When I join online meetings, my ears would itch and turn numb each time someone would mention how we must learn to cope in this “new normal,” hence, we must meet online temporarily until current circumstances permit us to do otherwise.
Nobody seems to question the validity of the phrase or doubt the deflated impact that the term “new normal” aims to encompass. There is nothing new about meeting online when 70 million Filipinos are using chat apps to communicate on a daily basis. And there is absolutely nothing normal about a situation wherein I cannot stop, stand in close range, and complain comfortably with a neighbor about the price of rice on my way to the supermarket because I have to brisk-walk my way through all of my errands and come home with an ardent prayer that will last for a week, hoping that I did not contract the virus.
The term is a lie I will use to convince myself that the popular synonym these days for an unacceptable abnormality is “new normal.” While words such as these are normally important for me to make sense of things, I have been too busy processing the magnitude and coping with the effects of COVID-19 on my personal environment to give credence to new word coinage. The busyness has to do with overwhelming simultaneous shifts with the way we think, act, and do things.
When the Cebu City government declared the city under a state of monthlong Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) starting March 28, many things hit me at once--when and how to restock food, cleaning and protective supplies, how fast my husband and I can clean the interior and exterior of our home, how consistent the water supply will be, how faithful my parents are to safety protocols while operating a small store in another city, what home assignments to give to my students, when the barangay hall will send out garbage collectors, when to pay our taxes, how many books I have that I can read during ECQ, how reliable the WiFi will be for business, where to get face masks, and how to stretch our budget for a month.
Along with these questions came a mix of emotions eventually overpowered by sickening fear as I failed to gather assurance from the government that is rather lacking in transparent reporting on the gravity of the pandemic, as I grappled with news, made my own evaluation of the situation, and became disenchanted by the lack of answers, and as I turned to humor for comfort and found my laughter not quite reaching the satisfying pit of my stomach.
Before I could address my own concerns, my worries expanded to include friends, neighbors, people I know as nodding acquaintances, and even strangers: How soon can N---, sister-in-law of my close friend, get a dilation and curettage procedure after her miscarriage? How did A---, a relative in a far barangay and seamstress of all my childhood dresses and school uniforms, die? How can E---, a neighbor with four little children, survive on a no-work-no-pay arrangement? When can C--- reunite with her family after getting stuck in another town attending to her father’s burial? How did Z--- celebrate her birthday during the quarantine period? How can non-essential stores like Booksale make any sale?
"While I cannot change the fact that the world is experiencing a deadly virus, I can change my attitude toward the situation."
So I refocused my energy on what needed immediate attention and mustered every ounce of strength and optimism so as not to shame the most resilient Filipino. I was spaced out for two weeks, though, before my emotional and mental compass went back on track. Since then, I have been filling my days with planning meals, watching videos on low-cost recipes and actually doing them, sweeping and mopping and doing the laundry, writing down food items to buy in the next grocery trip, talking with my parents and sister on video to talk about retail management and anime, turning away from my social media for several hours each day, watering my potted plants, increasing my time for reading and writing, working on service orders, and checking my students’ papers.
I am essentially keeping myself busy and productive. For all intents and purposes, this is my way of showing myself that while I cannot change the fact that the world is experiencing a deadly virus, I can change my attitude toward the situation. This is my freedom in exercise. I can follow rules and safety protocols even when others can’t. I can stay at home and stay clean. I can wear a face mask and do a supermarket run in less than an hour even when others prefer to loiter in public spaces. I can wash my hands as frequently as possible until my skin cracks from dryness. I can swallow healthy food, exercise regularly, and sleep eight hours each day. I can talk to other people through virtual means. And I can be vigilant about the news on COVID-19 I am getting.
Nancy Cudis Ucag
This story is an entry to ComCo Southeast Asia’s “Write to Ignite Blogging Project”. The initiative is a response to the need of our times, as every story comes a long way during this period of crisis. Igniting and championing the human spirit, “Write to Ignite Blog Project” aims to pull and collate powerful stories from the Philippine blogging communities to inspire the nation to rise and move forward amidst the difficult situation. This project is made possible by ComCo Southeast Asia, co-presented by Eastern Communications and sponsored by Electrolux, Jobstreet and Teleperformance.