George Rockwell

The Magic of a box of sand from St. Thomas Mount

It is a time when anyone should be happy, proud and accomplished. Two weeks ago my supervisor at work whom I always called boss summoned me to his office and in an elaborate show of affection told me that his proposal to create a new section Demography and Forensics in the provincial department of Health and Wellness has been approved by the minister and unless something unforeseen happened I will be the Director of this new section. There would be an interview but that would only be a formality for he couldnt find anybody better suited than me occupying the position. I walked out of his office on cloud nine.
The next day I became sick. So sick that I had to apply for three regular days off everyone is entitled without a doctors note. Extending my medical leave a whole week I stayed in bed; agitated, anxious, depressed and unhappy and for no reason I felt I am a total failure. Is this fear of success and emerging responsibilities that are making me this way? I checked the Statistical Abstract of Mental illnesses and Disorders but couldnt find anything like that. It felt to me like I have fallen from cloud nine to the bottom of hell.
Soon Victoria, my wife of 32 years became very concerned and worried. I was not only hurting my chances of a wonderful promotion worth about 15 thousand a year, I was endangering my current position as well. I didnt care. At her insistence I called my doctor whom I havent seen for three years. It took him only half an hour before he sent me to a neurologist and a psychiatrist. They were very thorough and it took them a week. After considered opinions and consultations and a bevy of test it was their considered opinion and sad verdict and sad advice that I suffer from a serious case of bipolar disorder a malady which used to be known as manic depression.  I knew a little bit about this mental illness and that made me really anxious.
During the next week I got on the Internet and found everything I can read and the more I read the more sad and confused I became. As I came to understand about this most complex and confusing sickness I lost my peace of mind. Bipolar disorder has genetic roots and is the most complex of documented and researched mental illnesses and should be taken very seriously if it was dormant until late middle age. Patients should be constantly monitored and empowered to regularly take medication so as to manage their illness. There is no cure and depending on the symptoms manifested through constant and systematic care by a knowledgeable and empathetic care giver a patient may exist in a normal mood most of the time. Symptom include unpredictable swings in mood, occasional lapse of short term memory, inability to focus or concentrate and lack of comprehension of things read or heard, occasional delusions, manic behavior and hallucinations. Because everyone who is bipolar carries it from birth it usually manifests itself during late adolescence or early youth. If you are lucky you would be diagnosed early and medicated properly. It is often said that 1-2% of people suffer this sickness but only 40% are diagnosed. But it is a modern illness in the sense that psychiatrists started understanding it only recently. Those who are not diagnosed or untreated often end up in jails or on the street or take their own lives. The positive side of this illness is that many geniuses and creative people suffered bipolar illnesses and some examples given are Winston Churchill, Ted Turner, Patty Duke and Ernest Hemingway. What an exemplary group; one ruled the world, one committed suicide after an illustrious writing career, One thought up CNN and one got an academy award. May be I have seeds of creativity in me and this story appearing in the New Yorker might bear witness to it.
What a great illness to be born with I told myself. Attributes that easily disqualified me to the offered position notwithstanding the confidence and encouragement from my boss about my work are very much antithetical to it if I am not treated properly. I may not even be able to hold my current job if untreated. Then and there Victoria and I decided to go see Dr. Paul Neumann, my boss and open my cards for him to see where I stood given my Bipolar Illness. I owed it to him whatever the outcome of my illness. Of course I had the option of accepting the new position and after a few weeks calling sick and claiming disability. Given my upbringing as a Christian this was an option I could not exercise. Then I sent an email to my oldest sister Geeta and it read:
 My dear sister:
I owe you a reply to your last email but I was busy. Meanwhile my boss offered me the position of Director to the newly created section of Demography and Forensics. It is a position I always wanted and dreamed of occupying for it aptly suits my education and training. My boss went an extra mile to create this position for me. The trouble is that I am sick. After consultation with my doctor and various specialists they have come to the conclusion that I am afflicted with a serious case of bipolar disorder which is also known as Manic Depression.
I have taken some time off from my earned vacation and I have to tell my boss about my current situation. Victoria and I are both upset for it is not the promotion but my current position would also be in jeopardy if my illness continues. The Department of Health and Wellbeing may want me to take a disability pension which is worse that the illness,
Please pray for us and advise us as to what step I should take. Convey our regards to everyone, Take care, have a nice day and cheers. With love and prayers your brother.
The email message to my message from my sister was prompt and succinct.
Dear brother:
I want you to take a one month vacation from work and come home. All the details will be worked out by the time you get here.  You have no excuse not to come. I know that you are entitled to quite a few days of earned vacation. Just book a one month trip and come. Both your sisters are anxiously waiting for your arrival. Dont disappoint us. With our love and prayers
