A pause, a deep breath before 2021.
2020 was the year I had been dreading to happen.
Who would have imagined, even, that a global pandemic would happen, and change our lives so abruptly?
It was not even in the picture. Not even remotely in the list of the things that I had been worrying about. Water shortage. Rising gas prices. Inflation. The Taal eruption. The Big One. The Kaliwa Dam construction. The creeping China takeover. The non-renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise. The Philippine state of affairs, in general. My parents’ fragile health.
For three years in a row, we had been spending Christmas or New Year’s Day in the hospital, thinking it would be our last with our Dad.
But 2020 finally brought it about, imposed it, even, with such conviction and finality.
It started badly enough. On March 15, 2020, I burned my hand, from knuckles to wrist.
A day after the start of the lockdown, I had a most horrifying mishap with the pressure cooker. I had been boiling some beef for freezing later in preparation of the lockdown. At the time, we didn’t know how long we were going to be cut off from the usual services, so I thought that I will precook some meat for thawing in the subsequent days, to make efficient use of my supply of gas.
It turned out that it was a foreshadowing of the things to come.
The combined lockdown and strict protocols forced Dad to be confined in the hospital alone. My sister who drove him to the hospital, and his nurse who stayed with him the first night because my 83-year-old mom was not allowed to go with them, were told to leave him on the second day, on account of his pneumonia which automatically made him a candidate for covid; by the fourth day, a day after his negative covid results came out, he was gone.
In the three years we had spent the Christmas holidays in the hospital, his room was always filled with us—Mommy, my sister and brothers, his daughters-in-law, his grandsons. My cousins and their spouses and children were always sure to visit, too, as well as his closest friends. It seemed that, despite having received the final sacraments when he had a close call 3 years ago, he still had not yet planned to go. Mommy says that whenever people asked him how old he was, he always said he was 84. Mommy found it weird he said that when he was really just 83, and only now, she said it made sense, he had planned to live at least, up to his 84th birthday.
On hindsight, perhaps the pandemic offered him a chance to spend time alone to quietly and mindfully prepare for his journey. He told me that he was already ready to go, even as early as three years ago when he was hospitalized for sepsis (this was before he had his hemodialysis sessions). But even as he said so, I imagine it was difficult for him to conceive of his departure from this earth, while looking at the details of the house he himself built. He must have worried about leaving Mommy. He must have been sad at the thought of missing out on family trips and foodie adventures, and missing his grandchildren’s milestones.
And hardly had we even recovered from grieving when the House of Representatives finally revoked ABS CBN’s request for franchise renewal after several weeks of hearings. Soon enough, A and most of his coworkers were retrenched, joining the millions displaced by the pandemic.
It wasn’t as if we had not known that that day would come. It was just that we had been optimistic; surely the House of Representatives would consider that employees who will be displaced and the businesses that will be affected by the closure. A and I had been discussing it for at least two years. But the House of Representatives was apparently more vile and indifferent than we had thought. Just like that, my husband lost his job at a company he loved, and a place he thought he will work for till retirement. His was not a unique story. Some of his coworkers had invested even more years in the company than him.
It didn’t help at all that all my freelance projects that were lined up, had one by one been called off. The pandemic brought with it so much uncertainty and feeling of confusion and hopelessness—all plans had to be put off or modified, if not cancelled entirely.
Between A and I, we have had severe financial and career setbacks; we were not new to them, but us both, at the same time? And now that we have Anton, and mortgage to pay? We felt so helpless. And even Anton was aware that Daddy and Mommy were feeling afraid.
Though neither of us blamed each other for our financial situation, the atmosphere at home, aggravated by our self-imposed lockdown despite the GCQ, was tense and highly charged, as if we were waiting for a fuse to blow up big time in our faces.
Sometimes solutions to problems can come from the most unexpected of places, and they turn out to be even better than whatever you had imagined or wished for. Happily, I got projects from new clients, but they were no match for the job A was able to snag, which came with a lot of wonderful benefits we didn’t even know we wanted. Suddenly we had a turnaround, which could not have come at a better time, and couldn’t have happened if all the events leading up to it hadn’t happened.
In Buddhist philosophy, the ultimate reality of all things is sunyata, or voidness. It is when you feel most empty, and undifferentiated with all the things around you—liberated from false notions of being—that you feel most aware and attentive and open to possibilities.
If it was any indication, even my son had reached this state of emptiness, of resignation. During Ulysses the floods in our subdivision was knee-deep. We hauled books and other important things upstairs. We made the decision to leave things where they were, those which we can repair or buy again or do without. We only had a few hours to decide as the waters rose. Fortunately, the rains stopped and the flood stopped rising a couple of inches at our doorstep.
We were fortunately spared and, consequently, I felt obliged to share a little hope and reassurance, gleaned from lessons learned from Ondoy, that things will get better. But words failed me. It was 14-year-old Anton, who was only 2 1/2 when Ondoy happened in 2009, who was able to put into words what I wanted to say “There can only be better days, after every storm.”
We all had experienced sunyata in varying degrees in 2020, as most of us witnessed how abruptly life can change; we’d seen how even the best-laid plans can go askew. We realize how fleeting life is—how illusory, and how our concerns, so petty. That we are all powerless, seems to be the humbling message 2020 had for humankind. Humans have become so conceited and egoistic, and perhaps this was the cause of our downfall. And with this powerlessness came the fear for the unknown.
2020 gave me a paradigm shift: what if, instead of fearing the unknown, we embrace it, and harness it instead to do something different, unexpected, more daring than we’ve ever done before? What if we took 2020 as a chance to question past choices, revisit old passions, pursue previously unchartered territory?