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Ending pandemic and the poetic of attention

Column box-Tito Genova Valiente-Annotations

The pandemic is ending. There is no official announcement about the termination of virus. In other parts, the return to normalcy is attributed to the vaccine. In our country, politics solved the long isolation, the consequence of the contagion.

Politics had always been there in the lockdown. Politics through this government was the cause for the unhampered spread of the virus. Think back to the time when our borders remained open even as other nations were scrambling to barricade theirs.  Or when health officials dismiss the virulence of the infection backed by inefficiency and bureaucracy.

What would be the sign that the pandemic was easing up? This was the question we did ask; otherwise, we were all sitting it out. A year or one year more. There was no deadline to death. There was life threatened by the view of the cure nowhere in sight. Then the news broke out about the vaccine. Poverty in our livelihood and leadership placed us as mendicants begging for the supply, wishing wealthier worlds would be kinder.

Time to look back at what we as human beings had become. We were kind to strangers. We told others to be kind to each other. With no one spared, we finally learned the tough lesson that there was only one world for us, that for the cure to take place, everyone should be healed.

We closely observed the little things around us—the plants, the animals, the air we breathe and the wind that made us wonder what chills they brought to our surroundings. The stars mattered not in terms of romance but in matters of solitude and the ease of being alone. The clouds and the moon were mascots of our day-to-day experience of a threatened life.

The most ordinary plants became our succor. Many took care of the blooms and potted shrubs. This obsession turned into commerce and the hobby became a fascination, a label for an interest that would have escaped even the most acute documentarian in the periods before the affliction.

We observed the aged in apartments and prayed that in their age they were not immunocompromised. We prayed for the already sick in faraway homes. We looked at children and hoped for the best, that they were not showing symptoms but were innocent bearers of this new plague.

Then we counted days, as in count them especially when our homes were marked with the red letters of contamination. Villages were separated according to the number of the infected. As patients began to recover, it was easier to understand why the frontliners cheered and cried as recovered persons streamed out of hospitals. As for us, we learned to value such sentiment and wept over this illness that can be stopped.

And yet there were numerous deaths. To mourn was to belabor an act that had no place among those left behind. Rushed into cremation, the loved ones were assigned to statistics. Only those in the inner bereaved circle knew the grief; the rest of the world soldiered on, as if to stop and to be sorrowful would only allow weakness and weakness in whatever form provided a home for the virus. There were vicious responses as well from people who wanted to exclude nurses and health workers from coming home. They were seen as the most exposed to the virus and thus were bringing with them dangers and hazard.

Writers thought of metaphors and war was a favored notion: we were at war and at the end of this protracted battle, we would be counting the dead. How many did you lose? Who did you lose? Unlike the war dead though, there could be no tombs for the numerous victims, only a memorial in our collective memory for those who did not make it.

The truth that we refuse to see is the truth that our pandemic dead were not martyrs to a cause but the cause for us to feel we have been martyred at the shrine to an arrogant science.

A week from now, the Roman Catholics will have their processions back for the Holy Week. The political among us have celebrated their voices already in rallies that made social distancing a forgotten edict. It will not take long before that term goes back into the dictionary of social sciences where it will have nothing to do with health practice but class distinction.

Prayers will not cease long after we have thrown away our masks. But we shall always remember the months we paid attention to the words of our prayers, to the pauses between the Hail Mary and Glory Be. The last two years taught us to listen to ourselves because that was where the hopes and faiths resided, where our bodies sourced their conviction to go on breathing, to commune with the force or wellspring or make a final plea to the Divine. 

Stéphane Durand, in his postscript, which he titles ‘A Poetic of Attention,’ to the wondrous intellection of Vinciane Despret’s book, Living as a Bird, writes how the naturalists in the said book “open doors for us, expanding our imaginations, multiplying perspectives and the opportunities to enrich the world.” Durand continues: “But this poetic of attention is also a matter of politics, for if this biology is indeed a science of wonder, it is also a lesson in how to live. Through it we can glimpse hitherto unimagined ways of living together, of cohabiting, of spending time with each other and sharing spaces and stories with neither exclusion nor conflict.”

What is the lesson of the isolation, its ending and the pandemic that subjugated the world? It is the lesson of being attentive to the people that inhabit this world, of looking at their smallest gesture, of listening to the everyday buzz, and learning from the unsaid. With this less-than-fantastic Earth, there is only Heaven above that can wait and the vastness that is not for us to read.

E-mail: titovaliente@yahoo.com

Image credits: Jimbo Albano



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