What Me Worry?

January 25, 2015 at 1:36 pm

The story is told about a man on a journey who suddenly finds himself running away from some tigers.  The tigers are gaining on him as he reaches a cliff.  Fortunately, there is a vine hanging down the side of the cliff.  He grabs it and begins to rappel down the cliff away from his pursuers only to realize that there are tigers also at the bottom of the wall waiting for him.  As he clings thinking about what to do next, he realizes that there is a mouse that is gnawing away at his vine.   He is soon  hanging only by a thread.

This story is about the reality of our existence.  It can reflect many different aspects of our life.  How we live in illusions and build castles in the air.  We seek security and comfort.  We curate our image so that we find approval and esteem in the eyes of others.  All the while,  we think that we control life and its outcomes until events occur that wake us up to reality or scare the hell out of us.  One could also interpret this story to reflect that we are all aging and ultimately will die.  That notion is incomprehensible to us during our invulnerable years of youth; however, it becomes more real as our hair grays and our face wrinkles and sags.

I could not stop thinking the past few days about this story recorded by Pema Chodrun since  Hyderabad is in the midst of a swine flu epidemic.  300 people have tested positive.  25 people have died very recently.  I am not sure this government knows the real numbers.  There is no panic.  The authorities say  not to worry.   There is no public health alert or encouragement to get vaccinated.   People are basically unconcerned at work.  The newspapers generally report the epidemic on page 3.  Quite a contrast to the Ebola event in the US a few months ago.  However, it scares me.  I had not heard much about it.  I had not been reading the papers in the past couple of weeks.  Then I picked one up on Wednesday and saw that 200+ were tested positive for H1N1 and 20 people had died.  Moments before, I had  read the tiger story.

Kathleen wondered why I was so somber. I mumbled something about being tired from running 4 miles that morning rather than saying that I felt surrounded by tigers.  I was morose.   I was not sure if there was even a vaccine for this flu.  I googled H1N1 and found that there is. I wondered then if it was possible to get vaccinated in Hyderabad.  Is the vaccine available and if it is, are there sufficient supplies?   I then thought about the recent outbreak of HIV in one of the states of India because a doctor was reusing the same needle.  I then remembered that in another state poor women were paid some rupees by the government to get sterilized to control the population.  They died after the surgery when the antibiotic that they were provided had poison in it.   India is not the place to be when you need a sound public health system.    “The line,” my dad once said in his later years, “between the here and hereafter is very thin.”

I did not have a panic attack.  However, I did remember how Jesus sweated blood during his agony in the garden as he realized that his tigers were about to get him.   In the end, he embraced our  human condition.  He willingly and nonviolently walked the path to death.  One of the central pieces of Christian iconography is Jesus on the Cross capturing the pain, suffering, and death inherent in our natures.   I get it.   I grasp the concept easily enough ; you can know something with your mind, but not your heart.  It is another matter when you have actually have a sense of our fragility.

The  story of the person on the vine does not end with him hanging by a thread.  In the midst of his predicament, he notices some ripe strawberries within his reach.   He reaches over.  He plucks them.  He enjoys tasting them.

I am tempted to end this meditation here.  Let you explore its meaning.

The conclusion  reminds me of the French existentialists.  They viewed life as absurd and meaningless, but were excited about how they could shape their lives creatively.  What kind of masterpiece could they create?

I am also reminded how our world was created out of love and is rooted and ultimately grounded in love despite its many perceived shortcomings.

Kathleen dropped me at work that day.  We made plans to get our vaccination the following day by a doctor who we met serendipitously.  She  practiced medicine at Mt. Carmel and Riverside in Columbus for 15 years.   As we rode, I told Kathleen and Mr Shah, our driver, that I had had a dream and related the Tiger story.  But I added something.  In the past, Mr Shah shared with me Islam’s view of heaven and hell.  So right after the part about enjoying the strawberries and the thread snapping, I added  how  I was borne up to Paradise by the prayers  of others to the arms of God.