It is 11 pm. I look at the black sky. I am wide awake. Most nights at this hour I am in la-la-land. It is a strange night. Restlessness is in the air and turmoil in my mind. I stare blankly at my Kindle, not comprehending a word that I read. A 3-week lockdown imposed on a 1.3 billion people country. Life has come to a standstill, grabbed us by the collar thrown us hurtling toward the unknown.
Labour that works at the site needs to be paid although work is not happening anywhere, even though my contractor cannot afford it.
I have a client whose renovation work in a new apartment has stopped, and his existing rental lease has come to end. He needs to find a place to live.
My friend’s 55-year brother cannot get his bypass operation done because of the fear of infection.
My mother-in-law’s 85-year-old friends, who live by themselves, have no house help at all.
My cousin who is a doctor, in Boston, is working hard and looking after her 2 children with no help. It is her day to go in tomorrow, to test patients for the new virus, wearing a spacesuit. Another cousin, in Mumbai, a psychiatrist, is seeing a surge in calls for help to deal with this new anxiety, along with a whole host of others who are calling for their regular appointments, as they “are free now”.
Just two weeks ago, we were all linked with group runs, bike rides, events in which we participated, with the network which we created, all smug, in “our little happy world”. In this hyperconnected world, suddenly we need to create distance. Overnight we started working from our 24-degree air-conditioned homes (as it is most energy-efficient), watching the latest shows on Netflix, and stocked up on pasta, cheese, and wine. We, who have to now cut out frills and live on essentials.
Essential services. Essential groceries. Essential work.
What are our essentials? We have filled our lives with so much junk, that today we are unable to see how little we really need. As I survey my pantry and see that it is full of all the essentials. I am going out to buy fruit, chocolate, and ice-cream. No wonder the Foodhall across my building, had so many cars parked all day yesterday like they were doling out ration!
As I look at the world, I see a new world. A world where we have come together to fight a common enemy. Corona. A world where we are forced to prioritise. A world where we stand apart, at an arm’s length from one another, in a queue, wear a mask and buy things “to stock-up” as we are unsure when “normalcy” will return. We all want things to go back to normal quickly. But what most of us have probably not yet realised—yet will soon—is that things won’t go back to normal after a few weeks, or even a few months. Some things never will.
What is normalcy?
Normal is when I run. It is my default mode. I run if I am feeling low. I run if I am feeling great. I run (less) if I am sick. When I am stressed I run. When I have time, I run. When the Boston marathon got postponed, Des Linden went out for a run. That’s what we do. That I am not running now, is frightening. Something is very wrong with the world. Running (or any other sport that you play) has become a part of our person. It was always in my “essentials” list. I could never imagine a life without it. God forbid, if we had an injury, we would whine for weeks until we were back on our feet again. Over the years, we have taken pride in “living outside our comfort zone”. It is here now…staring at us in the face, leaving us, shell shocked. This is life. Uncertain.
“You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire”
It is 6 am and I am in bed, staring at my computer, writing this. Not outside, running or biking. Today, I plan to do a long stretching session, alone, which I can do any time.
In the darkness as I type, my mind whirs. I have discovered Minimising. Why am I buying this? Do I need it? I am using discretion to distinguish between the essential and the luxury. Similarly, I have started filtering people between those who matter and the others. Appreciating all those whom I have taken for granted, our help, my friends and most importantly my family.
I am spending time talking to my adult children (who had both moved away but are back now) about their views on the new world, trying to see their point of view and learning new ways of playing and living with them. To be honest, we are doing our best to move from tolerating each other to peaceful cohabitation. Sharing responsibilities and meals is our way of expressing love.
I am mindful of how I spend my time (and how much coffee I drink!) since I am now responsible for regulating my work hours as well as my free time. I am trying to create a structure, away from social media and television, and adhering to that. I am rediscovering music, reading and hopefully painting by this Sunday.
We have learned from history that the world has changed many times, and it is changing again. In the 1947 French classic The Plague, (Le Peste) by Albert Camus writes, in parallel to the main narrative, the story of a different kind of plague: that of a destructive, hyper-materialistic, turbo-capitalist society. Today, Yuval Noah Harari says, in a New York times article, Yes, the storm will pass, humankind will survive, most of us will still be alive — but we will inhabit a different world. All of us will have to adapt to a new way of thinking, living, working, and forging relationships.