T.W., 51, a writer in Singapore

It’s been one month of “circuit breaker,” a euphemism for lockdown in Singapore. It’s a strange phenomenon, a global lockdown where people have isolated themselves in their homes because of an invisible threat, this Covid-19 virus. And while we are all in our unique, isolated state, globally we seem to be going through some stage of the Kubler-Ross (KR) cycle of grief over this period of isolation. At this point, we have all experienced some sort of loss because of this virus: routine, jobs, health, school, friends, graduations, life events, and real lives of many, many loved ones. And while it’s not important to split hairs at the moment to call quarantine life a “circuit breaker” or whatever euphemism, it is important for our collective well-being to keep our minds from falling into despair. While we may not be able to skip entirely the depressive state of the KR cycle, we can lightly tread through that phase using words and keeping our attitudes in a positive frame of mind.

But with a lot of isolated time on our hands, it’s impossible to avoid navel gazing. One observation worth noting is that we are riddled with paradoxes. While many of us are feeling the frustration of being quarantined, we are also secretly glad for too much time on our hands, something we have all complained about not having in the frantic-paced life, pre-Covid-19. And while in the past we couldn’t be inconvenienced (or even acknowledge the need) to reduce carbon emissions, we are now grateful to see some evidence of the earth repair itself: bluer, cleaner skies; wildlife taking liberties, like monkeys in our backyards, or frogs in our swimming pools. We realize we can live far simpler, with less or without. For instance, our priorities of what is important, like toilet paper, have replaced conspicuous consumption.

Moreover, where we once found human interaction taxing, to the point where texting emojis had replaced visits and phone calls, we realize that we crave human interaction. Going to school, commuting to work, sitting through church services don’t sound so bad anymore. We also realize that highly valued white-collar jobs aren’t really all that necessary in these times of life in quarantine; but we cannot live without the various, invisible people who work to keep the food and grocery supply chains going, internet and utility providers, the cab drivers, the police, hospital workers, doctors, researchers, and scientists who are considered “essential”, and keep our collective ship from sinking.

If we are honest, our thoughts have probably led us to recognize some of our collective failings. In the beginning of this virus crisis, it seemed like the political apparatuses at work needed to hide, deny, blame or mislead. Taking responsibility and making sure that people were kept safe were not our first instincts. Then the spread of this virus because of our collective ignorance seemed to spread like wildfire, especially in communities that we have neglected in the past – the nursing homes, the migrant worker dormitories, the homeless communities, basically the poor and vulnerable. As a result, the quarantine has taken a longer toll as the numbers still climb in these neglected communities. The truth is, the “others” whom we have neglected and thought had nothing to do with us pre-Covid-19, are indeed intricately woven into our daily lives. We cannot avoid the fact that we are paying for this pre-Covid-19 mistake.

This “circuit breaker” isn’t only to break the cycle of the virus, but it should motivate us to break from our previous pattern of thinking and our attitude toward one another. We cannot return to the way things were, as if nothing has happened. Something has happened. We have all experienced loss. We cannot return to the selfish way of life where we neglect the welfare of the vulnerable and poor. We cannot return to the previous way of careless disregard of the earth, or needless, senseless consumption. We cannot return to the life pre-Covid-19. The last in the KR cycle is acceptance. It’s a challenge, but accepting our collective and personal roles in this mess we have created will help us out of the grief. Though we find ourselves in a fragile state, Covid-19 doesn’t have the final say. We are resilient, evolving creatures, and we are compassionate. We will come out of this period accepting our failings, equipped for a better beginning.

[submitted on 5/4/2020]

Life in Quarantine: Witnessing Global Pandemic is an initiative sponsored by the Poetic Media Lab and the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis at Stanford University.

Our Sponsors and Partners

Find Us!

Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA),
Stanford University

4th floor, Wallenberg Hall (bldg. 160)
450 Jane Stanford Way
Stanford, CA 94305
Stanford Mail Code: 2055