I reflect on all of these issues because of all the conversation of returning to “business as normal”. When people say that, they mean what we have come to accept, in the last several years, as normal: filthy air, constant noise, and a daily death toll from road crashes.
I can breathe.
I don't mean to brag, in a time when so many people are fighting for air. Having had asthma most of my life, I am well aware of the panicked sensation of being unable to take a deep breath, of struggling to get enough oxygen in my lungs. It is terrifying.
For the last decade or so, my asthma has been well under control with a medication that I take daily in winter, every other day the rest of the year.
If I don't use it often enough, I wake up in the night struggling for breath. This year I had forgotten to cut back when winter ended so was still taking it daily until a couple of weeks ago.
I finally remembered to stop taking it, thinking I would go without for one day and return to my every other day regimen.
But then a funny thing happened. I checked my breathing: every day I was fine. It's been over two weeks now since I've used it and I'm breathing just fine.
Those who don't suffer from respiratory ailments may not have noticed how remarkably cleaner the air is in Dhaka these days.
After all, it's still dusty; what's missing is most of the motorized vehicles daily spewing exhaust into the air. What is harder to miss is how much quieter it is.
Or, conversely, how noisy the birds now are. Who knew that birds can make so much noise? I hardly ever noticed them before, because their cries and song were drowned in the constant blare of horns.
I haven't been keeping track of road crashes in Bangladesh, but I can only imagine that, as in other countries, there has been a dramatic decline.
I reflect on all of these issues because of all the conversation of returning to "business as normal". When people say that, they mean what we have come to accept, in the last several years, as normal: filthy air, constant noise, and a daily death toll from road crashes.
Of course, the current situation is not sustainable. Millions of people are suffering from the loss of livelihood. People whose homes are unsafe due to family violence are in a worse situation now than before.
But I can't help but reflect also on some of the positive changes we are experiencing, the return of things that we had forgotten can exist in a city, like cleaner air, a bit of peace and quiet, and time for our families.
Part of the crush that hospitals are facing in many countries at or near the peak in Covid-19 infections is because they need beds for people suffering from heart disease, strokes, and car crashes.
As air pollution goes up, so do admissions for asthma and other respiratory ailments.
In the United States, we also need beds for gunshot victims. All of those hospitalisations we accept as "business as usual".
We expect our cities to be polluted, our roads to be dangerous, and diseases related to pollution and an unhealthy lifestyle that is profitable for corporations to take us out at a young age.
We have even come to take for granted the extinction of other species and existential threats to life on this planet due to the climate crisis.
Perhaps, with a lot more time on our hands these days, we could pause and reflect on the meaning of these troubling but also enlightening times.
Are there aspects of the current situation that we might want to retain so that our children can learn that the sky is not always grey, that birds are noisy, and that human life takes precedence over making money?
It is worth considering how perhaps we could work towards creating a future that involves less mobility and more being present, where vacationing at home becomes a positive because we truly love where we live, and where taking deep breaths of clean air becomes as normal as, well, it always should have been.
The author is Executive Director, Institute of Wellbeing (Bangladesh)