By Aysha Baqir from Singapore
Tsunamis of viral microscopic particles surge across continents to flood our cities, streets, and bodies. I stock up on masks, sanitizers, all that is anti-viral and anti-bacterial and watch my ‘home-store’ burgeon with a manic fascination ready to protest that I am not hoarding.
Day or night, I check the news and numbers before I sleep, when I wake up, and every hour in between with a strange obsession until the whirlpool of theories statistics pulls me down. I strike out. Fear. Anger. Grief. Shame. What should I feel and when? I clutch onto my planner and my to-do lists like a lifeboat only to see the ink fade and paper dissolve.
I click online to grasp a burst of pictures. I devour the jokes, memes, foods, and brain teasers for a few warm minutes until a cold post floats to the surface about someone who’s lost a friend, a friend of a friend, a good person, someone’s brother, sister, father, mother, aunt, or uncle. I mourn the loss. I knew them. The news doesn’t end. The news reports the youngest, the eldest, the first, the last, from my college community, or another group. Too many are leaving, and leaving too soon.
Being a seventy’s child, I look to the ‘old heroes’ in the West for leadership. Someone will step up and lead the way. Someone will find a free cure. Someone will save the world. Instead, I see the nations embroiled and torn in confusion, chaos and conflict as the numbers spike. My hope dissipates watching blame games, self-glorification, and trade wars. It’s a twenty-four hour non-stop live soap opera on the world stage. The headlines flash a new twist and slant until it’s hard to decode what’s true or not. I can’t help but grudge the movie directors for implanting a fallacy. There are no supermen or superwomen left there, or perhaps I am not looking in the right direction.
I meditate. I focus on the rhythm and the sound of my breath. I move with my breath as I inhale and exhale. A ping. My phone flashes, my heart lurches, and my attentions wavers. Lying on my yoga mat, I breathe long and deep while hundreds of thousands of young and old fight for each breath in crowded hospitals or might not even make it there and die at home or on the way. Should I look inward or outward, here, there or where? What should I pray for, who should I pray for, and in what order?
I step out for a walk and my husband turns back with a smile to hum one of his Steely Dan favourites. I snap, “Don’t do that.” He stares. I have no answers. I step out in fear, yet out of choice. Thousands don’t have a choice but to step out to earn a living. Thousands more are carried out in body bags to be buried into mass graves.
At home, I crib about missing my weekly trip to the grocery store. It is impossible to order online. I cannot see, feel or smell the fruits and vegetables. I moan when the plain yogurt runs ‘out of stock’, when the page stalls and crashes, when the message pops out that there are no more delivery slots, and when three of the thirty five items I have ordered are dumped out of my cart because they are not available. How do I forget that million will go hungry tonight?
I call family back home. The connection breaks. I call them again, and the connection breaks again. I sit down. A hot darkness swirls around me. I sink into a sense of loss. What’s happened? What’s wrong? No flights. No connection. No control. What will I do if I can’t reach them? The phone rings and I am able to breathe again.
I know then that if I lose control, I lose this battle.
Every day across the world, hundreds of thousands of government staff and healthcare and essential industry workers leave their loved ones to fight an amorphous and dangerous enemy. Can I do the same while staying home? They are at the front line. I must stand right behind them. It’s not their battle alone. It’s my fight too.
I cannot return to the past. I long to though, I admit. Yes, I can try to imagine a future, a better and different future, but I cannot control it. I straddle an uncertain present between the past and the future knowing I cannot go back and I have little jurisdiction over the future. But, in hedging between the past and the future, do I forget about the power of now, the power that I possess to change, to create change, to sustain change this very instant for myself, my family and for others around the world?
It’s not easy to open myself to the power of now. There are distractions, blockages energies that I have to move past or simply ignore. I push my own needs aside. It’s not about me. It’s about others. I stumble, fall, and then rise up again. When I focus on gratitude and goodness and all that is positive around the world, there is a shift, a change and opportunities glow around me. In wonder and silence, I appreciate and applaud the change-makers around the world. The virus is now part of my eco-system. It will recede but can rise again, mutate and swell again. Why do I wait and for what? If I live now, then I must live in this moment, to act in this moment and change in this moment.
I salute all the healthcare workers and the essential services providers for saving lives. I salute the charities and not profit organizations for helping the homeless, the needy, and the hungry. I salute the trainers, the teachers, the chefs, the artists, the writers, the poets, the drivers, entertainers, and comedians who keep young and old engaged and entertained at this time. I salute my husband who gives me hope. I salute the young Singaporean graduate of NUS school of Medicine who has built a website that makes translations easily accessible to all the medical care teams. And again, I salute the thousand of healthcare and essential industry workers who are in battle now.
I pick up the phone to call my loved ones. I click my phone to help charities and the communities of migrants that need food or medical supplies. I donate to the homeless, the hungry, the needy or just reach out or mail a note to someone who has made me smile. I share information that can help others. I reach out wanting to create change this very instant and now. If I open myself to the power of now and the power of this moment, then I open myself to immeasurable and sustainable change and part of the future I imagine.
Aysha Baqir grew up in Pakistan. Her time in college sparked a passion for economic development. In 1998 she founded a pioneering not for profit economic development organization, Kaarvan Crafts Foundation, with a mission to alleviate poverty by providing business and marketing training to girls and women in low-income communities. Her novel Beyond the Fields was published in January 2019 and she was invited to launch her book at the Lahore and Karachi Literary Festivals and was featured in the Singapore Writers Festival and Money FM Career 360 in Singapore. Her interviews have appeared in Ex-pat Living, Mount Holyoke Alumnae Quarterly, Kitaab, and The Tempest. She is an Ashoka Fellow. www.ayshabaqir.com