I am hibernating. In summer, in broad daylight. In the middle of the week, in the throes of work. When the world is buzzing around me like a bee in spring, all I want to be is a neatly-curled squirrel in winter.
The world is bursting at its seams, falling apart into pieces around me. There are internal and external acts of terrorism, exacerbated by, and further birthing, fundamentalism. All over the world, we are seeing macabre exhibitions of ruthless and reckless power. People uprooted, dislocated, seeking refuge, risking their lives for a better living. Children being taken away from parents, by unlawful gangs in one country and the so-called legitimate political administration in another. Right-wing extremism is rearing its ugly head in many countries, including India, where I was born, and the United States, where I live.
Children are dying of hunger and malnutrition in developing countries, and of overeating and malnutrition in developed countries. Artists are painting, books are being written, songs are reaching the top of the charts. People are craving—ice-cream, love, attention, sex, power, makeup, rights.
The world is spinning, and no matter how much we try, it’s still impossible to turn time back or sprint it forward. And bring people back from the dead.
In the middle of all this action, inaction and impossibilities, in a thorny cage of prickly ‘aspects’ of the world trying to make me care, I am stuck. I am dumbstruck, even as I gently flap my wings and blink my timeless eyes.
Is it only because I lost Raahi, and nothing matters anymore? Is it because I feel disempowered, directionless, frozen? Is it because I can no longer identify or connect with people who have not lost a child? Is it because I no longer feel the need to indulge in small talk or heated discussions?
Is it because I have the luxury of indifference?
Maybe all, or none, of this. My life has other uncertainties -- immigration status, work permits, employment worries, infertility, hound me day and night on top of my grief. But despite needing to worry, gather facts, learn more, pay attention, care, I drift away.
It is a strange word: aspect. Especially if you happen to use it to qualify gigantic things. Say, you’re looking to enlist aspects of this world, or your life. What would be the categories? How would you go about filling out that list? If you look to understand the meaning and implication of ‘aspect,’ you’ll find ample synonyms that are vague enough—dimension, facet, manner. Philosophers and humanists will approach facets of the world in one way, ruminating over collective histories, gender and race issues, social and cultural phenomena, and the flowing human condition in it all. Analysts and scientists will adopt another view, calculating, factoring in, and interpreting data, facts, even fake news, to give you a comprehensive understanding of what matters in your present state and future growth as a member of the human species.
There will be those in between too, as there always are. Those who will say, It depends on any given time, or place, or state of mind, to determine what aspects of life or the world I want to evaluate. Everything is a matter of perspective, you see.
So, why this sudden, but vague nevertheless, fascination with aspect? Why am I keying in these images of intense webs, and why am I implying that there is a point of this inquiry after all, after languidly going round and round?
Because of late, in my identity as a bereaved parent, suspended not in the middle of (since I do not have the luxury of attributing everything to perspective), but above, philosophizing and analyzing, I’ve been pricked by these aspects of life. And in my pendulous existence, oscillating between the raw and sizzling shock of trauma, and the smooth and frozen numbness of grief, aspects of life and the world have been feeling like thorns.
Coarse sandpaper. Pieces of broken glass. They prick, cut, corrode. They try to elicit some reaction from my pallor, extract some juice from my staleness. But I am dry as sand. Coarse as sand. Pale as sand.
I am sand.
Some of these aspects, like dreams for the future, can be exciting, others, such as the state of the world, can be thought-provoking. Some, like intellectual pursuits, can enrich; others, like hobbies and relationships, can enliven; yet others, like the media and politics, can entertain. Things in the world, and those that constitute a life, seem to have lots and lots of purposes. There is so much to remember, learn, reflect upon. There are so many ways one can make the most of being alive and alert.
And yet, the singular meaning and purpose of all aspects of this world, and my life, seems to be to make me bleed so much that I no longer feel the pain, that I drift into an ageless state of slumber. I no longer care, I blow them all away, like dust in the dry air. They do not settle, even into the cracks and crevices of my mind. I do not allow them to.
I am dust.
Psychologists will call it apathy, maybe a function of chronic depression. Poets will have known this abandon, especially the evolved ones and the tortured ones. Monks and sages have acquired this disdain for worldliness—it is very close to nirvana. Moksha. That state of detachment, of airiness, of the bliss of not 'being' while alive. It is very different though, from the tragedy, that utter travesty of not 'being' while dead.
I am almost tempted to call myself enlightened. This calm nonchalance, this numbness, this profound understanding of life and death—surely there is some kind of flighty freedom in this evolved, almost esoteric withdrawal?
I don’t know. Knowing would be counterproductive.
I do not want to know anything anymore. I do not have any interest in facts, nor do I care for how they make me feel, should I chance upon them inadvertently.
My husband checks out a book from the library that tells him about the political, economic, religious and socio-cultural currents in the Middle East that can explain the rise of fundamentalism there. He is always updated, he stays in touch with the world around himself. He knows all about the industrial failures and political hoodwinking in the United States that has resulted in vast masses of people being misled by a bigot. He follows sports closely, recounting glorious stories from the lives of football (soccer) players and tennis stars for our child. They watch documentaries together on the Vietnam War and Everest climbers, enthralled by the images and sounds of human accomplishment and human destruction.
I am untouched.
I accompany them, inserting an anecdote here, a comment there. But I am a mere spectator in this spectacle of life, a bystander in this world of actions. I do not feel the urge to know more, or feel less, to gather facts and form a story, to fact-check and confirm, to form opinions or beliefs. I listen during drawing room conversations on immigration, kids' education, obesity, corruption, sports, even celebrity gossip. I smile, I nod, I look on, and I utter some casual words when eyes turn to me.
I am at peace in my cage. I like it here, in my hole, my cocoon. Within its secured walls, I like being a silly, fun-loving, caring and dedicated mother and wife. Okay, on a good day, maybe even a sister, daughter, and friend. I fulfill my duties, I take on responsibilities, I go the extra mile to be available for friends and family. I also say no.
But, if the world, something intrusive in it, invades my walls, I know that I will respond. My reflexes of fight or flight will surely be activated, should the needs arise.
You know, 'aspects' that need engagement and intervention.
There is one aspect of my life, that has over the past five years, always defeated this state of cavernous inertia. No matter where I have been, I have always walked, often through the entire house, to plant a kiss on my son’s cheeks or my husband’s lips, the moment I wanted to. I picked up the phone, I left a note in the lunchbox, I have researched summer camps and recipes that can enrich and entice. I can travel through galaxies to find them, to reach them, and show them my love.
I do not wait, I do not retreat, I do not hold back. I fear time. I am paranoid about the unpredictability of life.
I care for them. No questions there.
But I have no questions elsewhere, either.
The freeze reflex from a summer morning five years ago is working just fine right now in this cold cave.
It will be an eternal clean slate, a silent and peaceful winter.
What has been your interest-level post loss? Is it fairly constant, or changes across time, contexts, aspects? What do you engage in, or not? What do you care about, or not?