Generating escape velocity from COVID

Sep/08/2020 / by Seema Kumar
escape velocity from COVID

This Labor Day, we need to pull together – from arrogance, complacency and selfishness – to free ourselves of the virus.

Exactly 6 months ago today on March 8, International Women’s Day, we held the SEEMA Summit at Columbus Circle in New York City. It was one of the last gatherings that I have been to. So much has happened since then, and yet so little has changed.

At the SEEMA Summit we talked about the success of South Asian women on the frontiers of many fields: artists, business women, chefs, entrepreneurs, scientists… We talked about what defines us as individuals and our collective vision as a community. We described ourselves as other half of “The Other One Percent,” that contributes to the intellectual wealth, growth and economy of our adopted countries.

Labor Day, marked yesterday in the United States, celebrates the fruits of our toil, the accomplishments of all those who contribute to the success of a society or a country. It’s a chance to put our feet up and rest on our laurels – if for just one evening. Perhaps outdoors, while deliberating the merits of a particularly juicy grilled burger.

After those few moment of self indulgence, I always look forward to going back to work. It’s a reset of sorts. Emerging from the summer doldrums, it is the last chance to relax before the major lift-off into fall. Four months of hectic activity, of manic madness, sending mind, body, soul and spirit into chaotic churn.

Much like an astronaut, I brace myself for the thrust, the force against the enervating pull of ennui, my mental g-suit ready! I’ve prepared for this launch every year, relying on the Labor Day moment of rejuvenation and then steeling myself for the countdown.

But this year has been different. One season has blended into another, and then yet another, with no break, physical or mental. This Labor Day weekend has come and gone but it does not seem like a milestone, a prelude to lift-off. It feels like Groundhog Day – every day. Waking up under lockdown, with work, life, home, parenting, caring, cooking, cleaning, indoors, outdoors, all flowing into each other, blurring the boundaries in a mind-bending version of reality. In this distorted world, in which rather than an astronaut prepping for lift off, we feel like helpless hamsters on a speeding wheel. running fast and furious with no escape. A roller coaster ride you cannot alight from. Trapped in a senseless, invisible ride – without seat belts. Yes, you can check out – but you can never leave.

So it’s all gone. The joy of seasons. The beginning of back-to-school. The ramping up to return-to-work. The conferences. The travel. The meetings. And the apple, and pumpkin pickings in between. Halloween. The Holiday season. Shopping….

Clearly, this Labor Day was unlike any other in recent history. Unemployment still remains high, and employers are still being conservative with hiring. The stores are closed, the restaurants and salons limping along at 30% capacity. The flights are still half empty.

This was not a Labor Day to celebrate but to reflect and to give thanks for the jobs we do have and the opportunities we do have to contribute. To recognize all the workforce, including the immigrants from around the world, including South Asians, who contribute as essential workers, as frontline sentinels, and healthcare heroes working 24/7 to help us keep some semblance of normalcy. To them, we owe our gratitude and our salute. And to women, who bear the triple burden of the pandemic, we owe acknowledgment, appreciation, and recognition.

COVID-19 has brought us to our knees and exposed our vulnerabilities. But if we work together and resist the pull of arrogance, complacency and selfishness, we can generate the thrust we need for lift-off – and defeat this virus.

Check out Labor Day weekend celebrations around the world.


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