(First published in Khaleej Times, Dubai)
Apart from the vaccines, we have taken refuge in two other things to beat the blues of our present situation. Hope and optimism.
Picking from where I left off in my previous column on how to embrace the present moment to defeat the fear of the future, I mulled over the efficacy of the twin recipes of hope and optimism as a coping mechanism. How far are they actually helping us now, and is there anything else that we could administer to make our lives better in these not-so-good times?
Of course, hope is our driving force for the future. It is what propels us and makes us fix our gaze on a brighter tomorrow. But what of today? How genuine is our present sense of hope and how is it bolstering our lives? Is it reinforcing our strengths or is it giving us a false sense of well-being?
I have been hearing numerous reports of lives being snuffed out owing to stress caused by the pandemic among people of all levels. News about suicides and heart-attacks triggered by this global calamity have shaken the calm that the word ‘hope’ seemed to arbitrarily offer. Hope has reduced to an emotional prop, too broad and vague to find practical solutions in, and it is apparently not delivering the best results.
As I thought about better ways to cope with this inclement weather, my first realization was that there may be no quick-fix solutions to any of our present predicaments, but what we have is ‘each other’. When we are on a rocky boat, what do we do? We hold on to each other, not because we think they can save us from the storm, but that clutch on their hand will give us a reprieve from the fear of drowning.
The whole world is now afflicted in one way or the other, but some are more severely hit than the rest. We are in a state of relative stress, the difficulties differing only in degrees. It is as if the pandemic has suddenly exposed all the challenges of being mortal. There is no sorrow we don’t understand, no fear that we can’t feel, no failure we can’t relate to. It is as if all the woes of the world have evenly permeated into our lives, making us equals.
It is this egalitarian nature of suffering that must unite us and make us reach out to each other. Of course, none of can have a final solution to the other’s problems, but what we can have is a willingness to share our stories.
For the longest time, we have been taught to keep our sorrows private and look chivalrous in public. ‘Smile, for the world hates tears’ is a maxim we have lived by, and we have pushed our anxieties to the deepest annals of our being. We have veiled our woes because we believed that ‘no one understands’.
But trust me, the world now understands every tear and sigh of mankind. Heartbreak and hardship are not alien experiences happening only to some. They are part of our shared destiny. Knowing this is very liberating at a time when we are all under duress. It will embolden us to release our pain and be candid about it. It will also make us more generous to understand their stories. It is in this exchange of hearts that we will find our succour.
During conversations with friends and relations, make a genuine attempt to know how they have been faring and feeling, and if you sense something amiss, give them an opportunity to vent their story and listen to it with true compassion without dismissing it lightly as a passing phase. Offer them legitimate suggestions if you have any. Tell them you understand, and you stand by them morally, although you have no immediate remedy to their problems.
On the flip side, when you are willing to partake in their stories without judging them and when you realize that we are in this together, you will feel more confident to share your own deepest concerns with others. You will then not wallow in them alone and be sucked into the blackhole.
It is, admittedly, not easy to bare our soul to others. But it is about time that we gave this ‘I am OK, you are OK’ habit a break because none of us are OK today. Let us accept it and come out of our inhibitions. Let us reach out and connect more often. Let us show up to each other. Let us listen and talk. Let us strive to become a combined source of palliative care to each other.