Life under Shelter-in-Place


Last night, the above picture image with a hopeful message, I sent to my older brother, on his birthday. Of course, there was also a personal message where I wished him well. I got his reply this morning where he said, “Thank you! Stay safe and stay calm. This is a challenging time for all. Best, Sjbhai” Time in the last two weeks was behaving in a very haphazard manner. Of course, this had more to do with the fear of corona virus than other things. This Monday morning, when darkness turned to light, I woke up and opened the window of my bedroom. The air felt fresh and filled with fragrance of early spring. After praying, I am sitting in front of my computer with a cup of piping-hot coffee, and thinking whether I should have a grilled cheese sandwich for breakfast. Thinking about everyday things lets me consider other things than whether the virus will get me, if my immune system is strong enough to handle the ravage of this dreadful virus, or am I going to be dead and become a statistic?

I get distracted and looking out the window I spot a small flock of chirping birds on the branches of my Colorado blue spruce tree. This is a reminder that the cycle of seasons do continue and the chirping noise sounds elegant and intricate. Another sign of life’s continuity is the loud noise of the lawnmower nearby that the county landscaper is making so early in the morning. It particularly sounds louder as today is the first few mows of the season. Normally, at 7:30 in the morning such a noise cause irritation but right now I am finding it surprisingly soothing as it is part of feeling normal again — a confirmation that life goes on no matter what. From the looks of it, no doubt, corona virus will claim many more lives around the world before the demon is contained. However, we as humans do continue to show resilience in the face of adversity and without that we will lose all hope.

Since corona virus had started to cause havoc across US, I have not been able to dedicate my time to writing for straight two weeks. As a result, I’ve been feeling restless. A couple of nights ago, a recent post by’s founding Editor Mitali Chakravarty struck a chord: “Though we are all torn by the isolation that battling COVID-19 demands, we still have a huge thing which we did not in the past, a thing that helps us all connect – the internet. While the educated stay connected, using social media and email, there will be many under isolation who will not have the skill sets to reach out, either due to lack of internet or due to the inability to write….” With endless COVID-19 news stories and fresh updates on more new cases everywhere have made me realize that this is the new normal now. Therefore, can I still continue with some semblance of normalcy while rolling out new measures against the virus? Can I recreate my pre-corona life? I decided to try. This realization was a welcome change, as you can imagine. Writing is a refuge that I need to seriously hold onto as it will be a diversion from constant washing of hands, disinfecting every hard surface around the house several times a day, even though I haven’t been outside for ten days.

Last Friday night, as we were about to sit down for dinner, a shelter-in-place order was issued. Suddenly, helicopters were heard circling overhead in certain parts of the neighborhood, police cruisers were going up and down my street and the entire neighborhood lit up with emergency blue red lights of law enforcement vehicles. The high volume of sirens had deafening wails. Amidst all this a call came to our landline phone from the county police confirming a shelter-in-place order has just been issued. The prerecorded message said, during this time all residents should stay where they are or go into the closest building, and no one is to venture outside and stay there until the order was lifted and all clear was given. A shelter-in place order indicates the existence of a significant threat. Most likely, during that period the public safety personnel are engaged in managing the threat and may not be in a position to respond to peoples’ calls for assistance. That is why it is crucial to remain in place until the order has been lifted. But for the past week since the governor of Maryland has put his state under shelter-in-place, it has been feeling like we are under total lockdown and virtual prisoners in our homes. Exceptions are made when people may need to go to the grocery stores by taking all precautions, people can take walks for exercise, can jog around the block, and walk their pets outside. Everyone is overly cautious in maintaining six-foot distance when they are out. Every potential person seems to be a carrier of this virus. Everyone has unfounded fears of contracting this disease from anyone they come in contact with and it is taking a toll on people’s mental health.

Some people seem to be going nuts from home confinement. Though I never ever have felt so lucky to have a home where I can isolate myself without coming in close contact with others. Normally, such a statement will indicate that either I am an introvert or a social misfit. But under the current circumstances all arguments point to the facts that isolation from others is the best way to protect oneself. So, there is no alternative to staying home. The corona virus doesn’t spare anyone. It doesn’t know name, face, culture, religion, social position etcetera. It can get you anywhere anytime when you are not very careful.

