These past weeks, I have been asking myself this question: Do those Mount Athos monks know what is going on in the news? I ask this question because I am wondering myself how much I should permit myself to know or receive the media feed. It hurts to not know. It hurts to know. I am stuck in between the two guidelines. I try to walk the middle way, but nowadays, it feels like being in the middle is too coward.
But one thing was sure. I was in need of healing. I searched for words of healing to restore the calm, but I found myself gravitating towards my daily newspaper that gets delivered every morning in my driveway. It’s hard to resist tuning into those breaking news feeds on my YouTubeTV. So this morning, I decided to take a mental journey to Mount Athos. I ordered “The Monks of Mount Athos” from Amazon– yet another medium that has a strong grip on my life. I ordered a new yoga mat as if a new yoga mat will magically help me get back to my practice. My Mount Athos book arrived. So did my new pink yoga mat. I placed my new book on my bookshelf and my new yoga mat on my kitchen floor (This was a functional decision, trust me). I left them untouched only to put on my old rain boots to make a short walk out to my muddy backyard. There, I have plenty of branches and logs chopped down to fit my fireplace. Those dead, old branches have been neglected by the previous owner of this old house. I collected as much as I could fit into my tin bucket and brought them inside to dry by my warm fireplace. It takes me roughly about 40 mins to fill my firewood rack. Because most of the branches are thin and short, I go through them rather quickly. Each day, I found myself looking forward to putting on my boots to take my solitary walk out to the back yard. Surrounded by bare trees withstanding the winter with unchanging stability on this hill top, I joyfully gather my firewood. I think about the warmth these logs will provide for the day. The vision of warm fire burning in the corner of my small living room is my happiness cure. I hope this slow process of gathering the endless resources of branches and logs in my backyard will eventually yield to reveal the fertile soil where I can finally sprinkle green grass seeds come this Spring.
While I busy myself with the task of collecting firewood and keeping the house warm, this winter is passing by so quickly. While I fancy myself cocooned in an off-grid cottage somewhere in Finland, the world stricken with the global pandemic feels like a different reality. Oh, the pain is there. I feel it. Daily. I feel it every single living second, if I let the pain in. I feel the pain of fear every time I wrestle with the idea of visiting my parents. The pain was scarily raw when I heard the news that my parent’s church friend has died of Covid last week. I hear the stories of those who were affected by Covid from my pastor’s sermons. The fear and the suffering of Covid is ever so close. The virus is closing in within the boundary of my circle.
But if I stop my daily ritual of walking to the back woods to collect firewood, if I stop firing up my fireplace and the healing flame of warmth stops its magic in my quarantined life, my life will be overwhelmed by fear. I’ve learned this even before the pandemic throughout my painful battle against the deadly depression. When the darkness prolongs and you are out of your wits to survive, only then, you realize that the light has been within you all along. It’s that strong pull of the urge that makes you get up and step out into the cold winter breeze to pick up sticks. Because those sticks will fuel the fireplace. The vision of you sitting by the fireside, listening to the wood cracking, the burning candle lighting up the space, and the opened Bible or a book about Mount Athos on your laps is worth more than a hundred anti-depressant pills.
I cherish the story of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta when she visited an old man living in negligence. She offered to clean his house which was in an obvious darkness and filth, and it was while cleaning his house that she discovered a beautiful lamp that was as neglected as his house was. Mother Teresa asked if he ever lights up the lamp to which the old man answered, “For whom? Nobody comes here. I never see anybody. Nobody comes to me. I don’t need to light the lamp.” So Mother Teresa asked if he will light it if the Sisters visit him. The sisters would go to visit and he would light the lamp. Years later, the old man had a message for Mother Teresa. “Tell my friend, the light she lit in my life is still burning!”
I don’t know about your corner of the world, but in my small world, there were a handful of lives that have vanished by suicides and deaths by illness. I’ve never had so many suicide news in a single year as this one. Never before has the bar for survival been so heightened as now. Those with preexisting conditions, the immunocompromised, and the aged have to pass through the test of life and death and even those who are healthy and young are in fear for their loved ones who are weaker. So many are home alone, separated from their loved ones, we can’t go to school, we have to work from home- and that’s if you are lucky enough to work at home. The separation and the anxiety and the fear for the uncertain future are too violent for certain populations. For those who are neglected and those who suffer from the unseen disease of mental illness, these are hard, hard times.
Today, I finally finish this piece of writing that took me more than a month. I do not think it’s worth reading but it was worth writing for me. I write this piece as a way to light up a big torch in my darkened heart. I will continue to pick up sticks. I will continue to light up a match to fire up my fireplace. I will continue to light a lamp. In the smallest way that I am capable of. And so, it is my prayer that those who are left in the darkness will continue their small tasks as well. Just a small act of lighting up your old, old lamp can work a miracle as the miracle worker Mother Teresa has taught us.