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COVID-19 taught me what really matters

Amid the fear, uncertainty and societal paranoia, all was not the End of The World. Although some atititudes showed up tohighlight our shorcomings, the crisis has mostly brought out a lot of the best in us.

The New Normal is going to be all right, don't worry!

“I wonder when the Circuit Breaker measures will be lifted,” my father asks for what must be the 10th time in the day.

The Circuit Breaker refers to the steps taken by the Goverment of Singapote (my home country) to reduce the COVIC-19 spread among the population of our island nation. Steps include staying at home and not leaving home without wearing a mask, working from home, exercising alone or at home, pracising social distancing, closure of schools and non-essential services and providers, and a whole lot more.

For a sprite and fit retiree in his 80s, who looks far younger than he actually is and who would not think of marking his day without a daily walk, such isolation is akin to prison.

No room for maneouvre

Having survived the infamous SARS edidemic of 2003, I was confident that COVID-19 would soon pass us by and we could return to normalcy within a few months at most. After all, this virus shared little of the lethality that SARS brought along. But when one month turned to two, and then three and four, it was soon clear that COVID-19 is a cunning adversary.

Working from home (WFH) was something that I thought was a dream, with flexibility of work hours, clocking in when you wanted and ending work when you wanted, with a whole lot of flexibility in between.

More draining

Now I know better – the WFH can be more draining than when I was at the office, mainly because the previous lines that were drawn between work life and home life have become more blurred and many may perceive that there is no real reason to not work (unless you are asleep or having a meal).

Health has become an obsession of sorts for me now. I realise that keeping fit mentallyand physically is one of the few ways we are going to come out of the COVID-19 crisis whole and hearty and so what started as an hour-long walk in the early morning (fewer people around) has now become a daily affair. Tackling 8km in the morning helps me work upa good sweat, and also gives me a chance to clarify matters running around in my head so that they do not take my work day hostage later.

It’s all in the connections

I miss my friends and family members though. Whatever the good of tools like Zoom, Google Hangouts and Skype to connect us on the screens, I am still a face-to-face meeting aficionado. So after this COVID-19 crisis settles down, I am never going to take my friends for granted again. Miss you all folks, and let’s meet up again soon.

Focus

COVID-19 seems to be a tool to help focus meetings too. Work meetings held via Zoom or Google Hangout are now shorter and more focused, so I think we will return to post-COVID-19 work life with more focused meetings that cut to the chase, and leave little to speculation. Say it quick, get the message across and get the job done may become the new Work Mantras.

Escape to myself

But the isolation comes with its own problems too. With more time to spend at home, I realised how I had been taking pride in my full social calendar. I was proud of my busyness, little realising that I had been filling the hours with activities instead of looking inward at my own insecurities or fears.

When COVID-19 hit and the isolation became a norm, it was hard to face myself. But I am slowly becoming comfortable with the man in the mirror and I now relist my me-time and meditation sessions that help me connect with my Inner Man and Spiritual Side. I have learnt that I actually need very little to be happy (and money is not one of them either!).

I now relish the pleasures of learning for the fun of it and not for any examinations. When a friend intriduced me to free online courses from Harvard and Stanford Universities, I jumped at the chance to drink in from the scholarship of these great minds as they delved into the rise of Contemporary China or refreshed my knowledge of Biochemistry 101 – all from the comforts of home, cup of java in hand. I will definitely be doing more of these.

The virus outbreak also forced me to confront my shorter and shorter attention span, Years of reading material in the forms of e-books, listicles, short form editorials and treating Facebook and Twitter like required reading meant that I got a headache soon after reading into three pages of an academic article or monograph. As I read more books in my home library I have slowly got reacquainted with the lovely patterns of reading from my youth.

Meanwhile, the soothing words of audiobooks amd the compact portability of e-books opened more and more literature for my pleasure that might otherwise have been beyond my reach.

When COVID-19 hit Singapore this year, I had hoped that it would soon pass us by and we would go back to Business As Usual. Now Business As Usual is no longer applicable as everyone waits for The New Normal.

The New Normal will definitely be very different from the Old Normal. But if what I have written is anything to go by, I have no need to fear any more.

“Whatever happens, we are going to be ok, Dad,” I tell my father one evening as he settles in to watch the evening news.

“I know, looking forward to my morning walks again,” he replies with a smile.

And I know that we will really be all rght after all.

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