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Treadmills

/ 05:03 AM October 31, 2021

I have never had such mastery of the view outside my window before. There are the green slates of my rooftop, the streetlamp and the dull yellow light it emits starting at 6 p.m., the electric wires that droop downward, the handful of coconut trees that frame the house across the street, the silhouette of the Manila skyline in the distance. There is the sky and its many varied hues — a happy blue on a summer afternoon, a dull gray in the “’ber” months, a deep shade of red or purple as the sun makes its way across the horizon. This is a view I have seen daily in my over two decades of living in this house, but it’s a landscape I etched into memory only recently.

That is what 586 days spent indoors and staring wistfully outside will do. Time passes in a way it never did before. My watch sits untouched on my dresser, its utility now near nonexistent as I no longer need to segment my days in the same way, frantically shuffling from one activity to the next. My shoes are coated in thick layers of dust, my closet filled with going-out clothes I have little use for now. Only my planner maintains its old rhythms, marking the passage of months in its valiant efforts to project normalcy.

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It strikes me how much the world outside changes even while my view remains the same. The headlines seem to be in an unceasing competition, constantly trying to top what came the day before — and succeeding, for the most part. The magnitude of world events has kept a steady pace, stuck at a high tempo and fever pitch. The COVID-19 figures, the chaos abroad and at home, wash over me. The anger and anxiety are difficult to sustain. My attention becomes fragmented even as my view stays stationary.

On a smaller scale, I watch as friends and family mark major milestones from afar. While on a Zoom call recently, my friend propped up his laptop to show us the landscape outside. This was how he announced he had moved to France since we last spoke. Congratulatory screams, shrieks, shouts of surprise followed. Not long before this, I learned while on a video call that one of my oldest friends was about to be married. A small group of her friends and family then tuned in weeks later as she and her now husband exchanged vows. Closer to home, my brother and his wife had a baby. We caught our first glimpse of baby Elio and first heard his voice through photos and videos shared on WhatsApp. My social media feeds are similarly populated with posts about babies on the way, impending marriages, losses, big moves. Landmark birthdays, weddings, graduations — these many rituals that separate one phase of life from the next — now relegated to livestreams and group chats. It is bittersweet to bear witness to these transitions from a safe social distance.

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I miss the million moments of micro and macro connections that characterized the world of before. I miss walking down the hallways at work and smiling or waving at acquaintances, colleagues, friends. I miss catching up with people in small, constant doses, learning about friends’ workout routines, the latest show they were hooked on, their latest small-scale failure, their most recent personal triumph. I miss all the little things—the collection of plants the lady sitting two seats across from me at work was slowly cultivating, the posters the colleague behind her put up in rotation. I miss how people’s routines would overlap and collide even without any prior coordination. At the same time, I know it is an immense privilege to long for these things while I am safely indoors.

A few weeks ago, “Notting Hill” was playing in the background for the umpteenth time and a familiar scene gained particular resonance for me. Hugh Grant makes his way down Portobello Road almost in a bubble, detached and unchanging in the face of bitter breakups and downturns and the ceaseless march of the seasons. It almost feels as if we are all on a similar stroll, steadily accumulating steps on our own separate treadmills—stationary even as the world charges ahead. Although I do know this is just an illusion. Even without our realizing it, we are steadily advancing. The forward motion might be incremental, measured in mere inches, but it is movement nonetheless.

I reflect on all this even as I embark on milestones of my own — an upcoming landmark birthday, the move away from my childhood home, a belated master’s graduation, the close of one job and the beginning of another, my own march down the aisle. It strikes me just how much changes even while the view outside remains the same, how much can shift and alter and evolve. The scale of change is daunting. I feel almost paralyzed by the weight of all the things that must get done in the days ahead. I take a deep breath and take the next small step.

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Monica Melchor, 29, is a graduate of UP Diliman. She works as an economic analyst and teaches a course on development economics at the Ateneo de Manila University.

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TAGS: change, COVID-19 lockdown, Monica Melchor, Young Blood
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