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March 14 – Year of the Ox (Epilogue: Part 6) The Meaning of Everything is In The Moment

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“Yesterday I left home to get some groceries,” says a Revel Alliance member named Emily, in our chat, looking to share a horrible experience. We were there for her, as we always are for each other. It’s why I made the group. “I went to the Kowloon Market in my neighborhood, Chinatown, in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada). There was an altercation in progress right at the main entrance to the store. At least two white, unmasked people were arguing with the staff. There was a solemn crowd gathering outside…I could see through the windows that there were several people recording videos of the incident on their cell phones. An onlooker informed me that the two people were refusing to wear a mask, and they were also clearly refusing to leave the store. I heard one man yell at the staff, ‘ARE YOU A LAWYER??’”

“I reasoned I should probably shop elsewhere. So, I made my way down Somerset Street toward the next closest (open) store thinking; it’s a rainy Sunday evening; I’ll probably get lucky and have an easy time social distancing. On the corner of Somerset and Kent, I was waiting for the light to change so I could make my way to the grocery store, now just one block away. I was wearing a cute mask with colorful moths on it. A plainly-dressed, thirty-something-year-old white man with a tidy brown beard pulled up beside me on a bicycle with an empty grey milk crate strapped to the back. He looked over at me, and our eyes met. As the light changed, he yelled to me, ‘HEY! Oxygen is your friend! You should breathe it.’…or some such nonsense. I called back that I was indeed breathing plenty of oxygen, thank you. The guy made the ‘you’re crazy’ sign by tracing a circle with his finger next to his head as he biked away from me… As a white, able-bodied person who benefits from heteronormative privilege, it is rare for me to feel harassed on the street. This didn’t really feel threatening, but it left me deeply unsettled…the events of my rainy Sunday evening were telling me that anti-maskers are emboldened…they will hold their ground and cause issues for small business owners…They will harass people on the street for simply WEARING A MASK. Last night, a bar I used to work at, Atomic Rooster, held a fundraiser to pay for the front window that was smashed when an anti-masker drove a chair through it a couple of weeks ago. The person got angry that he was being asked to wear a mask and acted out. The community response to this, as far as I can tell, has been a mixture of rage and empathy: Rage at the anti-masker for further complicating the already difficult task of being a small restaurant owner during a pandemic… but also empathy, because this guy was clearly in mental distress and a lot of people suffering mental illnesses are really having a hard time coping with the mask orders. How do we support people with mental illness but also protect ourselves from anti-mask violence? Maybe this question is not framed properly…but I feel there are lessons from my experiences yesterday I’m not quite fully understanding…When the guy on the bike was calling me crazy for wearing a mask, I nearly yelled that indeed he shall miss his ‘friend’ oxygen when he has COVID and needs a ventilator to live. I resisted, but how can I stay compassionate when what these people are doing feels so infuriating? Almost seven months, I barely leave my house, and when I do so responsibly, I need to be aware that this makes me a target for anti-mask anger? Living my sheltered, work-from-home life, I almost believed anti-mask sentiments were in the small minority in my hometown of Ottawa. Maybe they are, but when those sentiments are expressed, they can be loud…and dangerous!”

“You have power over your mind—not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” – Marcus Aurelius said, but he would have been sorely frustrated by the amount of stupid in antimasking and antivaxxing. People are scared of what they can’t control, so instead of learning about how to succeed together, they concoct conspiracies and create paper monsters, all the while giving the real monsters more power through their ignorance. For decades, the Western media has put scientists telling us facts next to useful idiots whose jobs depend on destroying the earth side by side, calling it a debate, when in reality, one had facts, and the other only lies. This has perpetuated the terrible idea that all opinions have merit and that we can disagree with elemental forces like gravity or the ability to breathe or conclusive science because we find it inconvenient. This is a dangerous idea and feels like a tipping point, where idiots are threatening democracy. It didn’t have to be this way.

