Defiant hope from the predeparture lounge
COVID-19 has forced a reassessment of the “residual utility” of senior citizens. So far, the balance of opinion seems to look at senior citizens as a liability, a sector so vulnerable to the virus that they will overwhelm the health system to the detriment of younger people who might be more deserving to live. The apparent logic is, seniors can give way — they have nearly quenched their quota of life, anyway.
It is a sad perspective that looks at senior citizens collectively as more of a liability than a resource. But it is a necessary perspective to explore, in light of a pandemic like COVID-19 that forces zero-sum national calculations. Let me contribute to this discussion not as a senior citizen anxious about the loss of his freedom, but only to share my appreciation for some truly exemplary seniors who have served the nation well.
One of them is Edmundo Garcia, nationalist senior citizen par excellence.
Prof. Ed Garcia has come out with his latest book, “Defiant Hope” (2020, 73p.) It is a rich, multifaceted marathon reflection on the current pandemic, which has fortuitously created the mood, the time, and the space for him to produce this important work. The subtitle gives its main theme and perspective: “Quarantine Stories from a Distance.” The book is divided into four parts: “Citizens, Stand Your Ground!”, “Young People, Be Brave and Be Kind!”, “People in the Line of Fire, Keep Strong!”, and “People of Courage, Keep Hope Alive!”
Ed Garcia served as one of the framers of the 1987 Philippine Constitution. He was in the “parliament of the streets,” from the First Quarter Storm onward until the People Power redemption in 1986. He was my colleague at the Department of Political Science at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. But he could not be locked down in one place; he was meant to roam the world, including Latin America, Europe and Oceania, as a human rights and peace activist cum teacher for decades. We of the “senior” generations know him well. The “defiance” in the title is a grounded, honest accounting of the adversities, challenges, and vicissitudes the nation has experienced over the past half-decade. Ed Garcia is in an eminent position to present these in their meaningful historical, personal, as well as international contexts. The “hope” in the title is an irrepressible commitment to triumph over adversity. It is a commitment that has been forged through unyielding decades of principled struggle.
On seniors facing the challenge of COVID-19, Ed talks about sacrificial civility, which he terms “sage-ing in quarantine.” He elaborates:
“In this coronavirus pandemic period, elderly people over the age of 60 have been identified as the most vulnerable. While this is so, what continues to amaze me is the fact that a few of those who have continued to serve in spite of or precisely because of their age have not been afraid to make sacrifices and inspire a new generation.
“The story is told, for example, of an aging Italian priest ministered to by a young medic in the Bergamo area in northern Italy. While he was being fitted a ventilator, the priest turns to a younger person in the ward and whispers: ‘Take it, for you have a better chance than this old man who has already lived a full life.’ The doctor in attendance watches in disbelief, as the young man is fitted the ventilator and the elderly priest breathes his last prayers.”
Personally, the notion of defiant hope conjures in me an image of a hardy weed emerging from cracks in the pavement. We all see it when we walk to school, to work, or venture out to seek others and ourselves. The odds are against it, but it manages to reach for the air and the sun. When the rain comes, it shares in the manna of universal life from moist soil that even man-made concrete cannot withhold from all living things. And, while hemmed in by adversity, it manages to eventually proclaim its victory in a tiny flower or two—harbingers of the future and of defiant hope.
Needless to say, critical thinkers like Ed Garcia are a resource, not a liability. They are our nation’s connection to our complex past, and to our defiant hope for the future. All the more when the nation is in the grip of an extinction-level crisis, seniors provide younger generations deeply marinated insights into the troubled soul of the nation.
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