Monday, June 21, 2021

Coronavirus Cogitations: Strange bedroom & weird dreams

Monalisa Changkija

In the past few mornings, I wake up sweating in a strange bedroom after a night of troubled, listless sleep and weird dreams. I wake up in a hospital room or a prison cell sheathed in shock, fear and panic. I search for an escape route. It takes a few minutes to find my bearings ~ no, it’s not a strange bedroom ~ it’s my own, in which I have been sleeping for almost 34 years. The eerie silence around me resonates inside my eardrums, almost shattering it and I feel I have become deaf ~ until birds, jauntily swinging from branch to branch on my Mango trees, rent out a symphony of choral cacophony and I am reconnected to my pulsating heart. Then I say to myself: “I’m alive! I’m alive!” and begin my day.

This, and worse, is happening to a lot of us ~ this is what the lockdown, and the shutdown on top that, is doing to us. Try as we may to be brave and not give in to hysteria ~ metaphorically we are screaming inside us and banging our hands and heads on invisible walls and doors, and injuring our fingers trying to open and let in some fresh air through imagined barred windows. Right now, life feels surreal ~ as if we are living in a futuristic, apocalyptic movie. Perhaps like the Contagion. Yes, this is a tough time but we must see them through; we will see them through because we will not give in. We will face more of such psychological trauma but we will overcome them because the mind is stronger than the might of force, violence and the isolation, alienation and loneliness of lockdowns and shutdowns; because the power of the mind and the faith of the heart, in whichever god, are stronger than the hunger of the stomach; because the mind defeats denials and deprivations ~ human history is replete with numerous examples of the triumph of the mind over the needing and wanting body.

Today is Palm Sunday ~ I haven’t been to Church for Palm Sunday Services in decades and I feel no desire to attend any Palm Sunday Service, even at a time like this. I celebrate Palm Sundays, Easters, Christmases and even observe Good Fridays every year in my heart and I believe the Good Lord acknowledges them in His own way. I will not discourage you from attending regular Services and special Services on other sacred occasions when these dark days are over but I would like to say that I believe that an honest prayer anywhere at any time of the day is also acceptable to the Almighty ~ whatever faith you believe in. It is only at times like these, one must concede that the heart is the primary church, temple, mosque and gurudwara ~ and that the buildings we consider as places of worship are empty with only the bodies populating them without the hearts present in them.

At the cost of incurring great ire from people of various religious faiths and beliefs, I opine that this is the time to ponder how fundamental are places of worship, which cannot even open their doors, in these dire days, to the needy, the hungry, the homeless and the disabled ~ as opposed to the hearts that have opened and answered to the cries of the vulnerable, the unfortunate and the wretched of the earth out in the streets. Today, on Palm Sunday, as we commemorate the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1–9), when Palm branches (I am sure you know that the Palm branch is a symbol of victory, triumph, peace, and eternal life originating in the ancient Near East and Mediterranean world. A Palm branch was awarded to victorious athletes in ancient Greece, and a Palm frond or the tree itself is one of the most common attributes of Victory personified in ancient Rome) were placed on His path, before his arrest on Holy Thursday and his crucifixion on Good Friday, marking the beginning of Holy Week, the final week of Lent, perhaps we could focus more on the entrance of divinity personified into our hearts. Maybe, we should also remind ourselves that Jesus wasn’t spending time in the temples preaching, much less holding forth on theoretical, philosophical and theological issues, but was out there amongst the flotsam and jetsam of society, the wretched of the earth, introducing them and bringing them closer to the Grace of God. I hope I have been able to get across my opinions and beliefs on faith.