Artificial Intelligence, becoming cleverer and able to pour through massive data points at the speed of light, can determine whether you will die from COVID-19. But can it save us? Studies are showing anti-maskers have sociopathic traits, are more likely to be narcissistic, and lack human empathy. These poor adapters are causing chaos both humanitarian and economical that will last decades and could have been avoided. Can AI help us stop this meaningless dissent for the next pandemic? Millions all over the world are experiencing difficulty sleeping or having extremely vivid COVID dreams. It is like we are watching society go through withdrawal from the emotional addiction to the myth of certainty, and it’s giving rise to fear… but it could be used to take stock of reality. We need to examine what we’ve swept under the rug and the sofa and stop pretending our self-induced climate disaster doesn’t deserve our full attention.

A lot of talk is going on about the great reset and the idea that in the future, ‘we will own nothing, and we will be happy.’ Some find this alarming, I find it comforting, but that’s the direction my life has been going for years. You can’t take paper and houses into heaven or back to the source, wherever that is. Instead of clutching our material pearls in alarm, I’m all for doing drastic changes in our lifestyles to help stabilize the environment and transition to green power. Of course, we need to make sure all stratas of society, from the uber-rich to the working poor, are doing their best, and it’s not a wealth grab by the 1%, but we need to do something that’s clear to me.

Johnson and Johnson single-dose vaccine approved for emergency use. This will provide 20m doses by the end of March. This is going to be helpful. I get a message to sign up for a COVID vaccine… this seems a good place to end a book that started with a virus, ending it with the promise of a jab and a better tomorrow. Sinopharm and Siovax, the Chinese ones, are traditional vaccines using attenuated (cut) virus DNA, similar to oxford and have similar efficacy numbers so I imagine it won’t be a problem for both countries to recognize both China is being really great giving them to many developing countries, and for free too. The vaccines seem to be effective against the new mutations also. UC San Francisco has been testing antibodies against the original strain and several key variants of concern. By diluting the antibodies until they were just barely able to neutralize the virus (stop it from spreading) then measuring how much more was needed to neutralize the newer and more infectious variants, we can learn some important information about its infectability. The amount of neutralizing antibodies needed for the California and South African strains were twice and six times as many, respectively. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll need six doses of vaccine, though, because the Pfizer, Moderna, Oxford, and Johnson and Johnson vaccines, and presumably, the Chinese ones (using a similar technique to the Oxford one), has been shown to be efficacious in preventing severe hospitalization and death. This is good news. The Biden Administration has fulfilled its promise of 100 million vaccines in 100 days with 48 days to spare. They’re aiming for 150 million now and might hit as high as 200 million. This is of course, fantastic. In Canada, my family is still waiting, but hopefully relief is on the way. There is evidence that long haulers, previously suffering lengthy and often unbearable ghostlike symptoms are recovering after being vaccinated. We race to the end with renewed skip to our step.

New projections from researchers in Washington are dire, suggesting that while the original strains could likely be eliminated through vaccination, the new South African and Brazillian, as well as the California and New York strains could evade immunity, requiring booster shots or the possibility of an enduring, endemic pandemic for years to come. The countries that have quickly put this to bed have done humanity a service, and those that have allowed the virus to mutate with disorganized strategies are going to cost the global economy trillions of dollars and millions of lives. Dr. Fauci suggested he suspects we might be wearing masks for years to come in many Western countries. Again, I am very lucky to be here in China, but I miss my family back in Canada. I hope I can see them again soon. As I’m writing, experts in Canada are predicting a third wave from early spikes in wastewater testing. Also, there is an announcement incoming from the CDC: people who have received the vaccine will be able to gather indoors without masks safely. I know we’re still studying the science of vaccination and transmission, and it’s meant to encourage us to get the jab, but it does have a glimmer of normality for life, socializing, and travel to it, and that makes me happy.

Ethan looks at me and smiles, with the peace and maintenance of a baby Buddha. If I lift 100 people out of poverty, I get a cookie, he says, but if I lift 1 million, I get a bath.

I’m turning 42 in a couple of months, a suitable age to have discovered the meaning of everything.

