Unbelievable. Straight out of a fiction book but way beyond sci-fi. Many today like to point out books that warned of a global virus, to individuals who warned the world of epidemics and pandemics, and to movies of the same genre. But no one really caught it well enough to describe what is happening today, how all facets of human and societal life are affected, and the depth of personal, community and international drama. Do not wait for World War III. It is here.
It is not as though man had not thought of waging war at another, in more insidious and evil manner – like using chemicals, like using germs. But all that perverted imagination and covert experiments, plus attempted applications during many wars, are nothing yet to the kind of physical and psychological impact of the Wuhan virus later termed Covid19. And, apparently, despite the conspiracy theories now circling the Internet, the present pandemic was not intentionally created and propagated by any group or any country. However, there is a possibility, and this will be discussed in the years to come, that human abuse of the environment and the natural order could be the unwitting culprit.
As a keen observer of the emerging calamity since I picked up the first reports of a yet unnamed virus that was infecting people in Wuhan, China, I am now overwhelmed with the details of the continuing crisis. It is not my disrupted lifestyle I speak of. I am categorized as a senior, an elderly, and that is true because I do not have the physical agility of earlier decades. Being in a quarantined community means less adjustments for senior citizens who have not been as mobile as they would like to be. Rather, I speak of the overflow of both drama, individual and collective, the emerging disruption of society’s lifestyle (it will still intensify), and the wealth of lessons that life itself, using a virus, is teaching mankind.
I do not have to look far. Weeks ago, in anticipation of a lockdown that I thought was inevitable, I called for a family meeting to precisely discuss the ways and means we can adopt when mass quarantine would be imposed. After all, the Wuhan virus was already a consistent topic among family and friends since January. I could almost feel the movement of the virus coming closer to the Philippines. In early February, we canceled our booked family trip to Hong Kong, even before our airline was imagining it would have to eventually allow free rebooking. The earliest foreign travel I could think of was December or ten months later.
During our family gathering last month, we assessed our home and work situations as we are a number of families staying in one compound. From the beginning, we knew we were not planning for direct family members but all who lived in the same compound. It was clear that the health, or sickness, of on, would have major repercussions on all of us. The planning, therefore, placed the collective wellbeing ahead that of the individual. If there is a Pilipino term for it, I think damayan is the perfect word. The circumstance more powerful than us forced the cultural trait of bayanihan high up again in the totem pole, a slot it had long lost to lesser values.
Anticipating a lockdown as what we had been reading about in many Chinese cities, we had to decide how many and what amenities we could afford to sustain. It was an opportunity to simplify, to cut employment and household expenses. But it also an opportunity to awaken and strengthen what we have idealized as a priority value and character of the Filipino – our togetherness. We explained as much as we could to all the household staff of the different families in the compound, especially what quarantines and lockdowns meant to them and their own respective families. In the end, we arrived at the same decision – to stay together.
Homeowner or household staff – what’s the difference? A lot. Public official or ordinary citizen – what’s the difference? A lot. Capitalist or labor – what’s the difference? A lot. But to the Covid19, what’s the difference between these groups? Nothing.
Lesson # 1, there is no difference in rank, money, or social status as far as the virus is concerned. Whenever did this happen in our lifetime when the huge gaps that separate people were suddenly bridged, not in theory or philosophy, not in the vaunted spiritual adage of every human being equal in worth and dignity, but as a growing reality forced on everybody by a virus. Never had democracy a more effective leveling tool, speaking of politics, and the same with religion in teaching about equality before the eyes of creation.
Lesson # 1 will need more time for gestation. After all, it is a profound lesson and the entitled in the world cannot easily give up their advantage. That means the virus has to linger longer, kill more people, cripple more economies, and disrupt more leaderships. But it has begun against the will of all, and the will of all cannot just stop it either. A momentum stronger than our collective will is building up and, like the virus, it must run its course. Many can only wish that its present goal is only to wake us up, not to tear us down.
Our society, as in most others, has been defined by economic and social categories. We go out of our way to make ourselves different from the rest, mostly to earn more and/or to appease the needs of our egos. Unfortunately, that direction has terribly weakened us as a people that had derived our native strength from a deep sense of belonging. That sense of belonging has become like a thin thread, ready to snap. Until Covid19 and Lesson # 1.
The need for community quarantine came from our leaders convinced by experts and the experience of nations. Soon, it will come from our own understanding.