Today is my grandmother’s 86th birthday. She lives in the province with my titas and cousins. Traveling wears her out, so every year, for as long as I can remember, we would drive to her house to celebrate with her, or throw her a party at a resort or hotel in the area. She loves seeing all of us. She remembers all our birthdays, too. When I turned 38, she whispered to me, snickering: “Tanda mo na.” Everyone heard, and everyone laughed. She has the best punchlines, most of them at our expense.
Because it’s difficult to round all the kids and grandkids up for a video call, we made her a simple video as a gift. Something she could pause, listen to, and watch over and over again. My cousin who lives with her tells me that my grandmother loves it, and even replied to everyone as if it was a call. They filmed her messages and sent them to us. My heart is filled with joy, and despite everything I’m grateful. We can still communicate. Mama knows we love her. But, this is what it’s like now. We spend birthdays apart, making do with virtual greetings, looking forward to the day we can hug each other again without fear of making our loved ones sick.
It was my dad’s birthday last April 30. He spent it in Vietnam. It’s not advisable for him, a senior citizen, to come home because of the quarantine protocols and facilities in Manila. We tried to send him a cake, but were unsuccessful because his birthday fell on a holiday. We sent our greetings through video call, texts, and stickers, hoping they would somehow be good enough. This is what it’s like now.
It was my youngest brother’s birthday last May 19. He lives in Singapore and has to stay there for work reasons. We talked on video, dressed up with filters, and had fun with backgrounds. I was underwater. He had a dog on his head. My mom and brother wore party hats. My dad was an R&B star. It was fun, but I miss them. We usually travel as a family on our birthdays, but this is what it’s like now.
This morning, I watched Anderson Cooper say on his show, “Wearing a mask is a sign of respect and decency; it’s looking out for other people.” We keep being told: social distancing and staying at home is crucial to eradicating the virus. Yet, as the country slowly reopens — heck, even way before it did — we’ve seen people, some in positions of authority, enforcers of lockdown laws and guardians of public safety, throw parties for officemates they probably don’t even like, and then test positive for the virus a few weeks later. I’ve missed the birthdays of people I love, and in this climate of uncertainty and unrest, in this (hopefully temporary) period of isolation and anxiety, that’s not an easy thing. I miss my family. You miss yours. And here are people holding send-offs and mañanitas, deadly-pandemic-that-has-gripped-the-world be damned.
Last Tuesday, we walked to our favorite restaurant. They’ve been allowed to reopen at 30% capacity, with two-meter social distancing, and mandatory masks for the guests and staff. We were horrified to discover that no safety protocols were being implemented. That, and there was a birthday party. Welcome to Denial Town. Population: Way more than we can handle. Motto: What You Don’t Believe in Can’t Hurt You. I was naïve to think we’re all on the same page. I’ve missed the birthdays of people I love. Many of us have. So why can’t you?