[OPINION] The pandemic and the search for home
We are constantly in search of home. This is what the world’s longest coronavirus lockdown has made us realize.
When the President announced the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), many workers, students, and families alike rushed to bus terminals, while the more privileged drove out of Metro Manila to their respective provinces before public transportation and mobility were limited – supposedly to curb the transmission of COVID-19.
Even before the formal announcement of the ECQ, I already took a hint from the week-long class suspension in Metro Manila. I packed 3 days' worth of clothing, grabbed my backpack, slid my laptop inside, and immediately booked a ride to the bus station. Upon arriving at the bus station, I was shocked to see that some of the drivers and conductors of the bus company I patronize had been picketing for weeks, saying they were not given just wages and due benefits. I expressed my support for them and immediately rushed to the next bus terminal. That day, I only had one goal in mind: to go home. And on my way home, rumors started circulating that a lockdown would be imposed. I could not have been more thankful that I was on the road.
What unfolded before us was a catastrophe. With public transportation at a halt and stay-at-home measures strictly enforced, many who did not have the chance to travel before the lockdown were caught in the crossfire. Thousands were stranded in their offices, apartments, and barracks, and some had no choice but to be out on the streets. They came from different places and probably spoke in different tongues, but in my head, they were all shouting in unison: “We want to go home.” (READ: Stranded worker dies while waiting for bus ride home to Bicol)
And it made me understand – again – that home is not always a place. It is a feeling of comfort and safety that may or may not involve other people. Some people who were left to fend for themselves felt solace and peace, being away from the cacophony of the outside world. They were in their concept of home. Others, myself included, had the chance to travel and are now in the comforts of their houses with all the provisions they need. This is what they call home.
But more people didn’t have any other choice but to stay put where they were. They were also in search of home. Some had a hard time putting food on their plates, when it is food that gives them a sense of home. Some miss out on the comfort of family and friends who assure them of love and care, both materially and emotionally, in this time of great crisis. And although there are a lucky few who don’t have to worry about making ends meet, they also miss out on opportunities to bond with friends and significant others. Even the emergence of technological tools such as Zoom has not satisfied our longingness for home, and this only proves how the pandemic has altered our notion of personal security.
People close to me have been looking forward to certain events, and I've seen these events toned down or outright canceled because of the pandemic. A cousin’s wedding celebration has been postponed for next year. My aunt moved into a new house without much fanfare. Commencement exercises for some of my friends have been moved to a more auspicious date. Former classmates who were supposed to take their licensure examinations have to go through rigorous review days again. Some traveler friends, who consider the world their home, have had to postpone their travel goals. The pandemic has destroyed everything we've considered normal, including our perception of home – our dearly beloved country included. (READ: How to help locally stranded Filipinos near NAIA who want to go home)
It had occurred to me lately that, prior to the pandemic, I hadn't been staying in one place for too long since I left the province to pursue my undergraduate studies. Going back once in a while to my home province and my undergraduate university always made me rethink my own concept of home. Do I still call it home when the people with whom I had the greatest pleasure of befriending were no longer there? Is it all in my head now?
The constant search for home, in truth, is a search for happiness and contentment. It is an effort to find a place to settle in, where we can be happy with what we do and can be both candid and affectionate with the people around us. Home is a state where the heart finds rest, an abode for the withered soul in the midst of a chaotic world, with or without a pandemic.
Home is where we would rather be, and there is no place like it. – Rappler.com
Edward Joseph H. Maguindayao is a graduate student at the University of the Philippines-Diliman.