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Newsmakers

Expect the Unexpected

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star
Expect the Unexpected
Despite being in the shadows, this once unnoticed lily bloomed unexpectedly, as radiant as a parol.
Ed Ramirez

In the past week, two weddings in the families of people I know have been postponed due to the coronavirus. In one family, the groom tested positive for the virus and in the other family, the driver that drove the bride’s family to the destination wedding in the north tested positive.

Both were asymptomatic and only underwent tests out of an abundance of caution from the wedding coordinators, which proved prescient.

As of now, both families are focused on the recovery of those infected. It was like the wedding carriage had hit a deep pothole, which sent its wheels flying in all directions, and no one made it to the church on time.

The silver lining is, everybody lives another day. A super spreader event has been averted. Only the wheels of the carriage flew away, not the bride or the groom. And if the couples concerned could ride through this pothole even before their marriage, they are well prepared for the road ahead in married life.

There will be twists and turns, humps and bumps. As life since March 2020 has become for all mankind because of one uninvited guest: COVID-19.

***

Just over a week ago, I was chirping over the low numbers in COVID cases in the Philippines in December, which had stayed below 500. In one day they doubled to over 800 cases, then tripled, then quadrupled.

Family reunions from Christmas Eve to the days leading up to New Year’s Day couldn’t be helped.  People had been sick with loneliness, and cherished reunions amid the low numbers seemed to be the cure to the holiday blues. Alas, the highly contagious Omicron variant of the virus, plus the irresponsibility of some travelers like the so-called “Poblacion Girl” — who has been charged along with her parents by the police for violation of safety protocols — made the country’s collective immune system vulnerable.

Thankfully, not a single member of my immediate family got the virus (Fingers crossed as tightly as a Gordian Knot). Aside from following safety protocols, we have been spared because of luck, I kid thee knot. Because I know of people who got the virus despite being very stringent with safety protocols. They were not reckless at all like the “Poblacion Girl.”

Thankfully, too, those I know who got the virus in the past week were not confined in hospitals, and simply isolated at home with mild, flu-like symptoms that went away with paracetamol, which has flown off the shelves of drugstores.

“With the heightened vigilance against the Omicron variant and a number of people getting sick due to various reasons, we are experiencing a temporary shortage of certain brands of paracetamol in some areas,” the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines confirmed early this week. It reminded me of the days when face masks and bananas (due to their reported anti-COVID nutrients) also were in short supply.

According to Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, there are “initial projections” that cases will peak at the end of January.

How the world can change in a day, a week, a fortnight. What a difference a day makes.

***

Thus, do not postpone happiness, grab opportunities while they’re there, savor every sunrise, glow with the sunset, lift up your face to the rain and let it tickle the bridge of your nose, dance to the Bee Gees even when your son is watching, as my husband and I did on New Year’s Eve, which we spent at home. Just the three of us, some bubbly, and Barry Gibb.

I am absolutely grateful that in the past years, we took all those trips to places abroad I only dreamed of visiting as a child, because we had invested in something whose value increases over time: Memories.

I think it was the butler in the hit series Downton Abbey that said in his gruff but authoritative voice, “The business of life is all about the acquisition of memories. In the end, that’s all we have left.”

After 9/11, I would reminisce about the days when security checks simply meant tossing your bag under the X-ray machine, and you didn’t have to take off your socks, your shoes, your belt, your nail clipper and your regular bottle of contact lens solution from your carry-on. Now, I simply pine for the days when I could hop on a plane and go to a place where I have to line up before an immigration counter. I never thought I would miss doing even that! Who cares about tossing your nail clipper in the trash bin or buying a ton of travel-size cosmetic bottles? Beats having a PCR test and undergoing a five-day quarantine that is the norm for travelers these days (the obedient ones, that is).

Lesson Number Two. Stop whining. A friend posted this saying on her IG page, CTTO: “Being happy doesn’t mean you have it all. It just means you’re grateful for all you have.” Another posted this, “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.”

For now, “enough” may simply mean being alive and well. Note to self: Stop pining for days that may never return as you had remembered them to be. Expect the unexpected.

Lesson Number Three. There really are rainy days. Even if we have experienced many storms, don’t you notice they still catch us flatfooted? So when the weather bureau announces one is brewing, expect the unexpected. In Siargao, many of those who survived unscathed were those who fled to higher ground, sought shelter in bathrooms and used mattresses as curtains against the howling winds. They never thought a howler was likely to hit the island hard, as it wasn’t really in the typhoon belt.

***

But not all that is unexpected is unwelcome. Last December, I straightened out my writing desk, and in the pile of travel wallets that seem to be a relic in the age of the coronavirus — you know, those wallets where you put your documents and passport as well — I unearthed a crisp hundred dollar bill. Alas, nag-iisa siya. But it brought the widest smile to my face it could have linked two banks of the Pasig River.

Also last December, as our househelp was sweeping away some dry leaves from a dark, virtually hidden nook under a giant fern tree in our pocket garden, she beheld a lily in full bloom. We don’t even remember when and where we bought the plant, or how long it had been “languishing” in the shadows, even as flowers crave the sunlight.

And yet this flower grew, oh-so-defiantly arching its face towards whatever ray of sunshine struggled through the leaves of the hanging fern.

And in the darkness, or despite the darkness, in the least conducive of circumstances for a flower, the lily bloomed unexpectedly. Beautifully. A sight to behold.

May we all find unexpected grace whatever we may be experiencing now, and bloom despite it.

(You may e-mail me at [email protected]. Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

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