There is something that coronavirus is trying to teach me, but what is it?
I am an asthmatic. Ever since I was a child, I spent many evenings struggling to get a full breath. Because of my asthma, I am well aware of the torture of respiratory illness, and when coronavirus started making headlines, I was one of the first people to self-isolate. In the past month and a half, I had a lot of time to reflect on this new reality that was thrust upon us all. It is a reality without social contact, hairdressers, beauty treatments or frivolous spending.
Once I came to terms with the financial loss that stemmed from the restrictions of COVID-19 something quite magical started happening. Much of the stress that life piles on you to be a certain way and to impress your friends with your achievements and possessions evaporated leaving behind a much happier person. The burden of socialising when there is no real desire to do so was lifted, and it surprised me how liberating that felt. Surrounded by a tiny group of those I love, I felt both warm and protected.
I was quite surprised to discover that I had little desire to contact my friends electronically. I am a face-to-face sort of person, so all other forms of communication -unless it is for practical purposes, are a chore. It is not that I don’t love my friends — I do. I also feel obligated to stay in touch, but I don’t want to unless there is something specific to say. I know I should be calling them, but I haven’t been. The virus has permitted me to be silent.
As for my priorities, those have shifted dramatically. I have stopped obsessing about hair, nails, beauty treatments and even exercise. I worry more about what I am making for lunch and dinner, shopping lists and home maintenance. There is a particular “Je m’en fous” (I don’t give a damn) feeling about everything other than our day to day living. Everything else will happen when it happens. I have gone through my calendar and moved everything to a faraway date in the future, and for the first time in my life, this is OK. Stress levels are way down my only real worry is that they will open schools too soon and the risks that will entail.
I sense that the mood of the nation is not that much different. Under the threat of random death, most of us stopped caring about Brexit, Megxit, exotic vacations, or even how many genders one can be at the same time. I have not seen a word mentioned about climate change, and Greta has appeared but twice in my newsfeed, one of which was about having had coronavirus.
The magnitude of danger than coronavirus presents has put things in perspective. “This matters/that doesn’t” is now much easier to distinguish. The world will not come to an end if I miss my MOT, delay doing my taxes, pay my bills late or skip the daily run. After all, there is a deadly pandemic that can make mincemeat out of anyone, almost indiscriminately.
Which brings me to my original question: Having established what does not matter, how do I discover what does matter and what is the lesson I should be learning today?
Starting with a few observations from social media, I have noticed that people are cooking and baking. Not the amateur kind of baking that says I am in a hurry but the proper old fashion baking. They are completing recipes that have not seen the light of day for at least a generation. Then there is homeschooling, or whatever you want to call spending time with your children rather than parking them in front of the TV and outsourcing everything -including hugs- to strangers. Some beautiful people are using their talents to bring happiness to others. Musicians, painters, authors, actors, dancers; all the creatives are sharing their gifts with the world -for free. As of today, 300,000 Brits have quit smoking, and I read today that couples, instead of being at each other’s throats, in their majority are feeling closer and falling in love again. Oh yes, there will be coronavirus babies for sure. Lots of them!
So, society is becoming more altruistic, caring, loving and deliciously SLOW. After the initial shock of the “car crash” -losing one’s job and way of life, people seem to be enjoying the time that has been given to them. We are talking here about a couple of generations where every moment of breathing has been taken up by an activity. Children who have been pushed from babyhood, parents whose mortgage often exceeds their monthly income, cramped workplaces, jobs that can go at any time and commutes that resemble unhappy sardines. Is there any wonder why young and old alike are beginning to enjoy lockdown?
Suddenly we have a perfectly valid excuse to live, to have the second cup of coffee, to wake up naturally, to care about our children and our parents, to enjoy a leisurely lunch, nothing extravagant, but oh, so very wonderful! Everything is uncertain. We cannot plan a vacation, a work project or a house move. We don’t have to do anything other than make it to the supermarket and lie in the sun next to our family.
I don’t want to downplay the stress of financial difficulty or domestic violence that many are experiencing. These are awful scenarios, and much of the world is feeling their effects acutely. But even in those situations, there is a silver lining. When things come to a head, most people are eventually forced to take action. They may quit the dead-end job, start their own business or leave the abusive relationship and ultimately question their choices often for the better.
The lockdown has deprived us of an audience to our consumerism. This, in turn, has removed the anxiety of consuming, which has been replaced with the happiness of living. An extra hug, a seed that sprouted in a windowsill pot, a freshly baked loaf of bread, a book read without disruption, a conversation where we genuinely listen to what is being said; so many simple things that had been out of reach before we are now able to enjoy.
Is the entire western world learning the same lesson at the same time?
It took a pandemic for us to notice that we are hamsters on a wheel to nowhere. Now the wheel has stopped, and there is silence. After standing in the unmoving wheel and looking around in shock, the little hamsters that we all are, have made the first tentative steps on the green grass and we are smelling the flowers. Is this so bad? And what is it going to take for us to be coaxed back on to that wheel and start running again? What kind of shiny toy will be the catalyst? For some, it will be pure need, but many others may turn their back to the way things were and on the things that force the wheel to go faster.
I am sure that a significant majority will reject our old ways and will rise to the challenge of creating a kinder, slower society — the kind of community that gives life a real purpose. Yes, COVID 19 was a massive accident that amputated the world. But similarly, to most amputees, we are beginning to discover that there is life after the accident and not only that, it can be a happier, more fulfilling time. This virus has shown us the way to this life. It has handed us a rudder, and as we emerge from the lockdown, we may choose to use it and change our direction.
I, for one, plan to do so!
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