Hurry up please it’s time
FROM A DISTANCE - Veronica Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - July 18, 2020 - 12:00am

The headline is from a poem written in London between the world wars. I first read The Wasteland by TS Eliot when I was 17, the same age as my daughter is now. “Hurry Up Please It’s Time.” was and still is what you’ll hear at a British pub at closing time, but when it pops up in the poem it feels like a warning about the end of the world.

I found myself reaching for the poem on this my mother’s 79th birthday at a time when everyone is struggling with the notion of an end to all things as we’ve known them, perhaps through disease, or hardship, death, and climate change.

Hurry Up Please It’s Time.

Chatting with my mother and aunt this morning as they reminisce about times long past and they tell me how it’s much easier to remember those distant memories than whether they have already  taken their medicine or what they had for dinner last night.

“This is a photo of your great-grandmother Tandang Tere and her sister in law Tandang Pusti,” my Tita tells me. “Tandang Pusti saved our uncle’s life when he fell by the wayside on the Bataan Death March.” She saw him where he had stumbled on a road in Tarlac; what a stunning coincidence that she approached him to find he was a relative.

When they were children, my mother and her five siblings would stay at Tandang Pusti’s house in Paete during the holidays, all sleeping together on the floor until the church bells rang and they would nudge each other “O gising, gising.”

My mother’s father was the kind of person who sometimes had lots of money but at other times, none at all. He wasn’t around that much, but my grandmother Laura would make up for it by taking them on fun trips to the “beach” (actually just a spot in Baclaran that has since been swallowed up by the reclamation area). They would have barbecues with hotdogs and marshmallows. Riches aplenty for children growing up in the trauma and chaos of life after war.

My mother remembers how her grandmother’s will shared out her life’s savings, but that her own mother got something extra because “she has a husband who sometimes doesn’t have money, so I am leaving her a palayan in case she ever needs something to eat.”

Hurry Up Please It’s Time.

The outbreak of coronavirus has spawned all kinds of speculation, mis- and dis- information as well as briefings and instructions from leaders that are as much or more about political survival (theirs) than anything else.

When it comes down to it, this pandemic has distilled the essential question facing everyone. “What am I to do with the rest of my life?” The end will come sooner or later, that’s certain; to our lives to our loved ones’ lives, to our home, village, city, nation, even our planet.

Hurry Up Please It’s Time.

Eight years ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I got through the treatment but it changed my life because, early stage though it was, the illness made me consider that very question “What am I to do with the rest of my life?” So as I listen to the elders in my family speak about how they don’t even know if they will wake up the next morning, I remember the changes I’ve made to be properly present and serene in the here and now. I don’t have time for nonsense but nor do I have time for conflict. It’s a matter of decluttering one’s life when faced with its end. First things first, but what are they?

At the age of 79, and after a long and amazing life, my mother now finds herself wondering if she’ll make it to her next birthday. I can’t answer that question, but I think about how the coronavirus is making people consider that question in an indirect way, as they get their masks out, decide whether to wear them, wash their hands, refuse to go out. There’s a lot that each and every one of us can do to protect ourselves and everyone else from COVID-19, but I wonder whether, behind all of the surface anxiety, is an unspoken unwillingness to accept that all things come to an end. Another of my mother’s sisters, Ina, was telling me at the age of 82 she wanted to go on living and not stay home in fear. She wants quality of life and dignity even in the shadow of death. Don’t we all?

We’re all running out of time. Thinking: really thinking, beyond mere survival, about your place in the world, and the consequences of your actions, then acting on them is the only thing that really matters.

Hurry Up Please It’s Time.

The church bells are ringing  “O gising, gising!”

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