“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
-Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
It is most certainly the most interesting of times to be alive. As Germany closes its borders and the rest of Europe retreats into their homes, closing down all public facilities and events, the world falls into disarray, a great abyss of uncertainty, pandemonium and discontent.
Today was my first day of Home Office, with a two-week stretch in the horizon. Our company joins the thousands of other people in Germany who have now set up their workflows differently and managing everything from (hopefully) the safety of their homes.
Berlin is locking down, with all public events cancelled, museums, movie theatres, sports events, gyms, swimming pools closed until further notice. Public transportation has been reduced, and if you still have to use it, the pervading eeriness in the subway is disconcerting.
Staying at home and working from the comfort of my own desk, with my two cats to supervise me (when they deem it appropriate to be on duty) is not an issue at all, in fact, I welcome it. What does bother me, however is the concept of social distancing, which has taken on several meanings over the past few days.
One definition is the retreat into your home on self-quarantine, severely curtailing all social interaction. The other is the maintaining of the one metre distance between you and the next person in a public place (if you have to be outside). Whoever came up with this dimwitted idea didn’t really think it through for commuters! That would effectively mean three people per bus essentially. I can understand this concept applying in office spaces and restaurants, but try telling the hoards of people lined up in airports or those still panic buying.
I have to admit, these are definitely the days I wish I had a car. Anyone who owns one and gets about in one is ranked among the privileged in my book. Not even my beloved taxis are safe these days, and all commuters are putting themselves at great risk by defying the recommendations. Either way, the global lockdown and social distancing is bizarre as it is scary.
Social Distancing is not completely new to me. My family and I lived in India when the plague broke out in 1994, and we were also confined to our homes, living with the uncertainty and paranoia of the times. The internet was not as widespread at it is today, and neither were the availability of non-perishable goods. I clearly remember receiving a care packet from my parents in Manila who sent us assorted dry goods and several tins of tinned butter from New Zealand! Gosh that was a godsend back then!
The greatest difference between 1994 and 2020 is social media and technology. In spite of the imposed lockdowns, quarantines and social distancing, it is still perfectly possible to keep in touch (and track), and that is a huge plus for everyone’s mental health.
It doesn’t take much to type a few words on WhatsApp or an email, or maybe a good old phone call just to let the other person know you care and are thinking of them. There are those who cannot provide for themselves who would appreciate an act of kindness, a word of encouragement, or even a gentle reminder – the point being emotional support does not require physical presence.