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What to do when you are stranded with freedom

| Wednesday, March 25, 2020

What would you do if I told you that you could travel anywhere, do anything and see anyone even during quarantine?

What if I told you you could pluck stars from the sky, even when the skies are foggy, that you could fly without wings, climb the highest mountain and see a vista of the entire world below? 

This might sound too good to be true, but the reality is the entire fabric of existence is at your fingertips. And the only thing you need to unlock it is your imagination.

Don’t turn away. I imagine that you are probably tired of reading a thousand opinions and columns on how to spend your time, how to stay connected to your friends even with social distancing, how to stay sane with online classes and everything in between. This is not that kind of column. However, this is not my first experience with a “quarantine” of sorts, and I wish to share with you how I endured the first time round. 

I have written in previous columns that my family and I were homeless when I was younger, and that we lived in empty homes in exchange for keeping them clean for realtors. In this prior reality, my family and I did not have much choice but to “quarantine.” There was no choice between staying home or going to the beach, or even the supermarket, to escape. We were often stuck for days in houses that did not have running water, with bags of beans as our only food. I remember times when my family and I had to drive to a gas station thirty minutes away to fill up jugs full of water, and times when my sisters and I slept on rolled up towels on the floor because we did not have beds or pillows. It is a testament to the strength of my parents that I survived these days. It is also a testament to the human imagination. 

I am hesitant to call it “escaping,” but I am not sure if there is a word to capture the pain and beauty that lies in the power of imagination. Let me paint you a picture instead. My sisters and I did not have toys to play with in our childhood, so we created hundreds of worlds to inhabit and explore. The boxes we used as furniture became the cushions of a sultan’s castle. I fought armies and fell in love, explored every recess of this world and those beyond. Believe me, I know how suffocating the four walls of your bedroom can quickly become. Imagine what your brain must feel inside the confines of your skull. So allow yourself to dream, and notice the infinity at your fingertips when you do

“Delving” into your head does not simply mean imagining cardboard boxes to be chairs, or beans to be feasts fit for a medieval king either. Nor is it confined to the imaginary worlds that children create. This means something different for everyone, and it can change over time. For some people, this might be meditation. For others, it might be listening to your favorite song over and over and “inhabiting” the world that music creates for you. I find that music is incredibly helpful as kindling and fodder for the creation and fostering of worlds and moods. All the mind needs is a push to create. This does not have to be an isolated experience either. One of the most beautiful and rewarding things you can do is inhabit the world of someone else. 

I understand if this sounds like escapism but, semantics aside, it is not. The human imagination is immeasurably powerful, and some of the greatest heroes of history endured unimaginable pain and suffering through the fortitude of the human mind. Viktor Frankl, a Jewish neurologist and psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust, is one of these heroes. Amidst the horrors of Auschwitz, Frankl wrote what would become one of the most influential books of all time, “Man’s Search for Meaning,”on scraps of paper that he found and hid from the Nazis. In Frankl’s development of a new psychotherapeutic method called logotherapy, he realized that survival in the camps was often predicated on those who looked to the future, to those who took mental photographs of sunsets and who spent time with their children in their mind when they could not do so in person. Even after the Nazis discovered his book sewn into the lining of his coat and confiscated it, Frankl refused to stop writing, creating and tenaciously believing that one day he would be able to present his ideas at conferences and not to the walls and confines of death camps. If giants like Victor Frankl could have the tenacity and strength to inhabit their own minds and create in the midst of the Holocaust, how much more so can we stay at home and escape our four walls from our beds and couches.

Some of the most beautiful sights and sounds in existence are waiting to be unlocked in our own imagination. My brother is a doctor and he is on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic, like so many of our friends and relatives are as well. The least we can do is walk among the stars in our own minds.

Gabriel Niforatos is a junior majoring in political science with minors in the Hesburgh Program in Public Service and Theology. He is passionate about giving a voice to the disenfranchised and writing is the muse he is persistently chasing. He can be found at [email protected] or @g_niforatos on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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