My work exposes me to people hanging by a thread during these unprecedented times. Loss and sickness of loved ones, being ill and isolated, financial loss or social isolation, psychotic breakdowns in family or a loved one ending their life, gauging which one would weigh heavier. Depression, anger, domestic violence, crime and a sheer loss of humanity, which one needs fixing first. Who suffers more, who is more destroyed? How will we ever wipe away the memories of this time that left a gash on so many hearts?
I lost my maternal grandmother during this unforgiving time. A lady who bore seven children and gave every waking moment of her life, from 4:30 am every single day, to get ready for the Jain temple, perform prayers, boil water and methodically strain it through various hem layers for consumption. And have meals cooked before a parade of intruders as her 30 grandkids barged in without a shower to take a lick of her handmade jaggery, only to be chased out without touching (which was a happy sport for us) until we showered, to 10pm for a family that I felt was well worthy of being a village in number!
She lived having followed every Jain religion principle to the core, fed and nurtured everyone who she so much as glanced upon, jangled the keys of her “anaaj ghar” soon as she spotted a beggar through her window and ran down three flights of stairs to feed them, while never eating a morsel herself past 5pm lest she harms a living thing unknowingly. She lived with a hundred people around her, and left us forever on the shoulders of barely a few for a quick cremation during a curfew.
The virus took away from us the chance of saying goodbye to her, kissing her forehead and hugging her feet in pure gratitude, exacerbating the crisis of losing her. Many of her children (senior citizens themselves), grandchildren and great-grandchildren she doted over, couldn’t be there. An additional pain they carry in their hearts and mourn severely. Which one of these is worse than the other?
This personal experience is but a tiny drop in the ocean of suffering and helplessness that the pandemic has brought upon thousands of families, wave after wave, loss after loss.
The words of Mr Amitabh Bachchan recently touched my heart. His words reflected a raging war between water and fire. His struggle to stand tall in the face of an onslaught that’s not new to him, social opinion, was apparent. Such is the time today that is shaking up the most strongly rooted. He wrote, “In the seclusion of the day, when the sun is down and the shades of grey and dark begin to appear on the window sill by the bed…I sit and contemplate on that which brings vexation…in averse sleep hours the writing thoughts run through the mind and brain…tomorrow or as soon as it is day break shall I bring it all to book…scathing, defiant, angered, indignation profound…”
A man who has taken ill, whose family is vulnerable, a little child in the family is fighting a deadly virus, faces social media misconduct and disrespect, amid the pain of having lost close friends. Which crisis is worse than the other?
So how does one wrap their head around concurring physical, emotional, intellectual, social and soul-stirring challenges?
Emotional arousal in the current times is so high, that it is guiding our attention to incidents that are a trigger. Crisis is multiplying because we are mentally attending to it. Emotions are impacting our perceptions, attention, memory and decision-making.
At times like this when we are all looking around with grim eyes, for hope and recovery, we have to anchor ourselves in change, in reconstruction of the self and society. Everyone is suffering, and no one man’s heart mourns less than the other. We have to focus on health and help, care and compassion, rebuild and renew our strengths.
This time can be life altering for us. Looking deep within us as individuals, asking “why” questions to ourselves, challenging the core of rigidities, must-dos and have-tos, review our relationship perceptions and expectations from them, evaluate our social behaviours and build communities that are not predatory, but cohesive and supportive.
As a parallel epidemic of mental illness and social discord is ready to take shape, our conviction in a revolution to enhance character, compassion, reform and collective strength is imperative.
(The author is a Mumbai-based psychologist and psychotherapist)
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