“Children, everybody, here’s what to do during war: In a time of destruction, create something — a poem, a parade, a community, a school, a vow, a moral principle, a peaceful moment.” — Maxine Hong Kingston, The Fifth Book of Peace
The efforts to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic have often been described as a ‘war’. It’s not a terminology I am entirely comfortable with. It’s too aggressive. But I have made peace with whatever terms we humans have used for the pandemic and have chosen to learn from the exceedingly difficult year.
As 2020 ends and the New Year begins, I reflect on what I have learned this year.
When the lockdown was announced in March, I had just begun to get on my feet, recovering from a leg surgery and been in a wheelchair for almost a year, over a period of two years. I was looking forward to walking in the park, driving, and moving around doing things I had missed doing.
Overnight, as almost everything came to a grinding halt, there was much to do. Without the support staff there was home management and a precaution protocol to set in place.
There was a deathly silence in the streets, no honking of horns, no voices of children playing in the park opposite our home, and no construction in our neighbourhood. Within a couple of days our essential supplies of vegetables and fruits were running low, and we had to think on our feet about how to manage. Within a few weeks, our community Residents Welfare Association organized a list of doctors to consult online, and medical and provision stores that would deliver to our homes.
In the bigger picture, with no clear instructions or information about what to do, thousands of immigrants in the city of Delhi and the neighbouring states or the National Capital Region, as it’s called, left for their homes in distant states. As all vehicular traffic was banned, they left on their feet, with families and meagre belongings.
There was general chaos.
My husband and I are senior citizens and in the high risk category. We stayed home, with one full time staff person who lived on our second floor with his wife and two children. We closed off the rooms we didn’t use on a regular basis and did minimal cleaning and maintenance. I took over the care of the garden and plants.
Like others, all over the world, I celebrated the clean air, blue skies, and the peace and quiet. I enjoyed the singing of the birds which could be heard as never before. I was also mindful of the enormous suffering and hardship for thousands. I kept them in my heart and sent healing and love and was grateful for my Mindfulness practice that kept me calm and healthy.
Nine months into the lockdown, which has eased up a little, I am grateful that I can enjoy some movement and have accepted the new ‘normal’.
What did I learn during this period? I experienced renewed awareness, patience and acceptance, compassion and sharing, and solitude and gratitude. And I continued to create as I have been for many years.
I became more aware of my dependence or interdependence on my environment: my family, support staff and others that brought the world to me.
I realized I could live without the often non-thoughtful pre-occupations I indulged in — conversations, relationships, activities, and thoughts.
My senses were sharpened thanks to the forced interactions with my immediate environment, in a new and positive way. The quiet, lack of stimulation and the dominance of nature allowed for this, and I felt more acutely the presence of the heat of the summer, rain of the monsoons and the slowly approaching winter in a magnified way. I planted seeds of vegetables and flowers and watched them mature into plants and blossoms. I kept garden diaries.
I began to appreciate my home, its light and beauty, the artefacts so lovingly collected over the years and the comfort it brought me, in a new way.
Realizing the major role of support staff in maintaining my home and ensuring my quality of life, I was deeply grateful to them.
The communication tools and networks (my phone, internet connections and TV with streaming entertainment) took on new meaning and brought comfort most of the time.
My belief in the importance of calm, thanks to my Mindfulness practice, helped in my approach to the unpredictability of life and the realization that there were no quick or easy answers to the pandemic and nor was there an end in sight.
Patience and Acceptance
I was to travel to Afghanistan in April for a workshop, but that had to be cancelled. I was extremely disappointed but accepted the fact that I was not going to go. Friends were to visit from and near, but that couldn’t happen.
Being an impatient person on a good day, I accepted the fact that I could not get what I wanted, when I wanted it. I’ve had to revisit my expectations and practice patience and prioritize. When house repairs were needed and workers not available, I decided to put the issue aside. When I couldn’t get the kind of food I like to eat, I decided to eat what was available to me.
I needed to get an X-ray for my healing leg, but the hospitals and clinics were shut. I decided to let nature take its course and told myself I had to wait. When the situation opened, I got an X-ray and saw the doctor in his home, as opposed to the hospital, where I would be more exposed to others.
Recovering from surgery I needed a regular exercise routine. My trainer and I moved into online training and I realized how simple this was. He didn’t have to travel almost 60 minutes one way to be physically present in my home, thus saving gas in his motorcycle, negotiating traffic or dealing with pollution.
I had given clothes to a tailor in March, right before the lockdown and asked my son to collect them in August, as I still wasn’t moving around, being housebound. Almost all deliveries, essential and non-essential came home, online, or off-line. But, I learned what I could manage without, things I thought were essential to my life. For one, I had no shortage of clothes! And how much I moved around unnecessarily just because I had a car or could move around.
Compassion and Sharing
During the lockdown, a lot of people — especially the working class and self-employed were disenfranchised and lost livelihoods. It was heart wrenching to see the suffering. Being relatively privileged, my family and I reached out to help those in need. Starting at home, we continued to compensate our staff and assists them in other ways. We contributed to the local gurdwara that was serving two meals a day in the first several months of the lockdown. I answered calls for help from friends on WhatsApp and contributed in other ways.
In my therapy practice, I went online for the first time, seeing clients on WhatsApp. Unfortunately, I had to turn away new clients who wanted a face to face session. A few months into the lockdown, I re-organised my home to see them in a well ventilated room, taking as much precaution as I could. I felt their need for help was greater than mine for precaution.
Solitude and Gratitude
Recovering from a leg injury since 2018, I have come closer to solitude. I am fortunate that I like to spend time with and by myself. My love for writing, painting, gardening, and baking — all solitary activities — means that I spend a fair amount of time on my own. I started drying flowers and experimenting with them. During the two-year period of recovery, I learned a lot about gratitude as I was extremely dependent on people around me and health professionals as well as friends.
The Dried Flower Project
I share a home with my husband, who’s company I enjoy. Over the lockdown period, our relationship has deepened, and we have become closer, while spending more time together. I am grateful I have a roof over my head, a beautiful home with spaces I can retreat to and enjoy, staff that keep me in comfort and my privilege and life choices which allow me a quality of life I cherish.
Over time and increasingly in the last few months, in my neighbourhood there is more traffic on the streets, the construction of new homes has re-started, the children have returned to play in the field across my home and the vendors have returned selling vegetables and fruits, balloons, and home repair services. It’s good to hear these sounds.
I am ready for whatever comes in 2021 and after that. In my renewed awareness, patience and acceptance, compassion and sharing, and solitude and gratitude, I am stronger than before, calmer, and happier. Working with my hands, creating — cooking, baking, cleaning, sorting, painting, gardening — I try to do my best.
I am thankful to the pandemic for having taught me these lessons and more.