I've learned that there's a better chance of you seeing the stars when you're outside Shalla's home than when you're outside mine. I realized this when I was holding her nephew - the two-year-old boy - outside, and he kept on looking up.
"Alam mo ba," I said, knowing very well that he will not understand a single word I'm saying, "'yang mga stars na 'yan, hindi 'yan 'yung hitsura nila ngayon?"
I must have been remembering something I saw from Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, the remake with Neil deGrasse Tyson. It was the bit about how the light from the stars take a long time to reach earth, thus the concept of light-years: the light of a star seven light-years away would take, well, seven years to reach us, by which time the star may have grown, or changed, or exploded. Maybe I am making it up, but I can hear Neil talk about how looking at the night sky is like travelling through time, because what you're seeing is the universe from back then, thanks to the vagaries of space and time.
"Kapag tumitingin ka sa stars," I continued, "parang tumitingin ka sa nangyari dati!"
I'm beyond going over his head. What I'm saying means nothing to him yet. Why am I drilling an existential hole in this kid? But no matter. I wasn't articulating what I wanted to say well, anyway. I was realizing all that for myself, all over again. Keeping in touch with the past isn't as hard as overwhelmed history students can make it sound. You have books. You have screens in your hands accessing radio waves. You have the stars, if your surroundings aren't too bright, at least.
He turned his gaze at the moon.
"Alam mo ba, nakapunta na ang tao diyan?" I went. "Pero matagal na." And then I pulled out my phone and punched up footage of Neil Armstrong's iconic words - and Walter Cronkite wondering out loud what he said exactly.
My Monocle subscription was put on hold for the past couple of months because they just couldn't deliver anything to me; the postal service was shut down, alongside virtually everything else, so the coronavirus wouldn't spread. That meant I missed at least two, perhaps three, issues, although I could have them resent when everything has settled down.
At least they told me early, although it ended up being more of a reminder that I live in a Third World country and I'm having stuff delivered from Europe every month. Also, as a subscriber, at least I could read the issued I've missed online. But - I'm repeating something I've said months ago - it's weird reading magazines online. I tried, and I couldn't get past the first two articles.
A few weeks ago they told me they're resuming my subscription, and just this weekend I got my first copy of the magazine in months. I was expecting the June issue; what I got was the April issue. I don't mind, but it meant reading something that was written from a different time, a time when nobody really had a good grasp of just what this virus was going to do. Sure, there was an acknowledgment in the editor's remarks that things are not the way they usually are - and considering how Tyler Brûlé spends two-thirds of the year travelling, that's something - but the rest of the magazine was filled with the same chirpy stories about opportunities written at a time when things were still, shall we say, less complicated, less anxiety-inducing, more "old normal".
I'll be honest, though. I haven't really touched the magazine in the week I've had it here. I haven't gotten past, well, the first two articles I tried reading online months ago. Maybe I'll make time soon. I should make time soon. But then, we're already halfway through the year as I write this, and while these markers are really arbitrary, it does remind you of an inconvenient fact: you've spent a lot of time stuck in one place, not really able to do anything, because there's something scary out there and, for better or worse, your leaders said staying in is the best thing to do.
Yes, it can feel like you've done nothing but scroll through your news feeds. But then, you'll feel the same way in the old days, when people kept posting about where they're travelling or what they're buying or which new buzzy restaurant they're going on dates in. Sure, it's irrelevant when a good bunch of the people you know are actually furloughed - communication majors working in jobs actually related to communication have had it bad the past few months - and have more pressing worries to play with, but, well, the feeling that you've wasted all this time? It's hard to articulate properly, but it's something you can't help but feel, especially now that we're more or less in a flatter playing field.
Of course, this isn't going to end any time soon. It seems the government is intent on keeping restrictions until a vaccine is found. Realistically, that won't happen until next year at the earliest. And a vaccine being found does not mean we will automatically get it. Today I read that the US bought up pretty much all available stock, for the next three months, of remdesivir, a drug seen to help people recover from COVID-19 faster, meaning no other country can have it. Who's to say countries will play fair when a vaccine does pop up? I guess that provides more fuel to the America-is-bad-China-is-good narrative this government wants to prop up.
But I digress. Today also saw restrictions extended for two more weeks, something we have seen coming. Yet that doesn't really excuse the government for announcing these extensions at the last possible minute; the televised address was at half past ten last night, I think. You'd assume they'd give people more time to prepare, in the case of Cebu City going back to the harshest restrictions two weeks back, or to manage their expectations, as is the case here. But no. I don't think the government respects our time enough to give us that courtesy.
And I don't think they can sympathize with the thinking that we have wasted a lot of time, either. We stayed put, for the most part, in the belief that it would help us beat this thing faster, or at least give us enough time to be ready. Now, cases are still going up at a rate that does not inspire confidence. Many do not trust the official numbers because of how complicated they made the reporting system to be. Sure, perhaps it's all about communication - the government has not really been good at reassuring the public; the learning curve to speaking the truth is really steep if you lied your way to power, after all. But if the response is to make light the people whose intentions is to make government work better, well, what else should you expect?
Well, you can expect to be told that you're really to blame why things aren't as better as we expect them to be. Not that we're all good people - it is in our nature, after all, to find shortcuts; it's a Filipino value we do not acknowledge - but judging from how the vast majority are still grappling to adjust with this much-touted "new normal", it's safe to say we're all trying. But people are not confident. People are impatient. People feel that all this time they could have spent doing something else, something other than worrying and being powerless, was just wasted. When more effort seems to be spent on ensuring people don't get out so they can't, I don't know, air their grievances - and arresting those who dare to speak out, or are perceived to do so - that really makes people uneasy. And you know where that leads, right?
Nowhere, because we still have to stay at home. All this time, wasted. And while you look up at the night sky and realize that the stars we see come from many years ago and not this present time, you're living in a present that's not any more hopeful. Unless, of course, you're extremely powerful. Knowing you're cushioned from everything you inflict on others, knowingly or otherwise, is the ultimate destressor.