When Choice Becomes Privilege.
I like being home.
Given the choice, I‘d much rather curl up with a good book and a cup of tea than go out and socialize. I have worked from home for the past eight years and I am a firm proponent of remote work culture. Home is my safe space -it’s where I create, nurture and rejuvenate.
Lately, though, home has felt less like a place of infinite comfort and more like indefinite confinement.
When a shelter-in-place order was first made effective in my area, I felt equal parts dread and relief. Dread because it was clear things were getting serious. And relief because the social distancing was so very needed.
The first couple days things didn’t seem all that different at our home. My husband works remotely when not traveling and my daughter had been out of preschool since a few days before.
With each passing day, however, things became increasingly more surreal. As country after country started shutting down its borders and ordering national lockdowns, the dystopian reality of the pandemic began to settle in.
Grocery delivery slots acquired a mythical status, yoga and dance classes moved online, weekend get-togethers morphed into Zoom hangouts, and the inevitability of this being a new, indefinite normal slowly started seeping in.
I was starting to feel claustrophobic. I literally waited for that time of the day when I could step out for a walk or a run, anything to escape the incessant confinement. I worried that my only child, devoid of socialization, would retreat into her shy self and find it hard to merge back into the mainstream come fall when she is due to start kindergarten. I worried that this forced sedentary lifestyle would impact my husband’s health. I worried about my family overseas and wondered when I would be able to see them again. So consumed was I by my anxieties, I remained obtusely oblivious to what was in my control-my ability to choose.
One night, while talking to my daughter at bedtime, the obvious entitlement of my situation became painfully obvious to me. She knows what is happening (minus the gory details, of course) and was, expectedly, curious about when life would return to normal. I told her, honestly, that I wasn’t sure and that it was likely to take a while. She looked at me, her sweet little face bright with earnestness, and said ‘oh well, it’s a good thing then that we are all together and have enough snacks and toys’.
As I thoughtfully considered my five year old’s ability to effortlessly rationalize a world that is as far removed from her erstwhile reality as could be, I felt awash with the realization of my privilege. Here we are, a family of three in our comfortably furnished home, all safe and healthy, with ample food to eat. While, around us, doctors and nurses, grocery store staff and delivery drivers, warehouse workers and mail delivery employees… so many people continue to show up for the services we consider essential. Not out of choice either, but because theirs is not a job that can be conducted from the safe confines of their homes. Or because they consider it their duty to show up, to do their bit in trying to stem this tsunami of epic proportions.
And it doesn’t end there. There are single parents who have had to give up their jobs to stay home with their kids. Older people living by themselves and autoimmune disease sufferers who fear for their lives every time they have to step out for groceries. Homeless communities and migrant workers who have no means of independent sustenance in these harsh times. Those who daily face the threat of domestic abuse. Millions of people around the world whose lives and livelihoods stand radically altered, and who have no way of knowing how and if they will ever emerge from this devastation.
And then there’s us. Sheltered from the havoc and chaos outside. Because, even if it doesn’t seem so, we do have a choice. A choice to hunker down and use this time to bond with family. A choice to learn new things and teach new things. A choice to help those less fortunate than us. And, above all, a choice to stay safe.
It’s simple. We can feel stuck indefinitely in a situation that’s not of our own making and that we have no control over, or we can feel grateful that we have a home to shelter in, food to fill our bellies with and family to ride these trying times out with. We can feel frustrated having bored kids home all day, every day or feel thankful that they are safe, that we can watch over them and kiss them goodnight. We can lament having to cook and clean all day, or feel blessed that we have food to make meals with and a home to keep clean.
So, the next time you feel the walls closing in, the kids getting on your nerves and your mind getting numbed from the monotony of staying indoors, send out a thankful prayer. Thank the universe for the privilege to have these frustrations.
Because it is nothing less than a privilege — this ability of ours to stay home right now. In a world that is now being forced to define choice by horrific yardsticks that measure the worth of one human life against another, we have a rather simple choice to make — stay indoors or risk lives.
‘Stuck at home’ or ‘safer at home’: in the end, it’s all a matter of perspective.