“What if we all go back to normal and nothing changes? What if all this is for nothing?” That’s why we need our very own Zihuatanejo, an icon of hope that our world will never be the same again.
“What is your Zihuatanejo?” If you have seen the uplifting movie Shawshank Redemption, then you might have an idea of what I am talking about. For the others, without any spoilers, let me give you a little preview. Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is a successful banker, falsely convicted to a life sentence in Shawshank prison for his wife’s and her lover’s murders. There, he makes many friends and quietly brings about humane changes for the inmates in his own gentle way. One scene that stands out in my memory is when, after 20 years of imprisonment, he shares the idea of ‘Zihuatanejo’ with his friend Red (Morgan Freeman). He talks about how he dreams of going to Zihuatanejo one day. Describing the place, he says, “It’s in Mexico, some place in the Pacific Ocean. You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific? They say it has no memory. That’s where I want to live for the rest of my life – a warm place with no memory.” Red is initially enchanted by this idea but then dismisses it as “silly pipe dreams” and himself as an “institutional man” who has no life outside the prison.
Shawshank Redemption continues to be one of my favourite movies and Zihuatanejo one of the most powerful and uplifting metaphors. And so relevant for our COVID lockdown times where it is so easy for us to lose hope and get locked in with a sense of despair with, “What if things never become better?” Then there is another very real fear I hear from young people, “What if we all go back to normal and nothing changes? What if all this is for nothing?” That’s why we need our very own Zihuatanejo, an icon of hope that our world will never be the same again. Keeping the overwhelming tragedy aside, maybe COVID might help us to dream of a brave new world – our very own Zihuatanejo where we can let go of the memory of our stale old world which had literally started rotting and stinking.
But it is not easy to imagine this Zihuatanejo. We have been institutionalised so much by a culture that applauds hustle, busyness, hoarding, competing, that we have no way of knowing any other way. The lockdown has forced us to step back but we really have no idea what this world would look like. We are so locked in our prison of thoughts, habits, and toxic patterns of life that it is difficult to think of any other way. Therefore it becomes extremely crucial that we take time and reflect on what truly matters to each one of us. What changes do we want to bring? What is our vision, what is our Zihuatanejo?
Please find a quiet space in your house and reflect on these questions. It would be even more effective if you write these down in a notebook.
What is the society’s idea of success?
Is it in keeping with what you value most? If you had to redefine the idea of success then what would it look like? For example if you realised during the lockdown that you want to slow down and spend more time with your family then what steps would you need to take for that? Alternatively, if you decided that you would no longer give away a large part of your income in promoting multibillion dollar industries that choke up our environment then where would you spend it instead? Talking about money, how central would money be in all the decisions you make about your life?
What is this lockdown made you feel strongly about any issue of social justice?
Would you be able to take a stand for it? As things start stumbling back to “normal” again – what initiatives would you like to take? Give a certain number of hours in the day to an NGO, sponsoring a child’s education, starting an awareness drive on LGBTQ on social media. It could be anything that stirs your soul, enriches your life by what you get by giving back. As Ian Anderson from the band Jethro Tull put, “It’s only the giving that makes you, what you are.”
It does not have to be a momentous transformative change, it could be something very small. A 13-year-told me, “I have decided that after this whole thing is over I will be kinder and more respectful towards people who work for us.” That was her Zihuatanejo. She went one step ahead and formed a WhatsApp group with her friends in the society to start a fund-raising for the domestic staff. Another set of brothers (both below the age of 16) raised over 7 lakhs of rupees for an NGO that supports daily wage workers during lockdown. These children are showing us the way for a braver new world.
Imagine your older wiser self, who is living their life aligned to what you value the most.
Where are they living, what are they doing for their living? Which relationships and communities do they hold close to their heart? What advice would they give you on how you can navigate this part of your life?
These questions might help us connect to our Zihuatanejo – what we value the most and what keeps us going through the darkest times. We need to remember that our values are not our destination but give us a direction. And we need to start today and not wait for the lockdown to get over. Let’s commit to taking as little 30 minutes every day to start mapping our adventure to find our very own Zihuatanejo. It does not have to fit into what society deems as successful or worthy but what connects to our vision for our life. We have to strive to do it now and not wait for things to become “normal”. Because the longer we wait to begin, the less likely we are to find it at all. As Andy in Shawshank Redemption put it, “I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.”
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