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Poornima Joshi

The best way out is through

Poornima Joshi | Updated on April 15, 2020

Surviving Self-Distancing – Day 18

There’s a little story I read somewhere about fear, its actual relevance as warning about imminent danger and the gigantic proportions it acquires in its psychological manifestation. It’s about a man who fell over a cliff in the night. He managed to hang on to a rock and through the night, lived in mortal fear of falling into the gorge below. But at first light of dawn, he realised there was large rock protruding just half a foot below and if he had let go, he would have been sitting on that comfortably as opposed to hanging and dreading death every second through the night.

This story came back to me when a friend called this morning, worried because few residential complexes in my neighbourhood had been sealed because someone tested positive for Covid-19. For a moment I felt a frisson of anxiety, like a tangible dark shadow around me. So even when I am rationally aware of the efficacy of preventive measures and the relatively lower fatality rate due to Covid-19 as compared to something like, say, cancer or TB, the psychological impact of the news was still disproportionately high. I worried about my frail mother who’s had pneumonia two years back.

It subsided, of course, but I’ll take the moment to expand on the devastation this virus is wreaking psychologically. The closing in of time and space as the evening approaches, the frustration, the surreal heaviness of living through this terrible history of our times. My determination to live in the moment fades because the moment is so oppressive, the day after day of sameness. Even more than handling the sameness, what is dragging down the moment is that I am in mourning for the life that is now dead. And hope for it to resurrect makes it worse because it stokes the fear of the unknown future.

I tell myself the story of the man on the rock and the cliff. It’s not the fall but the fear of the fall that is worse. Jiddu Krishnamurti says fear is time and the movement of thought. It’s the remembrance of things past, of pleasure or sorrow that you either hope to repeat in the future or are fearful of happening again respectively. Time is past, present and future and thought of joy or sorrow colours it.

So what do I do?

Jiddu has an answer but it’s told even better by Robert Frost. Here it is, the poem of our times, bits that should resonate “… From cooking meals for hungry hired men. And washing dishes after them. From doing things over and over that just won’t stay done. By good rights I ought not to have so much put on me. But there seems no other way. Len says one steady pull more ought to do it. He says the best way out is always through. And I agree to that, or in so far. As that I can see no way out but through…”

The best way out is, as you can see, is always through. The thought of past joy or future uncertain makes the making through that much more difficult, frustrating. I’ll still feel it because the mind has a habit, a pattern to think in set ways. But patterns make the going through tougher. So all my friends who are cooking pasta with cheese or making ghee, planning great meals are doing just the right thing. Food affirms life and we can do with some affirmation right now. Another friend is gardening furiously. He taught me to make compost and plant karela and palak and methi and dhania. They grow even in pots. I’ll see if my rationwalla has the seeds and get on to it. There is no way out but through. May as well plant some plants and bake a loaf of banana bread which is what I did today. That is, till the next wave of fear and anxiety drowns me all over again.

Published on April 15, 2020

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