Silences online

Column box-Tito Genova Valiente-Annotations

IT started out as an irritant online—the lighted solitary candle announcing no names, but signifying something desolate. But the same unidentified candle was easily spotted by those who knew death when they saw one. That votive symbol soon was followed by a thread of prayers and sympathies that was running so long you needed to check for its beginning. One hoped something more specific would be mentioned—a name, a date, a cause.

But there was a way to find out, in a more circuitous way. On another spot online, clearer news appeared, with the name, the place and the cause of death. The tradition of announcing the demise of a person became a key to all the codes that subsequently appeared.

Where the candle does not exist, a hand touching another hand signals also a final departure. This is unsettling as when we focus on those human appendages and wonder which one belongs to the dead (or dying) and which to the living.

With the government failing to account deaths, the online candles are a way of knowing how each day, or each hour, one of us is gone. We go to sleep with the news that a friend is intubated, and we wake up to that friend with the tubes no more because he is also there no more. We rise to early messages about somebody very sick and we pray that he lives. But our hope against hope remains adversarial: hope is not on our side this time and many more times as we will find out each waking hour.

Then one day, this line comes out: No words can…. This time the ellipses are not contrived. They do not pretend to be poetic. They are thoughts trailing to a whisper.

How does one write a whisper? How do I underscore a sigh?

Belated perhaps but now I realize why no one mentions a name. This new technology has given us a worthy space to be human, an aspect of which is the capacity to live and the ability to die. In those human acts, which are inherited skills, are our gift for happiness and the courage to bear sorrows.

In the pre-pandemic world when we still could hug each other, the first gesture that was performed when we met the bereaved was to hug. Or, when we were not close kin, a grip of the hand as tight as it was warm more than sufficed. No one went into speeches about the person who passed on; no one became verbose in front of a coffin or an urn. We talked about the life of that person surrounded by flowers and lights and then we talked about ourselves. That was how we dealt with death.

Silence is our companion now in this period when the virus seems unimpeded in its potency. We are close to cursing it but we do not. We are about to call it a curse upon us but something is stopping us as we inspect this world of leaders and policy-makers around us. Then we gather enough saliva to allow our spit to bore a hole through the ill-fated ground.

Some health workers who have worked also in silence for a long time have found their voice. They have held on to their silence because they were thinking of us, or those who were and are afflicted. They would not stop working or the pandemic would be beyond control. But now they are silent no more. For a long time, their silence has been used to oppress them, or blackmail them to work for the survival of others. But the time has come. We understand their complaint. We understand that it is not them who should be blamed if the virus spreads further or if it mutates to a more virulent strain.

Death cannot be used to quell ineptitude and gross lack of ethics. While death caused by the virus is presently accepted, no one yet can come up with excuses why a government could stare at death and not care at all.

Think of these: Have you ever looked at the used and old masks of the man who delivers regularly your water? Or, do you ever wonder why the garbage collectors never bother to wear masks at all each time they handle our trash and haul them up to a truck?

The saddest scene always for me when I chance upon them on the streets is the sight of these old vendors selling their wares while wearing masks that are tattered and soiled from daily use.

How many of them will be saved and how many will die of the virus? And how many of them will die instead of hunger?

Who will light a candle for them online and offer phrases with bittersweet ellipses?

There is no light on the horizon, I always tell my friends. These friends are people who will not accuse me of intellectualizing deaths and the pandemic. These are people who ask the same questions. Like me, they will be silent about death but not about the evil of those whose task it is to lead us out of this dead end.


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