Purpose in a Pandemic
Etty Hillesum was a mystic and a writer. She had a chaotic and unstable life before being deported and killed in Auschwitz concentration camp. Despite her ordeals and hardships, she found healing and hope in life. We get a glimpse of her reflections in the book "An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork". She shares the following;
…. This vague fear is something else that I must conquer in myself. Life is difficult, it is true, a struggle from minute to minute, but the struggle itself is thrilling. In the past I would live chaotically in the future because I refused to live in the here and now. I wanted to be handed everything on a platter, like a badly spoiled child. Sometimes I had the certain, rather undefined feeling that I would ‘make it’ one day, that I had the capacity to do something “extraordinary”, and at other times the wild fear that I would “go to the dogs” after all. I now realize why. I simply refused to do what needed to be done, what lay right under my nose. I refused to climb into the future one step a time. And now, that every minute is so full so chock-full of life and experience ands struggle and victory and defeat, and more struggle and sometimes peace, now I no longer think of the future, that is, I no longer care whether or not I shall “make it”, because I now have the inner certainty that everything will be taken care of....
I (Binu) share the belief that we have been conditioned to avoid pain and seek pleasure in life. But, in reality, life is a difficult one and pain is an inevitable ingredient. Many spiritual leaders have shared that the expectation that life should be an easy one itself is not a well-founded perspective. With all the unprecedented advancements of science and technology, we live the illusion that we have everything in our control. It is true we have become better at 'managing' some of our challenges, but birth and death, joy and sorrow, sickness and suffering are all inescapable realities of one’s life. We live the illusion that we should be in charge of everything that unfolds in our personal and collective life. But this pandemic reinforces the age-old teaching that we are not in control of what is happening in this universe. Like Etty said, we are invited to learn to ‘trust Life’ that 'everything will be taken care of.' This belief is not against taking up any responsible actions, but only a reminder that our role is to ‘participate’, not to control.
This pandemic is hurting us badly. But this pain is not something new to this world. Many, like Etty, have gone through suffering of this magnitude and still found hope in life. Let us learn to trust Life that everything will be taken care of, a ‘leap of faith’.