By William J. Furney
Amid the ongoing devastation wrought by the novel coronavirus, an unseen enemy that has stolen over 602,000 lives around the world this year, there is hope, and a realisation that, in some parts of our lives at least, things don’t have to go back to the sorry way they were.
Take the soul-, pocket- and environment-destroying commute to work as an example. Especially in places like the British capital, London, where workers fork out enormous sums on costly trains and buses to spend hours getting to and from work each day, because it’s too expensive to live in the sprawling city of global trade and high finance — and given the pollution, much of it caused by traffic, who would want to?
As lockdowns started to take hold around the globe in early April, businesses were forced to set up at-home work situations, and many wondered how they would cope, or even survive. One newspaper editor penned an editorial about how his journalists were able to carry on as normal, writing and filing stories from home — really, in an age of email, Slack and Skype (Zoom is not an ethical choice, having recently shut down accounts linked to Chinese democracy activists, at the request of Beijing), you never thought of this measure that saves all-round before? Do we really need to sit down in front of someone to get the job done?
Jetting around the world to attend business meetings, conferences and seminars, and dumping tons of carbon emissions into an already overheated world in the process? Forget about it.
Even when I had physical offices for my newspaper in Bali, I didn’t always go, although that work-from-home set-up was prompted by threats from goons sent by a powerful local businessman (nightclubs, restaurants, failed airline) who was intent on intimidating me, or worse, over unfavorable stories I and others wrote for the paper. (Journalists on the Indonesian island had a habit of ending up in strange places, invariably dead, and at the time a young reporter had been found lifeless in a ditch, following articles he wrote about alleged corruption regarding a local mayor.)
Now, due to coronavirus, many workers of the world are luxuriating in a work environment that they can get to in minutes — from the bedroom to the living room, study or home office — meaning lots more productivity, an enhanced work-life balance and substantial cost savings to both staff and the companies that employ them. The same goes for older students, at school and university.
And while at this time of global health crisis, many have piled on the pounds, as they ate their way through lockdown, self-isolation and quarantine — with fear, anxiety and the terrifying boredom of long and dreary days without end driving the existential hunger pangs — others saw it as an opportunity for growth, and not of their waist.
Suddenly, people who loved yoga but rarely had the time for a class (like me) were spending hours in front of the smart TV or laptop doing online yoga sessions, and loving it. I did a Yoga with Tim Quarantine Challenge, then a 30-Day Challenge, and more classes after that. Comments from yogis on such YouTube channels said they were loving the sessions, that they boosted their mood during the pandemic and helped get them in shape. Others embarked on health and fitness programmes, either online or by setting up their own gyms at home and eating healthy instead of stuffing themselves with highly processed “comfort foods” that are no comfort at all, but actually a great distress, in hindsight. Some may have banished meat, given the zoonotic link.
Many others began to pay more attention to their mental health and overall wellbeing, immersing themselves in mindfulness and meditation and achieving a greater state of happiness. And despite the restrictions of lockdown, lots of people were surprised to discover the joy of being at home all day and having nothing much to do: a kind of all-embracing peace they had longed for.
It would be nice to think that this once-in-a-century event that has touched us all and killed so many would bring warring humankind together as never before, with a collective sense that we really are all in it together, instead of seeking to divide for political, religious, territorial or other gain. Sadly, that’s naive, as Russia’s alleged attempt to steal British coronavirus vaccine research demonstrates.
How long the new coronavirus will be around for is anyone’s guess, as is how long it will take to develop an effective vaccine — and how long those of us who have become more attentive to our health and fitness needs and those of the planet will remain that way is also unknown. When the suspected bat-vectored virus finally burns out and we’re back to some kind of normal, let us hope it will be one that’s better for everyone.
- Title image shows an artwork created by mystery British street artist Banksy, on the theme of wearing masks on the London Underground. (Photo: Banksy)