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HORIZONS

The year of courage and sacrifice

/ 05:04 AM December 29, 2020

“Uncle should come out [now],” cried my niece, Aryana. Her innocent command, with its cherubic cadence, pierced through the door of my lonely room. She seemingly missed her uncle. Though we lived far apart, I constantly telegraphed my affections through video calls and gifts from the world over throughout the years.

When she was only one year old, a tender yet feisty child, my sister briefly entrusted me with taking care of her in my little apartment in Manila. Those were among the sweetest and most testing hours, as I tried to tap into whatever “father instinct” I had in me, corralling Aryana’s overflowing energy against any perilous direction. Gladly, she remembers it all, or at least that’s what she sees from the mosaic of priceless memories stored on her phone.

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Once, when I gently held onto her adorable cheek, telling her how delightful they were, my voice tinged with that indescribable sensation we Filipinos call “gigil,” she tried to remind me of my own supposed childhood features. Within seconds, she produced, with characteristic insouciance, a frame tucked among her blankets, which apparently had our baby pictures next to each other. It melts my heart every time I think of it.

That night, as she emerged from her long hours of homeschooling, Aryana wondered about her uncle and why he had quickly disappeared into a borrowed room in her parents’ house. She probably missed her energetic playmate, her only uncle and his silly antics.

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It was just a few days into my precautionary self-isolation following a more than 12-hour-long flight, 20 hours of transit, and a seeming eternity of irrepressible anxiety as all of us, passengers and crew alike, covered ourselves with shields, masks, and fear through the skies and over the oceans.

A similar story followed, although with less feverish intensity, in the airports, as everyone sought to keep maximum distance from each other. To avoid infection, I tried to shun restrooms as much as possible, in airports but especially in airplanes. It was my most challenging travel yet, far exceeding those in the early phase of the pandemic across Asia and North America in January and February.

After almost two weeks of self-isolation in various permutations, with three different (out-of-pocket) tests before and after flight, I was finally able to rejoin my family on the other side of the Eurasian continent. I still wonder how I got through those days of total solitude.

For months, my mom advised against traveling, but I felt obliged to pitch in after my dad’s successive stints in the emergency room. One landed him in the ICU, another in the surgery room shortly before I decided to fly out. With winter approaching, and fear of a new wave of infections gripping the temperate regions, I knew that my mom and sister were overstretched.

To ensure my dad’s safety, we chose the best possible health care facilities, which meant more expenses to cover. The economic crisis amid the pandemic meant that all of us were operating on a tighter budget, some on a shoestring. But the most challenging part was constantly worrying over loved ones, especially when they were thousands of miles away.

But as “People’s Poet” Edgar Albert Guest advised, “So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit, It’s when things seem worst that you mustn’t quit.”

So we pooled our resources, from our beating hearts and drained pockets, to ensure we covered the tracks. Getting nurses and therapists was also not the easiest option, and we worried for both our parents. That meant I needed to step up and do whatever I could to be there for my parents in the most difficult moments.

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Throughout all these struggles, including my grandmother’s ICU confinement on Christmas Eve, we tried our best to keep faith, to cherish loving memories and precious moments, and take a measure of confidence from our shared willingness to sacrifice and show courage in the face of the pandemic.

We also took inspiration from countless brave women and men the world over, including blood relations on the frontlines, who have conquered the fear of a once-in-a-century plague with faith and determination. In the words of Rudyard Kipling, “And so hold on when there is nothing in you. Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’”

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TAGS: 2020, coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19, Horizons, Richard Heydarian
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