Remembering to Turn on the Light
For the last few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has confined us to our homes to mitigate the spread of infection. Taking this as an opportunity to pause and reflect, I’m reminded of how vulnerable and precious all life is, but also how deeply interconnected and interdependent we all are. Primarily fostered by globalization, we are all part of the same big beautiful web of life and as cliché as it may sound, life goes on.
Although I didn't attend the annual Cherry Blossom Festival on Roosevelt Island this year, I know cherry blossoms were nevertheless blooming without being seen. (At left: a photo from last year's Festival.) I find solace in knowing how beautiful this world still is even with us spending more time indoors. With everyone staying home, it has been reported that Los Angeles has clean air for the first time in nearly two decades. According to the American Lung Association’s annual “State of the Air” report, Los Angeles has long had the distinction of being the U.S. city with the dirtiest air, putting more than 141 million Americans at risk from smog. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index shows that the decreased transportation and industry emissions over the last couple of months have been most impactful in reducing air pollution.
In the northern Indian state of Punjab, the Himalayan mountain range has been reported to be now visible from more than 100 miles away due to the reduction in air pollution caused by the country’s COVID-19 lockdown. For many residents, the sight is something they have never witnessed in their entire lives and from the pictures I have seen, it’s truly a sight for sore eyes. Similar to Los Angeles, this phenomenon is made possible by a dramatic improvement in air quality after industries shut down, cars came off the road and airlines canceled flights due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The silver lining of the situation appears to be nature trying to tell us something, and I think we should listen closely. For me, it is to stop and smell the roses. In other words, I’ve decided to view quarantine as an invitation to slow down and pull back from the rise-and-grind mentality so prevalent among New Yorkers. Before arriving at this decision, there were times when my thoughts would go back to what life was like before quarantine and what I would normally be doing at that moment in time like trips to the movie theater, museums, art galleries, book fairs, concerts, bars, or restaurants. However, I would find myself experiencing a sense of loss after having these thoughts due to the fact that I couldn’t do any of them.
To maintain my mental well-being, I quickly learned to live in the moment and appreciate life’s small pleasures a great deal more. I’ve been reading and revisiting books I find comforting and inspiring, such as Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. A quote I find especially comforting comes from none other than Albus Dumbledore: “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” Although Dumbledore said this to empower the students of Hogwarts during dark times, we can also find some inspiration from it during this challenging time as the pandemic takes a heavy toll on our mental health. Our Library staff is always happy to share current reads, comfort reads, and so much more from our staff recommendations. Also, independent and online bookstores such as Book Club Bar, Cafe con Libros, and Bookshop have created an easy, convenient way for you to get your books while also supporting your local bookstores during this challenging time.
In addition to reading, I’ve been coping with quarantine by writing, cooking, and watching thought-provoking films, TV shows, and entertaining documentaries. I’ve also been having more phone and video conversations with my family and friends than ever before. These conversations are ironically bringing us closer, and I find them quite therapeutic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is very important to stay in touch with friends and family who don’t live in your home. Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations, and having to socially distance yourself from someone you love can be difficult. Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, my colleague Marialuisa Monda and I will be hosting an interactive discussion on Instagram Live Video at 4 PM on Saturday May 30th. Join us as we reflect on the past few months, discussing what we've done and what we've read to maintain our mental well-being while confined to our homes. While we aren’t mental health professionals, we stand behind aiding those most vulnerable in this crisis.
If you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions, there are resources and counselors trained to meet the mental health needs of this unique situation. Visit the Disaster Distress Helpline, call 1-800-985-5990, or text TalkWithUs to 66746. Here in New York City, NYC Well is your connection to free, confidential mental health support.
No matter what you're dealing with, there are people who can help. We are all in this together.