TWENTY-TWENTY was the Year of the Rat. Geomancers predicted how the Rat, specified as the Metal Rat, would usher in a season of renewals. We know what happened then: the world went into a lockdown. Masks and shields became our lifestyle. Hope was diminished as deaths went up. The word “pandemic” became a regular usage because epidemic was much too small to capture the landscapes of loss.
Salvation came in the form of a thought—that a vaccine will be introduced soon to combat the virus hitherto unknown. There is nothing more terrifying than an affliction that does not have a name; there is no enemy perceived as superior than one whose strength is beyond measure.
By the middle of 2020, the world was down to its knees. Its scientists were not giving us illusions of quick redemption. It would take long for the vaccine to be developed. In the meantime, new rules of avoidance were enforced. These were codified as social distancing. The more appropriate really was physical distancing but some wags came with this term and it stuck. For those kin to social sciences, social distance was not a new phenomenon. It had always existed and this was in the form of a gap between those who possessed wealth and those who could only dream about it.
Would we have Christmas? Would we have celebrations? No to these and other questions about celebrations and collective joys. There was, however, one more difficult question and, death or no death, it could be answered always in the positive: Would we have a New Year?
The year 2021 came on the sturdy back of the Metal Ox. The prophets proved to be enslaved by animals and metals serving as mascots for the futures of the world. The year, they all echoed, would bring about harmony and calmness. Like oracles, omens are enchanting ellipses that seek glory in the obscured and the silenced.
Could harmony be interpreted as aspirational and not factual? Could calmness be ironic, after all death is the ultimate calmness and everywhere people were losing their obligation to breath and incurring very swiftly a passage to eternal life? Any notion of eternal had, by this time, lost its cache of life after life and turned into a flaky version of hoping against hope.
There was a sea change though in 2021 compared to 2020. By 2021, the exciting news was not about the spread of the infections but the foreseen distribution of vaccines. The first month of 2021 saw the introduction of names—Moderna, AztraZeneca, Pfizer….
Conflicting studies about the side-effects from these solutions overwhelmed the growing number of vaccinations being administered. We and the world became experts in antibodies and vaccines. We knew what was the best and we rallied against those we concluded to be not efficacious. Vaccines with links to China were suspect. But we nevertheless became so engaged with the promise, the act and effects of vaccines that the provenance of these medical solutions ceased being the main topic. We were raring to be protected against the virus. In our country, this was amusing because in 2019, vaccination was demonized by government spokespersons. And now, here was a country with a significant (read: vociferous, officious and loud) number of the population dying (metaphorically) be inoculated.
Still, in our country, the government bureaucrats came up with numerous kinds of lockdowns. The citizens were confused as levels of isolation were altered for another level of control, with the shifts so quick that one needed to consult a table of instructions in order to be properly appraised about the behavior corresponding to the delimitation enforced for the moment. Plastic curtains and barriers became additional elements in public transport and public spaces. Unchanged the whole year round, the virus was as much feared as the germs that stuck to the moist and grimy plastic protections.
There were fresh realizations. The wealth of a nation did not have a one-to-one correspondence with the intelligence of its general population. Each day we gazed on the screen of our phones or computers as we try to understand that anti-vaxxers of the US of A. Each day, we were surprised at the ignorance of Americans and their conspiracy theories. Didn’t they bring education to this island-republic? Weren’t they our first modern teachers?
We discovered the Son of God lived among us, somewhere in Davao. He who could stop earthquakes and cause viruses to mutate when he was persecuted. As the year was about to end, cases were filed against this homegrown god. Benign but punitive, this Divine Dabaweño issued a bulletin detailing dates when to register for redemption, it is said. But the booster shots had arrived by then and registering for them proved to be more alluring than any promise of salvation.
What will 2022 be then? What animal do we conscript as the world, it seems, goes back to normalcy and that prematurely drafted idea of “neo-normal” is thrown into the dustbin of other conceptual wastes?
2022 is the Year of the Water Tiger. The animal consort does not growl about health and recovery; it stalks the land with the promise of leadership. The big cat could be referring to us.
This Tiger is an avatar for our country. This year is the open season for choosing the next President. So much pure hope we pin on the organically corrupt electoral process that we only have ourselves to blame and the politicians if the virus does not go away when the last vote is counted or miscounted. Covid-19 could be dissipated but there will be other mutations and they will be in the form of monsters we will choose to ravage our land, threaten our lives, and be the next virulent unseen. Uncontrollable. Most contaminating. Deadly. Hundred-percent locally manufactured.
Happy New Year!