Saturday, June 20, marks 100 days of physical distancing and working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic for me.
Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez’s novel, One hundred years of solitude, grapples with themes of Latin American subjugation, intergenerational alienation and estrangement, imperialism and death, wealth and power, among other key themes.
I twist the title of the novel because it offers grounding perspective. The killing of George Floyd, our climate emergency and compounded social injustices from extreme global inequality to migrant drownings, infant mortality and starvation remind us of our unequal privilege during the pandemic.
This 100-day marker affords us an opportunity to reflect. Take a moment to reflect on these questions for yourself, with your partner, friends, community or colleagues:
WHAT DO WE MISS?
– Hugging, human proximity and interaction: my mum, dad, sister, loved ones, family and friends. It is sad that we have to worry about the health consequences of hugging a loved one. This is a recurring theme from others who responded to these questions.
– Your smiles, your voice, your laughter: it is not your smile, your voice or your physical presence on Zoom. All of these things are mediated through computers, which make them very different things entirely.
– Social gatherings: I miss being among a group of friends and family.
WHAT DO WE NOT MISS?
– The commute: packed buses, bundled cold and slushy in winter; sweaty and smelly in summer, feeling tired and frustrated and on the grind.
– Working in the office every day: I have more energy because 2 hours of stress/commute saved and I’m happier/more productive at home.
– The hustle, bustle and grind: I love the slower pace of the city. It’s sad to see that we have an economic system that requires velocity for growth and its survival. It would be nice to have an economic and social system that allows for universal tranquility.
– Busy streets and angry drivers: get rid of cars. I really don’t miss hearing them, avoiding them, witnessing their global impacts on our climate and ecology.
– Busy people: slow down, let’s chat and hang out.
WHAT WOULD WE LIKE TO KEEP DOING THAT WE’VE LEARNED?
– Commuter-free life: I’d like to see this applied more universally. Many are having to commute more under stressful and underpaid conditions because of the pandemic.
– Calm urban tranquility: the sense of a daily grind has lifted in the physical world for many of us (the privileged among us, mainly). I would like to see this calm urban tranquility extended universally. A negative consequence is we’ve moved our busy, angry, bustling lives into the digital world: digital hygiene, health and wellbeing are now very important and we all have learning to do on this front. Again, we also have a polarized world where some work from the safety of home while others risk death in factories, temporary foreign worker camps to harvest farms, or making and delivering our food. I want the calm that many of us have to be universal.
– Keep the streets closed. Get rid of vehicles: my cross-street, Mt-Royal Ave., is now the longest pedestrian street in the world because of the pandemic. It went from a busy, loud avenue with angry drivers and loud traffic to a tranquil stream of happy people out for walks or bike rides. It’s beautiful. Get rid of cars.
– Cities need to be reimagined: we don’t need thousands of people on the daily grind, converging into the downtown daily amidst a noisy and tiresome bustle. We can retain high-density, urban living that is sustainable and far less carbon intensive. Let’s reimagine cities and daily lives to suit a sentiment that’s widely shared: people don’t miss the commute or the grind. We’re healthier without it.
– Keep reflecting. Keep digging deeper into social values: what I’ve appreciated most about the pandemic is how it has compelled all of us to look inward and reassess what really matters. I hope this reflective nature does not end. It’s been a breath of fresh air to hear people speaking less about consumerism and more about humanity.
WHAT’S REALLY IMPORTANT?
– Love: nothing reminds you of the primacy love more than worrying a loved one may become ill from the virus at any moment. Practice daily acts of love. I would include mask-wearing, physical distancing and respecting public health directives as daily acts of love because these simple acts help protect human life. But let’s go further and really invest in love (for partners, family, friends, nature, community, etc. – all that which really matters).
– Social, environmental and economic justice: many felt vulnerable and introspective because of the pandemic. The killing of George Floyd has further exposed us collectively and individually to systemic issues that we are facing, for now. I sincerely hope that this is not just another moment, but that it actually results in sustained and systemic change for generations. The pandemic and George Floyd are shining spotlights not only on systemic issues that must be addressed, but also on our souls. I hope this results in systemic change at the international, national, local, collective, home and individual level. I hope this desire for change never ends.
What are some of your thoughts? Please share.