Written for SBS Voices, 27th May, 2020
‘Stop the World: I want to get off’. I read this catch phrase on a bumper sticker in the 80’s chuckling at its absurdity. Forty years later it appears to have been prescient, except that the world wanted us to get off because we were unfit to drive. The mental, financial and social costs of restarting the world is now a work in progress. But how will we know we’re doing it right?
If there’s one thing we know for sure, it is how little we know about what’s ahead. Currently, timelines for a full recovery of the economy in its entirety, is somewhere between a tentative guess and monumental punt. At the beginning of this pandemic I ponder daily, how long will these restrictions rule us? Will the second wave be worse than before? Will flights cost a small fortune to anywhere? Will a vaccine be the miracle cure we need it to be? And every time I descended into this rabbit hole of questions, I arrived at the same place: catastrophizing over matters beyond our ultimate control. This became a futile place to occupy.
Like many Australians, I am one of the millions resigned to lockdown due to COVID-19 impacting my livelihood. I remarked to a friend recently, ‘it’s as if the world changed overnight without warning’. However, there is that camp of doomsday analysts and epidemiologists who may contend that this path was not only inevitable but had a calendar date circled preempting our 2020 apocalyptic scenario. Yet, how many of them were truly ready? Toilet-paper-gate made it clear that as a race, we were doomed unless we lifted our game.
Fast forward to the cusp of June, after almost 14 weeks of ‘getting to know my family very well’ and it would appear that my game has been lifted. So far at least.Key to this has been acceptance and a mindfulness that one year ago I would have laughed off as a new-age fad akin to ‘sitting with my stillness’ (still don’t know what that means). In truth, while the uncertainty around big issues is an issue in itself, I’m finding that focusing on the matters I can exert control over becomes a victory wrapped up in a coping skill.
The point is, I’ve suffered personal losses and had to radically shift from planning for the future to planning for the month, in many instances, for the week ahead. And whilst this level of micro-living might have previously been unconscionable, it is now enough. Suddenly, living within my means, buying only what I need, cooking enough for the day, and no longer desiring what is superfluous -has become enough.
Even simple tasks assume a wholesomeness that two months ago was impossible to fathom. Seeing my ten-year-old plants as I water them, as if for the first time; washing my hands with a diligence and devotion that borders on the bizarre; calling every friend and family member I’ve meant to speak to for the past three years but kept postponing; even going Marie Kondo on the wardrobe once I realized I no longer wear 95% of my wardrobe anyway, excepting for the 5% I refer to as the Zoom collection. But perhaps my most favourite pandemic epiphany has been watching my children get along better than they ever have their entire lives once they made the quiet realisation that this home-crowd is as good as its going to get all year.
Amidst the plethora of losses we’ll continue to endure, the silver lining for me has been learning the art of ‘letting go’ of what’s beyond my control with a renewed appreciation for the fortunes I do have. And at the risk of sounding like I really might be ‘sitting with my stillness’, all I can tell you is there is a wave of relief that embraces you when you succeed in accepting the status quo and stop despairing over future dates we can’t control, scenarios we can’t predict and jobs that don’t exist.
We all have our lot to administer, whether it’s our homes, our work, our dependents or simply, our individual well- being. Lockdown has amplified the role these matters play in our life and how we approach them will determine whether we are in control, or they are. It has also forced upon us the discernment to value what we have in lieu of having what we want. Above all else, lockdown has reset our consumption meter to end at enough. It took the world to stop for us to realise we had it all along, but lived too fast to appreciate it. Not anymore.