What seemed like a soft stop in my steady boring life has turned around on its head to become a nightmare overnight. India’s pandemic crisis has torn apart the last hopes of freedom that we recklessly celebrated during Holi. Outside of my 1200 square feet apartment in Bengaluru Urban, is a world that I find too strange to understand and reconcile with. Looking from in to out, from the disturbing stretches of my mind to the crescent road descending into a maddening world, I felt scared and forlorn for freedom from fear. It is engaging yet tiring to borrow anxiety in return for the time - to learn about the growing pile of corpses burned in otherwise prosperous streets. Money doesn’t mean anything here. In this treachery against living, money is useless like writing proses in water. The healthcare, political, and voluntary systems simultaneously collapsed under the pressure of the pandemic tsunami. The healthcare system, doctors, nurses, and all the other healthcare staff and volunteers can be excused. In their defense, they have worked on war-footing and have sacrificed all sense of self to endure their life’s hardest trials. However, the political system has no such alibi. It is disdainful to see their reluctance to admit that they claimed victory over the pandemic and people’s favor far too early.
This has been the consistent theme in nature - pride is balanced by shock. The so-called “leaders” had it coming. I was impressed by the creative ways in which the press releases were manipulated and whitewashed to sweep reality under the rug. However, they missed the fact that the reality is so titanic that there would not be enough rugs to cover the fact anymore. Every day, from mid-April till early June, was like waking up and walking around in a true nightmare. I realized people were dying - right next door, neighbors, family members, friends, suddenly everyone was losing loved ones. Families altogether were vanishing, sometimes no one survived to conduct the last rites. Some bodies found the privilege of cremation and other unclaimed ones were drowned in the rivers, with prayers that encouraged the departed to find peace in some other world. How else do you confront loss? How do you permit its unwavering force to punch your guts? How to admit that we have lost, people we loved and who loved us back, people we will never be able to hold again in our two wretched hands.
Most days my stomach felt empty of expectations of decency from life. One has to learn to accept the situation, rely on the facts and take responsibility for the welfare of self and family. Being part of a generation obsessed with the need to stay connected, my first response was to reach out to my loved ones daily and remind them of the gravity of it all - a sort of conversational meditation if you will. We would talk about various things ranging from what life is all about to how do we meet the end if we encounter it. I remember feeling an urgency inside of me, to write it down and keep staring at it, but whenever I sat across my desktop, my mind went blank. I was empty, my mind was silent, not peacefully but reflectively. I was meditating constantly on death.
What felt strange though was the fact that nothing in this whole predicament is as existentially paralyzing as the fact that the more I felt surrounded by death’s presence, the more life was pulling me by the hand. As if it was attempting to shake awake the blazing flame of courage inside of me. Courage like music has no language, it is ubiquitous, rhythmic, and liberating. Death, like a mentor who seemed both stern and intimidating, was trying to teach me something. It whispered, “Time is limited, time is limited”. Spine straight shivering with anticipation, I turned inwards and started being more courageous. I heard a resounding encouragement to start what I was too doubtful about, to hit the gas and pace up. We don’t have time, pace up. It is wonderful, how ridiculous fear of failure seems in the face of death. Death is a perfect teacher, also a rewarding one.
If I was told that I might die tonight, what will I want to do before I meet death like a friend? Well, plenty of things - create a garden, grow some sunflowers, eat handmade pasta, hold the paperback edition of my book once, know that I made some ripples in some lives, helped someone love and live without fear, see my mother for the last time-tell her thank you for everything she did for me, kiss my partner goodbye. What would you do? Take some time now and think of the things that you would do if you knew you would die before dawn tomorrow.
Now whatever you thought that you would do, are the things you should be doing right now - that is the essence of the phrase ‘Memento Mori’. If we could live not in fear but in the space of awareness that death is inevitable, and we all will meet it one day, this alone will enable us to live our best lives. Because it will make us humble and create an impulse for execution, two enabling factors to live a successful life. It will give us the courage to try and fail more often. There will be more ways to learn what works and what does not, which in turn will accelerate success. Every time you face a crisis, especially a life-threatening one, you are being presented with an opportunity to focus on the life that you want to live but are not living at the present. Memento Mori is a stoic meditation practice, the Latin phrase translates to “remember that you will die”.
Remember that you will die, remember that we are exhaustible pieces of cosmic art, remember that you exist for a reason, remember that you have to live your best life, remember what human life is about. Remember connection, compassion, and the privilege of being able to experience this strange, terrifying, awe-inspiring, and beautiful world, full of elements that enable and support life. To remember that we also exist as enablers to a generation following our footsteps, and to hand them down a planet we borrowed from them. Do what you have to do. Just remember, you too shall die. This alone should allow you to live without doubt, fear, or procrastination.
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