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When Words Are Not Enough

Flickr Creative Commons: Francois Pacaud

I am going out on a limb here and going to make a small assumption. We’re all in the same boat in terms of what’s occupied most of our minds for the last couple of months.  It is the first time we can collectively relate to an experience no matter where we live. We’ve been smacked down with what we thought only our imagination and ace-plotting skills could create.  A world-wide pandemic that has universally changed our lives forever.

In my lifetime, I’ve had templates and past experiences to shield me from the unexpected. From physical pain, loss, grief, breakups and financial struggles, we had a certain knowing, an understanding that we will go through these things.  And while all of those things are terrible (and usually make us learn something about ourselves), they are the things we’ve been socialized to accept.

What we’ve not been socialized to accept is constant uncertainty. One that only offers one certainty: that no one has a real answer. And so, as we scroll newsfeed after newsfeed that features new ways to feel uncertain, some of us might feel like words themselves are limited.

In the past month, I’ve felt like my writing can’t fully grasp the cycle of fear and the need to connect to each other at this time. In spite of this, I’ve felt that acknowledging the limitedness of words can be empowering. The idea that my words can’t ever fully explain my heart, it can’t articulate the buzz in my chest that can come from both a feeling of doom and a moment of peace. Words can’t illustrate what uncertainty has done to us on a cellular level, it can’t measure the layers of humor in the phrase ‘stranger than fiction’.

How many of you have felt multiple emotions that seem to collide into a moment, only to disappear and rapidly become another thought/feeling? I think part of this palpable anxiety is us processing uncertainty in real time. It allows us to have our own moments of clarity, breakthroughs, productivity, or better still, a space to redefine what those words even mean to us.

As someone who has always taken a spiritual lens to my existential crises, I am allowed a space to peel the layers of what I understand as ‘zen’, or rather a sense of detachment from the world while at the same time, seeing the present moment as a looping cycle of moments that can be filled with potential: to create, to feel love and acknowledge stillness. The present moment is the only space for me to take action instead of obsessing over possible actions in the future, which are, at the end of the day, just ‘stories’ we tell ourselves.

We all write from the human condition, and part of that conditioning is what is being unraveled at a time like this. The flaws of our social structures are showing themselves clearly. We can trace the sources and complacency that have led to so much human inequality. In India, where I live, it’s the middle class and upwards that can afford to practice social distancing. For my country’s vast poor population it is not an option; there is no infrastructure, social or physical, for it to occur. This time illustrates what has always been there: that our ideas of value and safety have always been for some of us, not all of us. Hunger and access to daily wages for so many in this world, will be a larger threat than a virus.

A re-calibration nudges at all of us, no matter where we live or our circumstances. How will we create something better? Words might not be enough, but they are the tool we have always had to re-imagine. For me, even though it’s been a while since I’ve been able to write fiction, this is enough to keep me going.

What has this time revealed to you as a participant of this world? What parts of it will you look forward to re-calibrating when we go back out there?

About Rheea Mukherjee [1]

Rheea Mukherjee [2] is the author of  The Body Myth, (February 2019/ Unnamed Press).  Her fiction and non-fiction have been published in several publications including Scroll.in, Southern Humanities Review, Out of Print, QLRS, and Anti Serious among others.  She is the co-founder of Write Leela Write [3], a design and content laboratory in Bangalore, India. She spends most of her spare time eating and making vegan hipster things. Learn more at www.rheeamukherjee.com [2], and follow her on Twitter [4] and Facebook [5].