Exposing a virus, being exposed by the virus instead
“For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (Jn 3:20)
“Sometimes our worst enemy best mirrors us to ourselves”—Leo the Mountaineer
I woke up in the middle of the night recently. The pall of gloom seemed worsened by a massive blackout in Eastern Samar my province. But the real blackout, it hit me, is, right now, Covid-19. A thought crossed my mind on the Philippine and world crisis response: “TRYING TO CONTROL A VIRUS, NOW CONTROLLED BY THE VIRUS INSTEAD”. It suddenly appeared to me, like a phantom of the night, how local, national and world leaders are scrambling to find ways of keeping an unseen malevolent enemy confined within an unseen cage until they can effectively discover ways to terminate, manipulate or use it for their own ends. In the end the unseen enemy is controlling everyone’s behavior, decisions and actions such that it is now the focal point of political, economic, social and cultural changes now called the “new normal”.
However, as world leaders and experts work themselves into a frenzy of controlling Covid-19, there is a constant need to expose its ins and outs, no matter how unseen its nature. But in the end Covid-19 is really exposing them and all of us humans for the things that we have been actually doing to ourselves.
FACEMASKS AND PPEs. Covid-19 makes us see how we have been wearing so many masks even before facemasks became what they are now—a worldwide craze. And a mask is a face, each one distinct from the other, depending on what the immediate environment calls for or the motive behind wearing it. We have a face for the home, one that may be more truthful or honest. We have another face for friends, probably more honest and truthful than the home face, but it also depends on how deep or shallow the friendships are. We have another face at work which is totally adjusted to the degree working relationships have either become positive or negative in relation to job security, sense of fulfilment or disillusionment etc. Still there are other faces we wear for the school, the church, our social circles and society at large; we wear them for our own ends and purposes, whatever they are. In the process of wearing so many different faces, we either serve or mangle truth and goodness, justice and right. Shakespeare once wrote: “Why, I can smile, and murder while I smile: and cry, content to that which grieves my heart; and wet my cheeks with artificial tears, and frame my face to all occasions.” So Covid-19 says: “Since you actually wear different masks, why don’t I make you more truthful by requiring you to wear visible ones?”
SOCIAL/PHYSICAL DISTANCING. Although musicians and poets may agree with Worsworth who once said that the “sweetest melodies are those that are made by distance more sweet”, the distancing we now engage in has more mundane, pragmatic ends. We do (social or safe) distancing to avoid something perceived harmful or dangerous. In fact, truck drivers got it first. They sometimes remind you by putting up a sign behind their vehicles, even before Covid-19: “DISTANCIA, AMIGO (Keep Distance, Friend)” to avoid accidents. On the other hand, that is what we have been doing with some people, groups or associations that are objects of our loathing. Many couples keep distance even from their spouses after some years of problematic marriages. Many of us are forced to keep distance from our families because we work or live outside the country or because we have inflicted wounds on one another or do not wish to inflict any on our loved ones if they discovered the kind of life we are living. Our leaders are even more distant to their opposition counterparts. Nations have been keeping distances between themselves: superpowers in their toxic rivalries with fellow superpowers worsen this distance between nations, superpowers also add to the distance between them and weaker nations by bullying them or exploiting their poverty and underdevelopment to advance their hegemonic and other ends. So Covid-19 decided: “You have been cultivating varying degrees of artificial distances between one another. Why don’t I make it official?”
ISOLATION/QUARANTINE/LOCKDOWN. Covid-19 has exposed the many different types of self-absorption we are given to. There is the self-absorption of a Sartrean kind born of a conviction that “hell is other people” when we refuse to see others as other selves for whom we need to settle or accept differences. There is the self-absorption that makes us mind only our own interests or those of our family or its extensions, that is, our relatives, barkadas, province, region or just preferred human company. There is likewise the self-absorption in the excessive love of one’s own race, culture and nationality that makes people either look down on those of others or kowtow to highly favored ones out of a sense of self-perceived or self-assigned Inferiority. And here comes Covid-19 telling us: “You have asked it upon yourselves. I have no choice but to give in. So here you are, isolate yourselves in a lockdown courtesy of your ECQ.”
TESTING. Tests are used to measure performances or to determine patterns, behavior and causes of diseases or the success and bad performance of products or goods. But because of the varying degrees of difficulty tests are associated with, including the fear of failure or, worse, loss of career or life, tests are often dreaded and even avoided. Covid-19, for its part, has exposed us to the need for testing so as to identify the virus carriers, trace their contacts and eventually treat them. But governments balk at the high costs of testing and would rather pursue goals that make people believe they are doing enough testing when their concept of enough actually does not measure up at least to people’s expectations. Then we forget the hard truth—that testing also lies in the varying degrees of difficulty we put up in the necessary effort to understand and relate with one another. We test one another’s patience by our professed hardnosed professionalism when the reality we unabashedly exhibit is a hard-headed arrogance. We test our hard-earned harmonious relationship by insisting on what we consider the right view of things when all that we show is hubris. We test our ability to trust by acts of betrayal, our ability to hope by perpetual preoccupation with bad or fake news, our sense of charity by a proclivity to curse and malign others. And here comes Covid-19 saying: “You factually are addicted to testing. So I’ll make you think of the need to be tested, even of the need for mass testing.”
FREQUENT HAND-WASHING. Covid-19 has exposed our culpable abandonment of our responsibilities to our families, communities and societies. We refuse to correct our children’s mistakes for fear of alienating them or losing their love. We leave to others the responsibility of feeding, teaching and exemplifying before them proper manners or even a sense of morality in an increasingly morality-unfriendly world. We turn our backs on the poor and the environment except when their cries already disturb our social pleasures, entitlements or our well-groomed, well-oiled, callous consciences. In our ordinary day-to-day lives we often sell ourselves as either faithful worshippers or truthful followers of the Messiah; but most of the time we do a Pilate. So thus speaks Covid-19: “I hear you loud and clear. You want yourselves to be clean of your responsibilities. Be my guests. I’ll make you indulge your source of pleasure—do frequent hand-washing. In the guise of keeping a virus away, enjoy the splash of water and the thrill of escape from responsibility.”
Covid-19, in short, is today’s “THECEL”—”You have been weighed in a balance-scale and have come up short” (Dn 5:27).
It is also today’s teaser to Jesus’ open invitation in the Gospel: “This is the time of fulfilment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Good News” (Mk1:15).