For most of us, the pandemic felt like being stuck in a time warp.
While the stream of headlines that continue to populate our newsfeeds is evidence of how much has changed around us politically, economically, environmentally, and of course, socially, living has also felt as though we're all frozen in time, as said jokingly by hundreds on the internet in the last two years of struggling to know what day it is, myself included.
The COVID-19 pandemic will go down in history as the disaster that defined my generation. And just like how one usually remembers catastrophies, however fogged our brains felt in the course of this particular one, there's always at least this one single day that everyone would remember vividly forever.
March 17, 2020: the day the pandemic 'arrived'
To be clear, the pandemic "started" on March 10, 2020, as the World Health Organization declared it so. Moving to contain the virus' spread in the country, President Rodrigo Duterte on March 15 placed Metro Manila under "community quarantine", then it was upgraded to the ECQ or lockdown we all dread on March 17.
Thinking everything would last right on schedule, I had decided not to go home to my family in Davao and just remain in the condo, where I had a roommate to get anxious with over this life-threatening virus that experts then knew little about.
That day, I recall waking up struck by this overwhelming sense of disbelief over what was happening. From my window, I could see how the usually bustling streets were now silent, save for the occasional sound of cars passing by.
It was a false represention of the chaos that was actually transpiring in people's minds at the time. I know this for sure, having doomscrolled that day away and compulsively read other people's thoughts, as if mine didn't already consume me. Twelve COVID cases? That's 12 too many. What will happen to my classes? I can't do my thesis under these conditions. Does UP still expect me to make it to these deadlines while people are dying? What is the goverrnment doing?
I also remember finding it funny how just a week before, I was just sitting sweaty on the grounds of the UP Sunken Garden, taking a break after an hour of playing ultimate frisbee for my PE class. I was just going for a random scroll through Facebook, when I was met with the news of a week's worth of class suspension due to the virus.
Class suspensions, while usually driven by inconvenient events, perversely feel like a blessing to us students most of the time, whether we like to admit it or not. But this one felt different.
I've always had my fair share of anxieties but even with my tendency to assume that the worst always happens, part of me then was hoping more it wouldn’t. I was, after all, in my last semester in college. I knew it was going to be tough having to finish my thesis, but at the same time, I was determined to reach that finish line having made every last moment count.
That didn't happen of course. The days, weeks, and months after March 15, felt like I was just going through the motions. I went through what seemed like cloned days under lockdown, "Zooming" with friends from time to time for some semblance of normalcy, and after a year of trying to stay away, gave in and downloaded Tiktok.
All this, while significant personal and political events were happening.
Like the batches of students who graduated since 2020, I finished my journalism degree virtually without my parents around. I started searching for a job just as a major broadcast network was shut down, which left thousands more scrambling for the same scarce pool of opportunities given to us fresh graduates at a time when the country was in its deepest recession post-war.
When I finally got COVID myself in January, my recovery phase turned out to be harder, having fallen into a depressive period that turned out to be common among those who fall sick with the virus. Among the many things I sought for recovery is to learn the mantra "Be Here Now”, which I picked up from spiritual teacher Ram Dass through a Netflix show I watched during lockdown.
Practiced in mindfulness meditation, it means that if you place your attention on the present moment, you will experience a greater sense of peace. At first, this felt foolish to me, given how horrible the present moment tends to feel and how time, the very marker that ties us to the present, seemed irrelevant through all this.
But here's another thing I learned about it by watching too much Netflix in lockdown: "Time's arrow neither stands still nor reverses. It merely marches forward", as said in the show, Bojack Horseman.
Looking outside the same window two years later, there is now significantly more cars as the entire country eased into Alert Level 1, or the so-called "new normal". Cases have been going down after the holiday surge, over 58% of Filipinos have been vaccinated, and more people are able to reconnect outside.
It still not the "better" we should all be settling for, given problems like vaccine inequality, the oil crisis spawned by the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, and the upcoming presidential elections that could set us many years back -- to our country's darkest days.
While the past two years passed by feeling like we were all warped in time, it took us through all those moments that brought us to this one right here.
Since March 17, 2020, so many terrible moments have happened, but so too, have the best ones.
“Sadness does not disappear, but it is included in a serene and compassionate embrace. The endlessly hard work of pursuing justice is somehow interfused with the happiness that does not depend on conditions," wrote Rabbi Jay Michaelson.
In order to truly move forward, we must try to grasp onto them just the same. Keep engaging with the present, with all its moments of anguish, bliss, and even that "blah" you've been feeling, and just be here now.