Love, hope and strength in the time of COVID-19

By Irwin See

Once in a while, I come across a newspaper article that is written in such a beautiful way that the words seem to dance off the page. Even better, the themes that they discuss are also relevant content for General Paper, so I eagerly cut out the article (yes, I’m still old-school ) to be used in my lessons. And one such article that I read recently is by Rohit Brijnath who is one of my favourite editors. Let me share some of the points he explored in his article about how we’re moping and worrying in this current pandemic, and yet we’ve also reached for one another, for faith, for routine - and for hope.

On the uncertainty of knowing how long a situation lasts

He likens our first 100 days of the pandemic to the challenge of long-distance swimmers who swim in icy oceans and turbulent seas, underscoring the elasticity of time. One swimmer said this: ''The thing about long-distance swimming is how the goalposts can shift. You think you're going to do a 10-hour swim and then you get to the coast of France and suddenly a current picks you up and it's going to be a 15-hour swim. You think it's going to be 15 hours and suddenly it's 20 hours.”

Similarly, a hundred days is just a marker of how far we've come, a signpost, but it's not a promise of anything. We don't know if this is halfway to normality, or far away, because this virus doesn't just sicken and kill, it teases and shifts our goalposts. Like swimmers in unknown waters, we must endure.

On human pride & humility

We're caught in the midst of a stranded planet with its empty streets which resemble abandoned film sets. Faith is being tested and human conceit is being punctured. For all our bragging about forecasts and algorithms, this virus has humbled us. We can't read the future, but we wish to exit the present. We're a species so used to being in control and now we are not, and it's strange and scary. We wish for things we never did before, like the simple pleasure of the noisy, lively street.

On how things have changed now, but may revert back to before

We're living a sort of tentative life where everything is provisional. Once it's over, you wonder, will men forget about mops and might parents lose their current veneration of teachers? We call nurses heroes now, as if they aren't on a normal, daily basis. The temporary partitioning of families that we agonise over now - maybe your family members are abroad or your parents are in another town - is the normal life, year after year, of the foreign worker and the maid.

On the importance of both science & the arts

We've never been so devoted to science - antibodies, vaccines - nor been so drawn to the arts. From one we seek information, from the other solace. People are filling journals with reflection, digging out recipes from old aunts, growing life in veranda pots and watching Shakespeare plays on the Internet.

On the need for connections

We're divided by distance and looking for anything (Zoom) or anyone (riders) that can help bridge it. Cartoonist Christopher Weyant, a contributor to The New Yorker, draws a large Trojan horse on a drawbridge, with sentries looking on from the ramparts of a fort and saying: ''Who cares what it is. I'm happy we still get delivery."

On how the pandemic reveals (or still hides) inequality

Only in glib terms is this virus an equal opportunity thug, for if you look around the globe it's always the poor - out of a job, standing in food lines, uninsured - who suffer most. Reporters and photographers are brilliantly documenting forlorn cities but very few go to the villages and interiors. There is a grief out there which we must only imagine.

On grieving over our losses

Little things have slipped out of our reach like a child's toy in a sudden flood. A daughter's graduation has passed, a marriage postponed (a friend's niece told her, what is a wedding absent of hugs), a job offer now withdrawn, a tournament cancelled. For some this may seem trivial in the face of the larger chaos, but it isn't, for it tells us how this virus has rearranged our lives.

And yet, we still have hope

So what have we done for 100 days? We've sulked, moped, worried, but we've also reached for one another, for faith, for routine, for laughter. We've improvised, like the softballer who bench-presses her sofa. We've found our own sweet discipline, like my friend's wife, a banker, who dresses as elegantly as she would for office even though she is working from home.

Mostly we hang on to hope, a slim thread with unusual tensile strength. We look for it in photos, cartoons, tweets, stories. We see it in the landlord who waives a few months of rent and find it in the kindness of the volunteer who distributes food to the less fortunate.

About The Author

Mr Irwin See is a highly-sought after GP tutor who was formerly a MOE JC teacher. Mr Irwin holds a Master's degree from Oxford University and a Bachelor's degree from London School of Economics. A Public Service Commission (PSC) Scholarship recipient, Mr Irwin believes that "education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire".


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