But let me not get warmer on the subject of faith and personal beliefs. I stated a little of my experiences in the past few days and I am sure a lot of us are undergoing similar or worse mental and psychological trauma. These mental and psychological traumas are but natural in these unnatural days when we are locked up, extremely worried, anxious and disturbed about what tomorrow would bring; our depleting resources, especially food and other essential commodities, with some of our children and other loved ones in faraway places and our inability to access medical help for our ailments, etc. While we are fervently praying to see us through these frightening days ~ perhaps even making deals with God, as is our wont when we are desperate ~ I think that the very fact of the lockdown and shutdown happening at the time of Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday is very significant. But I leave it to you to decide that. Some may believe that it could very well be pre-planned by a Government at the Centre, which is anti-this or that religion but I believe that it is the novel Coronavirus that has determined the timing of the lockdown. And so, ponder about why this virus has struck us at this time of the year ~ resulting in the lockdown.

In our society, mental issues and psychological trauma are stigmatized. But they are natural and a part of life, especially during very stressful times and after stressful experiences. I have no reason to conceal the fact that I am extremely worried, anxious, apprehensive, stressed out and depressed for various reasons, which must be the same for you too ~ and particularly because my youngest daughter is stuck and all alone at Guwahati and I have been suffering from an eye infection, which is taking a long time to heal despite medication and I fear (or maybe I imagine) I may lose my eyesight because I cannot access an eye doctor. I know I need to talk with a Psychiatrist or a Psychologist but I haven’t done so as yet ~ instead I decided to share my worries, anxiety, apprehensions and stress with you to let you know that it’s okay, we all have our personal angst and agonies and we all have our own way of dealing with them. But it is also imperative to know when to reach out for help. While we can, and do, take these to the Lord in prayer, it is also imperative to remember that the Lord’s help takes varied and various manifestations. Don’t hesitate to seek professional help ~ our psychiatric and psychological professionals have also been put on earth by the Almighty and have offered their help. Make use of their offer. Moreover, stigmatization in any form goes against the very principles of “Love is the greatest”.

Who knows tomorrow I may wake up from a nightmare in which I find myself in a strait-jacket, locked up in a white sound-proof room ~ as in movies. And, I will take time to organize my disoriented mind but I will ~ and that’s the important thing. My worries, anxieties, fears, apprehensions, stress and depression will not disappear soon but they will by and by because I will make them disappear. The Almighty will empower me to make them disappear The fact is, Coronavirus or no Coronavirus, we constantly live with worries, anxieties, fears, apprehensions and stress ~ in fact, sometimes our lives are living nightmares ~ so it is important to know when we create our own nightmares and when nightmares happen because of the circumstances of the times. Then again, despite our worries, anxieties, fears, apprehensions and stress, we still haven’t lost our sanity and gone berserk (perhaps, except some cops at Dimapur) because we haven’t let them. That itself speaks of our inner strength, will and wisdom. So, to live another day, we need to draw our inspiration from our strength, will and wisdom. I believe the entire sequence of events of Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem, His arrest on Holy Thursday, His crucifixion on Good Friday and His resurrection on Easter Sunday has a very significant message for those of us, who subscribe to Christ’s teachings ~ especially those of us burdened with worries, anxieties, fears, apprehensions and stress, as well as doubts, distrust and sceptism. The Almighty, we know, works in mysterious ways. What is happening now and what we are undergoing now must certainly be one of His mysterious ways, to speak to us. Let this happen and let us accept it ~ for indubitably He will reveal what He wants us to know soon. The question is: will we accept His revelations and abide by them.

I really didn’t plan to sound all-knowing (because I am not) and preachy. I just wanted to share my worries, anxieties, fears, apprehensions and stress and tell you that I’m as traumatized as you are although I may come across as strong and brave in my writings, in my public persona. Together we must see through these ordeals and together we will ~ so please continue to stay home, and stay safe. Even after the lockdown is over, please continue to take precautionary and preventive measures till the world is rid of the novel Coronavirus for good. God takes care of those who take care of themselves ~ never has this adage been more pertinent than now. In the same token, we must also ensure that we don’t (or let anyone, not even the Government) normalize the abnormal, the atypical, the anomalous and the aberrant life we are forced into live now.

Have a Blessed Palm Sunday.