Not sure if I should be proud to say that I’ve taken part in 3 school closures that happened during the school term – the 1997 haze and 2003 SARS as a student and the 2019 COVID-19 as the teacher.
The one that I remember most vividly is the 2003 SARS which happened over the April Fool’s period (Well, can’t blame me for not remembering the haze closure. I mean… I was young and my memory… gray and hazy). I remembered pulling an April Fool’s joke on my new school friends, convincing them that school was opened on 2 April when it wasn’t till somewhat later (the April 9 – 16 week) when the school closure was lifted.
Experiencing those two health threats as a (gullible) child meant that I probably thought them more flippantly than I should have. But this COVID-19 case is going to be different. I’m now an adult and the consequences hit close to home. There’s just so much more to lose. My parents are older (and more at risk), there’s a job that I need to have and there are bills and loans that come knocking in my mail every month. Sometimes, I wish I was a kid again, when the only worry comes from not doing well in school and the shoulder is never aching from heavy burdens.
Yet, there’s some good in going through this season of life as a grown person. Being naive and sweeping things under the carpet does not mean that the problem does not exist. And COVID-19 once again reveals that, yes, there is a big problem with us all.
Over the years, humans have accelerated pace and a faster pace means a proliferating demand for convenience and instant gratification. And I too, have been guilty of being part of that hamster race. Consuming fast food. Focusing on the quantity of meetups rather than the quality of them. Rushing from one meeting to another. Acquiring more plastic than I should in the name of convenience, forgetfulness and pure laziness. Picking up way more jobs that fill up all my free time and family time just so I have extra cash for Grab or meals at ‘high-end’ restaurants (Starbucks) or new clothes or accessories or a bigger house are just examples of that. Saturating spare time with heavily edited images on social media. Stereotyping jobs based on their social hierarchy. These form only the tip of the iceberg.
The problem runs deeper. Impatience, pride, greed, strained relationships, and many other by-products of the millennial’s lifestyle lay lurking in the deep seas.
Today, everyone is forced to slow down – to reorganise priorities, rebuild relationships, and rethink about life. What exactly is the point of living? What is necessary and what is luxury? What is permanent and what is but a fading flower?
COVID-19 is devastating. It took away lives, wrecked the society, downed the economy. But despite the gloom, I am thankful for the life lessons that was necessary for us (me) to grow.
I am one of the stereotypical Singaporeans who studied overseas and fell in love with the greener grass on the other side. There are many flaws with Singapore. It certainly can do more in terms of work-life balance and freedom of rights and speech. If only it has much more land mass and more nature conservation areas. However, nothing is perfect. There are always flaws for us to pick at. Look on the other side of the coin, and you will find a beautiful city with a protective government, an effective healthcare system, clean water, housing and other basic needs. These are things that should not be taken for granted, and for them I am thankful.
I am also grateful to have a job. Work has always been a huge part of my life, especially after graduation. It allows me to put bread on the table. But, it has also become an excuse to get away from many things. Take care of grandma? Sorry, I’m at work… Meet a friend on the weekend? Sorry, I’m at work. Time to sleep? Sorry, I need to rush this at work… A pastor once told me. Instead of saying “I have no time”, say “you are not my priority”. Every time I say “I am not free because I have to work”, I am effectively prioritising work over other things – time with family and friends, time to serve other people, time to take a break.
Work is important, yes. The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat. However, is it healthy to work at the expense of rest, relationships, re-learning and charity? Should we still continue at work knowing that we are neglecting the people and things that really matter? This is food for thought. And this period of time, I am thankful for a slower pace at work, and the opportunity to spend more time reading and the chance to make pure and meaningful connections.
And one of these meaningful connections would be to see people for who they are and how they are contributing to the society. We should never judge people for what their jobs are or what their pay is. My parents or relatives used to say… “Do you want to be a cleaner? If not, study hard!” Fast forward to today, the cleaners, the nurses, the shipyard workers, the doctors, the security guards… they are the people keeping our society alive in this trying period. We owe them. This made me reflect on the purpose behind the work I chose. If I am honest with myself, am I choosing my job because of the pay, the glamour, the fame, or because it is my calling / passion? The worth of a person should never be determined by their jobs or their pay, but by their hearts.
Speaking of hearts and worth, with the new work from home order, the pile of clothes in the closet are deemed worthless, so are the number of shoes, the accessories, the many different tupperware containers and other nitty witty knick-knacks. It seems like my heart wasn’t thinking right (it never does) by hoarding or overbuying or these non-essentials. This is the time to do a Marie Kondo declutter, not on all the things that do not spark joy, but of all the things that are just hoarding the spaces for what truly matters.
What else truly matters? A simple home-cooked meal instead of dine-ins at high-end restaurants, a roof over my head (and it does not have to be a mansion), air to breathe and health to live. This COVID-19 has really humbled me and taught me to not take simple things like playing volleyball, breathing, eating out and running around everywhere, for granted. It also taught me that it is necessary to save for rainy days, and it is even more paramount that we share and love and be kind to others because what world is this if humans are not for each other, then who would?
Most importantly, this COVID-19 has shown that I am extremely limited. All humans are. No one knows what will happen tomorrow, and we are all taking a step at a time. But despite the gloomy uncertainty is a comforting silver lining. Indeed, there are many things we cannot control, many things we don’t understand, but God knows, God controls and He holds our hands and carries us through, always and forever.