By Jamie Etheridge
On Monday night, the Cabinet decided to extend the public holiday until the end of Ramadan and the partial curfew from 4 pm to 8 am – effectively giving us all a clear timeline for how this next month will play out. For many, the continuation of the curfew and closures will be difficult to take. Many people spend the month going to the mosque, gathering with family and friends for iftar, attending ghabqas and enjoying the many night-time activities of the month.
Spending it under lockdown will be a new experience for us all. Even the pleasure of having food delivered after curfew starts cannot compare with the loss of seeing family and friends and the gatherings that make Ramadan special.
At the same time, the clear timeline gives us all a gift that might go unnoticed. Choice has been temporarily taken out of our hands. Whatever our individual circumstances, we are collectively locked down, and that means we cannot do anything to change the situation. Whether we still work or we are stuck at home without income, we now have one month guaranteed of the status quo.
One month to make of it what we will. Under great constraints can come great creativity. If we are lucky enough to have our basic needs met and to not get sick, we can spend this next month exploring. We can build, create, draw, learn or simply wonder and think. We can read. We can build a new habit or break an old one.
We can take the daily stress, anxiety, fear and uncertainty that has insinuated itself into our daily lives and channel that into mindfulness practice, into art, into something that we would never in our normal lives have the time or opportunity to do.
We’ve been given the gift of time. Yes, it’s under the worst of circumstances and yes we still have worries and pressures, demands and concerns. Our children need help e-learning as well as time and attention. Our homes need taking care of, dinners need cooking. Some of us have lost our jobs or had our salaries cut and just survival and daily meals will be a major concern. But we have blessed Ramadan and Insha’Allah we will all have enough food and shelter, family and friends (even if via Zoom and Facetime).
At the basic level of survival, we have no choice, but we do have control over how we view our circumstances. We do have a choice of what we do with this time. In the book, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby recounts memories from his life and explores what it is like to live with locked-in syndrome. Bauby survived for 15 months after having a stroke, completely paralyzed except for small movements of the head and face.
But he didn’t give up, didn’t stop living. He used his eyes to communicate and the entire book was written by his eyelids opening and closing to indicate letter by letter the ideas he wanted to share with the world before he died. “I am alive and I can think,” Bauby wrote, “and no one has the right to deny me these two realities.”
We are alive and we can think. Now we know we have one month before us. We can see it as a gift or a jail sentence. We cannot change the situation but we can change how we live it.