Making Sense in the Pandemic

Progress came aplenty in the previous decade. Like a multifaceted crystal, it left no surface untouched — life sciences, technology, medicine, finance, societal progress, mass transportation, industry, telecommunication and numerous others. We didn’t have to sleep like Captain America for 70 Years, wake up and run bang into the middle of Times Square to shock ourselves. In less that a decade — we went from hauling a ruck sack containing a music player, an organiser, a camera, a notebook, a pen, a digital voice recorder, a digital video recorder, maps, books, a wallet and a ton of other stuff to one device that packaged all this and more in a convenient form factor called a Smart Phone.

We assumed that this type of progress was normal. A stable 9 to 5 job, eating out, making ad-hoc travel plans with friends, sharing rides with an unknown passenger. We thought Life was certain, when in fact, Life is anything but. Marcus Aurelius in Meditations writes, “Do not act as if you were going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over you.” We did exactly the opposite as we settled in to a life of constancy and stability. When a sense of complacency sets in, we rid ourselves the ability to adapt to an emergency.

And then it happened, in the infancy of 2020, the Corona Virus pandemic hit us. It was the perfect enemy — it could not be seen or heard. No known weapon could put this down and throwing money at this wrecking ball was of no good use either. This event was something we could not comprehend. The Corona Virus pandemic gave the whole of humanity a Thousand Volt Shock and resulted in every one pulling their hair out to figure what to do next. No one has(had) a game plan to handle this. Neither do(did) I. “I don’t know” has become the most used phrase in conversations when I have speak to people.

At times of uncertainty, I turn to the Stoics. This wisdom accumulated over centuries through the lives of countless individuals serves as a beacon. The words of Seneca come gushing forth like a spring in the desert. He says, “You live as if you were destined to live forever, no thought of your frailty ever enters your head, of how much time has already gone by you take no heed. You squander time as if you drew from a full and abundant supply, though all the while that day which you bestow on some person or thing is perhaps your last.” Would it help if we made calibrated changes to our mindset that Life itself is uncertain and changing? If it is change than brings forth Life, it is overcoming adversity that gives it meaning. Going ahead, we will see a complete overhaul of society — distancing is a given, masks will become common place and rigid hygiene practices will enforced. The future if anything may not be remotely close to the past. The past was only 3 months ago. Reorienting ourselves to this future may cause a lot of disturbance emotionally and physically as this paradigm shift is something that we aren’t geared up for. This will be our adversity.

In 165 AD, a plague of biblical proportions engulfed the Roman Empire. Known as the Antonine Plague, the catastrophe cost the lives of 5 Million people. It was the worst battle the Roman Empire had come to face and it left everyone in the dark. The Empire was in tatters and on the brink of collapse. During this crisis, the Roman Empire looked up to their emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus for assurance. He stayed in Rome, remained calm, commanded a legion of doctors, priests and other specialists to try every known cure to alleviate the suffering of his people. He emphasised that life is frangible, reminded his countrymen to cherish all they held dear to life and never take life with certainty. History repeats, in different forms and scales, but the human spirit has endured. It will continue to do so after this pandemic too. He wrote in his journal — “The thing itself was no misfortune at all; to endure it and prevail is great good fortune.

This apt for the times we live in. In this wake, let us take a step toward embracing Life in all its glory, but keeping in mind its fragility. That which exists today might be extinct tomorrow.

Cover Image Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash

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