COVID-19 and its impact on the world provided a harsh lesson and wake-up call for all of us. People lost their jobs, businesses and entire fortunes on account of a virus whose origins remain a mystery. We worked from home, home schooled our kids, stayed away from senior members of our families, canceled special celebrations and well-planned vacations, and restricted our mobilities because we were afraid to catch and spread the virus. But the one thing that we will never forget is loved ones and friends losing their battle to this horrible illness.
In 2020, the Philippine economy started on the wrong foot. It began with the eruption of the Taal Volcano creating a setback in the agriculture and tourism industries in Cavite and Batangas. Typhoons Rolly (international name Goni), Siony (Atsani), and Ulysses (Vamco) that hit the country in November in just a span of two weeks also brought considerable devastation to a large area in Luzon. These natural calamities and the pandemic caused a plunge in private domestic demand, deep contraction in investment activities, and weak exports bringing down the economy to -9.5%, its worst performance since the country began releasing growth data in 1947.
After a long bout of physical exhaustion, mental fatigue, emotional stress, and apprehension, somehow we felt a bit of relief that the long and dragging 2020 ended. There was a feeling of ambivalence as we reminisced the past year. We felt exuberant that we made it out alive from 2020 but melancholy for those who continued to suffer or didn’t make it through.
However, the same mixed reactions and emotions continue to haunt us in 2021 as we are fully aware that though vaccines are being rolled out in succession, emerging variants of the virus bring uncertainties to our lives. Like a ship in a raging storm coasting along the shore, we can see the lighthouse but the waves prevent our vessel from getting to safe harbor. Certainly, there are still challenges that should not put us in complacency.
If there is indeed a rebound that will return us to some semblance of normalcy, I don’t believe that we’ll ever return to where we were before. We will continue to wear masks, limit in-person meetings, and practice physical distancing, afraid that there will be another virus waiting to unleash its force with more tenacity and strength. We will continue to adjust our daily existence depending on how new developments in science will provide the safeguards to physical interaction and provide adequate disease prevention and cure.
Coping with the pandemic
“What happens to me now that my livelihood is gone? How will I pay my suppliers, creditors, and employees? Will the banks foreclose on my mortgages? Where will I get the capital to start all over again? Am I still employable? Will my kids have to stop going to school? How is my family going to survive? How will I get back on my feet?”
We are all saddled with negative thoughts. Sometimes the more we think about negativity, the less we become creative and confident. Acting unkind to ourselves during these difficult times serves no purpose but to pile on more anxiety. We must confront the brutal realities head-on by resolving to be patient and steadfast.
Undoubtedly 2021 will hold new challenges. This is the reality of life. Yet like those we’ve faced before, what matters most is not the problems themselves, but how well we’ve responded to them and how we’ve applied their lessons to grow and thrive in our lives.
There are probably a million reasons not to smile during the pandemic. Some people struggle on a daily basis to look for the next meal, payment for rents, and money to buy the bare necessities. Some people vented their anger and frustration in social media. If you’re actually doing it, take a minute to realize that you have the literacy, luxury of time, and internet connectivity to read and type in your device. You have the ability to access the whole world with your gadget while others struggle to meet their most essential needs and probably wish for things you are currently enjoying. In many ways, all the reasons for complaining seem to be trivial and certainly no reason to bicker about. It is definitely better to flash that smile behind the mask than rant online. It is better to be content with what you have and strive hard to survive for the future. We’re all on the same team in the same boat. All of us need some form of encouragement and everyone will benefit if we decide to argue less and understand more.
We are often tempted to be couch potatoes during these times when our mobility is hampered. We tend to binge on online entertainment and video games, which does not physically or mentally nurture us. Being busy is the best way to avoid feeling empty and dull.
2020 was touted by astrologers and feng shui masters to be an auspicious year for wealth building and the year people would get everything they wanted. No one predicted that 2020 will be the exact opposite. COVID-19 made us realize that there are certain aspects of our life that are uncontrollable. Instead of losing ourselves in despair and anxiety by focusing on situations beyond our control, it was our moment to reconnect to a deeper sense of purpose, promote our individual faith, and commune with nature.