Somewhere, somewhen, the music grows quiet, and the crowd presses forward. The system has been reduced to one set of powered monitors, and even those are now producing only the ticking chatter of high-end treble. Whitecapped Kai has turned down the music 99.9% and is dancing to the riticky-ticky-tavy rhythm, as those in the front marvel at the ludicrousity, and those at the back wonder if there’s something wrong…everything is so quiet, and the lights dim to near blackness. A perfect moment of contemplation. With a boom, the main system blasts back into action, shaking the warehouse with exuberant energy, and the lasers blast a cosmic pattern across the ceiling as thousands of sweaty bodies swing back into frenetic motion.

Someone named Pandy sprays Kai with water and yanks off his top hat. He’s wearing another one, and the bass is very loud. Everyone gets tacos.

He mouths the words, “if wishes were fishes, there’d be oceans of dreams,” and in a flash of inspiration, he realizes it’s the intention that changes everything. When they became free of fear, they could face the shadow figures with their own lumination. The problems we face grow when we turn away but melt under our focussed gaze. We are powerful beings of light.

A Cephalopod, with some celebration, passed a cognitive test designed for human children. We mustn’t underestimate animal intelligence. “Cuttlefish in the present study were all able to wait for the better reward and tolerated delays for up to 50–130 seconds, which is comparable to what we see in large-brained vertebrates such as chimpanzees crows, and parrots,” Schnell said. It’s a fascinating example of how very species can express a form of consciousness in similar behaviors and demonstrate previously thought of as human-level cognitive abilities.

Unlike Darwin, Lamarck believed that living things evolved continuously upward, from dead matter, through simple to more complex forms, toward human “perfection.” Species didn’t die out in extinctions, Lamarck claimed; instead, they changed into other species. Dr. Bruce Lipton taught me this from his study in cloning stem cells. Lamarck, not Darwin, was right; it’s the environment that shapes our consciousness. Our skin is the nervous system that adapts and mutates. Indigenous people believed we were supposed to maintain the garden; Descartes and Darwin believed we were separate, that it was in the genes and that we were the boss by destiny and we are ruining the garden; it’s not working out, and we’re facing the sixth mass extinction of life if we don’t do something drastic.

The universe is immaterial. It’s mental and spiritual. Live and enjoy. I read this line in the UK’s most distinguished science journal, Nature magazine, in a thrilling article about quantum physics. When it comes down to it… We are consciousness in virtual reality suits, experiencing our own individual growth based on the sum of our experience, a two-way broadcast from and back to the source, engaging and fine-tuning itself, updating and improving the experience.

I hold Ben Ben and Hachoo in my lap, as some of the young students are a bit scared of dogs, no matter how fluffy and cute they are. I hold them, rubbing their little faces. This moment is perfect. They will get old, and they will be gone. I will get old, and I will go too. One day even baby Ethan will be an old grandpa, and then he’ll be gone too, but for now, we’re here, and we love it. This is what matters, and it’s worth fighting for.

So here I am, mainly in the moment, mostly at peace and not thinking too much. Year of the Rat was a year that required cunning and adaptability, so I gave it my best. Year of the Ox demands hard work and a strong methodology, so for me, that means spending time here in the present, at peace with my life and my choices, generally feeling pretty optimistic about the future, grateful for all the wonderful memories of the past but happy to keep my eye on the horizon. 

“Don’t just say you have read books. Show that through them you have learned to think better, to be a more discriminating and reflective person.” — Epictetus.

So, as most stories go, everyone died in the end, some having lived a single life, others shedding their skin and having consumed libraries full of lives. Some even knew why they’d lived, which they felt was fairly important. 

If I can make one suggestion, focus on your own life and happiness in your surroundings, with the people, you’ve got.

Log off, turn off and tune in to what is around you.

And that’s all she wrote.

