It’s scary, but a lot of good is coming out of this as well.

All around the world we’re inundated with information regarding the COVID-19 global pandemic, and for a good reason. This is scary stuff. People are sick and dying, hospitals are overwhelmed to the point of collapse, the economy is struggling and will be for a long time … it’s intense. There’s a lot of good coming out of this as well though. Situations like this force us to stop and see what’s directly in front of us. 

Mike Bilodeau in mask and glove to shop during pandemic

Mike is ready to head our for some pandemic shopping.

Years ago, I went for a hike with friends and their two kids, who were only 5 and 7 at the time. We almost made it halfway to our set destination before we had to pull the pin and head back so we weren’t walking to the car in the dark. The father of the family apologised over and over again for how slow we were going, but I told him there was no need. These kids were teaching me a valuable lesson: life is about the journey, not the destination. Sure, distance wise we didn’t get very far, but in terms of imagination and discovery, we went farther than we adults had in a long time. The children stopped constantly, looking under what seemed like every rock and log possible along the way. They had an endless amount of questions and got excited about the tiniest little things. These kids were taking in exactly what was in front of them, instead of focusing on where we had planned to end up. This is a lesson that I relearn constantly even now, and my reference for learning is always this hike. 

 If you think about it, this is a perfect metaphor for how our society is constructed. We race through life, focussing on where we want to get to, what we want to achieve or who we want to be, while leaving all the little rocks at our feet unturned. Well, that’s come to a standstill for most of us now. While many work hard to save the many more that are suffering, the rest of us are forced to stay put and wait it out. Perhaps this isn’t such a bad thing.

shopping basket during pandemic

Filling up that basket with fresh veggies!

Today was the first time my partner and I went out for supplies in two weeks. It was very strange having to put on a mask and gloves before leaving our little flat in Barceloneta. When we reached the street, it was quite eerie to cross the path of someone else, as we all moved as far away from each other as possible with blank stares over white masks. We took out our food scraps and recycling, then made our way through what has recently changed from a bustling place, to a near ghost town. Our mission was to buy everything on our list as fast as possible, then get it all back home and not leave again for as long as we could. Well, fast wasn’t a realistic expectation. The proprietors of each market stall, donned with masks and gloves, worked as efficiently as they could, but adjustments to this new method of service definitely slowed the pace. Standing in line waiting to be served, I began to look around at this place that, until this point, I’d been visiting at least 3 times each week since last summer. I looked into the eyes of people who had been selling me sustenance with a smile for the last eight months, and something changed. Suddenly, the masks disappeared and all that was left was an area full of familiar faces, doing their best to keep on going. The desire to get everything quickly and get home faded, and I began to enjoy these social interactions again. It didn’t matter how long it took to stock up, because I was enjoying seeing them all and knowing that they were okay. My partner and I slowed our minds from then on, taking it all in, and even asking some of the vendors how they were managing at the moment. We even had some discussions about how a certain amount of plastic waste is currently unavoidable, for obvious safety reasons. After a few laughs were had, and before we knew it, our bags were full, and we were on our way home. How long did it take? What time was it? Who cares?

 Climbing the ridiculous amount of stairs up to our flat didn’t seem so bad all of a sudden. We had a new surge of energy that we hadn’t felt in some time. It probably had something to do with all of the exciting food we were carrying, but even more so, it was due to human connection. We accepted things as they were, waited without staring at a phone or watch, and lived in that exact moment. We entered the flat, put our clothes into the wash, showered and sanitised everything as we unpacked it. And as we put the last few bits away, I smiled and realised that I’d just relearnt that same lesson from years before. The places we visited and the items we purchased didn’t matter nearly as much as the conversations we had and the smiles we shared. We were unknowingly forced to set the destination aside, and truly enjoy the journey.

 We can all learn from right now. Our only choice these days is to stay put and wait things out. This is our chance to reconnect with ourselves and those closest to us, rediscover passions that we rarely make time for, and appreciate something more valuable than money … time. If we value time more than excess monetary things, our desire for a life of comfort and convenience will become trivial. Perhaps we’ll rethink our wasteful lifestyles and our disconnect from the natural world, while we readjust our perspectives a little. Perhaps then we won’t need a global pandemic to give us a wakeup call, nor will Mother Earth need difficult times like these to simply rest and rejuvenate. Let’s take this time to reflect, so we can start with a clean slate once the dust settles.

 My thoughts are with those suffering and those on the front lines. Stay strong while we stay home. 

Mike Bilodeau is the executive director of Plastic Oceans Europe. He has worked as a Dive Master, a kayak and eco tour guide, and a Biodiversity Ranger for the Department of Conservation in New Zealand.