I thought I was fine and then I crashed. I went into hospital and came out two weeks later. I had lost 20kg. I lost the first member of my family in July 2020, then three others before the end of that year. Two were my age. Since the beginning of 2021, our family has lost four more elderly relatives. Before a colleague passed away, he told me to look after myself. I wish I had listened. I missed a call from a friend and by the time I returned it, he was in the ICU. We never spoke again.
These are fragments of conversations I’ve had with my clients over the past two years. These words are about the pain that I’ve seen and the hope that I have.The loss is, indeed, staggering. The pain overwhelming. Alongside this, old, still-open wounds were injured again.
I work as an integral coach. I walk alongside my clients on their journeys of professional and personal mastery. Covid-19 and its impact have necessarily been in our conversations as we all wrestle with the collision of the personal and professional. My own Covid journey started with my waking, gasping for breath as phlegm bubbled into my throat. I survived.
We’ve watched as rich nations vaccinate themselves to relative safety, while the pandemic still pummels poor people. We were enraged when we suddenly found ourselves blocked and banned. We wait for the thanks that will never come, for an apology that will never be voiced.
It is said that the last time the world was this unequal was during the Roman Empire. There is majesty in Rome’s ancient ruins, but ruins they are. We have to grapple with profound insecurity and uncertainty. We can board planes, but will we be allowed to disembark? We are tempted to accept that job in a foreign city, but will we be able to come home to see our family? I have a job, but will it still be there next month? I feel a bit tired today, do I have Covid? Should I go for another test? I’ve discovered I have Covid, who might I have infected inadvertently? I’ve got Covid, will I get lucky and it’ll be mild, or will I be on oxygen? Will I be intubated? Will I die?
Each act, each moment is corroded by questions, by doubt. We live in a hall of mirrors, once-normal moments distorted by fear. It is tiring to write these words. It is tiring to read them. Perhaps we should pretend that the pain is not there? Surely that would be easier? But it is there. And, as with all pain, we must acknowledge it, we must speak to it, we must share it. If we don’t, it festers in the dark, infecting our souls, and then our relationships, and then the world. In stopping to see the pain, to hear ourselves and each other, we create understanding.
From understanding comes possibility. From possibility comes the hope to dream. And from dreams come the actions we can take to create a better world. And there is hope. I’ve seen sparks in the darkness of the past 18 months. Sparks that, if we’re intentional, we might fan into flames. Flames to warm us as we wait for this night to pass. Flames to light a new path. Flames to burn through the thorns that try to trap us. Flames to forge the tools we need to rebuild and renew.
We’ve all discovered that there is at least some work that can be done from home without the stress of rush-hour commuting. Yes, we need and want the social connection of work, but it needn’t be every day. And with that possibility comes the possibility of less stress and more time. Time and energy with which to shape our lives. Time to connect. Time to strengthen. Time to learn. Time to get that side hustle on. Time, in short, to open new possibilities.
We know that a different life is possible. We’ve seen it, we’ve tasted it, we’ve lived it. We just have to choose it.
As the knowledge that what we once thought was immutable is, in fact, completely malleable, settles into our souls, suddenly we realise that everything can be explored and changed. This time has taught us that an infinity is possible when our imaginations are emancipated. We did it in fear. What happens when we do it with the courage to create? We now know that nothing needs to be the way we’re told it is.
We can declare no-fly weekends to give us all a chance to breathe. We can declare work-from-home days and weeks. We can close city streets or even highways for a day or two. Not everything needs to be 24/7/365. We can take a break. We can stop. The Earth will be grateful.
The onslaught of communication has led us to delete apps from our phones, to turn off notifications, to leave our laptops behind when we go on holiday, to intentionally ignore our phone’s demands until we have finished showering and eating. We know now that these devices are not innocuous. They want our time. They want our attention. And we know now that we want these things more. We want our time and attention for ourselves, our loved ones, and our lives. Life is all too short, after all.
The pain and the loss have intensified our search for meaning. All of us have asked, “Is it worth it?” and “What else is there?”In their simplest form, the answers have led us back to old sources of joy. To the instrument we last played in school, to the paintbrushes or the camera we last used before we were married, to the books and poems that helped us become human. In each link back to ourselves, we get to know ourselves more deeply, and that knowledge helps us sense new possibilities.
In all the turmoil, we’ve kept trying to be our best. Yes, because we need incomes but also, critically, because we want, need, to be our best selves. It is what makes us alive. And perhaps most vitally, in April and May 2020 we experienced the silence that our ancestors knew. For a brief moment, our world was filled with images of mountains rising through fading smog, of animals tentatively creeping back into spaces normally trampled by us, of the beauty that is this planet when just given a chance. We all knew the joy of it. Our spirits knew that this was life.
Of course, business has pulled us back, but we know now that a different life is possible. We’ve seen it, we’ve tasted it, we’ve lived it. We just have to choose it. We only have to act. It is our choice. The flames that were lit by pain have shown us the possibility of a new path. We should take it. After all, we want to be our best.
• From the February edition of Wanted, 2022.