The God of small things

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star ) – April 26, 2020 – 12:00am
The big story is still COVID-19. Practically 80 percent of all content in regular and social media is still about the latest updates on deaths, recoveries and new infections. Add the conspiracy theories, fake news and funny memes about COVID-19. That is what people are preoccupied with.

I notice that I have begun to turn off and drop out of the obsession, hysteria and preoccupation with this awful disease. I think I know enough about it. I have probably read too much and know a lot more than most people. And I am tired of being brought into a constant state of fear and being reminded to be vigilant daily. I have decided to ignore a lot of the articles passed on by friends, relatives especially those about the latest, newest concoctions to prevent or cure this disease.

Enough. No more.

People are stuck in their homes paranoid and bored. I think it was Marshal McLuhan, philosopher and ’60s media guru, who said that the price for eternal vigilance is boredom. He is absolutely correct.

Lately, I have started to become more interested in the little human stories I come across on social media about people I don’t even know.

I remember just weeks ago, I used to offer my condolences to the families of people who have died of COVID-19 perhaps once every three days or so on Facebook. Now I come across such stories so often that I actually offer my condolences a few times a day now. When I come across calls for prayer on Facebook, I actually answer back to let them now I am praying for them. At the end of the day when I say my prayers, the list of people I am praying for has become longer and longer.

One story that really affected me was about a young doctor from UST who got COVID-19. She was a young front liner. About 2 weeks ago, when the post first came out calling out for prayers, it seemed like she was a goner by the way they described her situation. She was so weak, and was intubated. Thousands of people must have read the call for prayers. I was one of them. I reposted her story on Facebook, Twitter and a few groups on Viber. The response was overwhelming.

Five days ago, her parents announced on FB that she had turned the corner and was being transferred to a regular room away from those who were still fighting for their lives in ICU.

I was also touched by pictures, photos and personal observations from ordinary people who have posted before-and-after shots of cities, countrysides, Manila Bay, rivers, etc — all showing palpable signs of environmental recovery. The air seems much cleaner. The absence of smog now allows people to see monuments and landmarks from far away, things that had stopped being visible decades ago.

I also notice people posting messages during their birthdays that decidedly have a more spiritual message of gratitude than the usual materialistic wishes.

In our own neighborhood, people have been sharing information on where to get vegetables, meats, juices, fruits, masks and other protective gear. Some kindly neighbors have even offered to give food to anyone who is unable to eat. Our neighborhood has called for idle hands to help pack goods (while observing social distancing and wearing masks) for the few communities of informal settlers near us. Things have changed. All of a sudden, you realise the abundance of good in the world.

My small stories go something like this: I go out to the garden daily and notice the minute changes Lydia’s plants are undergoing. I check on our big Lanka tree with seven hanging fruits. I walk on the grass without slippers to feel connected to the earth while I expose myself under the sun for a few minutes to get my daily dose of vitamin D.

As I do all these, I find myself being so thankful for everything around me.

I am once again sitting in meditation daily as I join dozens, if not thousands, of people around the world who are doing the same thing. We check in online when we start, and check out when we end. I also belong to many Viber groups where I catch up with friends and family daily, and so I still feel a sense of community, even in my isolation.

One thing I do to keep sane is to ask myself the moment I wake up what my goals for the day are. I am talking about specific things I need to do. They do not have to be many. What is important is to get them done to prevent myself from drifting day to day without purpose. Because of this, I have been able to establish some routine that help keeps me sane.

I have made exercise an important goal every other day. Not only do I feel strong, I feel good afterward with all these endorphins swimming around in my body. It is a struggle against laziness that I must overcome all the time. It makes me feel powerful to declare something and to actually do it. I have also become some sort of gym instructor to my kasambahays. I lead daily to exercise and help them keep fit and busy. Another thing we do every day is pray the rosary promptly at 6 p.m.

The rest of the time, I play the piano or guitar and try to learn something new, or even try to write new songs. I also sing a few songs a day to keep me in performance shape. I try to minimise my time on social media and have been successful.

