Invictus

As the year 2020 draws to a close, the dominant and overwhelming feeling of despondency, and negativity is hard to ignore with freckled burrows, creasy foreheads and irritable temperaments, seemingly, indelibly embedded universally on all facial visages. A world brought to a standstill, nee to its knees, by the pandemic and the lives of almost each and every inhabitant on this planet being deeply affected by the outbreak of the virus, the reasons for this obdurate and overwhelming negativity are not difficult to decipher. In such a situation, to view the future with an upshot of compounded scepticism is not only natural but, perhaps, a logical outcome. One only hopes that in the prevailing atmosphere, the human mind space does not find fall prey to some drastically debilitating or even ulterior actions, fraught with potentially disastrous results. The happenings and circumstances of year gone by are best irretrievably erased from memory with the fond hope of such an event never occurring again.

On the flip side, however, in the prevailing atmosphere of gloom and doom, one should not forget the underlying most visible green shoots of hope and positivity, the existence of humanity and nobility manifesting itself almost universally in its purest form, not only peripherally but overwhelmingly, and of course, a future pregnant with hope and visions of a much better liveable and of course virus free, post-pandemic world.

The crisis has brought to fore the inherent and ingrained resilience in mankind to meet challenges and take on the perceived enemy headlong and to fight unitedly, coherently and purposefully to defeat the unknown, invisible and microscopically miniscule, but deadly, virus. The ability of mankind to sink differences, bury the hatchet and eliminate, to a large extent, any kind of discord is the foremost gain from this deathly experience- sounds ironical, doesn’t it — a gain from this earth-shattering phenomenon, but that is what a positive mindset compels us to do. As a wise man with whom I was recently conversing very aptly put it from the depths to which we have plummeted in 2020, only positivity and an indefatigably hopeful and optimistic attitude will lead to our deliverance.

The role of the healthcare workers, medical professionals and those engaged in public service in ensuring a semblance of order for the lay person and providing succour and hope from the ravages caused by this pandemic is something definitely beyond human capability to appreciate — such is the level of dedication displayed by them. This exhibition of resilience and commitment, suitably complemented by the efforts of the countless good Samaritans, most often operating behind public gaze, has also brought to fore the essential goodness, nobility and spirituality of the human race. Of course, the efforts, ingenuity and resilience exhibited by the medical researchers by not only (re)calibrating the treatment protocols in the face of newer findings and, of course, working double time to come up with a vaccine is again worthy of unabashed and limitless appreciation.

Arising from this is also the ability, already exhibited in no small measure, to recalibrate our resources, re-direct their use, focus our efforts and exhibit a remarkable sense of ingenuity, adaptability (in the positive sense) and, of course, a purposive sense of renewed action — which hopefully would sustain and portend to a future free from extraneous tensions and strained national, regional and inter-personal relationships. Hopefully this unity of purpose and commitment will be exhibited with even more alacrity while dealing with such challenges that we are confronted with, notably the threats posed by climate change, environmental degradation and the urgent need to move towards sustainability.

It is in this context that the mind also recalls the age-old but contemporarily relevant adage “It is hard to drive forward looking in the rear-view mirror”. Granted, occasional glances at the rear-view mirror while driving a car are absolutely necessary for a safe and comfortable driving experience, an incessant gaze thereto would only exponentially compound the chances of an accident. Extrapolating the analogy to the present, excessive, even obsessive pre-occupation with the past, without bothering or focusing on the future is only going to prolong the agony and compound the disarray. While most of us are prisoners to the baggage of the past, with our reactions to and views on current events deeply influenced by historical happenings and experiences and which we carry as a psychological burden, the crisis that we are engulfed in requires a collective divorce from the happenings of the recent past (of course, not forgetting the dire need to adhere to safety, well-being and hygiene requirements) and gaze incessantly with some kind of an unfixed gaze at the front windscreen with the occasional, may be only furtive glances, at the rear-view mirror to only get a guidance as to learning from our follies and indiscretions to enable us to traverse and navigate the path beyond.

Human relationships and even personal psyches might have the unmistakeable tendency and rather uncanny ability to constantly gaze into the rear-view mirror, the fact also remains that relationships have only flowered and prospered when our mind has severed any connection whatsoever with the tentacles of the past and powerfully removed and broomed the resultant cobwebs that cloud our minds.

The many, not so visible positive end-results emphasize in no uncertain terms, the need to focus on the windscreen of the future and not keep casting repeated glances at the rear-view mirror of the past — the need is to focus on the positives and forget the negatives something which is difficult but not impossible. Let the rear view only act as a prism for the future and not let the past be our present or future.

A fast paced and furtive recovery from the embers of this pandemic might also require humanity to adopt “Cathedral thinking”, a concept which has been used throughout history by Architects, Artisans et al to construct cavernous structures that serve as places of worship, community gatherings and safe heavens. Noted crusader Greta Thunberg calls for using this concept, which requires a far-reaching vision, a well thought out blueprint and shared commitment to long-term implementation for dealing with the burgeoning and serious challenges posed by climate change. Dealing with the post-pandemic world would also require a generous dose and application of cathedral thinking albeit with the pressing need for a fast and focussed approach with the foremost degree of urgency so that the world rises from the ravages to a disease- free healthy scenario with a common goal of shared prosperity and inclusive growth. Let us hope that the first year of the third decade of the 21st century delivers us on the promise of a disease free, happy and inclusive world where social “affinity” and not “distancing” would be the buzzword.

In the present day times, it is perhaps more than appropriate to comprehend the message sought to be conveyed by the poem “Invictus” (Latin for “invincible”) written by William Ernest Henley in 1875 which emphasises the need for strength in the face of adversity. The poem with its simple, uncomplicated yet evocative and thoughtful structure, exhibits how perseverance, will-power and strength help overpower the face of extraordinary adversity:-

“Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”

While the poem has inspired millions of lay folk, the fourth stanza alludes to how our individual destiny is our own jurisdiction not at the mercy of obstacles we face or other largely extraneous powers and how dark times can be overcome by being brave and never losing faith in your own soul’s strength. The need of the hour is to be master our own ship, gaze into the future and guide our soul towards a future filled with hope and expectation.

Here I am also reminded of the famous opening sentence of a Charles Dickens historical novel “A Tale of Two Cities — a story of the French Revolution” which highlights the dichotomy between crisis and upheaval or as I may say between hope and despair:-

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Before closing the following quote by Thich Nhat Hanh underlines the need for humanity to continue to exhibit and sustain the solidarity that this pandemic has brought to the fore:-

“We have to walk in a way that we only print peace and serenity on the Earth.

Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.”

The overpowering need is to view the future with fervent hope, renewed optimism and extraordinary positivity. The renewal of our civilization and a recalibration of the world order signifying gains for entire humanity will be built on the embers of this epidemic aided by a generous and liberal dose of empathy, solidarity and shared vision.

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