A day after the Circuit Breaker was introduced on 25 March 2020, I felt as desolate as Robinson Crusoe*. At times I felt lonely, anxious, depressed and bored, sometimes all at once. But all was not lost. I had my faith, and my new friend, technology.
LIFE AS I KNEW IT, PAUSED
The Circuit Breaker affected me adversely in many ways. Not only was I unable to go on my daily walks, but even the community gyms were closed. Churches were shut, too. No attending weekend masses, no meeting my usual kakis for tea or lunch, no visible community to relate to.
In addition to abandoning my normal schedule, I had to wear a mask whenever I went outside, observe social distancing while queuing at the nearby shops to buy my daily essentials, and frequently wash my hands with soap. My anxiety was heightened by the constant news reports that underlined the vulnerability of the elderly, advising them to stay home, stay safe and not to go out of the house unnecessarily.
TURNING BOREDOM INTO ACTION
Over time, one gets ‘bored of being bored’. I took myself in hand and told myself that if I couldn’t keep myself as physically fit as I would have liked to, now was the time to keep myself mentally fit. Hence I spent a lot of time poring over The Straits Times (online), and revisited old magazines and books that had been untouched for some time. They became my company.
I knew I was not alone in this ordeal. The government was anxious. The economy was bad. The coronavirus was spreading like wildfire. The World Health Organisation was contemplating whether to declare COVID-19 a pandemic. And the worst part was that there was nothing anyone could do to stop it, let alone to fight it.
MEDITATION AND POSITIVITY
From the very onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, and as the global situation worsened, I have always felt positive that “this too will pass” and have kept my faith in God. I practise daily meditation to rid my mind of all negative thoughts, and remain thankful about the good things in my life – my good health and the few good friends I have who are around my age and equally fit and strong.
RENEWING THE IMPORTANCE OF HEALTH
In view of the mounting casualties of COVID-19, the lockdown has also been a time to reflect on the importance of health and the preciousness of life. Our body is our lifetime partner and the lifelong transportable home we live in. Yet we often take it for granted and treat it with a casual, even callous indifference.
Hence it is my hope that people will become more health-conscious for life and continue to implement the good hygiene measures that have rapidly become second nature. I urge everyone to make healthy dietary choices and get regular exercise. I also advocate yearly flu vaccinations to strengthen our immune systems, especially for the at-risk and vulnerable elderly.
As for exercise, I see improvements already. During my excursions into the outside world, I see more people jogging, walking and cycling than ever before. Beginners and seasoned fitness enthusiasts alike, I salute them all.
MY FRIEND, TECHNOLOGY
Technology has helped me immensely in recent months. Since church services have been cut, I attend Sunday masses via video on YouTube. They help break the monotony while strengthening my faith in God.
Through my smartphone and personal laptop, I surf the Internet for healthy new recipes to cook at home, and I use WhatsApp to stay in touch with my loved ones. What’s more, my daughter has taught me how to order food via food delivery apps (though I must admit that this practice still feels foreign to me).
With the help of my daughter, I have learnt how to scan QR codes through the SafeEntry app. That said, I am not as fast as the younger generation, so to avoid a queue forming behind me while I’m fumbling with my phone, I sometimes use my IC or EZ-link card instead.
Meanwhile, I saw people of all ages scrambling to come to terms with the changes that had been forced upon them, and then quite quickly settling into their respective versions of the new norm. Employees and students were obliged to work and study from home in makeshift digital workspaces. Companies adjusted and people adapted. Consequently, the lockdown has accelerated the demand for digital technology and hastened its widespread embrace.
The ‘Seniors Go Digital’ movement was implemented by Infocomm Media Development Authority to encourage senior citizens from lower-income groups to embrace digital technology with governmental help and subsidies. Furthermore, there are many digital courses available online and seniors are encouraged to take advantage of the Skillsfuture grants of $500 to attend courses of their choice.
The age of digitalisation arrived sooner than expected, and it is here to stay. With less time spent commuting and no need for large physical office spaces, the potential savings in time and money are immense. No doubt there will be some negative effects of being physically separated from colleagues and classmates, but I believe the pros will outweigh the cons.
THE WORST BRINGS OUT THE BEST
It takes a global pandemic like COVID-19 to bring out the best in every Singaporean. I am heartened to see people from all walks of life chipping in dutifully to help out their neighbours, especially the elderly who are frail and immobile.
I reserve my personal admiration for all the unsung heroes, namely the cleaners, migrant workers, food delivery people and frontline health workers who toil tirelessly to save the lives of the infected while risking their own.
QUESTIONS PERSIST BUT HOPE ENDURES
This is the age of nail-biting uncertainties. Singapore joins all the nations of the world, large and small, in facing testing times ahead. Do we as a nation possess the mental toughness to persevere in the face of such severe economic setbacks? How can any nation face the future with a sense of optimism when the country is drowning in a sea of red ink? I am a firm believer that COVID-19 will be ultimately defeated by our concerted efforts for the common good.
As for myself, I intend to continue to familiarise myself with technology, and in turn share whatever knowledge I gain with my fellow seniors. Most importantly, I constantly remind myself to never forget the ‘Golden Rule’ – to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.
I am a firm believer in the potential of humankind to overcome all obstacles in its way. With persistence, we will turn despair into hope and certain success.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
*Robinson Crusoe is the hero of Daniel Defoe’s novel about a shipwrecked English sailor who survives, alone, on a small tropical island.