On Friday evening, I rang in the weekend with a walk in the nature reserve near my home. The rain had stopped and everything felt fresh and clean, exactly what I needed to wash away my fatigue. The week had been long, with sweltering hot days and an unending to-do list. I sat silently on my favorite perch after walking in the grass. In the still waters of the lake I saw a happy little turtle swimming laps. The sight cheered me up and I stood up to capture it on my phone. The walk calmed me down and the swimming turtle felt like the cherry atop the cake of weekend anticipation.
When all news is bad news
The weekend brought with it tales of tragedy and heartbreak. As my feed filled with news about the widespread impact of yet another ruthless wave of Covid-19 infections in India, I felt sad. And angry. So much of the chaos and the desperate scenes of death could have been prevented by responsible behavior both by individuals and those in charge of governance. The blatant public disregard for safety measures, apathy of the bureaucracy and political mismanagement at all levels were unbelievable. I felt helpless. I wanted to scream. What else could I do?
On Monday morning, I tried to calm myself by posting a video of the carefree turtle, hoping for a pleasant turn of events. But it was not to be. News of a friend’s father’s death made the disturbing news stories suddenly very real. From nameless faces to a beloved person, the switch in my response was instantaneous. I was gripped by nausea even as tears collected at the corners of my eyes.
Death is inevitable. Non-negotiable. Final.
All our pleas and prayers fall by the wayside when it appears; silent, stubborn and insistent.
Death reminds us what is fleeting and what is important
Even though you might have grasped the concept of death as a child watching a squirming earthworm or a butterfly in the final moments of it’s life, seeing it embrace your loved ones, your anchors and your cheerleaders, your guides and your friends, is not a trivial experience.
Nothing can prepare you for the death of a parent, no matter how imperfect the relationship. I was forty when I lost my mother, and my father left in a few short years after that. I can’t say I was young or immature when they passed away. Yet, the loss felt like a personal blow, a warning and reminder from the universe that nothing is permanent. Justifying their advanced age or deteriorating health status did not help rationalize their loss.
It seemed like the world would never be the same ever again. And it was not.
Yet, it did not mean that I never laughed again, or found joy in my life.
Grief hits you like a tornado and blows away the strong foundational bricks of your life like a flimsy pack of cards.
In the aftermath you pick up pieces; some make you smile, others feel like a knife twisting somewhere deep inside. Snippets of dialog and pieces of memories assemble again like a design in a kaleidoscope; ever changing, ever beautiful.
Looking inward, outwards and upwards
On days like this when I am filled with an overwhelming sadness, I have found a few things that help:
- Doing something that calms me: For me, writing gives me a creative outlet and helps soothe my nerves. What is it for you? Music or art or exercise? What helps you pull yourself out of your despair? Find what works and spend time doing it.
- Doing something that helps others: From my location in Singapore, all I could do for the people in India was find ways to contribute to organizations that were doing the important work easing the struggle of those in distress. I donated to a few causes that felt urgent. Look for ways to help.
- Turning towards something that gives me hope: When the present moment seems lost, I stay open for signs of hope – in the faint rainbow after a downpour, in the gurgle of a newborn, in the exuberance of the puppy next door, in the dreamy yearnings of a youngster in love. What kindles hope in you?
Lessons from my garden
Two weeks ago I embarked on an ambitious goal of trying to grow houseplants. I wanted to resurrect the tulsi plant that had died earlier in the year, thanks to my ambitious ministrations after a bout of neglect. I planted a handful of seeds saved from the dead plant into a new pot filled with fresh organic soil. I watered it and watched it anxiously for signs of life. When I didn’t see anything for ten days, I felt dejected. But yesterday I found two tiny specks of green, microscopic shoots trying to push through the soil. We want to live, they seemed to be saying.
I observed the pot with amazement. There was life in those dry seeds. There was something to look forward to after the outer form of the plant was destroyed. What had survived was hope, not just seeds. Hope, not only for my gardening efforts, but for better days.
What makes us cling to life and value it despite death, darkness and despair, is hope which springs up like dandelions in a bare field which scatters seeds and brings forth smiles, even on gloomy days.
To tap the joy within, all we need to do is look outwards and upwards.
What are your coping strategies for tough times? How are you dealing with the Covid-19 overwhelm? Let me know in comments.