Friday, December 16, 2022



‘Christmask’ and other thoughts

 / 05:05 AM December 16, 2022

It has been all of three years. How time moved exceedingly slow during the three years of the COVID-19 pandemic that the world went through, that you and I endured and survived, but which millions did not. How the world stood still and was shuttered. Although not totally because there were the frenzied race to discover a vaccine, if not a cure, and those in the health care sector who were up on their feet day and night to attend to the sick, the dying, and the dead.

With the national electoral race providing surreal moments and a quickening pace, we cast caution to the wind, still with our protective masks on, to make our hopes within reach. Alas, for the many who braved the tsunami of lies, disinformation, trolls, and everything that money could make happen, it was not to be.

During this Advent season of looking back and prayerful waiting, I recalled all the longing that quivered with hope, dashed and flung to the ground. Our hopes in tatters? No. Venceremos.

With the year drawing to a close, I went over the pieces I wrote in this space and elsewhere in the last three years that were related to the COVID-19 pandemic. I was surprised to count 53 in all. No, they were not medical treatises for scientific journals, but commentaries and observations on what was going on in our daily lives and in the government that was supposed to care for the governed. They were about the heroes who quietly but bravely went about doing their sworn duty to serve and go even beyond what was expected of them. They were also about the heels, the antiheroes, the scoundrels who made hay while we were on lockdown and in fear.

Christmas week 2020 and the first week of 2021 could have been a quiet time for me to do anything within the imposed health protocols. Then I was assigned to write the banner story on the 2020 Filipino of the Year (FOTY) chosen by the Inquirer editors—the Filipino health care workers. The call did not allow room for refusal. Arrrgh! There goes my quiet vacay, I thought, but who was I to refuse the privilege? (But no privilege of a byline for this kind of piece that reflects the newspaper’s official choice.)

And then, another phone call—a separate piece, a side bar, on the essential workers who kept us alive, fed, moving, and sane—from the security guards to the food delivery guys to the law enforcers. Another arrrgh, but they, too, deserved the honor.

For the FOTY, there was the research department that provided a pile of information. I had to read up, think, and even meditate on the profound meaning of the story I was to write, face the computer, and let it all spill out. Words, images, thoughts, ideas, and whatever else crowd the mind, but writing, in the end, is a very solitary exercise.

A foreign church-related online magazine asked me to write a long feature on the community pantry begun by Ana Patricia Non that caught fire and inspired countless Filipinos to do the same. Non would later be voted the Inquirer’s 2021 FOTY, along with Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz. Non and those she inspired could have secluded themselves in the safety of their abodes, but did not. They thought outside the box and worked out concrete ways to help others.

Now, still with our masks on, we plod through this “Christmask” season in hopes that the mask—the reminder that the deadly virus is still with us and still claims lives—would soon be a thing of the past. Remember how that required extra layer of protection, the face shield, got in the way of our vision, voices, head movements, and already labored breathing caused by the masks? Thank heavens they are now in the landfills.

What we still have in many nooks and crannies of our homes are face masks used and unused, in a variety of colors and designs, and even with messages crying out to be read and heeded.

Christmas 2022 is the third Christmas that we find ourselves still being required to wear face masks in certain places. We hope we can shuck them soon like so many bad memories caused by those who ruled over us and who could have done better. The fancy, nondisposable ones I will keep to remind me of the anni horribiles that we survived.

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