These words hold more power now more than ever, in these unprecedented times. At best, they are empowering. At worst, they are alarming. I say alarming because there are instances when I find myself scrambling for answers to this simple question. I don’t even know how to start. Before, I used to settle for just an “Okay naman” answer. Today, even “Okay” does not seem enough.
No matter how unnerving it might seem, I still think it’s important that we ask this question as often as possible, when we still have the chance. If we don’t, it will be difficult to cope, much less survive. The coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on all of us. One person who finds the courage to ask another “kumusta ka” and have the patience to listen to the answer — no matter how deafening the silence may seem — is kindness that goes a long way.
Kumusta ka opens opportunities for deeper connections, for developing bonds that will transcend any tragedy. It makes you realize that you are part of something greater than yourself, and that there is no better time than now to cultivate and strengthen meaningful relationships.
With kumusta ka, you may be able to see the world through the eyes of another wounded, beautiful soul. And for a brief yet life-changing moment, you are able to empathize with his or her frustrations, suffering, and victories. You’ll find that there is a husband who suddenly lost his job but is doing his best to keep it together. You’ll admire how he humbly accepts that things can fall apart very quickly, that he won’t ever get it all figured out, and yet he has this unwavering faith that things will eventually fall into place at the right time.
Kumusta ka lets you into the bizarre world of nanays, tatays, and guardians who find themselves juggling multiple roles and caring for their children, grandchildren, and loved ones stuck at home. You’ll feel how they are especially challenged not only to find some sense of normalcy for themselves, but also to keep a sense of calm and stability for their families.
A kumusta ka allows you to be humbled by the selfless act of a 52-year-old taho vendor who eases the pain of distressed COVID-19 frontliners by giving away free drinks. With a kumusta ka, you’ll discover that the same taho vendor, who has been living inside a jeepney, suffered a mild stroke but still has the strength to roam the streets to sell taho for a few hours.
A kumusta ka gives you the chance to rekindle old friendships. This simple gesture may give you the relief of knowing that those friends whom you haven’t been in touch with for eight or more years are still the same people who feel like home. A kumusta ka may also be the start of a new friendship; it’s a good way to reach out to people who are grieving the loss of a loved one in these challenging times.
Kumusta ka opens your eyes to the harsh realities faced by the noblest heroes of our time — the health care workers who are bearing the bulk of the coronavirus burden that gets heavier by the day. The magnitude of their sacrifices cannot be put into words. A kumusta ka will definitely not be enough, but it is certainly a good start toward finding out how you will be able to express your gratitude to them, how you can help them, and how you can let them know that you are there for them.
And while you’re lending an ear to other people’s kumusta ka stories, don’t ever forget to ask yourself the same question. Kumusta nga ba ako?
And it’s okay to not have the answers right away. Give yourself all the time you need to understand your experiences, to feel all your emotions, and to heal.
In the process, you’ll find out that the answers to kumusta nga ba ako may come in the form of anxiety, fear, tears, desperation, and even anger. And that’s okay. What’s important is to be honest with yourself and acknowledge how you feel. I cannot overemphasize how self-compassion will help us tread a path toward recovering from the devastating effects of this pandemic.
You matter, even if you feel like you don’t. Yes, it’s good to boost other people up, but it’s also equally important, if not more important, to make ourselves feel valued.
You matter because you have your own story to tell. You matter. You always have and you always will.
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Maria Fatima Reyes-Niebres, 29, is a freelance writer who loves to chase stories that matter.
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