Reflections on Quarantine

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By: Kashaf Ahmed

For all the talk about individual autonomy, for all the romanticism associated with freedom, for all the musing about liberty, are we, as a species or as individuals, really in control of our lives? Is it not true that every once in a while, just when we start to think that we are the masters of our universe a set of  circumstances leads us back into the rocky terrain of reality; we are no more in control of our lives than a lion in a zoo is in control of his. We, perhaps, are even less fortunate than him for he, at least, can see the walls keeping him captive. We, often, can not. We are not prisoners of concrete and steel, we are prisoners of circumstance. Limited by the fragility of  our bodies and the narrowness of our intellect and the vulnerability of our emotions, there is not much we fully control in our lives. What is worse is that instead of acknowledging our constraints, we often find it convenient to forget them, so when, like with the advent of the coronavirus, they come to haunt us, we spiral down a path of irrationality and despair.

I am, of course, not generalizing my conclusions. I am not trying to trivialize the legitimate mental health struggles this crisis has aggravated nor am I trying to oversimplify the reasons behind them. I do not have academic research to back my opinions either. What I am attempting to do is to write a personal reflection on my reality during Quarantine in hopes that there are others who will be able to relate to these struggles.

I entered Quarantine thinking it wouldn’t affect me significantly. Perhaps that was a naive conclusion, but it is what I genuinely thought at that point. I have always considered myself an introvert. Have never had too many friends. Have never been too outgoing either. In my mind, staying at home, taking online classes and spending Ramadan at home were to be the best thing that could have possibly happened. Other than missing out on Taraweeh, the effect of which, too, I gravely underestimated, I felt it would be business as normal for me. I was gravely wrong. 

Quarantine has been nothing like what I thought it would be. It has been quite the opposite – a long period of gloom and despair during which all of my insecurities, my fears, my inadequacies, things I had strived so hard to bundle up and lock in an obscure part of my brain so that I can live in relative peace without ever having to think about them, have come back to haunt me. 

“You never truly know a person,” an old saying in my city, “until you have done three things with them – eaten with them, travelled with them and seen them in a state of anger.” But what if you end up not liking the person you have gotten to know so well? What if you end up not liking yourself? What if, confronted with the cracks in your personality, with your own imperfections, you come to realize how terrible of a person you have been to people around you? With others, perhaps, it is easier to deal with – you can always, in theory, walk away. With yourself, there is no escape – you either confront your reality and actively work to change what you don’t like about yourself, or you accept it and start living with it. Neither alternative, as I am gradually finding out, is easy to pursue. Couple all this with the lack of distractions during Quarantine, and you find yourself stuck between as the cliche goes, a rock and a hard place. This is where I have found myself in recent days.

At first my academics, the one thing in my life I had come to almost pride myself on, began to suffer. Then came the misery of realizing that between spending twelve hours of the day on campus and another four “studying,” I had become less and less relatable to my own family. Then came the gloom of realizing how many friends I had lost and how many people I had disappointed with my childish, unhinged, self-centeredness. 

So how have I dealt with it? In reality, I doubt I can answer that question with any degree of insight. What I can say is that I try to find solace in the infinite mercy of Allah. The hope that I might be forgiven if I try to make amends, keeps me functional. The belief that at least in the court of Allah, what counts is not the end result but the struggle helps me stay hopeful. The belief that the plan governing my life is greater than what I can foresee stops me from giving into my nihilistic tendencies. Restraint, discipline, and the formation of a closer connection to the creator, everything Ramadan stands for, have, this year become tangible goals I can work towards instead of abstract concepts.

What quarantine has given me is the opportunity to think about myself. To become more self aware. True, I resent some of that self-awareness. True, I would have preferred not confronting some of the things I have been forced to so bluntly confront but it is also true that for the first time I have so strongly been forced to look towards the mercy of Allah, to rely on the Almighty and not on people, in hopes that my problems will be solved. I don’t know if, at the end, I will emerge as any better a person or not, but at least for now, what it has enabled me to try becoming one.

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