In a few hours, I am about to enter the third decade of my life. The second decade, however, is perhaps a depiction of this undying paradoxical passage from “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens:
“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.”
In this opening paragraph of the historical novel, Charles Dickens was particularly describing the state of affairs in England and France in the 18th century. Yet, this opening line is also universally describing times.
In my early twenties, I was a newly licensed pharmacist and an aspiring writer. It was a season of blossoming for me, a period of new found freedom and confidence, of wealth and endless opportunities. I was 22 when I started writing my own fantasy book series while teaching Pharmacy in a university and starting my master’s degree. At 25, the first book of the series was finally published. The first five years of my twenties was a promised land to me. But with my late twenties came financial constraints and confusion, lies and betrayal, hatred and oppression. At 26, I lost two jobs consecutively and was unable to continue my graduate study. Quarter-life crisis had begun striking. It was beating me hard, and I was about to succumb deep into a depression.
Fast forward to age 28, redemption was finally in my favor. I was able to get back on my feet again and set on new adventures. At last, I finished my master’s degree with the help of a new scholarship, found a better university to teach at, and was given various writing opportunities, both on paper and online, both local and international.
Indeed, it was a ten-year tale of self-discovery, growth, and overcoming obstacles.
Now, I enter into my 30s. I told myself I will go and try on some new things. Something more relaxed yet riskier; perhaps go to a remote island or drink randomly in a bar and meet strangers but then… COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns took the world by storm.
Today, while in self-quarantine, I wait for my birthday to arrive. So this must be what 30 feels like: a blend of sadness and excitement. It’s the mentality that leaving my 20s behind means losing not only my youth but also my physical strength and dynamism－that sexist double standard that hit aging people hard, especially women. But it’s also a question either to treat it as a death sentence or a breath of fresh air, the latter being a privilege after all the tragedies the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to humanity.
30… and I am unmarried and childless, not exactly the picture that most people in our society expect from a woman of this age. But in this time of pandemic and uncertainty, it relieves me that, at least, I am not facing any child care crisis or having kids losing their childhood. And with this, I contemplate on a Bible excerpt, from Luke 23:29 (English Standard Version): For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’
30… and I must admit, I am still confused. Lost. Struggling to find my purpose in life and place in this world. Sometimes, I wonder if these make me a failure. If I made the right decisions in my life in the last ten years.
But, I hang on to the notion that we can never truly map out how life will turn out. And that we can’t always control the people and events in our lives.
I don’t know what the next decade of my life will bring, but what I know for certain are the life lessons that my 20s and this COVID-19 pandemic have taught me.
1. Be grateful always, no matter how life is difficult. Life is a big box of surprises and wake-up calls. One moment you’re up in the air and the next thing you know you are drowning in water.
This pandemic has revealed our human vulnerabilities. It has revealed the evidence of the destructive human impact. We’ve cut trees and destroyed the homes of animals. We’ve dug deeper and unleashed deadly chemicals. We’ve manufactured more and poisoned the realms.
Regardless, regret does not add up to the times we’ve lost, and learning and re-learning should be the skills to master. This crisis should be an awakening for us to be happier with the small things, that reading is more productive than gossiping. That aiming for instant gratification and chasing perfection are slavery. That a smile and compliment will not harm others but rather warm them. That secrets and small talks can turn into headlines. That listening is what matters more in a conversation. That a simple act of gratitude could turn ripples into waves.
This crisis must be an awakening for us to be more determined to unravel the inner workings of the universe.
As we welcome new things into our lives, as we delve into the “new normal” and enter into the post-COVID-19 era, we must stand firm together with a grateful spirit. A grateful spirit is, after all, close to the heart of the universe, to its boundless beauty and abundance.
2. Life’s greatest lessons come from failures, not successes. To fail is to live. Failure is heartbreaking, but it’s also a stepping stone to success. Failure is an indicator that we need to take better actions and be more confident even with the smallest details.
This pandemic has reminded us that we are repeating our failures. That we are only responsive once we get hit the hard way, when the fire has already consumed more than half of the house.
We used to be fond with fake ideals and quick exchanges. We ignored poverty and waste and instead went for whatever is plenty and glittering. We neglected the ramifications of our words and actions. We chose not to make wise and responsible decisions. We swelled and swelled until we are forced to hide away.
This pandemic has reminded us the importance of good leaders and good systems. The importance of values and regard to humanity. The importance of taking a healthy ownership of our errors and keeping a friendly attitude.
This must be a realization that no matter what part of the globe we come from, we are all fundamentally the same, and that we are all part of a one big community.
3. God’s gifts are meant to be shared. We are all born equal and unique in our own ways. But what makes some people go further is their audacity to take the risks, to try and fail, and go against the conventional. Not using God’s gifts is a tragedy. Not trying is a failure by itself. We may not have the same opportunities in life, but God has bestowed us unique talents and skills because all these add value to the world He created.
In this pandemic, we’ve seen people donating to charities. NGOs aiding cities after cities. LGUs exhausting all resources to make ends meet.
For countries, we’ve seen them combine all efforts and capabilities in the hope of building healthier systems. We’ve seen them make new priorities. We’ve seen them build a world aiming for more unified and advanced warning systems for future crises. For more strategic schemes for environmental and wildlife protection. For more contained bio-warfare programs－anything that lays the foundation for a finer planet earth. For it must be clear now that we are all global citizens, and global citizens need global collaboration and solidarity.
4. Pray, it works. Prayer is an intimate conversation with the Higher Power. This pandemic has taught us to pray more, to pray for better health and security. For miracles. For vaccines and treatments. Some may have prayed for the first time in many years when they began to receive nothing. Some may have prayed for the first time in their lives when they knew the end was near.
This pandemic has taught us to be more sensitive to other people’s situations, especially those clinging to their last coins. I pray that the marginalized and helpless people won’t be exploited. That they receive what they ought to receive. I also pray for the people in the government, that they will be less greedy and be more proactive. For in this time of crisis, it is a collective victory that we need, not a defeat of our morale.
5. Whatever happens, be compassionate always. Life is not always carefree. Sometimes, our world is shaken. Sometimes, there is shipwreck. Sometimes, bridges burn. But these things happen for us to be relocated to a better place. To a better time.
In this pandemic, we have gained and lost. We have laughed and cried. Although the experience is distressing and difficult, we hold on to that belief that life has always something good to offer and that there is strength in suffering. And to be compassionate, amid all of these, is a triumph beyond compare.
Teresa May Bandiola is a pharmacist-educator and a published writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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