This enhanced quarantine has made me more aware of the little stories that are happening to people everywhere, including my own little stories.

If you have a religious bent, you probably see the hand of God playing throughout the events all over the world. Right now, my life is in micro mode: I am more focused these days on how the God of small things inspires people to do the tiny but important chore of staying alive and sane.

How things are changing right now

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star  April 5, 2020 – 12:00am

Indeed, the world is changing because of the COVID-19 virus. This is the growing observation and conclusion of many. There is fear and sadness and suffering all around. And people expect things to get even worse from this point until they get better. When we as a species get over this, I feel things will not go back to how they were. We are changing right now and, yes, the world is, too. We may be learning a few good things along the way.

On a personal level, here is what I am experiencing.

Because of fear of catching COVID, many families are now showing concern for the state of health of everyone in their household, including their kasambahays. People are checking on each other’s health daily. I have started giving vitamins to my maids and driver and getting them to do a few exercises with me every morning. I know they are getting bored. For their mental health, I have brought out our family collection of jigsaw puzzles so they can spend time doing something together. In our house, we have all become a “family” because of our concern for each other. We all know that any person in the household who gets sick threatens the health of everyone.

We also do one common spiritual activity. We all pray the rosary together every evening at six in front of our gate. This has been going on since Day 1 of the lockdown. I have learned to recite most of the rosary in Tagalog since my kasambahays recite them in the vernacular. This has become an important activity for us. Many in the neighborhood come out of their gates, too, and do the same thing. While observing distancing, we wave at each other as we pray together. We feel a unity with everyone on our street as we struggle to stay alive and safe in this age of coronavirus.

I notice, too, that people are more connected than ever through social media. News passes around instantaneously. Verification is fast. Fake news can easily be debunked. Everyone has become some sort of a media center. And just as quickly, requests for prayers, donations, and all sorts of support are quickly disseminated. There are many fundraising activities going on now and help is coming from many sectors. People are getting out of their immediate circles and are showing greater concern for those who are suffering the most in our society. People are also posting messages thanking our medical frontliners. This can only be good.

I feel that in little ways we be planting the seeds of genuine love and concern for others.

I have not worn shoes since the quarantine started. I have been going through my clothes lately and I noticed I have been wearing the same four sets of T-shirts and shorts in rotation for almost three weeks now. The value I used to put on a whole lot of things is now suddenly under scrutiny and review. And I do not even own a lot of nice stuff.

Take a look at the expensive stuff that you own. What good are your new clothes, shoes, fine bags, jewelry, your expensive car right now? Are they of any value in this time of quarantine? You can’t flaunt or even enjoy them, not when you can’t even go out anywhere. And not when you get news about friends, classmates, neighbors and relatives getting sick and dying. Enjoying your material possessions is probably the last thing on your mind as your own fragility and mortality continue to dawn upon you almost daily. You are now probably more appreciative and thankful for the simpler things — food on the table, another day without sickness. We probably notice acts of kindness more now than ever before.

We may be developing the attitude of gratitude on a massive scale. This can only be better for everyone.

COVID-19 has made us pay attention to the little things we do every day. More specifically, we must pay attention to what we do and how we act almost every moment. To some, it my feel like paranoia since we have to be constantly aware of everything we touch such as groceries, inanimate objects, bannisters, light switches, door knobs, etc. And of course, there is physical proximity to other people. All these may spell life or death.

In the beginning, it may be unsettling. But paying attention is actually an important step in living a higher quality of life.  Paying attention opens you to a higher consciousness because it makes you see a lot more of what’s really going on in your own life. I am talking of things beyond the manifest world.

Think of this quarantine as a forced retreat. It shouldn’t be hard to do since we are actually in the season of Lent right now. It is a good time to take stock of what we really value, and what the meaning of everything is. It is an opportunity to go beyond simply reciting prayers, into actually pondering what our mostly inherited religious beliefs really mean to us.

It is a time to meet our inner selves and get deeply honest.