That the world is in a lockdown as a result of the Coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic, which has jolted us to the reality of our vulnerability and helplessness, is not in contention. Whether one subscribes to the divine theory, the medical theory or the conspiracy theories, is operationally irrelevant, what is certain is that the pandemic is one phenomenon that has altered, or should alter, our perception of life, if we are reflective.
Truly, it is not the first time the world is witnessing a pandemic of a global scale like this. The Antonine Plague of 165AD that swept through Asia, Egypt, Greece and Italy killed more than five million people. The Black Death, caused by the Bubonic Plague transmitted by fleas, raged for seven years, between 1346 and 1353, leading to the death of 200 million people at a time the world population was just 400 million. In fact, a hundred years ago, between 1918 and 1920, there was a global pandemic of influenza that claimed the lives of more than 50 million people.
But our lives have become more different and complex since 1920. Our arrogance, desperation and civilisation, which all the associated contradictions and trappings, have also assumed new dimensions. As Sir Oliver Lodge wrote, “the simplicity of life has become a dream. There is no high aim or ideal today. Everyone is toiling, day and night, like an ox in his office or factory. An outcome of the invention of fast moving cars is that man is always in a hurry!”
Before now, it was as if the world would end if we stopped moving. In fact, we thought without going out to work, we would die. Our quest for mobility always fascinated me. Wherever you went, there would be people at the motor parks, at the train stations, at airports and seaports. People would always be milling around with everyone going somewhere in an endless vicious cycle. On many occasions, we would complain of traffic congestion because we could not just afford to be at a place. We must be on the move. And we must be fast as we maintained the fast lane of life. How wrong we were!
The central philosophy of COVID-19, to my mind, is that we should be at peace with the world by returning to the basics, embracing the essence and stopping chasing shadows. The basics here are personal hygiene and reconnecting with home, the family, and God, the Ultimate.
Many people take washing hands for granted and shake hands with all manner of people, including those who use the toilet without washing their hands after! Our cities and neighbourhoods are dirty and we are unperturbed. Then, many families just live together superficially because family ties are missing. Both parents go to work and children go to school. The weekends offer no respite as there are always parties and ceremonies to attend. Little wonder that many parents really don’t know their children though they would be quick to defend them claiming knowledge. Now, COVID-19 has forced us all to relate closely with our families and deal with our demons, supposing some spouses are.
The essence we have to embrace is that we are here for a higher purpose and are powerless. The purpose of life is to live a life of purpose, living and letting live, as well as being good and righteous. But have we not deviated? We have so much polluted the air and corrupted our souls that God drove us out of His places of worship, from Mecca and Medinah to The Vatican, to go back home and reform ourselves before we return! The Coronavirus ultimately jolts us from our drunkenness, our care-free lifestyle, that we are nothing. A virus has disrupted our lifestyle and all our claims about dominating the land, air and sea have fallen flat before us as the superpowers themselves are powerless.
Then, Coronavirus teaches us to stop chasing shadows. We are so much obsessed with seeking power and wealth. We should take a break and appreciate that the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak are all susceptible to the ravages of time. We should rather discover the purpose of our life, which is to serve God, and the secret of life’s sweetness. We should learn to maintain our balance, sustain our sanity and be at peace with the world.
How much have we learnt?