It has been almost a month, here, since the shutdown began. It will persist till June in the Washingtone DC area, where I live. It is like living in a sci-fi movie. Who knew we would be here today? The world has changed irrevocably. Hopefully this tragedy will bring out the best in us—it will make us kinder, humbler, more thoughtful. Here are five important things I am learning from the tragedy:
1. Toilet paper cannot save you.
I watched with amusement and confusion the mad rush to hoard food, water, soap, and most especially toilet paper at the outset of the pandemic. Humans, when faced with the threat of the unknown, revert to crude materialism. At first I thought there was something I didn’t understand, why was everyone buying toilet paper? It turns out it is just instinct, putting our trust in things we can touch and control, but that, alas, cannot save us.
2. The importance of family and friends.
You don’t know how much family, friends, and even colleagues at the office mean to you until you spend months without seeing them. You find yourself worrying about them, whether you will ever see them again. It makes me determined to reach out more after all this is over and done with. Yesterday, a friend from Nigeria called me, out of the blue, someone I hadn’t seen in about ten years, to inquire if I was doing well. It was touching.
3. How Fragile existence is.
It can all go away in one day: our plans, our wealth, our health, everything. The suddenness and devastation with which the virus spreads shows you that all you control is your here and now, outside that, you are as helpless as a new born babe.
4. The importance of planning.
Material things will not save you, but you also need to plan for the future—at least three months into the future. I am sure every parent is thinking more or less the same thing now: what will happen to my loved ones if I lose my income, or if I fall sick, or if I die? Millions woke up and they were unemployed, with no prospects. Many cannot feed themselves. Death and loss were always there, a possibility, but an abstract possibility—now it is less abstract. I have learned the importance of having enough money in the bank to take care of the family for at least three months.
5. The importance of silence.
I go for walks every day. At first it was eerie to see the empty streets, with only the occasional walker like me. But I am beginning to like the silence. It gives me time to think. It is almost as if all of life moves in slow motion now. I am reading books I didn’t have time to read before. All my travel plans have been cancelled. I sit and read and think.