One Year in Quarantine: Musings and Learnings

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Sitting at my workstation waiting for the coffee to finish brewing while starting my laptop for work, I think about how much life has changed though it seemed the same. We’d go about our day as before — meet deadlines at work, look after our family, walk or run or do a few minutes of yoga or Zumba some days of the week, catch up with friends and other loved ones — and yet, all these we do now on a different plane.

Work has forever changed for many of us, not just because of the remote work or work from home shift. For those on the front lines, work is saving lives and literally risking their own. For those of us working — and staying safe — from home, work is a blessing, so unlike for many Filipinos who have no choice but to face the danger of exposure commuting and going to crowded places just to be able to put food on the table. Even more so is work different now for those who lost it due to the pandemic or those who get paid by day but can’t work because of lockdown restrictions. With the unemployment rate higher, what prospects do they have? How much bleaker has this crisis made their children’s health and future?

There are many sides to WFH and we can’t ignore the challenges it brings to many, from internet problems to lack of boundaries between work and home life. Some say WFH helps with work-life balance, if not integration. Others think it is more disruptive, especially with some bosses unmindful of work hours.

As for me, I’ve been looking forward to working from home a bit more again: My time with Microsoft was spent working from home with just one day spent at the office to meet with the rest of my team, and I was hoping to going back to the same setup a bit more. Escaping the nightmarish rush hours of Makati meant more time for other things, and in a no-househelp household like ours, this means a lot. A lot more work done and a lot more free time for other more important stuff such as catching up on that reading list, movie time with the hubby or simply clearing out that drawer or starting on that long overdue spring cleaning (which can be cathartic if you know what I mean).

If it was just me, WFH would have been a dream. My concern was for my team, and not because they won’t be able to deliver on their tasks working remotely (the office task tracker – not a top favorite am sure – makes team members mindful of hours and deliverables). Writing and editing can be done anywhere. Give us a reliable laptop and a nice corner to work in, some alone time and we will type away to our heart’s content. A cup or two of hot, warm coffee and a good slice of cheesecake would help work wonders, too. But leading and guiding a team needs physical presence, as does strengthening team connection. We’ve just been blessed with technology and good communication foundation, and we continue to make sure we talk, er chat, throughout the work day.

Sometimes though the efforts are not enough, especially when I sense one of my teammates seeming out of sorts. This of course is easier verified and acted on in an in-office setup where we can discuss any concern a teammate might have face to face, offer insights and help, and maybe unwind as a team.

When we heard about NCR going on ECQ last year, WFH and staying at home 24/7 wasn’t the biggest worry that came to mind. Home is what most of us strive to find after all, so why would getting stuck at home be a frightening prospect? It’s the uncertainty of it all and getting infected and then infecting loved ones that were the most terrifying. Not knowing what’s next, worrying about what these changes will bring into our world, how these will affect our children’s lives, how if more of this type of pandemic happens in the future the next generation will continue surviving, how much time, adventure and all sorts of living opportunities our children are missing being locked indoors – all these can be immobilizing, and for parents the worry factor is a lot real.

We’ve been fortunate that our kids are not in that stage where playing with other children outdoors is something they’d want and need, but they nonetheless do express missing time outside. Having gone to a school with a strong online program even prepandemic eased their switch to full online schooling, but the longer hours on the screen and the more immersed they become in connecting with friends virtually present a new set of concerns altogether. They’ve experienced proms and school parties, yes, but I’m only too aware of what they’re missing not being able to hang out with friends, stop by somewhere on the way home from school, spend overnight at a classmate’s house to complete a project even if all these also cause us a bag of worries.

Connections need physical presence, and life is tethered to real connections a lockdown puts to a test.

Connections. This time of social and physical distancing has pushed LDR realities closer to home and not just for the romantically involved. We’ve all been separated from someone close to us by this pandemic. I am not able to visit with my parents and the rest of our extended family as much as before. I’m sure it’s the same for many of us. As much as we thrive on virtual bonding moments, we know all the more now the meaning and importance of real, physical presence. Virtual catchups and e-parties, even e-numans, can be enjoyable, but those lunches at the office, chitchat by the drinking station, hangouts at the mall or movie dates after work or on weekends are something else altogether. Emojis are cute but they’re nothing to hearing the actual laughter of your niece or nephew. Seeing all those hearts on your virtual message can be heartwarming, but nothing would beat a real hug. We have not been having a lot of those lately. (multiple sad face emojis)

Connections. Real and lasting connections. This pandemic has put relationships to the test. It cemented many bonds at the same time ended others. But even that could be a blessing in disguise as we get to know who among those we think care actually do. Let’s just be sure to be the one our loved ones can count on, too.

Time. We’ve had a lot more of it these past months than ever before. Although forced upon us because of the lockdown, time – and having the means and energy to use it for other purposes — is something to be grateful for. We’ve spent many occasions, marked many milestones this past year on lockdown, and it looks like we will do a repeat of those this year. What have we learned?

We’ve been reminded that time is really all we have, and we have very little of it in this lifetime. I’ve always been aware of my own mortality, but the global scale and impact of this crisis really makes one look at life and living in a different way. If a seemingly insignificant submicroscopic agent can wreck the whole world in such a short span of time, how much more vulnerable can we get?

Are we using our time here well? We always hear or read about living life to the fullest, making use of our time because we live only once, carpe diem. This pandemic has taught us to value the present even more. Stuck indoors with family and those who matter to us the most, we are reminded that we have all that we really need, and that and being able to spend time with these people and create special memories is blessing enough. I sort of recaptured some lost time finding a stack of old poems and old photos with friends I thought have been lost to me for good. Maybe it’s a little nudge, more encouragement to make more memories with the time we have left. Connections, yes, not collections.

Family. Time. Have we been making the most of this time with family not just to know them better but also to express our love more?

Faith. It’s the one thing that’s holding us together. When things seem too dark and the tunnel seems too long for the light at the end to start being visible, it’s that power higher and bigger than ourselves that we cling to. Prayers is what’s keeping us strong and during this pandemic, we strengthen our faith and strengthen the faith of those around us.

I sure miss hearing mass and feeling that surge of peace and hope when families are holding hands singing Our Father. I don’t know if that’s just me but maybe you also feel that sometimes. Well, it’s been more than a year since our family heard mass outside, and it looks like we will have to wait a bit more before we can do many of the things we used to do before this virus hit us. In the meantime, we do the best we can with what’s given us, making tons of lemonade from the lemons thrown at us and sharing some with others.

Healing. COVID-19 is causing havoc not just on the physical body but the mind and spirit as well. Many of us have lost loved ones to this pandemic. We all look forward to when healing finally comes.

Smelling the coffee that’s just about finished brewing, I’m reminded of one of my favorite fictional characters. Santiago of Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. Struggling back to his shack physically crushed one morning after almost 90 days at sea carrying what’s left of the carcass of what could been a major catch of a marlin after fighting off sharks, he admits to having his dreams destroyed. But he tells himself: A man can be destroyed but not defeated. When he wakes up after a long restful sleep, he vows to go fishing again.

We would, too, someday soon enough.

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