Hoping for a better 2021
In 2020, we lost the ability to physically connect with others at our usual places of congregation in offices, schools, restaurants, concerts, sporting events, homecomings, and church services. Now we look forward to reconnecting in-person with others including people who we often took for granted before.
Though we may realize that returning to the old normal is not possible in the near future, at least there is hope that 2021 will bring us some respite from the virus. Most people expect things to start to return to a restrictive new normal as vaccines have arrived and inoculations began. For some of us, it will take some time until we have access to the vaccine, but as more people get it, there is a bigger chance that fewer people will acquire or die from the virus. The good news is that science has made us understand the virus better and will help humanity prepare for the next virus outbreak.
We now see things from a different perspective. We appreciate our families, our friends, and everything that we have. We cherish not only our own lives but simple things like our environment and nature as a whole. We indulge in activities that nourish our physical and mental well-being. We start to have leisurely walks, road tours by bike, and indulge in our hobbies like growing plants and cooking. We see brand new clothes and shoes, unused and gathering dusts in our closets. We see cars parked idly in our garage because our movement is restricted. Nature has decided for us that now we need to own less.
The pandemic has given us the opportunity to heal, preserve, and strengthen our bodies. It was also a time to cultivate more positive emotions – gratitude, compassion for self and others, connection and intimacy with family and optimism. It taught us to refocus on the most important things in life.
What should we expect for 2021? 2021 is the time to dedicate ourselves to reflect, renew, and reset our lives after a tumultuous 2020 beset by failures and disappointments. It is a propitious time to reflect on where we’re at and where we want to be. It is the moment to renew our commitment to be a better person and make positive choices in life. It is the point of realization to reset everything and start anew after embracing our failures and making sure that things will turn out differently.
Some people experience a positive change as a result of their struggle with a major life crisis or traumatic event. Success waits for people who can cope with the ongoing uncertainty. “What have we done differently in 2020 to cope with the pandemic?” For some of us who managed to navigate the pandemic with a positive attitude, the ongoing crisis honed our adaptability, resilience, agility, and tenacity.
Just because our plans got derailed last year is no reason not to set our sights on our goals. Consider 2020 as a temporary setback and continue to believe in ourselves and trust our abilities to recover. We have to set a daily goal to keep us on our toes and motivate us to continue studying, and working. We must make it a point not to waste any day, any moment, or any amount of energy remaining as we continue to live on. Our inner confidence will allow us to direct our time and talent to our vision and ultimate goals.
Our purpose should not be limited by the plans that fell through in 2020 or what we were unable to do. If we learn from our failures and take full responsibility, our trials will make us successful. And in time, we'll be even more successful, because we'll never stop trying to be better than we are today.
Successful people have a purpose in life. They generate excitement, dedication and passion and these they share their passions with others. If we've found a purpose, something that inspires and fuels us to stand up and achieve, then we’re living life the way we want it.
We are now witnessing the unprecedented development of different vaccines produced by both private and state-sponsored companies. Science-based and democratic institutions are much needed to address the vaccine development and roll-out. It is now government’s responsibility to procure them cheaply and distribute them within the soonest possible time. Hopefully, the end to the pandemic is near at hand though we’re not there yet.
In the meantime, we should continue to be vigilant about our own safety and that of others. The challenge now is to educate a misinformed populace about the enduring risks of the coronavirus and the disinformation that circulates on social media on the necessity to be vaccinated. Vaccine hesitancy is a global health threat especially in developing countries. Even if a coronavirus vaccine is made available to everyone, people especially our front liners and elders need to be convince to get it.
There were some silver linings in the clouds despite the pale and gloom that came in 2020. People learned how to become creative in augmenting their incomes and made use of their time for self-improvement. Since people no longer have to endure wasted hours spent in traffic, people working from home have become more productive. Meetings and conferences are easier to organize and attend. People actually looked forward to seeing their colleagues online to break the monotony of working alone. Attending professional and self-improvement webinars and getting accreditation from such became easier.
