By Christina Garcia Frasco
Liloan, Cebu Mayor
FOR many of us, 2020 has been a year of loss. The distinctly contagious laughter of an uncle you will never hear again. The kind encouragement or words of advice you can now only imagine would have been said by family or a friend that has since passed on. The warmth of a hug replaced by an awkward wave from someone you love now standing at least one meter apart. The security of a job left precarious by the economic devastation the pandemic has left in its wake. The trip you never took, the graduation you never attended, the planned wedding or birthday bash you never had. The list goes on.
For many of us, 2020 has been a year to forget. The pangs of parting made more painful by the brevity of the health and safety protocol-laden goodbye. The nights fraught with anxiety and cold sweat not knowing whether you could continue to put warm food on your family’s table. The days of isolation and masked conversations so anathema to a lifetime defined by social interaction and physical affection.
So many of us are also still -- nearly a year into this -- in a state of disbelief. For how could any of us have predicted that life would change so drastically in the span of a year? That the norms, culture and traditions that define us could now also be so fatal to our very lives? Take handshakes, family reunions, dinner with friends, birthdays or fiestas, and even Holy Masses, for example. Each one an integral part of normal life. Each one now taboo in the new normal, that is, without the wearing of masks and social distancing.
Our children’s prolonged confinement in the four walls of our homes with only screens and devices and printed modules to replace the experience of “real school” is also a cause for growing concern. The lifelong effects of yearlong deprivation of social interaction with one’s peers is yet to be seen in the mental and emotional health of our children now sheltered from the outside world. Moreso the academic regression from detached educational systems further compounded by this situation that continues to place the Philippines squarely last in global testings on math and science.
Almost every day, at least one or all of my three children ask, “Mama, when Covid-19 is over, can we...(do this or that, go to this place, see our friends, cousins, etc)?” The list of things we have yet to do, places we have yet to go, and friends and family we have yet to see again, is ever growing. As is the concern if the world our children will have to grow up in will ever be the same again.
Will it ever be the same again? Perhaps not. Nor will we. Not only because of the void left in our collective memory of all that has been taken from us, and the opportunities and experiences lost, but also because of a collective shift in perspective. The things we thought were so ordinary we now value extraordinarily: the gift of life, the gift of family and friends, the opportunity to serve and to work, and to be part of a community. The mundane is made more meaningful because we now know the value of not being able to or not being allowed to do it on a regular basis.
The year lost in lockdowns was a year gained in time: time for ourselves and for our loved ones at home, time for that hobby we were too stressed to pursue and the books we were too tired to read or that series we were too tired to watch, time for the plants we were too preoccupied to propagate and friendships we were too busy to cultivate.
As we welcome the new year, I know in our hearts there is still longing, loss, and grief, and tears that have not been shed simply because none of us could afford to crumble in the year that needed each of us to fight for our very survival.
But as with each new day that dawns, with each new life that’s born, and each new flower that blooms, there is also always hope. Hope that healing will one day come and that life will have some sense of normalcy again, masks and social distancing notwithstanding.
Individually and collectively, the year that took so much from us also forged within us the clarity, strength and resilience that arms us with the daring to say when we welcome the new year or any other year: I survived. I have thrived. I have loved. And I will live. By God, and by God’s grace, I will live.