Do not leave the house! Do not use Uber! Don’t forget your gloves and mask! The instructions come thick and fast from my family members. The fear in their faces and voices is palpable. It is then that I realise that if coronavirus does not kill us, fear will.
As we sacrifice our democratic freedoms in the name of our own safety, I begin to question whether this is all really worth it.
The statistics, however horrifying they may seem, suggest not. Deaths by coronavirus are nowhere near deaths by other illnesses including cancer, heart disease, obesity, not to mention hunger and suicide. And yet, we all focus on the death numbers that governments feed us daily. 10 more in Kenya today, 100 more in the UK, 300 more in Spain.
But do we truly know what is going on? The overload of news, fake news, rumours, propaganda, conspiracy theories, and politicised narratives are overwhelming us. The reality is that we haven’t got a clue what is really happening.
And in the meantime, fear has us in its vice-like, deathly grip. We are sacrificing what fundamentally makes us human beings – our freedom to social interaction and connection, personal movement and togetherness. By prioritising survival and safety, we are living in complete and utter fear. The fear of death by the dreaded coronavirus.
And in this fear, we deny the one thing that is the ultimate truth – that we are all going to die. There is not one person in this world who can refute this truth. And yet, we continue to treat death as the ultimate catastrophe, instead of perhaps looking at it as the next part of our journey.
Our delusion that what we have is permanent, is creating a sense of attachment to living long, rather than living well. We fear dying so much, that we forget to live fully. And at the same time, we ignore the fact that we must also look at dying, and dying well.
When my husband Jeremy died, I realised just how fragile life actually is. Death taught me that each person is precious; each human being is sacred. But, losing him also taught me that death is sacred too. Jeremy’s death meant my most dreaded fear came true. As I grieved him, I realised that nothing would ever be as fearful. And with that realisation, I chose to open my heart and really live. I believe that living a sacred life means living a full and meaningful life, not necessarily a long one. A life lived with courage and compassion, tolerance and love. Death really does liberate love and life.
And so, as we face each day in this collective battle against a virus we cannot see, we have many questions to ask ourselves. Is the status quo how we want to live? How safe is safe? How long are we going to insulate ourselves from the outside world? How long are we going to stop interacting? Do we want to wear masks for the rest of our days? Can we live without hugs and handshakes? Are concerts, conferences, sports events, festivals, dance classes and parties a thing of the past? Is our future one of separation and isolation?
Chronic fear manifests in so many illnesses including fibromyalgia, asthma, chronic pain and phobic anxiety. Isolation creates mental health issues including depression and loneliness. Loneliness in itself is a killer, manifesting in dementia, high inflammation in the body and increased suicide rates.
Is this the life we choose for ourselves until the day we die?
For my part, I categorically say NO.
I do not want to live or die in fear. I do not want to live or die in isolation.
I do believe this is a wake-up call for all of us. Coronavirus is giving us the chance to press the reset button. For those who keep saying “I can’t wait for things go back to normal”, I challenge your way of thinking. Do we really want to go back to the norm where we have all stood back collectively and watched the decline of human society? The rise of mental health issues and decline in physical health, the increase in suicides and addiction, the escalation of religious intolerance and right-wing rhetoric, the feverish consumerism and environmental degradation, the obscene pursuit of wealth and fame, in an ever-increasing celebrity-driven and social-media obsessed world – is this really the norm that we want to go back to?
Or is this the chance to make our new normal one of togetherness and tolerance, compassion and love? This is the moment when we must find our new centre of gravity – a renewed way of being and living. Because, the old way, was not working.
In the meantime, how do we navigate the next few days, weeks and months without letting fear destroy us, and still be good citizens, adhering to the social norms and restrictions that we now find ourselves faced with? That is a question we must all wrestle with.
A version of this article was first published in The Star News in Kenya