***

Final thought:

Tanzanian President John Magufuli, who denied the COVID pandemic was real and just the flu and could be wished and prayed away, died at 61 of heart complications after fighting COVID for weeks in the hospital. On TV, GOP Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky fails to understand what works in vitro (in a tube) might not work in vivo (in the body) and tries to gotcha Dr. Fauci into admitting masks are ‘political theater’ because he doesn’t understand that someone with antibodies to the wild type of SARSCOV2 can catch the South African variant as easily as if they’d never had COVID, and, that most people in the world have still not caught the virus at all. It’s painful to see such science ignorance at the highest levels of leadership. Get out of the way and let the experts do their jobs. People need to stop being so selfish, too, and saying a vaccine is their choice. Go live by yourself in the forest then. If you live in society, you need to work together, and it’s not about what society can do for you, but what you can do for society; your obligations are more important than your rights, especially when your rights hurt the greater good. Eight women, Asian-Americans were gunned down in an Atlanta-area massage parlor two days ago. Asian hate, due to coronavirus misinformation from Trump and many other conservatives, with no answers of their own and only thinking to deflect the blame, is at an all-time high in some western countries. We have to come together to #StopAsianHate. After a lifetime of numbing my empathetic sensitivities to cope with the onslaught of emotions and sensations, Shaolin is helping me to let down my guard, and feel again, to be slow and careful, romantic and sweet, and it feels like great progress. I pray we learn to look inward and work together, instead of lashing out against each other, if we want to make it to 2050 as a human race. It is my dream, and one, I hope, we share. A year ago, I premembered a feeling and wrote a tweet, March 15, 2020, for March 15, 2021, a bit of a personal lighthouse for me to aim for, when I started working with other writers and bloggers, curating them to tell their own pandemic stories and write their own diaries, some of which I shared with you. It was this: My favorite part of working with collaborators on ‘The Lighthouse’ was reminding them all that during a difficult time, that they are the protagonists of their story, that in the myriad of options, they strove to tell a good one, and that they have agency. Remember, that you, too, are the protagonist of your story, and act accordingly, and with agency. It’s your life, after all.

As of the last few weeks, China has had zero new community cases, a mighty feat for a country of 1.5 billion people. We have no wave two hot zones, and people are traveling again. I might hit the beach, soon. We’ve worked hard, and I think we’ve earned it. I reach out to my friend on WeChat who was the principal at Sanya Foreign Language School, to see if he wants to have a coffee when I make it over. It turns out, he’s already moved on, and they’ve had complete staff turnovers two or three times in the last couple of years.  It strikes me that as satisfying as a new beginning can be, building something lasting is the real triumph, and the maintenance I’ve learned to invest as I finish seven years at one school and six with my lovely wife means a lot. The crew you choose to sail the rocky shores is important, you have to learn to trust each other, and withstand the frequent storms, as well as enjoy the placid and relaxing days too. For most of my life I have been strong and proud, quick to anger when disrespected, but Shaolin has taught me there is a virtue in unlimited patience, and not to rise to every provocation and occasion, but rather dig deep within myself for perpetual balance. It’s made me a better teacher, and a decent husband. I am far from perfect, but every year I’m a little better. Some times we strain for the comfort of a native speaker as language fails, but this is also good practice. We do our best, and as I navigate China, often confused by my poor language skills, I get a lot of practice with being confused and being ok with that. I get home, after a long day of work, and want to play video games and check social media but Shaolin keeps me in the moment, asking me to help her plant a tree. I’m reminded of my old Root Sellers song, and Dash’s lyrics, “dig the planet, get your hands in the dirt,” and I do; feeling happiness to do something nice with her. She’s patient when I stop to write it down. We do our best. Resilience and perseverance mean everything to me, and I’ve come a long way, baby. I’ve been asked to take a vaccine on camera to support global vaccination. I’ve said yes.

Jorah Kai
March 20, 2021

Kai has been writing about the pandemic since January 20, 2020, on CTV News and iChongqing. His first pandemic diary is available on Amazon. He’s currently writing another nonfiction book about the changing post-pandemic landscape, and it’s called Year of the Rat, and several fictional novels. You can read more about them here.

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