The house is still and silent. Ahalya and myself have been part of that silence for the past five months, rarely venturing out.
It brings to mind Emily Dickenson who confined herself to her bedroom, shutting herself from the outside world. Later in her life, she would only speak to visitors from behind the half opened door of her room. Hers was the greatest literary engagement with isolation: “I have appetite for silence,” she wrote, for “silence is infinity.”
The appetite for silence has increased exponentially ever since the virus took hold of us.
Every virus tells us a story.
The narrative of Covid 19 is one of uncertainty and unpredictability.
In outlining the uncertainty principle Heinsenberg pointed out the limits of our knowledge by stating that the more precisely we know the position of a given particle, the less precise our measurement of its momentum. What if that particle were to be a virus? More disturbingly, we know very little about it and what we know is often uncomfortably contradictory.
We knew it was coming and we were not prepared, medically, scientifically, and socially, despite all the dystopian pandemic movies and literature that have been circulating for ages! Covid 19 was not a black swan but a grey rhino. Michele Wucker described grey rhinos as “highly obvious, highly probable, but still neglected dangers,” as opposed to “unforeseeable or highly improbable risks, as envisioned in the black swan metaphor.” The hunt is on to trap that greys rhino which keeps eluding our grasp.
Talking of uncertainty, two kinds have been described: epistemic uncertainty (due to lack of knowledge) and aleatory uncertainty (due to randomness). Covid seems to be a heady combination of both.
Infective agents, whether it is bacteria or viruses have always been lurking around, waiting for a time and space to surface. They don’t just attack weaknesses in the human body. They also exploit changes in the world we live in. As wilderness dwindles with large scale environmental degradation, zoonotic infections jump easily to infect humans.
Health is not a static condition. Mechanisms are continually at work to maintain a constant internal environment termed as milieu interieur by the French scientist Claude Bernard (whose painting used to hang outside our lecture theatre in JIPMER). It is a crucial component in maintaining homeostasis which is essential for health. As physicians our focus and commitment is to sustain that. Yet at the same, the internal environment cannot be viewed in isolation of the environment in which we spend every day of our lives.
What we fail to perceive is that we are all part of a large ecosystem and any disruption in it has implications for our health. The emergence of COVID-19 has challenged the human-centered relationship between us and nature. As much as Covid 19 infection is a medical emergency, it is also an ecological calamity.
Isolation is not just about endurance, but of our survival and of our environment as well.
With the forced slowing of life granted by the coronavirus, we can re-think our involvement with and management of time. The ancient Greeks had thought along this line long back. They had two words for time: Chronos and Kairos. Both the words stand for time in the English language, but with different connotations. While Chronos refers to numeric, chronological time, Kairos refers to a proper and appropriate time of action. Chronos measures time in such terms as seconds, minutes, and hours, but Kairos views time terms of periods for rest and reflection. Unfortunately in the midst of our preoccupations in everyday life we don’t have space for Kairos. The virus has impacted the Chronos time, but we can still explore the Kairos! It provides an opportunity for us to slow down to restore our inner self.
We need that unstructured, beckoning time to imagine, to discover the meaning of our lives afresh which disease has taken away,
True, the journey in the valley of uncertainty can be a daunting task.
Sometimes when we amble along the seashore, the waves advance and erase our footsteps. Undeterred and hardly noticing it, we walk ahead. In the journey of our unfathomable lives, darkness will engulf us occasionally. All that we can do is to strike our matches of meaning to dispel it.
There are many differing narratives about Covid 19. The ones we choose to believe and tell will reflect and affirm what we value personally as an empowering one.
As I write this, I hear the splatter of rain on the leaves outside. The sky has turned tar black with large rain bearing clouds. Unmindful of the growing intensity of the drizzle, the black kite is still soaring in the sky. It is confident of negotiating the dense, menacing clouds and the downpour with faith in its feathers.
I keep wondering as to when I can grow wings and venture out of our nest . . .
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