Parents and children shared meals, bonded, and communicated forging stronger relationships never experienced during the time before the pandemic. Parents suddenly were getting involved in school work making sure that the kids are not getting shortchanged in their online schooling. People learned new skills and pursued a variety of home-based businesses and recreational activities. I know of some friends who renewed their passion in reading, cooking, gardening, painting and other personal pursuits which they have passed off in favor of the corporate rat race in their concrete jungles. Some of them turned their passions into successful online businesses.
I discovered myself, learned to understand my quirks, and made it easy on myself. I believed we were brought up in a culture of accumulating material possessions which paled in comparison to the actual life-giving pursuits we have taken for granted. I see each day as a gift of life and another opportunity to live because many people had such chance taken from them.
To keep myself busy, I made a thorough search of all the articles and photographs I have saved in my computer through the years. I compiled my Master or Laws research papers, notes, and powerpoint presentations accumulated in my teaching and lecturing vocation. I organized them, created my website and uploaded them in my blog site. It was the next best thing to writing and publishing a book. I also wrote blogs about music, films, arts, and even K-dramas. I tried perfecting my pasta recipes. I made a point to walk around the village everyday and converted part of our garage to a mini-gym. I continued to look after my health through video consultations with my doctors.
Due to the physical distancing and travel restriction guidelines during the pandemic, what I really missed was our trekking group’s outdoor activities. I missed climbing mountains and camping in forests and mountain base camps. Nevertheless, with my new found time, it allowed me to take in the beauty of nature right in my own surroundings. I learned to slow down, relax and appreciate the good and simple things in my mundane life. I enjoyed staying under the sun and proverbially stopped to smell the flowers. The air was noticeably clean. During a lakeshore drive, I could clearly gaze at both the high-rises of Bonifacio Global City and the wind farms nestled on the Sierra mountain range of Rizal while taking a whiff of fresh air.
Despite the pandemic, I continued to write articles for Philippine Resources as a way of getting myself updated with the resources and infrastructure industries. I did a lot of online lectures and webinars, gave interviews, and acted as resource speaker for online forums and conferences as part of my advocacy for renewable energy and responsible mining. My audience were varied - leaders of various industries, law school organizations, students and professionals involved in the mining and renewable energy industry, and geology majors reviewing for their board exams. These activities were my mental exercises.
Though I certainly prefer in-person interaction, the good thing about my online lectures was that participants have overcome their nerves by interacting virtually compared to a physical seminar or conference. I noticed that participants in my webinars and lectures were more active in engaging me with their questions and comments. Surprisingly, even technically-challenged seniors have learned to master the internet and online meetings, including screen sharing of their presentations and files.
I wish an instant reboot of life if not a total deletion from my memory of the enduring tragedies we experienced in 2020. I desire to return to people interacting without wearing wearing face masks and not conscious of any physical distance. But I realize that our lives will not return to our previous normal overnight. My motto is to survive in order to strive and prepare myself for the new normal.
It will be a gradual and slow learning process beset with both small victories and temporary setbacks. Chaos and crises will not follow a timeline. The underlying challenges we encountered in 2020 will continue to haunt us well into the forthcoming years until the virus has totally been eradicated and the traumatic memories would just become a mere footnote in mankind’s history like the Spanish flu of the previous century.
In 2020, we see how quickly our lives changed with the blink of our eyes. We realized that we are not in total control of the world. But the best part is that we are in total control of ourselves and we can certainly control how we interact with the world around us. That basically makes all the difference.
We hope that 2021 will be a brighter and better year. Perhaps we can find inspiration in the biblical story of Job. After Job was made to suffer all misfortunes and tragedies in life, “…the Lord blessed the later days of Job more than his earlier ones ... Job lived a hundred and forty years; and he saw his children, his grandchildren, and even his great-grandchildren. Then Job died, old and full of years.”
A better 2021 starts with a better “me”. Perhaps after a full year of a better 2021, we can look forward to a 2022 that will be even better.
Fernando “Ronnie” S. Penarroyo specializes in Energy and Resources Law, Project Finance and Business Development. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org for any matters or inquiries in relation to the Philippine resources industry. Atty. Penarroyo’s commentaries are also archived at his professional blogsite at www.penarroyo.com