At a time like this

At a Time Like This

March 19th, 2020 / by Dr. Elvie Victonette B. Razon-Gonzalez

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair …”

– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

          At a time like this, either the world is about to end or a new one is about to begin. At a time like this, the proverbial half-empty or half-full becomes superfluous. At a time like this, we know our personal problems, career setbacks and love dilemmas are mere trifles. The epochs of this world have been delineated by wars, plagues, recessions. At a time like this, it is inevitable that another generation is about to be.  

          We are plagued by a disease without cure. Doctors confronted by natural history they   know little about. A pandemic nothing short of a silent but deadly war, the war of humanity versus disease and the stake is higher than anything else: the eradication of modern civilization as we know it. 

          For several days, I have not slept well. Everyday comes with worse news than the previous day. Cases exponentially increasing, doctors becoming patients, lives shut down abruptly, and the degree of separation clearly becoming less and closer. When news of local transmission came to light that evening of March 7, when a woman contracted the dreaded virus from a  native with no travel history, I shuddered in fear. True enough, the days that followed chronicled unprecedented measures to contain the contagion.

          Statistics are supposed to reassure us that at best, this virus can just cause mild upper respiratory tract symptoms in most healthy individuals. But for someone who has studied medicine and epidemiology, science and mathematics have failed to assuage my fears this time. It could be any of my loved ones. It could be me next. Logic has flown out to the woods and the truth of the matter makes it hard for me to grasp. In statistics, there are wrong assumptions, outliers, standard errors and  worst-case scenarios.

           This enemy has stripped humanity of layers and has brought out the best and worst in us. This virus gives us man’s selfish nature, hoarding months and months’ supply of food, alcohol, masks, without regard to other people who might be needing them. To each his own, these hoarders rationalize. 

          The novel virus exposes a man’s self-righteous behavior and intolerance. When a socialite whose indignation through repeated cursing at people who left their homes for work was exposed, people reprimanded and reminded her of her privileges that were denied to most. Judgment prevailed.

          This virus reveals a fragmented system without true leadership, the obvious cracks  widening to becoming a gaping hole. There was lack of a voice that could calm a populace already beset by fear, a presence that could assure. This virus unmasked the true nature of those in power; they could afford deviations in protocols. They would if they could. 

Nevertheless, this virus has shown us that when circumstances are down, we step up. In times of despair, we discover things in ourselves that we might never have discovered in times of prosperity.

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          The less than ideal situation and scarcity of resources brought out the inventors and innovators in us by producing modified face shields made of acetate and empty water bottles, raincoats for protective gowns, plastic shower caps for surgical caps.

          These turbulent times also give rise to paintings that inspire, poetry that heals and music that soothes, making sense of chaos. In Italy, the caged bird sings. And the power of poetry is that it gives us hope.

          Because of the collective madness, leaders emerged from the crowd. These leaders are not necessarily the elected ones. They could be doctors in hospitals called out to man the emergency rooms in the line of duty. They could be heads of companies who prioritize people over profit, sending employees home and compensating them appropriately. The present situation has also exposed pro-active community leaders who display the necessary qualities at a time like this: quick in action, decisive and empowering.

          This situation brings out  the bayanihan spirit inherent in Filipinos: this spirit of volunteerism that make us rise to the occasion when called for. Students creating makeshift masks in their spare time and giving them for free to frontline health personnel.  Medical interns volunteering their services to man hospitals despite the risks of being exposed to danger. The spirit of bayanihan creates ripples: from free meals being provided to healthcare workers by eatery owners, free rides given for workers in the midst of a lockdown.

Social distancing encourages people to be one meter apart to lower the risk of spread. Ironically, the physical distance that now separates us brought us closer into a state of solidarity. There is global fear reverberating, what happens next we do not know. There is a collective sigh, will this ever end we can only pray for. There is a united spirit, a spirit that remains hopeful and defiant that together, we can get through this.

          Wherever and whoever you are as you read this,  may you live to tell the tale in the future. If the Lost Generation was defined after the bloodshed of World War I, may our generation be the Found Generation of our times, defined by our newfound humanity.