Half the fun of getting things done, for me, is making plans; carrying it out, however, despite unforeseen and sudden changes in circumstances, is the trick. I don’t like detours, but as Murphy’s law warns, if anything can go wrong, it will.
That’s why I’m a better baker than a cook. I rely on tested recipes; I don’t leave anything to chance. That way, what comes out is consistently good; otherwise the whole effort, not to mention all the ingredients, would have gone to waste.
Whether in cooking or in life’s difficult situations, I reach out to experts, especially those who have been there and bear the scars of experience.
But who do I turn to in this time of pandemic, when the whole world seems to be in the dark, including the richest and most powerful nation in the world, the United States, our very own role model? I don’t know if anyone else noticed the similarity in leadership style in our two countries—but they are like twins in the unlikely physical ways Danny de Vito and Arnold Schwarzenegger are in the 1988 movie “Twins.”
In any case, both countries now share twin karmas, and aren’t doing well at all in this pandemic. We’re still groping, while two of our Asian neighbors, Vietnam and South Korea, New Zealand, and other European countries have succeeded in stemming the spread of the virus and returned to some kind of cautious normalcy.
As I see it, we might take a lot longer, and, if we get out of this at all, it would be on the strength of our prayers.
Off the table
How’s a planner like me going to cope when all plans are off the table indefinitely? Well, as a matter of habit, I, of course, rethink things through. I will begin by throwing away old plans, as those will never take flight, some of them literally, like our bucket list of travels.
Nature had been taking a beating before the pandemic, and, after just three months of lockdown, there seemed some improvement in the quality of air, the sky got back its color, the streets were relieved of a considerable weight of vehicles and people, all in all making a big difference in the quality of the environment.
Surely the world’s Creator is teaching us something.
On the surface, it’s easy to notice that we have brought more people into this world than we can provide for and thus have to suffer the consequences.
Families who share their shanty homes with six or more family members cannot be expected to observe social distancing. There are too many poor people, even in a place like Makati, where revenue resources are aplenty; surely, if anywhere, it’s where everyone can live above the poverty line.
For mutual benefit
Some pandemic lessons are simple and practical, but still for mutual benefit. The face mask should be worn out of consideration for others who might catch the virus from the infected, the unsuspecting ones in particular. We need to limit our comings and goings to essential activities. What we can do electronically we should. Many of us seniors, except to take in some sunshine, will be better off at home, even when we worship and pray.
We have to rethink the way we are educating our young. They have to be prepared for the world they will inherit, and it may not have much of the world we knew.
At the speed things are changing, what can we teach them except by example—and with love, which in its true quality never changes. We need to impart to them the sense of otherness—oneness with nature and other people. This pandemic could not be upon us other than for our own good; we need to believe that.
As I was finishing this column, two dear friends, Raq and Fred, unwittingly sent me the perfect muse—Isabel Allende, the multiawarded Chilean writer, who will be 78 in August. Her life and writings definitely bear the authoritative scars I look for. I took the liberty of translating from the original Spanish what I needed.
Ms Allende separates time between before, during and after the pandemic, when everything will have become lighter and clearer than it is today. But now, for the first time, we have all become aware that we are one with all of humanity, one family, at best.
What happens to one in Wuhan happens to everyone no matter where one is, all quarantined in various degrees. We cannot defend only ourselves and let the rest perish.
This pandemic has taught Ms Allende, as it should the rest of us, about priorities in life, and bring us to the same realization that she owned too much, more than she needed, but also that she could let go of her excesses; it has made her see inequality as the painful reality. There are those who pass the quarantine in the comfort of private yachts, while others in hunger and deprivation.
At 77, she knows that if she caught the virus, her chances of surviving are statistically small. But fear of death left her when her only daughter, Paula, 27, died of an inherited blood disease in her arms. She said it felt as transitory as when she first held her at birth. From then on she lost all sense of personal attachments and loss.
Ms Allende ends confidently, leaving in the able hands of creators—the artists, the scientists, the youth, as well as the women—the task of creating step by step the “new normal” for a different, more desirable world, which exists perhaps only in dreams, and to take us there.
In the meantime, she tells us wisely to enjoy what we have and live in the moment.