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100 days of learning

The past 100 days might have felt like 100 years of solitude for some. The distortion of time, when yesterday, today, and tomorrow seem to merge into one long unending period, could feel like “every day is the same.” In no hurry to go anywhere and with no deadline to hit, people may have felt 100 days just going by in a zap, without any distinctive recollection.

I quite enjoyed my 100 days. How did I make my time count?

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“Work-from-home” is music to my ears. No longer having to tolerate the traffic, I became best partners with Zoom to do my work. I did all my professorial tasks of guiding my students to completing their course requirements, checking their work, and computing and submitting their grades to the university with ease, thanks to my conscientious students. Zoom also allowed me to attend departmental meetings, supervise thesis defenses, advise others in the pipeline — all sans makeup and in my comfortable lounge wear.

Other than my professional work, I invested my 100 days in indulging in what I enjoy the most: learning — from books, music, films, and volunteer work.

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I cherished the time for some serious reading: Malcolm Muggeridge, Walter Brueggemann, N.T. Wright, Mike Aquilina, and David Brooks. I also downloaded some 50 academic journal articles and took down detailed notes from research studies on music therapy, anxiety disorder, and dementia. These would come in handy for a post-retirement career.

In between heavy reading, I did a lot of Bach choral singing — singing along with some of the best a capella choirs in the world on YouTube, with scores provided. Thanks to GeruBach, and Bach’s famous masses and 6 motets in their glorious Latin and German verses, I had a foretaste of heaven. I also found tremendous pleasure watching black-and-white video clips of Leonard Bernstein, Yo-Yo Ma (at 7 years of age), and Glenn Gould (in his usual eccentric self), and the polymath John Eliot Gardiner. Taking a break from Baroque, I would switch to singing Bruckner, Faure, and Poulenc. Uplifting!

Not a Netflix binge-watcher, I did select some meaningful films to end the day: “The Man Who Knew Infinity,” the story of the Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, with Dev Patel and Jeremy Irons in the cast—a reminder that racism is not new; “Ocean Heaven,” a Chinese film with martial arts actor Jet Li playing a terminally ill father with limited time to prepare his not-so-young autistic son to survive. Another great Korean drama series was the 16-episode “Dear My Friends,” about a group of friends in their twilight years, which would bring you tears and laughter at the same time. Strong women, strong friendships!

Serving along with the church, I have accepted requests for online preaching, devotionals, counseling, interview, and participation in five virtual choir projects. I am also compiling the lyrics for a 50-song hymnal that would be useful for those who want to sing along on YouTube.

People say they are in limbo—unable to plan ahead or to execute previous plans. Muggeridge, however, would say that we are awakening from limbo. Yes, life is not easy; it is not fair. Disease and death are just around the corner and we are not in control. For a long time, we have hidden behind busyness and distractions to face the fragility of life. Today, it is right in front of us.

Even then, the real test is whether we shall receive a grade of Pass or Fail in the lessons on how to sustain strong mental health. For me, the simple secret has been the 5 S’s: Structure, Solitude, Sleep, Song, and Support. All possible because of Hope. Hope is real. May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace.

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Grace Shangkuan Koo, Ph.D. is a professor of Educational Psychology at the University of the Philippines where she teaches “Affective Learning,” among others. Author of seven books, she penned “Guarding Your Heart and Mind” (2014) and “In the Triumph Song of Life: Turning Adversity to Strength” (2019).

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