[OPINION] COVID-19 and the circle of life

Malaya Pimentel-Santos
[OPINION] COVID-19 and the circle of life
'As I recently unwrapped a 2022 planner received as a gift, I randomly thought to myself, who the heck needs a planner when we can barely even plan?'

My husband’s little brother got married yesterday. Of course he isn’t so little anymore.

It was a beautiful wedding – every detail lovingly planned, every word written and spoken from the heart, and every threatened disruption taken in stride and faced with steadfastness and fortitude. In a venue capable of hosting hundreds, this couple remained resolute in their desire to keep the occasion intimate, with no more than their nearest and dearest in physical attendance. In the end, Omicron determined that the guest list and the wedding entourage should be one and the same.

And in the raw, emotional mix of happiness, love, sadness, and anxiety (not necessarily in that order), as I sat, socially distanced, at the very back of the church, time seemed to slow down as I silently lost it. With Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” playing in the foreground as the radiant bride walked the figurative mile towards married life, I started quietly weeping, my shoulders heaving, tears (and yes, snot) streaming freely, unwiped, down my face, mercifully hidden by the distance and behind my mask and tinted glasses.

I wept for family, friends, and loved ones who had to watch from afar despite wishing with all their hearts to be physically present.

I wept for those who chose to be present because of love and for those who chose to stay away, also because of love.

I wept at the irony that hugging and kissing and choosing not to hug and kiss can now both be considered acts of love.

I wept for the Catholic priest and elderly bishop who continue to make themselves present over and over at milestones like this one – despite their own personal risk – because while the pandemic is clearly not over, the circle of life doesn’t stop, it just keeps going.

I wept for the wedding soldiers who came from far and near, and who, after co-creating this fairy tale wedding, will go home to their own loved ones and multigenerational households. The term “suppliers” fails to give justice to the work that they do, now that COVID has – unbelievably – managed to turn loving social events into battlefields, and planted sporadic landmines to avoid, diffuse, and otherwise navigate.

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I wept because the world around us has changed so much that it is now unrecognizable compared to the one we knew BC –before COVID, to echo a not-quite-so-original pun made by the wedding host.

I wept with joy and pride for this not-so-young-anymore couple, as they bravely take a leap of faith into married life, by building their own loving oasis amidst the uncertainty of the pandemic and the chaos of the ongoing Omicron surge. 

And I wept as I silently wished them all the best in this new chapter, keeping the faith that with time and little by little, a world will be built that in some ways can be even better than it was BC. 

The groom was only three when I first met him many decades ago. The bride was no-zilla, or if she was, then they both hid it well. In the preceding year of wedding preparations, it was somewhat surreal to be called upon tangentially for advice on small decisions like the wording of their wedding health declaration, the type, source, and distribution of mandatory home antigen test kits, and the constantly evolving science behind testing, tracing, and quarantine and isolation periods.

So much has been written about COVID and the suffering and death it has brought to our lives. These are all undeniably part of our reality. But today I choose to write instead about life, and love, and this wonderful and unique example of the new beginnings that happen around the world as we speak and as we write, and as the COVID pandemic continues unrelentingly.

Just a few days ago, I was at another touching and tearful celebration for a dear cousin who, back in 2020, also had to adapt well-laid plans after the COVID lockdowns descended, barely a month before their planned wedding date. In another week I hope to celebrate my own 25th wedding anniversary. But those are other stories, best kept for other days.

As I recently unwrapped a 2022 planner received as a gift, I randomly thought to myself, Who the heck needs a planner when we can barely even plan? Two years into the pandemic, science has brought immense progress in the form of vaccines, boosters, rapid tests, and pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic interventions. What it has not (yet) given us is predictability.

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There are countless reminders that life is no longer comfortable and predictable like it once was. But maybe being comfortable with unpredictability is the new essential skill for survival in the post-pandemic world. I am slowly coming to accept that perhaps this is our new normal. And I’m still trying my very best to get used to it. 

There is no doubt that the future will be different, and that’s okay. We have many reasons to remain hopeful, for as long as we keep moving forward, one small step at a time. So I will wipe my tears, square my shoulders, and un-channel my inner drama queen. 

More importantly, I will be deliberate in my choices, like getting vaccinated and boosted. I will continue wearing a mask, maintaining physical distance, and using all the tools that are supported by science. Because our future is what we choose to make of it, just like it was BC, just like it has always been. –

Malaya Pimentel-Santos is a dermatologist, public health physician, and educator at a private medical school in Metro Manila.