It was January 2020. My bags were packed, ticket booked and hotels too. I was planning to fly back to Macau after the New Year break in Bhutan when I received an “urgent email”. I was asked not to re-enter the university campus and was told to wait for further instructions. A public health warning was issued.
What happened next is anyone’s guess.
Disruptions on a global scale where dreams and destinations had to be put on hold, and projects and prospects had to be dumped altogether. To put it a la John Lennon, life happened when I was busy making other plans.
Fast forward to three years, and we are in 2023. And things have become even more uncertain. Maybe the looming threat of another Covid pandemic is real. Maybe it is the lasting damage brought about by it. Whatever. We live in a critical time and must now accept that uncertainty will be a norm hereafter.
I had written about how we as a nation must respond to the post-Covid era. (See ”Thoughts and dreams on the eve of the National Day”, December 18th, 2021, Kuensel).
In this article let me share a few things that I learnt as Covid caged us indoors – fearful and pondering, but left me a better me – and also as a fatter me.
1. Just do it! Nothing is permanent.
If I have to meet a friend, or a relative, I just call right away. If I want to go for a pilgrimage, I set off immediately. If I need to do a gyelwa (accumulation of merit), I just do it. I don’t put it off for some other time because that day may never come. And if another pandemic strikes us, that day will never come.
Bhutanese are master procrastinators. We live, and act and do things, as if we are immortals. We must remember an old Bhutanese adage: “one day we will fall sick, we will feel the pain, and we will die eventually”. Covid has delivered the greatest teachings of impermanence.
If it is something positive, just do it! Do not procrastinate. And if you cannot be nice, do not be mean (my late mom’s golden rule). Remember, nothing lasts.
2. My way – and the highway
A little surprising fact about me. I get easily disappointed when things don’t go my way. I used to be, “My way or the highway.” Now I am “My way and the highway”. Covid has taught me that the world does not dance to my tunes only. There are many things that I can do nothing about. And there is no use of worrying about them.
Now, whatever is within my reach, I do my best. Whatever is beyond me, I let it be.
At times, though, I slip into my old self – and my heart sinks seeing some things unfold in front of me – only to immediately tell myself, “Nope! You shouldn’t be bothered with something that you have no control of.”
I let life move on and I follow it with humility, gratitude and acceptance.
3. I am enough. I have enough
In August 2013, after a long career in the government, I packed my small car and set off for my hometown – Tashigang, where I was assigned to replace a runaway American professor, and teach a class of media students at Sherubtse College.
That short stint left an indelible mark in my lifestyle. I realised you don’t need much to live or survive. I experimented living on 10 pieces of clothing. I succeeded.
It is in our nature to keep wanting for more. Now I think twice, or thrice, before I make any purchases – especially clothes.
No brands or bigger cars can make up for what you are not. Instead, if you just keep repeating to yourself, “I have enough. I am enough”, you will feel complete and content.
4. Smile! You are alive
In case you are not up to speed with the latest stats, Covid-19 has killed seven million people around the world. That is ten times the population of Bhutan. Plus over half a billion have been infected.
And yet when I look around I see we are all alive but back to grumbling en masse. It is appalling to observe how easily we forget the good things that happened to us, and around us, or were bestowed on us. The fact that we are still alive, in the first place, is in itself a great achievement. Not everyone has been as lucky. So, smile!
Don’t take anything for granted – your life, your job, and your relationships – the people under your care, or those around you.
Do everything that excites you. There is another popular Bhutanese saying – we don’t take anything when you die. Of course, you do. Your karma will follow you. The gyelwa you do will accompany you. Your legacy will be immortalised after you.
We lost 2020 and 2021, for sure, and also 2022 for many of us. We have gone through so much. But 2023 is here. Embrace it with a new you, and not as your old self.