The Delights of Distraction No.52

The rest of the world seems to have a favourite new world to describe their post-pandemic ennui: Languishing, as coined by psychologist Adam Grant. A word that essays a sense of stagnation and emptiness. A feeling of muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. That’s the word for countries emerging after their grief  - but what is the word for us?

For India, where the pandemic is raging with the fury and fire of Jupiter’s core, causing our society to come undone at the seams, leaving us feeling helpless, frustrated, distraught, angry, devastated and fearful. What’s the word for the feeling AFTER that, of numbness - the only coping mechanism left when the onslaught does’t end? If you come across a term in your lexicon that fits  - please do write in and let us know. Because to name things, sometimes allows us to feel a little semblance of control over them. 

Today a friend has lost his father, a cousin has lost her newly-wed husband ; they form part of the daily 400+ death toll that Delhi reports every day against the isolating backdrop of the pandemic. We cant go and hug them or comfort them in their hour of need - such is the insidiously malevolent nature of the virus. There are 4000 other families grieving their loved ones in India -  isolated and alone -  tonight and every night in this wave. Their hearts have cracked open, probably never to weld back together again. The last memory of their loved ones captured in a flicker of a cremation over a zoom call.

What do we make of all this? We know that none of us will remain untouched by the virus. Right now to be alive means to lose: love, time, others, opportunities, then finally - ourselves. The minute we are born, we have one foot in the grave, for we are such fragile beings. Each of us knows this   - as we putter through life, searching for beauty, validation, experiences, meaning - before the great cliff drop. We lose and lose and lose, and yet, even overwhelmed with loss - we still march on in the wind, tears streaming down our cheeks, clutching mementos of those we loved, those we lost, and those we will miss forever. 

We want to dedicate this newsletter to all those grieving families. Here is a poem for you by Mary Oliver; a poem that cracks our hearts open every time we read it, so that we, in some small way, can share in the waves of deep sorrow that must be coursing through your hearts. A poem that we hope assures you that you’re not alone. 

Lead

Here is a story

to break your heart.

Are you willing?

This winter

the loons came to our harbor

and died, one by one,

of nothing we could see.

A friend told me

of one on the shore

that lifted its head and opened

the elegant beak and cried out

in the long, sweet savoring of its life

which, if you have heard it,

you know is a sacred thing,

and for which, if you have not heard it,

you had better hurry to where

they still sing.

And, believe me, tell no one

just where that is.

The next morning

this loon, speckled

and iridescent and with a plan

to fly home

to some hidden lake,

was dead on the shore.

I tell you this

to break your heart,

by which I mean only

that it break open and never close again

to the rest of the world.

There were only a few distraction recommendations this week as nothing felt distracting enough on the internet from the pandemic carnage. So here goes: 

To Read: As Mother’s day is coming up this Sunday, we wanted to share this authentically skewering Mother’s day post by the incandescently wise Anne Lamot; a straight-shooting send-up of maternal sentimentality, while reminding us to look for the sacred in the ordinary-everyday. 

“You want to give me chocolate and flowers? Great. I love them both. I just don’t want them out of guilt, and I don’t want them if you’re not going to give them to all the people who helped mother children. But if you are going to include everyone, then make mine something like M&M’s, and maybe flowers you picked yourself, even from my own garden, the cut stems wrapped in wet paper towels, then tin foil and a waxed-paper bag from my kitchen drawer. I don’t want something special. I want something beautifully plain.”

To Long Read: If you want to get into a healthy book reading habit, we suggest you follow and read the posts at the newsletter Bookmarked,  that follows a reader’s journey and reviews as she reads one book from every country ( and provides further book suggestions from that country - translated to English of course). You’re locked in, you have the time - quite doom scrolling and start global bookmarking!

To Joy Scroll: Keeping with the Mother’s day theme, The Luupe curated photographers from around the world to share images that represent the many possibilities of motherhood. 

“Motherhood is filled with love, joy, struggle, beauty, and sorrow. Becoming a mother, being a child, the struggle to conceive, the exhilaration of birth, the delight in watching them grow, and the drive to protect them.The complexities and nuances, and even the decision not to become a mother, and the fear and inevitable loss that comes with all of this. And then – the pandemic. These 100 images represent a global and intergenerational take on motherhood’s many forms.”

To Introspect: This personality test is long and intense and pretty damn accurate - Principles you is produced by two popular thought-leaders, Ray Dalio and Adam Grant. The free online test takes 20 minutes to complete. (Be sure to register first in order to save your results.) It then supplies you with a group of archetypes  -  but the real joy is in sharing your results with others. The site will offer advice to both sides of how they might improve their communication, collaboration, and relationships given the two archetypes. This makes for many long, boisterous dinner discussions - that can be refreshingly NOT about the pandemic. 

To Listen: Yo Yo Ma has been our pandemic MVP as far as musicians are concerned. There have been many great cellists throughout history, but Bach's Cello Suites will forever be definitively engrained and associated with this living legend. In this video - he’s dedicated a song to India. 

The world is a musical cornucopia of ‘hits.’ Some songs are national exports, crossing cultural and linguistic boundaries. Others conform to their native country’s borders. This interesting audio-visualisation essay walks you through pop-music hits in your area, and how our ideas of “pop” differs so drastically across different parts of the world. 

To Help: This is a useful and verified list of how you can support nonprofits in their Covid-19 relief efforts in 2021. While most of the attention and efforts at the moment are focussed on sourcing oxygen and drugs, the real need very soon is going to be around addressing hunger, providing livelihoods, ensuring vaccination saturation in rural India, and providing mental health and counselling services. 

To End: We would like to end with a letter that musician and legendary artitste Nick Cave wrote to a young girl about how to live with the disorientation of grief’s lapping waves:

“The paradoxical effect of losing a loved one is that their sudden absence can become a feverish comment on that which remains. That which remains rises in time from the dark with a burning physicality — a luminous super-presence — as we acquaint ourselves with this new and different world. In loss things – both animate and inanimate – take on an added intensity and meaning.

I love your line —
‘Sometimes I gaze gently at birds and trees and am deeply moved by the life that hums in them.’

I think this feeling you describe, of alertness to the inner-spirit of things — this humming — comes from a hard-earned understanding of the impermanence of things and, indeed, our own impermanence. This lesson ultimately animates and illuminates our lives. We become witnesses to the thrilling emergency of the present — a series of exquisite and burning moments, each extinguished as the next arises. These magical moments are the bright jewels of loss to which we cling. They are your ‘sparrows and tall trees with wide branches.’”

Please take care of yourselves and each other; stay safe and indoors. 

Sending you all virtual hugs and hope,

Viv & Ami