As the coronavirus pandemic settled worldwide last year, it was not long before Singapore, my homeland, became part of the countries affected by the global malaise.
Initial optimism (it will not affect our plans, we can still travel at the end of the year!) and certainty (this virus will end in a couple of weeks at most!) soon gave way to realisation that life had changed significantly almost overnight.
My office routine quickly changed to having to work from home, a practice that I was unfamiliar and unsuited to. I love to have my time outdoors, including my daily morning walks and weekly gym sessions. But soon, my time outdoors was curtailed and gyms were closed due to the COVID-19 restrictions. My morning walks became longer as I used the time to clear my head, go through my thoughts and maintain my sanity.
As the other measures kicked in to protect the population, such as mandatory mask-wearing outdoors,, social distancing, limits to gatherings of people and livestream meetings on Youtube or Zoom, my usually happy and optimistic never-say-die attitude slowly but surely began to give way to moodiness and a kind of perpetual sadness. Friends who usually connected with me regularly were also too caught up in the pervading atmosphere that was settling all around our island country and we drifted apart.
It was not long before I read about rising numbers of cases of domestic turmoil and mental illness as people struggled to cope with loss of livelihood, isolation or increased confined interaction with family members at home due to the COVID-19 restrictions.
I was afraid that I may become one of those statistics but found it hard to see a way out of the hark tunnel. Light did not seem available.
One day, I had to go to the market to buy groceries (deemed an essential service) and as I did my errands at the deserted market, I chanced upon three children, I think they were all siblings.
Their parents were also shopping for groceries and the children, none of whom I guessed was more than 6 years old, were left to themselves. But they had none of the sullen gloom of the adults. Instead, they seemed to treat the market as a place of adventure as they laughed and played and chatted among themselves.
One boy took out a small vial and a loop-shaped plastic tool, and before long, he was blowing soap bubbles for the other children to enjoy. His laughter sounded pure and unadulterated as the kids danced around the bubbles and pranced and played. The youngest among the group, I think she was no more than 3, reached out her had to touch the bubbles, and laughed and giggled as she burst some of them and they exploded in her face!
By this time, a few older children came out from a corner of the market and saw the fun. The boy who started the adventure turned around and waved for them to join him. And soon, there were six or seven children blowing bubbles and dancing and having a joyous time!
From time to time, the weary adults warned the kids to quieten down, but I wished that they would not. As I took in this scene, I suddenly heard a still small voice tell me “It will all be okay. Don’t worry, it will all work out.”
I turned around, wondering if our neighbours or a family friend had seen me at the market and wanted to offer words of encouragement. But nobody I knew was close to me. I then knew it Voice giving me direct encouragement to my weary and worn-out soul, reminding me that this pandemic, like the SARS outbreak that Singapore had faced in 2003, would eventually pass.
“Don’t be afraid to laugh too, like the children. Laughter is good for the soul, and the children know this,” the voice continued, seeming to speak to my heart. And so I obeyed – I smiled and then I also laughed along with the children.
And soon, other adults laughed at the children’s antics. Pure and sweet laughter that we had not heard for months came out of our mouths as we giggled and laughed! Some of the adults also wanted to burst the soap bubbles and for a few moments, even some of the market stallholders came out and joined in the fun too.
It seemed to take forever, but the soap bubble episode lasted only about 15 minutes. Soon, the parents finished their errands and the children returned home with them. But what a change there was – where there had once been sullen gloom and vacant stares was now replaced with smiles and laughter that seemed to make the journey home shorter than the arrivals.
Since that day, the laughter of the children has never failed to play out in my mind and I now take some time to smile and maintain a positive attitude throughout the day. It is not always possible or easy, but whenever I feel like giving up, I remember some children and the soap bubbles and I am inspired again!
Don’t be afraid to laugh like a kid. It will make life better for you and all those around you. If you find it hard to laugh, blow some soap bubbles and then hear yourself giggle!