It is exactly a year ago when the Prime minister uttered those unforgettable words, ‘You must stay at home.’ Little did I know that that instruction was going to signal a cascade of events that would make our lives simply unrecognisable. As a family we pondered over what Lock down was going to look like for us. My wife, Nneka, was up in arms against the idea of staying at home. Going to work was an escape for her, and I don’t mean it in a bad way. We all need our ‘me time’ and she found hers on her daily train commute to and from work. Our high school aged daughters were so excited at the thought of not waking up at 6 a.m. to get themselves ready for school. Of course, they enjoyed school- the lessons, their friends and all the fun that comes from being young and carefree. But the long bus ride to school was something they were ever too glad to miss.
For me, life was pretty much the same. I still had to go to work, see my patients whilst doing all I could to avoid contracting the deadly coronavirus. One of the first things that became obvious to me was that the journey time to work was literally halved. The drive was quicker even though I was keeping within speed limits. The motorway was surprisingly empty. It was a surreal experience, but I loved it.
A Welcome Break
We are not robots which have no need for breaks. We spare nothing to give ourselves memorable holiday experiences that leave us rejuvenated, fired up for new challenges and opportunities. The announcement of the first lockdown was therefore highly welcome. One of the ways I rationalised it was that it was an enforced sabbath (rest). We were relieved from the responsibility to visit friends and families. We didn’t have to attend some of those boring parties where the smell of jollof rice hits your nostrils the minute you step into the event venue.
Imagine the fantasy of attending a church service in your pyjamas while having a bite of a well-buttered Agege bread with a nice cup of coffee to wash it down. The only difference was that this wasn’t fantasy but real. Through Zoom and other virtual platforms, we found a way to stay connected. As we were getting better with the relevant technology, a floodgate of invites opened-up for webinars, meetings, parties and even virtual coffee time. There were lots of motivational and self-help sessions.
While others slowed down, a few found new and creative ways to engage with people outside their geographical locations. The world became their oyster. Our daughters convinced us that Joe Wicks was the best thing in town. Like millions of fans all over the world, we joined live workout sessions, stretching cricking bones and joints badly in need of lubrication. This became a daily obsession that stretched our horizons to a new world of long walks along the canals and woodlands. We were discovering beautiful sounds and sights literally away from our doorsteps, a world which previously laid unexplored. The longer the Lockdown went on, we realised that these daily activities were getting monotonous and so we started craving for new expressions.
Joy in the little things
There was always a Wilko store at our town centre that we visited infrequently. But in what I would describe as the naughty corner of the store is a Pick & Mix stand with an assorted range of sweets and chocolate. In the past, we had resisted this temptation with much pride and a sense of achievement. But these were desperate times that call for desperate measures. Talking of desperate measures, we came up with the idea of walking down to the Wilko store for this treat. It is a two mile walk from the house which means we would easily clock over ten thousand steps for a round trip. We knew the drill: grab a large Pick & Mix cup and stuff the cup up until it overflows.
For me, it is white chocolate of different shapes pressed down, shaken together and running over while pretending that the lid of the cup served no useful purpose. For the next couple of days, we would guard our prized possession from any insider invasion which wasn’t uncommon. It was always fun to see whose cup lasted the longest. What was meant to be a one-off has now become a once in a month family sport that requires no persuading. Not even the cold, wet, wintery weather could test our resolve to keep this new-found tradition going. The reason is simple- we enjoy the walk, the time it allows us to bond as a family and most especially the reward of a sugar rush. This has been one of our little secrets and joys during the pandemic.
Living is learning to connect
The pandemic has not been all fun. If anything, it has been a marathon of challenging experiences and losses. We have lost people to Covid and some were quite close. We have shed tears and felt the pain and loneliness that these types of losses bring. We also know friends and colleagues who have had narrow escapes. Some have lost jobs and fallen on hard times. Where lives and livelihoods have not been under threats, the mental health fallout from the loss of meaningful human connection has been huge. Technology was meant to help us fill this gap but strangely it hasn’t.
Incidentally, we are beginning to crave those sleepovers which we once avoided at all cost. How we miss the small talks after a church service, the tap on the shoulder from a friend, the tight hug, the giggle from a bad joke, that annoying colleague, the burnt barbecue sausages and yes, those long and noisy parties. Our daughters are finding out that there is more to school than getting good grades and education. My wife misses her colleagues and her train trips.
Inbuilt in work, education and those social meetings are other intangible and invaluable benefits such as the sense of meaning, purpose and identity. The things we once took for granted are turning out to be incredibly essential to our wellbeing. Isn’t it surprising that it has taken a pandemic to teach us the beauty in the simple things? Even my family has learned the pleasure of enjoying chocolate and sweets whilst taking steps to prevent an expanding waistline.
As the lockdown comes to an end, it is important not to forget the lessons that we have learned- that we need to slow down and actively choose solitude; that we don’t need foreign holidays to be happy; that we can find pleasure in the simple things; that we can innovate and find creative solutions to everyday challenges and above all; we should choose and nurture meaningful friendships with those we care about.