Winston C. Pagador

© Copyright 2020 by Winston C. Pagador


Drawing of Covid 19 virus.

       Few days after the mandatory home quarantine was imposed, I found out that a friend died, not of the “virus” but of a previous illness she was long suffering. I forwarded the sad news to our common friend and he bluntly expressed his disappointment that she died at this time of uncertainty. As if death should have cautioned on the side of magnanimity. As if the time of death mattered more than the reverence of the dead. Why she died in this ghastly time, no one knows. Death being ghastly in itself. Perhaps, the least I could do was to visit her wake, to pay respect to her remains. But this seemed inconceivable, again, because of this ghastly time. While I could always sympathize with her through my thoughts and prayers, it felt weird and scary. Weird because while I display constant motility, I was suddenly restricted to go about my routine. Scary because I needed to gravitate the new reality of limitless me-time, the terrifying largeness of it all. I felt a wave of reluctance to participate in this sudden change that left me discombobulate and winded. Am I now imprisoned in an island that is myself? By not visiting her wake, I had become instantly guarded; not wanting to expose myself with the deadly virus which meant I wanted to live.

And so living, the continuation of it, is what this is all about. Have I been afflicted of that unexpected soaring greediness for life? And so, the question lurking somewhere is this: for what?

I did not remember a time when there was a community lockdown because of an infectious disease. I asked my aged parents and they also did not recall such instance. This must be ridiculously serious. The situation seemed unfamiliar — no recent template to take from, no precedent in its exact formation. And yet we are even polarized that desperate measures such as lockdown and self-quarantine and movement restrictions be imposed, at least temporarily, to flatten the curve, to beat the novel enemy. The enemy is, however, invisible to the naked eye, nowhere to be seen, incapable of visual estimation. While it has a name, it remains abstract albeit it has a universal power and reach. For the fanatics, they claim the near end of the world. For the pseudo-intellectuals, the virus connotes a revenge narrative; the battle of good versus evil, the annihilation of the goons, the doom of the wicked. The medical experts declare the whole situation a pandemic – as it occurs in a wide geographic area and it affects high population (the last known worse pandemic was the 1918 Spanish Flu – more than a century ago). The nation-states closed its national borders. The local government pursued mandatory self-quarantine and social distancing. The non-governmental organizations and influential individuals call for humanitarian action to ease the suffering of the people. A global catastrophe. It is all just a google search away. But what is this hullaballoo all about, really? What the heck is going on?

Pre-pandemic, I took pleasure in having a set of concrete self and societal imposed rules. Waking up, drink coffee, breakfast, work, lunch, work, dinner, exercise, read, write, sleep and other physical and psychological needs. Which means I was not used to anything without rules, without commotion, without rambunctiousness. While I sometimes crave to flee the busyness of the daily rigmarole of life, I nonetheless desire it in a different kind of circumstance. But this “new reality” is forcing me to stay put and eventually confront myself and the things that really matters. The travel writer, Pico Iyer, in one of his tweets, captured this spirit well: “Not moving around is the only way we can see what truly moves us.”

Consequently, the virus is now encroaching personal intimate spaces I never would have imagined before. Those that were deemed frivolous are now considered essentials and demand immediate attention. Sophisticated and worldly endeavors halted and deemed unnecessary.

The virus, in a tragic irony, has now become viral. It has turned into a household locution. The most talked about parasite. It has dramatically evolved from the domain of the sick to the turf of the well. And now, more than ever, it reminds us on the things we already know not only in the way we want to live, but ultimately the way we want to die. In a recent TV interview of one of the survivors, an actress shared what she mostly feared — the thought of being whisked away, cremated, without being seen by her family, if she did not survive. Gone, without a trace. Her dread was, of course, familiar and yet disturbing. Death, to her, unseen, would inflict so much pain to her family. And so there is a nagging notion I cannot quite shake — the fear that while death is ultimately inevitable, death without ceremony, without being seen, without being felt, is like never to have lived at all.

The virus has no feelings, but we do. Maybe we have to define the virus in terms of what it is not, at least in the perspective of human interaction and betterment, because unconsciously, we have become downright despicable in dealing with it. While the virus does not discriminate as it infect our health without regard to our race, age, sexual orientation, social status, we nevertheless discriminate and shun away not only those who have been “infected” but more so with the “front liners” being the most vulnerable while they render their utterly valuable services.

The virus has no worth, but we do. Who is worthy to live? and Who deserves to die? are two of the most pressing questions we faced. And yet, all the more, our net worth is being equated with human worth. There is perhaps no greater humiliation than succumbing to illicit means to quell hunger. There is no greater feeling of abomination than seeing the “haves” do nothing.

And just because the virus is not visible does not mean we have to. Our presence, our visibility, our kindness, our solidarity, with greater force and reason, are being summoned because if the virus means war, then we are the battlefield. If the virus is unfeeling and unsympathetic, then we are humanity — that shared agreement to keep going, that unspoken pact to keep fighting.

Winston C. Pagador, 31, is a Philippine lawyer from Glan, Sarangani Province. He currently lives in General Santos City.

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