In 2003, my friend and I landed in Beijing on a teaching assignment in the middle of the SARS epidemic. With no real Internet and no smartphones, we arrived innocent, naive, and trusting of the world. We giggled at somber-looking Beijingers with their masks. We wore no masks and took no precautions as we stayed in the country for a year. We were incredibly dumb. And incredibly lucky.
A year later, a different friend and I landed in Thailand at precisely the same time as the tsunami struck Asia with devastating force. I kid you not. At precisely the same time. Again, with no smartphones, we didn’t realize the magnitude of what had happened. We nimbly skipped plans to go to Phuket and roamed around in Chiang Mai. We were incredibly lucky again.
Memories of those times have come back to me with the events of these last few weeks. These days my business partner and I ponder about the state of our travel startup in a devastated travel industry. We contemplate the withdrawal of content assignments from clients of our content startup. We stare at balance sheets, or at least, I stare at them as my business partner doesn’t really like staring at anything apart from the wall. We wonder how our parents and loved ones will manage.
And unlike the last two occasions, I have the full-fledged onslaught of relentless news updates. It’s easy to be sucked into despair at times like these. And it’s easy to worry our heads off. I am not being poetic here. I am not writing words etched on the slivers of the moon. I am writing words naked from a place of our deepest fears. We are feeling fucked up. How do we cope?
I don’t know. But I think we can. I think we have incredible resilience. I KNOW it. We can’t control a lot of things in our life, and a once-in-a-century pandemic is certainly not in our control. But we can still control the little things. Here’s what I try to do:
Times like these make us feel incredibly thankful for all the moments that Life blesses us with. Cherish that chat with a friend. Be thankful for that dog’s tail brushing your face. Be grateful for the book you read. Thank your wallet, your boss, your clients, the annoying colleague. Just be grateful that we are here.
Look for the moments of being-here-nowness
Just like that, the sky changes color, and washes a bucket of gray. Beautiful. A spider crawls along, still busy with building a web. Feel the crackle of the papad. Bite into the luscious sweetness of the strawberry. Smile at the flower that blooms and will bloom, virus or not. Laugh with the kids. Moments of preciousness.
Worry for a finite period
I can’t not worry. (Sorry about the double negative, Grammarians!) But I decide to worry for a fixed period. I embrace fear and say, “Thank you, Fear, for trying to protect me. I am ok.” It doesn’t go away, those thoughts, with this. No. But well, I try. So, give time to worry – maybe, 10 minutes a day? 15? 20? After that, be done with it until your next “worry” slot.
Watch news sparingly
It’s important to be aware, of course. But relentlessly scanning the news morning, afternoon, evening, and night, I have found, can be a drain on our already stretched mental reserves.
Restricting news-scanning to once a day helps in preserving some mental peace.
Make connections and bridge the regrets
Yes, we are at home. But I also use this time to think of all the people in my life, the mistakes, and the lessons. When we are aware of how gut-wrenchingly fragile life is, maybe, we can set aside our egos and reach out to ask a long-lost friend: How are you? All well?
Difficult. But aren’t these difficult times?
And yes, snuggling with a book and a cup of pure Darjeeling tea? Add that somewhere.
I wish all of us the courage to move through this. And we can only move through. We can’t run away from it. We can’t do anything but wait for this to pass. And pass it will. Let’s find the courage to stay with our fear. Let’s embrace our anger with the love. Let’s marry compassion with criticism. I am trying to. Join me?