In the vortex of death and despair: felled by Covid-19

In solidarity with my brethren in Goa, India

Basilio G. Monteiro

As death and despair assail us where do we find comfort? Tagore, our poet sage, reminds us that “Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.”

At this moment of the pandemic, death has lost its grace, meaning and dignity amid the abstraction of statistics.

Dom Moraes in his Absences yelps with anguish

Smear out the last star. No lights from the islands Or hills. In the great square The prolonged vowel of silence Makes itself plainly heard Round the ghost of a headland Clouds, leaves, shreds of bird Eddy, hindering the wind.

The unnecessary and avoidable death and despair our people are facing is benign neglect the governance hoisted on the people caught trying to eke out a living and to stay alive. With pain and misery, we often find ourselves broken and crippled. There is a sense of incompleteness; but then, the longing remains. And Tagore would call us to ponder:

The song that I came to sing remains unsung to this day.

I have spent my days in stringing and in unstringing my instrument.

The time has not come true, the words have not been rightly set;

only there is the agony of wishing in my heart.

The struggle to make meaning is daunting, while we are focused on survival, masks, sanitizers, quarantined life and emptiness that surrounds our existence.

Pablo Neruda, a Chilean poet and diplomat (1904-1973) has a poetic way to speak to our desolate hearts in his A Song Of Despair

The memory of you emerges from the night around me.

The river mingles its stubborn lament with the sea.

Deserted like the wharves at dawn.

It is the hour of departure, oh deserted one!

Cold flower heads are raining over my heart.

Oh pit of debris, fierce cave of the shipwrecked.

In you the wars and the flights accumulated.

From you the wings of the song birds rose.

You swallowed everything, like distance.

Like the sea, like time. In you everything sank!

It was the happy hour of assault and the kiss.

The hour of the spell that blazed like a lighthouse.

Pilot’s dread, fury of blind driver,

turbulent drunkenness of love, in you everything sank!

In the childhood of mist my soul, winged and wounded.

Lost discoverer, in you everything sank!

You girdled sorrow, you clung to desire,

sadness stunned you, in you everything sank!

I made the wall of shadow draw back,

beyond desire and act, I walked on.

While caught in the vortex of death and despair, it is good to be awakened by the Tagore’s sublime prayer:

This is my prayer to thee, my lord—strike, strike at the root of penury in my heart.

Give me the strength lightly to bear my joys and sorrows.

Give me the strength to make my love fruitful in service.

Give me the strength never to disown the poor or bend my knees before insolent might.

Give me the strength to raise my mind high above daily trifles.

And give me the strength to surrender my strength to thy will and love.

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