Is that person in front of me wearing a gas mask? I thought to myself as the train came to a holt and the doors of the tube opened. As the man stepped onto the platform of Newbury Park station, I could clearly see that yes, he was wearing a gas mask. Even after reassuring myself that I was just on the way to catch a rail replacement bus, that the tunnel I had just been through hadn’t taken me back in time to WW2, I was still left a little… confused. I don’t think I’ve seen a gasmask outside the walls of a museum, other than being projected onto a screen in the cinema. It was very… real. For someone who is usually quite anxious, I didn’t have that panic in my chest. But should I be panicking about the coronavirus?
I feel like society is travelling down a hill at high speed; we are heading in a downwards direction and we don’t feel as though we have any sense of control – we are just expecting to crash. That’s why the world is stocking up and panicking. But what if we don’t crash? What if we actually start to climb back up another hill and this time, the views from the top are better than anything we’ve seen before? Couldn’t we just trust what we aren’t in control of?
Usually, when something goes wrong, there is a lesson to be learnt, a moral to the story or a cloud with a silver lining, so could the coronavirus be trying to teach us a lesson? Maybe it’s acting as a mirror so we can actually see what we are doing to the Earth? We are told to make changes: so we stop destroying our planet; we are told to be kind to one another; so we stop damaging our mental health, yet society continues to be judgmental, selfish, lazy and greedy. And that is exactly what the coronavirus has revealed.
When someone coughs or sneezes on public transport, stares of disgust are fired their way. Does this not mirror how judgemental society still is? We might feel as though we need to hold in a cough, or we feel embarrassed for sneezing because of the reaction we will get from around us. Maybe I’m looking into this too much, but acting a certain way for society or holding in how we actually feel sounds rather familiar… Have we all accepted that people can look, love and be who they want?
The empty shelves reveal how selfish we are, putting our needs before others, and sometimes, they aren’t even our needs. We don’t need 10 packs of toilet roll or pasta sitting in our cupboard, just like we don’t need to eat meat or dairy every day, always shop at supermarkets (to support our local businesses) or to buy things wrapped in plastic when there are alternatives. But now, we have no option but to make alternatives to the regular items on our shopping list because what we want isn’t available. Will this be the wakeup call we need, to realise that we should think twice about the food we are putting into our bodies, the things we can’t reuse, the importance of where things come from and how much we waste?
Maybe we will also learn to be grateful for the things we take for granted. Yes, it’s inconvenient and worrying that when we go into a supermarket, we can’t buy what we need but for some people, supermarkets are a luxury, just like traveling abroad. At first, I was annoyed that it’s now quite unlikely that I’ll be going abroad over Easter, but after stepping back and looking at the bigger picture, I realised I should be grateful for the opportunity to travel because there are people who can’t, or there are people who have been left in situations far worse than mine. If we try to look for the positives, fewer planes flying will also result in less pollution. What else can we be mindful about when we are forced to stop?
Will we start to be mindful of the things that matter, or will we continue to spend millions on making things bigger and better, faster and perfect when there still isn’t enough funding for mental health services and people in the world who still don’t have clean water? Or will that still not be our problem or responsibility? It just seems quite ironic since we are now being told to avoid one another as we have such an impact on each other’s lives… We are all connected, whether we like it or not.
Maybe the coronavirus will allow us to pause – as a planet: to look up at the mirror and see the devastation reflecting back at us. As a society: to see the hurting faces of the people who don’t have enough support staring back down at us. To see that our family won’t be here forever, so we need to appreciate and care for them and as an individual: to be able to differentiate between what we want and what we actually need (physically and mentally).
We are trying to cover up the fact we are hurting. We are still striving for perfection and whilst we do that, we are going to carry on destroying: our mental health, our physical health, our relationships and the Earth. The planet will never be perfect, and it doesn’t want to be. Maybe this is life’s way of showing us that. All it wants is to be looked after and whilst it’s not, it won’t be happy. And the same goes for us. Our lives are never going to be perfect, but they aren’t supposed to be. But we do need to be kind and to look after one another. Whilst we continue to ignore the fact that perfect isn’t the answer, we are never going to be happy.
Maybe we can use this time to tick things off our never-ending list of jobs to do around the house or to rediscover our love for the simple things such as the hobbies that have been pushed aside in our fast-past lives. So, as we pause in the panic, use this time to not be greedy, to think of other people’s needs, to stop judging one another and to be kind – to yourself, to others and to the planet.