It’s lined up along other boxes in one of the middle floors of a tall building full of busy people minding their own business. Most mornings, I rush to get out because I have to be somewhere important. I cannot be late. There is a certain comfort in knowing where you’re headed, and what you have to do to get there step by step. I spend a minute to make the bed, two minutes to fill my stomach with coffee and bread, three minutes to brush my teeth, four minutes to take a shower, five minutes to dress up and put on a little makeup before I open the door and go.
It’s been a while since I last opened that door.
In the beginning, there was joy. I realized I never liked rushing after all. It felt good waking up and just taking it slow. I had time to look outside the window, and hear myself think: “What do I want to do next?” I wasn’t used to having the option of choosing myself, so when the opportunity presented itself, I grabbed it. I spent hours finally reading books that had started to collect dust on the shelf. I spent days learning from online classes I’d always wanted to take. I spent weeks working on long overdue passion projects, like writing in my blog and making more art. I was happy.
I was happy until I could no longer be.
When you live in a box, it becomes second nature to feel detached. But guilt can so easily take the place of detachment. Privilege is a gift, but it is also a curse. On one hand you let yourself enjoy the cake, the long hours of sleep, the catching up with friends with the hashtag blessed floating on top of your head. On the other hand, you tell yourself gratefulness has no place in this kind of world where people are being reduced to mere statistics, where patients who are also a parent, a child, and a friend are no more than an addition to either of the two tragic categories: active cases or deaths.
This is the tragedy of all tragedies.
In the beginning, there was joy. I realized I never liked rushing after all. It felt good waking up and just taking it slow. I had time to look outside the window, and hear myself think: “What do I want to do next?”
Nobody knows when it ends or if it ever ends at all. You turn on the TV and see the same sad story in the news. Medical frontliners who are exhausted and underpaid work longer shifts. Jeepney drivers who only want to make a living are arrested for protesting and demanding support from the government. Construction workers who are stranded in Metro Manila walk miles for days just to return to their provinces. Overseas Filipino workers who were recently repatriated spend their nights in cold terminals and damp streets. I’ve been asking myself, where is God in all of these?
There were more questions, but not enough answers.
Soon, the joy that morphed into guilt eventually morphed into something else—something infectious that spreads and kills: hopelessness. The worst part is it makes a helpless hostage of anyone it touches, and the only antidote for this disease are answers that are out of reach, answers to questions like: If the heavens permitted this hell on earth, then how do we get out of it? If you cannot even save yourself from such a sorry state, then how do you save the others in need? If you want to comfort others who are also aching, will it be enough to extend a hand that’s trembling?
But enoughness, just like perfection, is nothing more than an illusion.
Maybe we can never really do enough. But maybe we need not worry about whether what we do is enough as long as we keep doing what is right. Nobody has ever perfected the act of generosity, because even altruism is quite self-serving—a good act in exchange for a good feeling. Perhaps perfection is so elusive because it was never meant to be achieved. Perhaps what is enough and what is perfect exist only as ideals to teach us to try harder, to move us to find one another so we can make up for whatever somebody lacks.
And the only way to fill the gaps is to step outside the box.
Inside the box is consolation, but nothing grows out of comfort zones. Outside the box is a war zone nobody can survive alone, and it makes room for true compassion. When we suffer together, we become capable of molding courage out of fear, of looking at our battle scars and understanding they belong exactly right here. When we suffer together, we become each other’s answered prayer. We learn to hope again because we find meaning in living for others. And, lest we forget, wherever there is at least one person who makes us feel less alone, we have a place to call our home.