It is Christmas, but …

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Celebrating Christmas in Covid-19 period by wuestenigel. | Photo via Creative Commons 2.0

I have a sore throat, feel tired, and not my usual self. If I have been going out of the house, I would be a bit apprehensive if I have contracted Covid-19. But quarantine for seniors has been quite strict at home – orders of the children.

Too much work. I have strained myself with too much work, not according to what I have been used to, but then I was not in my 70s when I would work even harder. And it is not too much time before the computer or the television because I had done well with that daily activity for several months beginning with the pandemic.

Zoom. Zoom conducting meetings, Zoom speaking a lot. Strained my vocal cords. Too little sleep the last two months, too. A septuagenarian in denial, it seems, trying to do something that maybe a more youthful person should be doing.

It is Christmas. Despite COVID-19, it is Christmas. Admittedly, it is still a slow Christmas but the Christmas lights are starting to go up. The pandemic has been a terrible wet blanket. It has killed thousands, infected hundreds of thousands, and has scared a hundred million Filipinos. But Christmas is Christmas. We may not celebrate it like before but we will celebrate it.

“It is Christmas. Despite COVID-19, it is Christmas. Admittedly, it is still a slow Christmas but the Christmas lights are starting to go up. The pandemic has been a terrible wet blanket.”

Even at my age, Christmas brings our memories of my youth, happy memories, indelible memories. I am not in my 70s, I am a young boy in eager anticipation of a joyous season. No class, plenty of cousins to play with in several houses, the choice foods we do not get to eat often during the year, and the Christmas tree. Oh, the Christmas tree, and the Christmas gifts.

I would be more like floating in the air around this time if I were still that young boy entering into the Christmas season. I am feeling more positive, but far more solemn than before. It is the pandemic and it is more than the pandemic. There is a grim reality out there that effectively counters the traditional Christmas spirit. I want to shake it off but I cannot.

Tonight, feeling tired a bit weak, I will give in to that solemn mood. I will not shove it away just to feel lighter and more positive. I will not because I might shove away the real reason my spirit is heavy and unable, yet, to simply go with the flow of Christmas. I would like to imagine that all is okay but it is not. And before I sleep tonight, I will carry that heaviness with me. In sympathy.

Tonight, being a bit out of sorts with my sore throat and tired body, I am ashamed for pitying myself a little. I take my troubles and put them beside the pain of tens of millions of Filipinos who will sleep not only tired but hungry and afraid. I will not set aside the knowledge that 31% of Filipinos are experiencing hunger, some moderately or sometimes, some extremely or often. Not tonight. Tonight, I want to be one with their pain.

“When our lives are so different, when I have more than enough and see my family unthreatened by a lack of food or opportunity, it is easy to forget. It is easy to grab at every chance to be happy and forget the cares of the world.”

Naturally, I will wake up tomorrow with a clear memory and a stronger resolve to remember they will wake up either hungry or afraid to be hungry. I am no masochist, but I do not want to be numb to their plight either. When our lives are so different, when I have more than enough and see my family unthreatened by a lack of food or opportunity, it is easy to forget. It is easy to grab at every chance to be happy and forget the cares of the world.

I have done that, not only many times but for many years, intermittently. I have pursued my dreams and tried to keep my family warm and safe, even full of all options I could help provide. But that reality of poverty and hunger has been a relentless stalker in my older years. I ran and outrun it, but never for long.

Have I done enough for those born into poverty and cursed with a harsh inheritance not of their doing/ And then have that cruel inheritance thrown at them as if poverty and consequences were their fault? Have I done enough so I can enjoy the fruits of my own more fortunate circumstances, the rewards of availing of opportunity or even privileges? I carry no guilt for my station in life. But why does the pitiful station of their lives disturb me?

Funny, earlier in the day, while in a Zoom conference with over one hundred fifty participants, all one in spirit and sympathy for the hungry, the closing prayer was, in fact, for life or for the Lord to precisely disturb us. And without thinking much about it, I had said that same prayer many times in my life. Maybe, I should not wonder why I am bothered. Maybe, someone heard my prayer.

“I am no saint, not even close to being pious. Prayer is always there because thinking about what I can do to better myself and how to help others more is what prayer is to me. If I am not disturbed by the cry of the poor or the hungry, I would squeeze more happiness for life. I am no martyr.”

If I cannot shake off this solemn and heavy reality, then I can try to shake off my sore throat and tired body instead. I need to wake up more fit and sprite to meet the demands of tomorrow. The first demand is to remember the hungry. The second demand is to ease their pain and fear. That is more than enough to stimulate both the clarity of mind and the creativity of the heart. Every day, those who carry the mission to feed the hungry are challenged to do more, to imagine more, and to accomplish more.

I am no saint, not even close to being pious. Prayer is always there because thinking about what I can do to better myself and how to help others more is what prayer is to me. If I am not disturbed by the cry of the poor or the hungry, I would squeeze more happiness for life. I am no martyr.

Mine is only a simple wish. I wish food for the hungry, relief for the impoverished, and the joy of Christmas to fill their lives.

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