Your sister.
Victoria and I discussed it and decided that I should go. Mood wise I was still very low and the travel to Kerala appeared more difficult than getting to the top of Mount Everest. As I touched down at the new International airport in Cochy, some of the burden seemed to have lifted. And there were my two surviving sisters Gaeta and Lila,
The cab from the airport to our home in Halva took only 15 minutes and my sisters wanted to know how Victoria was taking it.
Very well, considering the mystery surrounding this whole journey. She thinks that there is some Aurveda Guru or somebody going to treat me. I said
There is no mystery for everything would become clear to you once you hear me out. Said Geeta, Lila was quite during the whole trip Once we reached our ancestral home where Lilas only son lives I was shown my room, the same room from my boyhood that of a boy who loved to play cricket. Lila introduced me to Saroj who used to be my mothers maid-servant when I was a precocious young boy. It was her job to keep me out of kitchen and other trouble spots and give me baths. She has aged but looked younger than her 80.
Okay Georgyboy! Saroj is going to look after you and tomorrow we will talk about the treating modality for curing your mental illness.
The next day after a delicious breakfast of pootu and golden bananas and homegrown coffee Geeta came to my room followed by Lila.
Sit down and listen. Greeta said, and then she added
I have arranged for a cab and driver to take us to take us to Chennai as Madras is now called. There is an ashram near the St. Thomas Mount Church and Basilica. And we have booked a place for you there for 2 weeks. I want you to fast for a week. Just rice soup and pickles and lentils. The Ashram food is heavenly. Being vegetarian they wont tempt you with meat or fish or egg After the first week of fasting go and see one of their priests who will ask you a lot of questions. At the end ask for two small wooden baskets full of sand from St. Thomass Mount. If they ask for a donation give generously. You are supposed to then sleep with those boxes under your pillow until you are healed. Have you heard of St. Thomas Mount Georgy boy? asked Geeta.
Of course I have. I was trained in Anthropology, you know. I answered.
Yes! But there is a greater connection between you and the Mount and it has to do with our late mother. Geeta said with a smile.
I dont know anything about that. Said I.
Well our mother when she was 44 years old found herself the mother of five gorgeous and smart daughters but no sons. Your father was completely satisfied with that. But her sisters-in-law began picking on her for not giving their favorite brother a son.  She was not a timid soul as she outwardly appeared and because of her troubled childhood she was only semiliterate and never learned English a lifelong regret she carried lifelong. She wanted a boy so badly and there being no Internet she did her research using the alternate method- word of mouth. And that was how she found her way to Chennai and St. Thomas Mount. She told our father that her father was ill and needed bed side care and she will be away for few weeks. I Chennai she discovered Our Lady of Expectations church and obtained a room with the vestry of nuns. There she was advised to fast for 40 days like Jesus did in the wilderness to confront Satan. The nuns advised her to eat only rice soup and pickled vegetables. Then she climbed the 112 stone and gravel covered steps she learned that St. Thomas left a gospel with that many sayings from Christ which he heard as one of his apostles - on bared naked knees. In her exertion she fainted few times but reached her destination; the cave at the top, a cave where Thomas Didymus was martyred. The nuns and priests who coordinated the supplications of a multitude of supplicants were amazed at her tenacity and immediately took her to the chief priest. They prayed together and the priest asked her to get a box of sand from around mount was St. Thomas was buried and then goes home and sleeps with box of sand under her pillow until the Almighty granted her wish. Geeta narrated.
It is funny the priest didnt say that she should sleep with her husband. Lila interjected in jocular vain.
It took our mother only nine months to see the result of her determination and faith. It was how you were born Georgyboy the baby brother we all wanted and cherished. The priest had wanted her to pledge three things for the Lord if she got her wish. Our mother did not hesitate when she said If I have a son he will never touch gold, silver or other jewelry , he will not accumulate wealth for its own sake and he will become a priest and work to help the poor and disabled Greeta added.
We are all so proud to that you dont wear jewelry. You are not rich and what remains is priesthood. But that only the Lord can call you Interjected Lila.
I am too old to become a priest said I.
It is never too old to be a priest if God our Lord wants you. Lila added
So this is what we are going to do The cab takes us to Chennai in about 16 hours drive and we have booked a motel for the whole family and you have also a place in Anna ashram for retreat so that you can escape our company and read or pray or whatever sits you . The ashram also provide a computer with Internet connection, you have to take your fast for a week seriously. The ashram serves delicious rice soup with vegetable pickles. Stick to that and your fasting will be met. Afterwards we go and meet the chief priest and obtain box of St. Thomas Mount sand. The priest will then tell you what to do. The only thing required is total faith in Lord Jesus Christ and belief that He will work to heal your illness. Dont let any doubts overtake you and dont let it all be in vain. Geeta concluded
Do you want us to come with you? Or can you manage? Lila wanted to know
I would like all of s to go together I said and all agreed.