Internet now is user friendly and has proven to be a great friend when we are stuck inside. I am bombarded by hundreds of electronic notifications on how to break from stress with latest makeup tutorials for women over fifty, how to stay positive, and how important it is to stay physically strong. Would wearing makeup just for me be a big mood booster? I wonder. Aren’t the experts cautioning us against touching our faces? I am even fearful of washing my face with a daily cleanser as it involves using my fingers. Now I clean my face with soft cotton pads that are meant for removing makeup. Less contact my face has with my fingers, the better it is for me, I have to keep reminding myself. To moisturize my hands after washing for twenty seconds, I use a strong scented lotion, and that way every time I will know if I am about to touch my face. One thing I have learned in the past two weeks is how to somewhat adapt, overcome, and rebound from stressors. I have started to streamline the way I read news reports related to corona virus. It is helping me to balance my state of well-being. I also get a lot of tips about what kind of exercises might help and how at difficult times one should “focus on actions, not outcomes.” I have begun mediating on a regular basis and have started to like the gentle yoga video series that I haven’t watched in a while. These daily practices are coming very handy now along with the long forgotten treadmill in the basement. Though getting out in nature has significant health benefits, I am lacking motivation to walk outside now. Whatever is going on outside with the virus is very unsettling, but thinking about positive things improves the quality of my day. I find myself filled with hope, joy, and possibilities that tomorrow might bring – regardless of the challenges we are facing today in dealing with the deadly virus.

Those of us who write believe that if anyone is reading what we write, we give that person the opportunity to take a break from everyday life. Through reading others’ work, a person can get a sense of who she/he is by relating to the events or stories that evoke laughter, joy, and fear. I am not claiming here that we are a bunch of amazing creatures, but a lot of us do feel that we have a sense of purpose, and that sense has a strong impact in building both physical and psychological resilience. In corona time, we can redirect that purpose in giving support to others who are alone and feeling cooped up. We can be cheerer-upper to a friend or a neighbor by checking in with them, say a friendly hello to see how they are doing.

It is dismaying that the shutdown around the world is especially affecting the poor. Day laborers and migrant workers in developing countries are in threat as they fear starvation, not corona. Human beings cannot sustain life without food and that is a basic rule of the real world. The poor in the urban areas live in crammed quarters and they cannot maintain safe social distance. Handwashing several times a day is a novel concept for many. It almost had brought me to tears seeing a health worker distributing disposable gloves to Dhaka city’s slum dwellers – each person was given only one pair glove as protection against the virus. Those are meant for single use. They will have to do with one pair as there are no adequate supplies. Then there was a homeless person under cover in a desolate railway station somewhere in Bangladesh. It was hard to say whether that person was dead or alive. I could not hold my tears seeing a picture of migrant workers at a park in New Delhi where they are stranded, confused, and hungry. They cannot go home as central government has ordered several states to seal their borders.

Since finishing the draft mid-morning, I got busy with other things that I had planned for the day. I had planned to get through the last fifty pages of the Haruki Murakami novel that I had started in January but haven’t been able to finish. It is a wonderful book about how Murakami, “use the mirror as a portal of a universe hidden beyond it.” I still have twenty pages left as the protagonist takes a perilous journey to another world. This is about 6:20 p.m. as dinner time nearing in this part of the world. I got an idea to try a new recipe for tonight as the title of the dish seemed very alluring and nutritionally promising with ingredients of brown rice, red lentil, and spices that we use every day. The heading said, “Super easy, too-good-to-be-true, immune-boosting, vegan, gluten-free, comfort food Lentil Stew.” We all can use a bit of comfort food as it tends to be very therapeutic. During stressful times nobody gives a damn if some of the dishes are on the heavy side: big on carbs, spicy, fatty or rich as long as we feel comforted.

Postscript: Before logging off, I read in the Baltimore Sun that Governor Larry Hogan has issued new orders for Marylanders to stay-at-home to avoid the spread of the corona virus. “We are no longer asking or suggesting that Marylanders stay at home. We are directing them to do so.” The order takes effect at 8 p.m. Monday night. Hogan added, “He is also worried about the possibility it could spread to ‘literally thousands’ of facilities in Maryland, including hospitals, detention centers, and nursing homes.” As of 1:00 p.m. EDT on Monday, March 30 there have been 35,307 deaths, of which 2,575 were in the US. The US remains main hotspot for the disease, followed by Italy, Spain, and China, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Zeenat Khan writes from Maryland, USA



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