The second week of March was supposed to be just another ordinary week. The arrival of spring break , anticipation of a planned vacation to meet family and friends, booking classes for the upcoming summer vacations.
The world, as usual, was beset with action and drama – through the lens of sensational news that filters into our lives everyday. The theatrics of upcoming US Elections . A mysterious epidemic unraveling in an industrial hub of China.
In fact, it was exactly a month ago when we were spectators to a new virus unfolding in China. News like this is not novel and has happened in the past. There have been disease outbreaks in other countries, and here in our protected confines – we have usually viewed them as empathetic and horrified spectators. In spite of all the empathy , the epidemics are still happening in another corner of the planet. You realize the impact it has had in the part of the world where it wreaked havoc, but life goes on. They are vignettes on a mobile or TV screen, but they do not come knocking on your doors.
That was about to change very fast.
I woke up one fine March morning, getting on office calls and business as usual meetings – until I looked out and saw empty streets. A chopper hovering over in the sky. A surreal scene out of a war movie.
The headlines screamed in distress and my day punctuated with news that demonstrated increasing intensity of alarm. The Covid-19 virus ( it now had a brand new name ) that was circulating far away had broken through our collectively false sense of security and permeated our daily lives.
First, it was advisory to stay inside, and then slowly the tone hardened and became more urgent. A few days out, the county enforced a ‘shelter in place’, which instructs residents to stay at home unless it is an absolute emergency. The gradual eroding of the politeness of the message matched with the increasing shock and alarm. Friends and family were sharing unnerved messages, the anxiety laying bare in the words.
My news feed became a source of increased unease . Gun sales had skyrocketed. Price gouging and black marketers had created a shortage of sanitizers. Social liberties would be curtailed. Schools and libraries would be closed. Life as we know it would come to a pause.
As a modern society, we are not used to existential and mortal threats. We cannot imagine a scenario when we would not be able to get the best in class medical treatment when needed, or that our lives would be subject to war like protocols and choices . Especially in the West, with our deeply individualistic lives where we are so used to being in control of what we do.
When the epidemic broke, it was one country which was at the epicenter and struggling to control the outbreak. Very soon, the mayhem spread across the world , emphasizing how closely are all in this together. When the number of cases were doubling in a matter of days, this new phenomena was like a war but with no visible enemy.
This is a turning moment for us. But it also affords us to learn from what we have seen so far. As humans, we have a Connected Destiny.
There are slow existential threats like climate change which are hard to fathom and would have a visible impact on a timeline that counts in decades. Nevertheless, as the current events have shown us – we are not invincible. Rare, extreme impact events like these can indeed happen, and shut down our normal lives within days.
We are all in this together, so the sooner we get onboard and accept our Connected Destiny – the better it would be for our collective future.