For three weeks, I’ve started each day in the same way.

I wake up at 6:30 a.m. and read in bed, then journal. Around 7 a.m., my girlfriend and I get out of bed, push the coffee table aside, and unroll yoga mats in front of the television. We turn on the screen and begin to practice. Our digital teacher guides us through the asanas.

An hour later, we separate. She eats breakfast while I check email. And then we go to work.

Going to work means that I sit at a desk near the window of our studio apartment and she sits at the coffee table, 10 feet away. I plan and record lessons for students, while she attends video conferences and makes phone calls. I grade essays, while she answers emails.

Sterling Higa has developed a work-from-home routine that includes social distancing from his girlfriend who is also working from home. Courtesy: Sterling Higa

During work hours, I have a mindfulness bell set to ring every 15 minutes. When it dings, I leave my chair for a set of push-ups, squats, jumping jacks or pull-ups.

This cycle continues until noon, when she eats lunch and I eat my first meal of the day.

In the early afternoon, we sometimes take a break for meditation. On good days, we’re finished with work by 4 p.m. I read and write in bed while she sews or paints. We take a walk around the neighborhood at dusk, careful to avoid others on the sidewalk. We cook dinner and watch an hour of television. Then we settle into bed with our books.

On weekends, we take long walks for coffee. Last Saturday, we walked downtown, to Ali‘i Coffee. On Sunday, we walked to Kona Coffee Purveyors in Waikiki. These outings serve as coda to the repetitive rhythm of our week.

Without The Monastery

Before the pandemic, I sometimes dreamed of quitting my job and joining a monastery. I’m temperamentally suited to the well-ordered life of a Benedictine monk or Zen priest. The quiet and solitude is alluring.

Now I have a taste of that confined and structured life. Yet I’m still surrounded by the noise and chaos of a city, and during my daily walks, I’ve noticed an increase in disorder.

Hand sanitizer stations stand in the building lobby. Nervous residents wring their hands while waiting to take the elevator alone.

Outside, beggars are more aggressive. With restaurants closed and few pedestrians out, food and money are scarce. Some look hungry, others look mean.

A month ago, I wasn’t worried about coronavirus. Now I worry for neighbors, friends and family.

Like Like Drive Inn has boarded up its windows, as have other shops and restaurants.

There are more homeless people sleeping on concrete than ever before. Parks are closed, but sidewalks are open. Police can’t roust them; there’s no safe shelter.

At home, I hear neighbors fighting through the wall. They’re both unemployed and don’t know how they’re going to make rent next month. Tension is high; tempers are hot.

Fortunate, For Now

My girlfriend and I are the lucky ones. Our jobs are stable for at least a few months. Others, like our neighbors, are already out of work.

As I write this, 170,000 Hawaii residents have applied for unemployment, roughly one in four working adults. The end of April is a few weeks away, and there’s no guarantee the city and state will be ready to welcome tourists or relax the stay-at-home, work-from-home order. How many people will be unemployed on the first of May? If we can’t resume business, how many by June?

A month ago, I wasn’t worried about coronavirus. There was work to be done, and I was too busy preparing to experience anxiety or fear.

Now I worry for neighbors, friends and family. I support the restaurants that employ my friends. I donate blood. I share what I can.

Sterling Higa starts each day that he’s abiding by stay-at-home orders with yoga in his living room. Courtesy: Sterling Higa

My university students are stressed and anxious, struggling to make sense of this event. They don’t recall the terror of Sept. 11, 2001 and the pause in air travel afterward. They were in elementary school during the last recession. Academic history has become real, and they find themselves alive in a period that scholars will summarize for future textbooks.

Some students will emerge into a depressed job market, robbed of opportunity. Others will graduate later, perhaps enjoying an economic recovery. All will be indelibly stamped by this moment, their generation marked by pandemic in the way others were marked by war or famine.

Each day starts the same. I wake up, practice yoga and go to work. I used to dream of living in a monastery, but no longer. Uncertainty cannot be removed from life, and stillness is elusive. As days become routine, history waits to wake us from slumber. The earth moves slowly underfoot, then quakes.

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