A Letter to Covid-19 warriors
The superhuman work you do, digging into the last drops of your emotional and physical energies, is unlike any you have ever done before. Till the other day, you were serving suffering individuals, nursing them to health. Today you are fighting for humanity as a whole. This is not even a nation’s war. You are our defenders in the vanguard.
By Rev. Dr. Valson Thampu
Dear anti-COVID medical and civic fraternity,
Greetings from the global village on behalf of the anxious and grateful human family world-wide. You are serving not only individuals who are infected and admitted to hospitals. Across the continents, you form a single team, serving the self-same cause of matchless significance. You are doing for us what we can contemplate only with fear and trembling. Though from a distance, we sense the louring clouds of weariness overhanging you as you struggle and serve from day to day. Words fail me as I write this letter.
The leaders of nations are talking of mitigating the pandemic. I wish they would also mind mitigating your suffering as well. They rarely do. You understand why. The very grimness of the battle makes them, and us, forget the warriors who wage the battle. It will be hypocritical on my part to assume that I, or anyone else, can understand or alleviate your suffering. Suffering is deeply personal. All else, except the suffering individual are strangers to the sanctuary of his/her suffering. In the secret recesses of one’s suffering one has to minister to oneself.
The superhuman work you do, digging into the last drops of your emotional and physical energies, is unlike any you have ever done before. Till the other day, you were serving suffering individuals, nursing them to health. Today you are fighting for humanity as a whole. This is not even a nation’s war. You are our defenders in the vanguard. Even at risk of sounding heretical, may I say that this parallels the divine work of redemption? God, and God alone, touches humanity as a whole. Today each one of is doing nearly the same. But what makes it all the more heroic is that you are fighting this epic battle with inadequate weapons and tentative strategies. But, the less powerful the weapon, the greater the heroism of the spirit. We can only stand at a distance and admire you. We do.
We are not unmindful of the cost this battle exacts from you. You know that the cost involved is commensurate to the scale and significance of the struggle; just as the risk in conquering the Everest is greater than any in climbing a local hill. So, as you stagger back home after each day’s work . . . as you weep silently over the lives you fought so hard to save but couldn’t . . . as you carry the anxiety of infecting your loves ones at home . . . as you battle in secret the demon of anxiety about your own possible mortality even as you soldier on . . . you know the cost is staggering because the cause is supreme. But I tremble to think of congratulating you. It sounds so very hypocritical to do it the way we do –clanging pots and pans from the height of our virus-safe balconies; reminiscent of St. Paul’s ‘sounding brass and tinkling cymbals’. I wish I could hold your hands, look each one of you in your eyes and say, “Well done!” But words stick in my throat.
What can you possibly do under the present circumstances?
Perhaps it could help if you formulate a perspective, somewhat, on what you are grappling with. I am reminded here of Dr. Bernard Rieux in Albert Camus’ novel, The Plague. He was not a believer; but he waged a heroic battle, risking his life, against the Plague in Oran. He tells us why. That was his way of protesting against the scheme of things. He saw himself not only as a doctor called upon to deliver a package of services, but as a warrior on behalf of humanity, stuck in a tragic scheme of things riddled with human vulnerability and mortality. He envisaged his service a creative protest. His clear and steadfast outlook, his fierce determination, saw Dr. Rieux through.
You are better-placed than Dr. Rieux. Lacking faith in God, he had only his emotional, professional and physical resources to draw from. It helps greatly if one can draw also from spiritual resources. In a struggle where the terms of engagement are uncertain and resources tentative, spiritual resources become paramount.
Having to struggle alone, cut off from the rest of the world, is part of the pain you endure. It helps, in a such a state, to realize that you are really not alone, but surrounded by a great cloud of warriors for humanity, transcending barriers of time and space: men and women who burned their lives out in the service of humanity unmindful of gain or profit over centuries. At a level higher than the empirical, we are in fellowship with them, a truth unveiled on the mountain of Transfiguration. There Jesus is seen with Moses and Elijah who had preceded him by centuries. This is no flight of fantasy! All self-less battles are fought on behalf of humanity. Today your work, your struggle, your daily silent enduring of unmanning anguish, is of a piece with the suffering of Jesus. It resonates with the saga of all selfless benefactors of humanity.
Brothers and sisters, self-less suffering undertaken and sustained in love is the greatest force in the world. Whatever is of enduring value in the heritage of our species has gestated in struggle and suffering. On the lips of people like us, who stay safe and far from your agonizing struggle, this could sound platitudinous. But through you it becomes the rising sun in the firmament of the hope that sustains humanity.
Yes, somewhere in the penumbra of your saga, there falls, alas, the shadow of human cussedness. We feel guilty that there are some among us who reward you with callous ingratitude. They applaud you for your services, but manhandle you for being near: individuals who do want to save themselves from those who save them! This too is part of the riddle that our species is. I apologize for them. Also for myself; for I too feel that creeping fear of death that makes me behave in patterns of cowardice.
You have joined the battle on behalf of humanity. We are indebted to you; for ever, even if we may not know how best to express our deepening, wondering gratitude.
Rev. Dr. Valson Thampu, served on the faculty of St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, for thirty years (1973-2003) before becoming its 12th principal (2007-2016). He served two terms as a member of the Delhi Minorities Commission. He contributes to the national print media on diverse current affairs issues.
(Image/Photo Courtesy: Unsplash.com)
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