I can’t help but marvel how things have changed since I started this blog a decade ago. One of the biggest changes is the technology we have access to. When I embarked on my solo backpacking journey, the first, original iPhone had just launched. I remember seeing it at my neighbor’s house, but I didn’t fancy it much. I personally preferred a physical keyboard and owned a Palm Treo. This was the heyday of the Blackberry and nobody (besides perhaps Steve Jobs) heard the death knell the launch of the iPhone rang, not only for the Blackberry but Nokia, too. And not only phones, but eventually digital cameras, personal audio players, and other consumer products as well. It was in that “pre-iPhone” era, before the wildfire of modern smartphones upended our world as we knew it, that I set out on my journey. Without access to essentially a computer at my fingertips, I had to find Internet cafes and paper maps to navigate around. I even had to actually talk to real people!

Now, in this post-iPhone launch era or the “iPhone epoch,” I find it much easier and convenient to find my way around. However, I do wonder whether I’m missing out on the human touch. It’s far too common now to find people with their necks bent over their smartphones, more interested in random minutiae half the world away than engaging with those around them. I am guilty of this, too, but being aware of it, I try to make a conscious effort to connect with people as I visit different places.

At its core, Wandering I, is about exploration and discovery, and that’s what continues to motivate me.  I invite you to “come see the world with me” and show me your own. I hope you will join me 🙂

To read more about the origin of Wandering I, please check out the About page.

On Philly

From Chinatown in the North to (almost) the Italian Market in the South, the banks of the Schuylkill in the West to Penn’s Landing in the East, today has been a double-down, no holds barred dose of Philadelphia. Our quest for an apartment was defined largely by disappointment, frustration, and as the day wore on, by our two little toddlers-turned-demons’ wailing refrain, “I wanna go Phuppo (auntie’s) home!”  But unbeknownst to us, in between stumbling through former habitats of erudition-seeking wild animals (a.k.a. college students) and engaging in unexpectedly friendly and insightful conversations with pedestrians we accosted for the “inside scoop” on the neighborhoods, this scrappy, rough-around-the-edges city of brotherly love, started casting its spell over us, and we’ve fallen prey to its unassuming charm.

My Son’s “Why”

My son has outgrown (much too fast!) the phase where he used to do as he was told. I often think back to one instance in particular when his obedience was highlighted. My wife, he, and I were walking down a street in Dubai, and he stopped us to ask if he could walk up a ramp adjacent to the sidewalk (he found it fun to walk up and down ramps). Those were the days! Of late he’s entered a phase where most requests are met with a “why?” “Why, Baba?” Why this? Why that? My wife and I made a conscious commitment early on to nurture his curiosity and have doggedly stuck to a policy of replying with reasonable answers — for the most part. For those of you who’ve gone through this know how FRUSTRATING this can become. I confess that there have been instances where I’ve run out of steam and have replied with the classic “Because I said so!”

I recently learned that a classmate at Kellogg lost his right arm and leg in a freak accident when he was nine years old. The astounding thing is that I didn’t know about this until he shared his story at a Kellogg event organized to celebrate the diversity of stories at Kellogg. I was blown away. I had met this classmate several times before, and it had never been obvious. He uses a prosthetic arm and leg, and if you look closely you can tell that his hand is prosthetic. However, what’s fascinating is his attitude. He doesn’t make his disability the center of his life; so much so that I’m reluctant to even call it a “disability.” After he had shared his story, I asked him to tell us how he managed to remain so upbeat and optimistic. I asked this question because it hit me that I, like many others, easily let the petty issues of day to day life drag me down. I often forget to celebrate the beauty of family, friends, and a sunny day. My classmate responded to my question with an anecdote: Prior to his accident he loved drawing. So when he was recovering at the hospital he asked his parents to hand him a tablet and pen so he could draw. His parents tried to explain to him that he would not be able to draw because he had injured his hand (he was right-handed). But he didn’t understand what the issue was; he would draw with his left hand! His childish mind couldn’t see the insurmountable hurdle that the grown ups around him did. He got the tablet and pen and proceeded to draw a Mickey Mouse look-alike that he shared with us.

Karthik’s story inspires me and has incited in me a renewed appreciation for the imaginative powers of a child’s mind. My son’s frustrating “why’s” don’t seem as frustrating anymore. They appear more like a window into a fascinating world of possibilities that my grown-up mind once traversed.

Featured photo courtesy of Emma Frances Logan on Unsplash