By Ashvinder Kaur | OPINION |
Yesterday my mother walked up to me with an envelope. In it, was my aunt’s death certificate from 30 years ago. I do not think my parents remembered they even had it, so obviously, it was the first time that I was seeing it. It was a simple, old piece of paper, quite surprisingly unwrinkled, the print clear, but my eyes were drawn to the most important words.
Age: 34 years old.
My aunt, my mother tells me, wanted to name me Asha. A simple, 4 letter word that means hope. This name did not get selected, but my mother says, my aunt still used to call me Asha, and growing up, Ashvinder was shortened to Ashvin – which soon became Ash. Although I have heard this story growing up, it is only recently that I use this name, occasionally but very consciously. What a great way to think about this young woman – who is beautiful in photos, who everyone says had a heart of gold, but whom I never got to know and speak to, who died when I was just a baby. I think about her and this name a lot now when it seems most needed. Hope.
When I saw the brief for this issue on Fear, “Whether it’s social situations, fucking things up, letting people down, losing loved ones, living with regret or flying cockroaches…” I told the editor in chief, “Guess what, that’s all me except (this may shock you, the flying cockroaches).”
And if that isn’t the lesson that I – and perhaps some of you have learnt, too, along the way, growing older, growing up – that seemingly scary things like cockroaches or snakes may sometimes be less, or even not scary at all compared to something like letting people down, heartbreak, losing someone, or worse, losing oneself – then I don’t know what is.
Speaking of fear, this whole year has probably been the epitome of fear and worry and sadness. We are in our second lockdown and at the time of writing this, I come across Buzzfeed posts about items to help with being in quarantine, lists to help with anxiety and stress, social media posts about affordable counselling and lastly, the promo for the latest episode of The Good Doctor coming up – about the virus. It comforts me no end that others feel the same way too, and that for once it seems acceptable to be scared.
And being in this bubble, I think about
- How comfortable it is to think about how much we (can) talk about ensuring that we are ok, emotionally and
- How lucky I am, to be sheltering in place, with loved ones
- and, how afraid I have been since March.
So, if I was being honest, things that bother me most at this moment, what I am afraid of the most, are my parents or grandparents catching the virus (and more horribly if I infect them with it), the fact that this new normal will last a long time – without meeting – and worse, touching each other, and of course, the Uncertainty of it all.
This second lockdown has certainly put things in perspective for me, leading to the writing of this article. I now realise, that after a few months of being in this uncertain situation, I am very good at answering my phone or phoning people back. I used to dread phone calls, I still do – a simple text is so much simpler in most cases – but now, I call back immediately. Even more surprising, I make phone calls. I do not understand fully how this has happened, except perhaps the uncomfortable act of the unknown, which used to lie in the simple act of answering the phone, has now been reduced to a simple action. Click the green icon. Answer. Say hello.
Navigating ADULTHOOD, I have probably failed to prepare for some things. One of these is how to deal with fear. Fear that is not from flying cockroaches, or in my case, from geckos in my rental. Those are easy, very literal fears, just grab a newspaper or broom or a container and send them on their merry way.
No, I mean the real fear, which is like the corona virus lipid bilayer envelope around which the smaller fears, like the little protein spikes are nicely arranged. That fear. Now is the time for you to think about all your biggest fears.
And because poems so eloquently and precisely tell you what one cannot; here is an excerpt from Mary Oliver’s poem “When Death Comes” helping me out:
When it’s over, I want to say all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms. When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real. I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument. I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
My biggest fear is not that of dying, but that of not living. Not just living, but also leaving behind a legacy. This fear properly emerged once I officially started my adult life (yes, sometime after my first few paychecks), but when a few years ago, Sridevi, an actor who has done hundreds of films in multiple languages, died, it really made me wonder about my own legacy. Her death was the one that made me stop and think. If I die tomorrow, what do I leave?
I would love to leave having made hundreds of films. I would love to leave having written many, many books. I would love to leave having fought an important fight or won a great battle.
But now, I realise, I simply want to leave behind a legacy of love. Because this year, through the tears and the anxiety and the fears and uncertainties, and the poems and the songs and the films and the prayers to help us through, it is dawning upon me that maybe the cure for fear is not courage. It is love.
Being courageous must stem from somewhere. And having spent many years being afraid, the courage could not come from within for me. How could it, when the inside was filled with insecurities? Perhaps the first step of accepting that I was afraid to even accept love, and afraid to love freely, helped to break through that first wall. This was only helped greatly by the people on the other side of the wall, the fact that there was love coming through, by people expressing themselves to me. Friends, family and loved ones, showing me that they cared, they were listening, and that I was allowed to share both my happiness and sadness, anger and pain with them. Now, we have peeled the first layer. And by allowing love to flow both ways, what do you know? That hopeful person slowly peeks through. And the love? It has filled the space that used to be filled with fear, transformed into hope. Asha starts emerging. She now dares again to make suggestions, feel hopeful, express herself more. And best of all, she laughs. Yes, even while chasing that flying cockroach. After all, what’s one cockroach in the grand scheme of things!
The fear? It is still there. But now, when I feel afraid, I remember that there are people who love me and whom I love very much. And I always, always remember that someone named me hope. This shield of love becomes the essence for the bravery and courage I need, and increasingly, the courage starts coming from within. If the world ended tomorrow, I would regret not saying I love you, or how much someone meant to me. And that being named hope means I have a duty to give others hope too. Hope, and joy and all that I can and have to give.
And to others like me, who may be feeling afraid, or stuck; listen to what Maggie Smith has to say:
Live with your fear, not inside it. Do not mistake permission to feel afraid in times of flux as permission to cower.
Stand up. Uncover your eyes.
Uncover your eyes. Now you see, cockroaches are easy. It is not the cockroaches that scare me.
Ashvinder Kaur is a chemist by day and an active Sikh volunteer. The article first appeared at Brazen Magazine
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
There aren’t even bins to dispose pads in some gurdwara (Asia Samachar, 8 March 2019)