To say that I felt overwhelmed about what I was doing is to say it lightly. I felt as if the whole question of my faith and devotion were being challenged by my empiricist education and scientific training. What I was doing was following some superstitious mumbo jumbo for the sake of sanity, safety and survival and the whole contradiction of it betrayed what I believed I should qua scientist be doing. Then there were my Sisters all highly educated as I was totally convinced that I will be healed by the magic box of sand from Santhome Cathedral and Basilica where the remains of doubting Thomas the apostle was believed to have been killed and buried. I have come this far and it will be cruel and impolite to give up the hope my sisters have built up. All their planning and concern for my wellness showed me how dearly they love me and to them I was still their precocious one and only baby brother. For my sisters and my late parents, I reckoned, believing was not an issue. They have always believed for faith was second nature to them. It is me and my mental faculties and world view that were in need of reconciliation.
So I went to Chennai with my sisters and had fast for a week and obtained to obtain the sand.  I went on a week of fast. The international shrine of St. Thomas at Santhome Cathedral and Basilica is supposedly one of three places where apostles of Jesus have been buried- the other two being  St. Peters Basilica in Rome and Cathedral St. James the Great Santdeigo de Compestela.  The international shrine of Santhome Cathedral and Basilica has an underground tomb chapel where pilgrims can pray in front of the sepulcher of St. Thomas. It is ancient and Marco polo visited it in 1292 and described it in his travelogue. You can reach out and collect a box or two of the sand for free. But pilgrims donate large some depending of the seriousness of their prayer and desire. St Thomas Mount sand is being depleted that there is a huge hole in the ground. Currently the practice is to ship trucks of sand from the Merina beach and mix it with the soil taken from the hole around the mount. The priest who prayed with me told me that faith is the mantra and it worked when buttressed with the grace of God working through the martyrdom of Thomas his apostle. So he advised me to sleep with the boxes under my pillow until I am totally healed.

* * *     
A year has elapsed since my sojourn to Chennai and back. I have been completely free of any symptoms of bipolar disorder. I still sleep with the boxes of sand under my pillow and at Victorias suggestion we now sleep in separate beds. My wife is so happy about my outcome she has discovered her faith and the power of prayer.
I was promoted to the new position of Director and after one year my boss has given me a performance evaluation with great many accolades. Just today he dropped in on me and asked how I was.
Great and thank you for the fabulous performance evaluation I replied.
Well I have a problem I have been suffering from. Chronic insomnia. Sometimes I cant sleep for days. Do you think your treatment modality will work for me?
You never know boss. If it is a real big problem that cant be cured by sleeping aid then it is worth a try. I added
Let me sleep on it says my boss but with a grin.
Ha ha the joke of the century
* * *
Almost two years have gone by after my miraculous healing after the visit to Chennai. My work has been going great and I am free of all symptoms of my illness. My boss has been promoted to Deputy Minister and people have been encouraging me to apply for the position he vacated; Assisted Deputy Minister of Research and Senior Scientist. But in spite of a great job and healing of my mental illness I have been facing this feeling of emptiness. I have been dwelling on this and reached the conclusion that it has to do with my not meeting my mothers promise that I would become a priest. One day I talked it over with my wife and she became all upset. She said,
My husband is sick is sick to his head and he believes he will be fully healed and happy if he becomes a priest so he can leave me and go back home. I had hard time convincing her that is not the case. I negotiated an attractive retirement package with the Deputy Minister, my ex-boss so that Victoria is looked after well. He told me he would miss me. I doubted it for who wants a mentally disabled as his friend or employ.
I did some research and discovered that the mountain and cave Thomas called home was discovered by the Portuguese in 1512. Thomas was said to have bled carving a stone cross with his finger nail and it kept bleeding for 100 years. The Portuguese built the church Our Lady of Expectations here and it formed the first city of San Thomas in Chennai. I contacted them and asked them whether I can offer my services without cost. When they learned that I had my own income they were very happy to accept me.
I joined the rectory of the parish priest as a novice and it is hard work. I assist the priests in cleaning, washing, laundry and grocery shopping and cooking. It is mainly manual work and I am dead tired by supper time. There is no salary or wages and I dont need any. All I need is peace of mind and knowledge that I am sane, safe and salubrious.


All rights belong to its author. It was published on by demand of George Rockwell.
Published on on 03/15/2009.


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