In celebration of Heritage Day, and for the first time since lockdown began, the Paton team gathered in person to participate in the Jerusalema dance challenge. As we shared stories and experiences, I realised that the past few months have delivered unimaginable and unexpected circumstances for many people.
These circumstances could be likened to gifts, as they have often presented new opportunities which wouldn’t have existed before. The realisation of the concept of the “gifts” of lockdown was sparked by a conversation with a colleague, who revealed the extraordinary nature of the fact that she has spent the past 6 months with her precious 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter. With that, I decided to collect stories about the unplanned and unexpected: to illuminate the gains and gifts of lockdown and to hopefully shed some light on what will be remembered in history as a truly dark time.
Disclaimer – This is not to negate the very difficult experiences lockdown has delivered. The loss of life as well as the loss of income and business has devastated the lives of millions of people. People have feared for their survival from a health, financial and social point of view. The pangs of hunger, the disruption of plans, and the interruption of achieving goals and milestones have shattered our communities. For many parents, working from home whilst looking after and schooling young children has been extremely trying. Covid-19 will be remembered as one of the most significant events of the 21st century, and thus it is important for us to stop and take stock of the lived experiences of people and to document history, while it is still fresh for us. Where we have blessings, it is inspiring to notice and to be grateful. It is the stories of hope, gratitude and light that reveal that even in the most trying times, human beings have the capacity to be optimistic.
I have collected some of the gifts realised and experienced by members of the Paton team. The overriding gift for everyone has been that of time and the stories below illuminate what this has meant for people
For numerous colleagues with growing and developing children, the opportunity to obtain more insight into the difficulties faced at school, to celebrate their children’s successes big or small, and to be able to assist them in real time has been a “gift” that otherwise wouldn’t have existed during “normal” circumstances.
Like many mothers, I have worked since my son was 5 months old, only spending snatched time with him on weekends and holidays, in the midst of managing all the other demands of life. He turned 19 during lockdown, and I have spent 6 amazing months at home with him. We have cherished the things we have been able to do together. These have included: exploring food and making many exotic meals, as well as “hanging out” and engaging in meaningful, connected conversations into the early hours of the morning. We have had private parties and danced our hearts out. We shared delicious wine and explored different whiskeys together.
Another colleague has been afforded the chance to stay at home with her aged grandmother for the last 6 months. This has allowed her to spend time with her beloved gran in her twilight years - ensuring she is being looked after; when otherwise she would have spent these days alone.
One colleague took the time to initiate a walking routine every morning. She clocked 561kms in less than 3 months! Invigorated by the sun on her skin, the crisp air, and the sound of the birds, she watched the trees and plants change through the different seasons.
Then, there is the story of a colleague whose husband was retrenched early into lockdown. This opened up the opportunity for him to do the work he has always wanted to do but didn’t. COVID forced him to ‘just do it’ and it has turned out to be the best decision and opportunity for him.
Numerous colleagues spend many hours in traffic to get to work arriving harassed and stressed from the trip. In some cases, they have saved up to 3 hours a day and so they have reduced stress, increased energy levels and freed up time to be more productive. One colleague has saved 189 hours - 8 additional days of her life given to her to utilise in better ways than the largely fruitless exercise of sitting in traffic!
Additional time has opened the opportunity for a greater focus on self-care for many of the Paton crew - mental, spiritual, and physical. We completed not one, but two, 21-day meditation challenges that most Patoners chose to participate in, and many of us have found enjoyment and benefit in physical exercise, jogging, walking, home workouts, and zoom classes.
My lounge also proved to be an ideal Zoom exercise room, where I have fallen about without embarrassing myself, sung at
the top of my voice, and have built the confidence to try out exercises and moves I may not have, with the eyes of a class on me. When walking in my suburb, I have found many people to be more open and friendly, strangers hidden by our masks, experiencing a common reality: sharing a connection which is felt in the smiling eyes and the tilt of the head, by way of a greeting.
Lockdown has forced people ‘off the roller coaster of life’. It has allowed us time to focus on those closest and dearest, and in the case of one colleague, it was the opportunity to care for an ailing animal before it died, and the space to support a friend. In the words of another colleague “there was no pressure to be anywhere else, or do anything else”, and this meant she felt increased creativity. “Life is somehow simpler,” another team member mentioned. Many have found it rewarding to be working from home, whilst also having time to enjoy cooking, baking, sewing, drawing, and painting.
One colleague realised that she has been so deeply entrenched in a tremendously stressful and frantic lifestyle, never realising how destructive, unhealthy, and unhappy her life had become. Her days were fraught with constant, suffocating time pressure - always rushing to get somewhere or do something, Suddenly, overnight her entire schedule was cancelled and the real blessing for her has been a focus on quality and not quantity.
Outside of time, there have been other unexpected gifts. The common use of “Hi, hope you are well” has taken on a much deeper meaning and has become a real and concerned enquiry as to a person’s well-being. This has translated into a heightened awareness of the privilege of good health.
And then, as another team member mentioned, there is the growing realisation that there is much to be grateful for - a job, a home, good health, the knowledge that one is supported by family, friends and colleagues, and the realisation that we do not need much else.
In conclusion, I have found the greatest gift to be the lesson of presence. The well-known adage and spiritual teaching to ‘live in the present’ has never been more real or apt. Pleasure, comfort, gratification, and growth can only be found in the ‘here and now’ and there is no need to be anywhere else!
So, I encourage you to take a moment to notice the benefits of lockdown and your particular gifts received through this uninvited experience. Breathe deeply (COVID notwithstanding), surrender to the present and embrace every opportunity it offers.
Written by: Robyn Katz