In the past two months, my world was shaken, stirred, and has only begun to settle. My professional world was squished into a corner of a room with the strongest wifi signal. The physical structures and rhythms of office life were exchanged for self-managing feats of video calls, long email trails and easily forgotten coffee and toilet breaks. If this wasn’t intense enough, then the backdrop of home life tantrums and discontent weaving in and out of a busy workday would crank up the dial. As work pressures increased with urgent responses, so did the disillusionment of family bonding in forced spaces.
Without a doubt, my whole family’s disrupted routines were colliding with each other. And when I was able to mentally put this evolving drama aside, I looked to my work for a sense of balance and peace, only to find that I was walking a tightrope above imbalance and chaos. These were the dark times of lockdown – working from home, but also at home with everyone adjusting to restricted activity and forms of expression.
I recall my effort to lighten the burden of lockdown: Snapping gratitude pics of home baking, crafting, dressing up for work selfies, and posting them on a personal board to remind myself of life’s little pleasures. But these moments were transient and shallow comfort compared to the recurring emotions of feeling spent and helpless, often at bedtime, sometimes in tears. Evening disappeared into the morning; another day had passed, but a new day also brought hope again.
I was travelling between darkness and light. Darkness was the calmness of night time rest; a private room to wring distress from my mind; a welcome end to a day of strife. Light was the promise of plenty; the engine of action; an illusion that productivity was the elixir of life. I had naively thought that the lockdown was a long pause of meaningful recalibration of life’s wants and needs. As I emerge from being held prisoner in my own home (and mind), the recalibration is only starting.
During the journey through darkness and light, I searched the Psalms for comfort. King David had worse days than me. He was hunted down by a jealous and raging King Saul; he had to come clean before God about his adultery and committing murder to cover up his adultery; he was besieged by enemies, including his own son who turned against him. But in all these trials and tribulations, he cried out to God, declaring that while we are only but a breath, God is our Rock and Dwelling Place, ever close to our broken spirits, and delivering us from our troubles.
Each time I crawled into a dark place of despair, I remember the last time God rescued me from myself. I’m also thankful for being part of a church community where we encourage each other in our faith, reminding each other of our ultimate source of comfort and assurance. Travelling between darkness and light has been trying, but the struggle has made me realised more than before that “everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure” (Psalm 39:5). I have understood more deeply what it means to be fragile, and I see more clearly the futility of temporary fixes.
In terms of recalibrating after lockdown, I’m making a gradual transition back to the office. I value work from home arrangements a lot more now that our family’s routine is more or less restored. Saving a few extra hours a day from travel means feeling less tired and being able to have more conversations with my children and husband. But I also value the measured rhythm of an office environment such as walking to the printer to pick up documents, being physically present with colleagues (that is, whoever is at the office), and knowing that I will leave the building at some time and return home.
We have been talking about a new normal after lockdown and in the aftermath of the pandemic. While we figure out what this new normal looks like, we also need to build up our resilience and capabilities to address the helter-skelter of our times, and travel with more confidence between darkness and light.