A letter to Pol, 19

Dear Pol,

I hope this letter finds you safe and sound. It is 2020, and this year is a year to remember. Today, it is 45 degrees outside, and we are heading toward the peak of summer in this foreign land. However, this day is unlike any other normal day because the rest of the world is suffering from a pandemic, which has changed the way I see life.


I know it has always been your dream to ride an airplane, touch the clouds, and go above them, looking down on the world below with all its glory and magnificence. Don’t worry, I assure you that you will get there as long as you keep working hard.

But before you go above the clouds, kindly go talk and spend time with your family and friends. The pandemic we are going through, which scientists call COVID-19, has put up an overwhelming number of restrictions. People can no longer go about their normal routine over the fear of either contracting or spreading the virus. They can’t dine out in their favorite restaurants with their families and friends as social gatherings are strictly prohibited. That means hanging out on the rooftop of the house of your classmate, or on the nearby hilltop after class with your best friends, would be impossible. Schools have also suspended classes without completing the previous academic year. A lot of schools and universities have resorted to online classes, which I am certain you would not be able to attend because you neither have a computer nor an internet connection at home. It would be such a huge burden for you and for those students like you whose parents could hardly put food on the table.


Moreover, momentous events such as the graduation rites and moving-up ceremonies of my former students and the weddings of my friends have also been canceled. It is even impossible to take my vacation this year as traveling has posed more risks, and undergoing quarantine might take up most of the time allotted for my break. You wouldn’t believe it, but all of these are presently happening simultaneously. The world is at a standstill.

Aside from this, everyone is advised to refrain from shaking hands with others. Wearing a face mask and gloves, and applying hand sanitizer every now and then, are a must, especially when going out to the supermarket to purchase basic necessities, or when people are at their work places.

Physical distancing, one of the most widely used terms at present, may not be acceptable there in your time, but it is common here. Keeping distance from others, even from your neighbors, is the new normal. This tiny virus has tremendously changed our day-to-day lives. What once used to be busy and bustling streets have transformed into ghost towns during curfew and lockdown, where no one is allowed to leave their homes. If you could only see all of these, you would think the scenes were taken from one of your favorite fiction books or movies.

You are lucky because you have the luxury of time and convenience in doing all these things. I know you are very busy supporting yourself through college and working on a mountain pile of paperwork and articles for your journalism and creative writing classes, but could you pause for a while and bask in the beauty of a normal day?

You may be having a hard time now meeting all the requirements for your course and making ends meet. I believe there are a lot of good opportunities in store for you. But in order for you to not regret later in life, stop taking even the simplest of things for granted, not even every second that you spend with your family. Do not be like those people who took the microscopic coronavirus lightly and later regretted their negligence and indifference. It is not forever that you can be with your loved ones, and life as an OFW is lonely yet fulfilling.

Last week a former colleague and close friend told me that his father had passed away. The hardest part of it was that he could not attend his father’s funeral back in their hometown, as flights had been suspended. This is one of the saddest and most challenging parts of your dream of working overseas. There are so many uncertainties, and you have to anticipate them. In fact, this pandemic has wreaked havoc among fellow OFWs. Thousands of our compatriots have either been laid off, terminated from their jobs, or been issued a salary cut, leaving them unable to provide for their families back in the Philippines, especially during this trying time when they need it the most.

It is 2012 there, and every day seems like any other normal day, except for the rumors going around about doomsday. I’d like you to know that it is in these normal days that you will find the precious value of time and see the hidden beauty of life.


I wish you all the best! Stay safe and healthy!



* * *

Apolinar T. Malabayabas, 27, works at an international school in the Middle East and salutes OFWs around the world during this pandemic. He wrote this letter to his 19-year-old self.

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