Community//

It all starts with a smile

Deciding to smile more has opened doors to the kindness and compassion from avenues I had not thought about before

Portrait beautiful Asian woman showing perfect white teeth
Portrait beautiful Asian woman showing perfect white teeth

With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the world and Singapore, my homeland, being among the affected nations, the necessity of Staying Home and Saving Lives has not been lost on the population.

The television broadcasts, social media posts and newspaper and radio messages are full of the reminders, and they are largely taken seriously. Businesses that were once people magnets on weekdays and weekends are now empty at all hours of the day and staff spend their time arranging and rearranging their stocks. Buses and transportation services are still running but there are fewer passengers as seats are marked for social distancing purposes.

Some thrive on the Working From Home (WFH) routines but for may others, myself included, it is a test on our patience and sanity. My morning walks are a necessary part of my daily routine as it provides me an outlet to process my thoughts, do much-needed self-reflection and keep myself grounded into my core values so that I do not drift from my moral compass.

It has also provided me a window into the kindness and humanity that my fellow Singaporeans and residents rise to every day without fanfare.

Of the loving elderly couple that are on the streets at about 6.30am daily to head to the supermarket for their groceries. He is on a wheelchait and she lovingly wheels him with their shopping trolley in tow. Six days a week and without complaint. To the supermarket and back home again.

“You’re out every day at about 5.30am, I see,” says an elderly resident I met during one of my walks. I tell him it is for my health and he tells me he wants to walk for the same reasons. “Shall we walk together?” he asks.

That was two weeks ago and we look out for each other ever since. We meet, smile and walk on. Our paces are comfortable and we used to talk about our families (before it became necessary to wear masks when outside) but we now walk together part of the way before splitting up on our own routes and saying “See you tomorrow. Stay safe OK?”

There are still people in need and social media posts highlight their plights. I can donate more online since less socialising means less money to spend, so I donate where I can.

Our church cell group meets twice monthly via Zoom and we can still pray for one another although we are not physically together. Strangely, I think we pray for each other more on this online arrangement than when we were meeting in one another’s homes.

I say thank you more often now. I understand that everyone is facing a hard time (many businesses may go bankrupt and some already have), from the hairdresser to the supermarket staff who still put on a smile at work despite their fears that the next customer in line may have the COVID-19 virus, all the way to the cleaners who still dutifully remove the garbage every morning.

Their fear is completely understandable. Many of them are foreign nationals who work in Singapore for a better future and to remit money to their families back home. A COVID-19 diagnosis for any of them can spell the end of their livelihoods and perhaps condemn their families to being destitute.

So I say Thank you more frequently for their work, for their selfless service. And I say a prayer for their safety and that they will be able to go home to their families when this storm eventually blows over.

This heightened gratitude has spilt over into a greater sense of self-awareness and introspection. Long periods at home with limited channels to relax and unwind has shown me how easy it is for me to get testy and prickly when things do not go as planned.

The morning walks give me a chance to vent my frustrations into a quicker or more intense pace, while also providing much-needed me time to reflect on my imperfections.

And it also gives a chance for God to remind me that sometimes “it’s OK to not be OK” and I should leave it to Him and not be too hard on myself. I also learn to understand and accept the fears and quirks my feistily independent parents display as they struggle to make sense of a world where their activities have been severely curtailed.

So where I used to chase after perfection and yearn for the approval of others, I have learnt to let go and let God.

And I am learning to be comfortable in my own skin, while still pushing for excellence without the OCD. I am nowhere near being done, I am still a work in progress but it gets better every day.

As I write this on Easter Sunday 2020, I think back to the difference a few months makes – of how our lives are so drastically different from what we looked forward to on New Year’s Day 2020.

We think we are in control of our lives, but COVID-19 showed otherwise quite quickly.

While this ‘new normal’ is sometimes hard to bear, I will always remember it as the time I saw the strength and resilience that Singaporeans can bring to the table. And it has made me a better man too. For all this, I am truly grateful.

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