“I know what the fear is.
The fear is not for what is lost.
What is lost is already in the wall.
What is lost is already behind the locked doors.
The fear is for what is still to be lost.”
In Blue Nights, Joan Didion writes about the long and blue twilights, during summer, just before it gets engulfed by the inky blackness of the night as an analogy for how ‘ordinary and expected blessings‘ like good health, finding love, marriage, bringing up a child, travels, new beginnings can be wiped away by sudden and unexpected catastrophes, uprooting the very foundation of a life that one had carefully built over the years. She has a career as a successful novelist and memoirist; a wonderful family; travels around the world; fame and money; and then came the irreparable and sudden loss of her husband and only daughter within a span of less than two years. The anxiety, sense of foreboding, grief and the subdued nihilism in her words made me realize how flippant most of us are towards the “ordinary blessings“.
I have everything I need; a late-blooming yet deep and strong bond with my parents, a sibling who knows me inside out and loves me despite it, seven ‘soul sisters‘ who creates unmeasured joy and camaraderie, a job that enables me to pay my bills comfortably and brings in a sense of making a direct and real difference in the lives of others (in whatever small way), a cosy home resounding with love and laughter; good health of my near ones, and here I use the term loosely to denote just the absence of any major illnesses; a sense of wanderlust, wonder and stubborn hope that (now) fails to get marred even by the dreariest of circumstances; stacks and stacks of books overspilling from every shelf in my room; and the love of a kind man.
Yet, not so long ago, I was drowning in the dark and turbulent waters of mourning about what I want and didn’t (yet) get. And no one wants to be ordinary. The hopelessness that stems from the knowledge that one has not yet achieved the universally accepted cornerstones of ‘success‘ in their specific profession, negates every little achievement and joy that were present at the beginning of the career. Tangled in self-doubt and an unfulfilled and misplaced sense of entitlement, the thought of settling for less pained me to the very core. My parents are quite supportive and happy with the very fact that I am the first and only doctor in the entire extended family including the past generations. But it meant nothing to me, because I had failed my own expectations owing to reasons that varied from circumstantial to self-sabotage or being just lazy. Anxiety didn’t help as much as ruined my confidence every passing moment. My whole worth as a person began to be centred around my academic performance. Nothing else mattered.
I remember my little cousin once asked me the reason behind the suicide of a movie star and I replied that it was allegedly due to depression, which many speculated was over a stagnant career. My cousin failed to understand why an actor who had surpassed thousands of people struggling to get not just a role in a movie and had attained world-wide fame and recognition had killed himself. How was he a ‘failure‘? I struggled to explain to my cousin that success is a subjective term, rooted deeply in comparison to others, and that happiness and well-being is centred around it to varying degrees.
Today I have reached a point in my life where I am thankful for every blessing I had been given unasked for; but I know the helplessness that many people might have due to failed expectations and the vicious thoughts it spurs about the absence of any way out, the complete oblivion of hope, the negligible sense of self-worth and the highly exaggerated delusion of what others will say. I had been trapped in that web of negativity and depression a few years ago for long enough to toy with the idea of embracing death in a bid to escape living. It was the result of a cumulative despair, feeding on certain untoward incidents in my life, that tipped me over the edge when I was challenged with a a period of stagnancy in my career.
While I was battling such negativity, a childhood friend passed away due to post-operative complications following a minor surgery. The day after she died the sun shone brightly in a brilliant blue sky, the bougainvillea was a riot of colour, my mother prepared my favourite dish, my father broke through my wall of gloom with his booming laughter; my sister kicked me in the butt and grinned impishly when I wanted to borrow something from her wardrobe; the television blared upcoming movie trailers, a few friends sent me a postcard from a holiday in Ladakh (because they knew how much I loved the mountains
); I read an Alice Munro
story; and I had an overwhelming realization that my friend will never experience these ordinary and mundane blessings
The world will go on, will bring in the new and hold on to the nostalgia of the past, and she won’t be there to know any of it.
Happiness is being alive. That’s it. Everything else is a bonus. And I had, a decade ago, let the fleeting thoughts of ending it all creep in to my mind; I don’t regret those thoughts, nor am I ashamed. I am immensely relieved to pry myself away from the clutches of such hopelessness and despair. Even now, my life is devoid of the ‘certain things that I want‘, but I am ready to work for them, strive towards them, wait for them. I realize that I will never have all the things I want; but I have everything I need, a wider focus of what this world has to offer and yes, I am alive to enjoy it all.