I work at the government hospital in Udaipur as a medical intern. One evening, I got a call saying I had to pack my things and reach the hospital in 15 minutes. There was a bus ready to take us—the group of interns—to Dungarpur, a city in southern Rajasthan. Adrenaline rushed through my veins; I couldn’t believe it was real and tried to prepare my mind, remembering the time I wished I could be more useful during this time of pandemic.
As I dumped some clothes in a suitcase, I didn’t know what to expect and for how long I was required to be there.
As we started the journey, within a few kilometers, it started pouring down heavily with hailstones. The cackling of hail sounded like nature was mocking our attempt to slow down this colossal global crisis. That is when I felt a sliver of fear creep in; I felt I was not ready. How could anyone be [ready] for something unknown?
The COVID-19 pandemic has frequently been likened to a war, where multiple ranks of society are bravely fighting to save humanity. Armed with meagre information about this novel virus and no absolute cure yet, what confidence do we have in our own strength? The brightest minds in the world are trying to piece together the characteristics of this virus, frequently updating previous theories and guidelines.
Amidst these thoughts we reached Dungarpur. Here we were informed that our colleagues—who arrived a few hours before us—had already been sent to the Rajasthan-Gujarat border. This is where about 40,000 migrants were waiting for us to screen them before they could be allowed entry into Rajasthan and transported home overcrowded buses.
The noon sun’s rays were piercing forehead as we sat at the rusty metal desks. We saw hundreds of silhouettes making their way to us through the thick brown veil of dust. This army, carrying their children and belongings in heat—suffocated by masks and society’s inequality—had been walking for days trying to get back home.
We spent two weeks screening people at the border and in the nearby districts. And then, we were sent home when the authorities ran out of funds to provide food for our group!
The whole experience of participating in the screening process left my heart heavy about the state of things in our country. Although the work we did seemed good on paper, I don’t know how effective it truly was, considering that the virus hasn’t revealed itself completely to us yet.
One of the oft-repeated phrases I got sick of hearing was: That’s how things work in India! I felt helpless seeing the lack of financial transparency, political integrity and something as basic as protective equipment. It pained me to hear about the lives lost walking hundreds of kilometers, the woman who delivered her baby during such a journey and the thousands who were on the brink of starvation without any source of income.
Among all the devastating stories is a constant current of fear—what will the world look like a few months from now? Although in life, everyone experiences some sort of loss individually, this collective grief and uncertainty are new to us. This is bound to leave a substantial emotional mark on our generation. The world has slowed its pace, and in such a time the ring of grave reality can be quite loud. If trying times can reveal a person’s true character, then fear is one of the main propagators of the consequent action. Right now, it seems as though fear and anxiety are the loudest noises.
During my time in quarantine, I was reflecting on 1 Kings, chapters 18–19, the story of Elijah. In the first part, he was so confident in the power of God and was able to proudly establish this to those who worshipped Baal. However, once word reaches Jezebel about the events on Mount Carmel and the deaths of the prophets of Baal, she threatens Elijah and causes him to flee in fear to the wilderness.
Elijah had experienced miracles from God before, he should have known and remembered what God is capable of. Yet, here we see him hiding away, asking God to take his life. At that moment, fear was all he could hear, despite earlier being present at the display of God’s glory, he only heard his anxiety. So, God intervened. First God provided physical nourishment and then spoke to Elijah, not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire, but in a quiet voice. God instructs him on what he is supposed to do and later also assures him of 7000 faithful people to support him.
When fear overcomes us, especially during situations like lockdown, search for that still, quiet voice of direction. Psalm 46:10 reminds us: “Be still and know that I am God.” In this uncertain period, when we realise our own limitations and those of experts, we come face to face with God’s favour and power. We just have to listen.
Last week in our department, one of our patient’s three-month-old baby tested positive for Covid-19. My colleagues and I had examined the baby with masked faces and a rubber touch. We facelessly comforted the mother who had just been hit with the diagnosis of her child. We could not hold her hand and confidently assure her that it will be alright because, in reality, we don’t know. This pandemic has affected every single person’s life. Laymen have become familiar with terms like ‘N95’ and ‘Hydroxychloroquine’ and can recognise the meaning of circles painted on streets. For some, it has allowed them to stay home with their families, develop hobbies and regard the vision of empty dystopian roads. In whatever way we cope with the situation, we all accept that it is a scary time. Maybe in the future, we will reflect on this pandemic from a place of more understanding, hopefully wiser in our decisions and better prepared to protect our vulnerable friends. Like in 2 Corinthians 1:8–10, may it be so that we do not rely on ourselves but on God, on whom we have set our hope for he will continue to deliver us. I, like everyone else, do not know how long it will take but am waiting with expectation for the dove to return with the olive branch in its beak. When we are continuously reminded of the “war,” tell yourself to listen for the soft whisper of God that says the war belongs to Him!