“How many challenges, but also how many triumphs, small mercies, and pockets of perfection?”
I took my family on a trip to the beach during the last week of 2021. It was something I had long saved for and was excited about. So once the number of fresh cases went below 1,000—in early November, if I remember correctly—we started looking for places which we could book for our long-delayed family outing.
The pandemic had tried all of us in different ways and I figured we all could use a break. The children – well, young adults, really – were at a point in their lives when they should be exploring their options, spreading their wings, even leaving the nest. But because of COVID-19, these did not happen. In fact, one who had been living in another city moved back into the same building (which I thought was a fantastic development), one who had already left our home moved back in, and the two who were supposed to be enjoying college life found themselves learning in front of the computer.
And when in normal times this was a time for people of these ages to dream and begin shaping their future, the uncertainty brought about by COVID-19 made it difficult for them to even plan their next moves, or even be certain about what they wanted to do.
This would be a good trip, I felt. It was an opportune time to take stock of many things in our lives, individually and as a family. As a bonus, the three who had significant others were allowed their respective plus-ones, so it would be a good way to see how we all blended during an extended period of time. We could balance me-time, couple time, and family time.
We left Manila when there were fewer than 500 new cases documented the previous day.
On Day 1, the driver was prompt, the drive was swift and pleasant, and, as an initial treat, we learned we were one of only three families booked in the resort that week. We enjoyed the meals which we had ordered the week before, especially the grilled fresh catch and the vegetables prepared by the staff. I discovered a hammock in front of our room, just a few feet from the water, and spent an hour of lovely sleep there in the mid-afternoon. Another bonus – data was strong, strong enough to let me peek into a Zoom Christmas party among friends that evening.
Later, I was on a beach recliner, looking up at the sky and hearing the waves crash onto the shore. There was the sound of laughter of the people close to me and some jazz playing from a speaker. I thought then, I wish I could freeze this perfect moment.
And then my older daughter’s boyfriend approached with their two-year-old Maltese, Cloud, adorable as ever. Cloud settled on the sand beside me. And just like that, perfect became “more perfect.”
My daughter is an early riser and on Day 2 we were up early enough to catch the sunrise. We took photos and did a Tiktok video over coffee before rousing everyone for breakfast. On my way back to the beach I saw a rainbow and was overcome with certainty that all this beauty had an architect, and that Someone was watching out for us. I started reading the thick book that I had brought, but did not get too far, because my boys and two of the SOs went kayaking, with Cloud sporting his own vest. I just had to take more photos.
I went back to my hammock, and fell asleep again. I was awakened, not rudely, by a call to lunch. And then, that afternoon we were awed by the sunset – the previous day’s was obscured by rain – that rendered everything deep and bittersweet and poignant. Every frame seemed to be of a different shade of orange. Again, as if under pressure, I rushed to take photos – of myself on the hammock, of Cloud with his parents on the balcony of our room, of the two other couples in their separate universes in the water, and of the boy who often sat silent and lost in his own thoughts.
In the evening, after dinner, everyone was on party mode, knowing it was our last night at the resort. There was another Tiktok made of almost everyone doing a silly dance, and I thought they should remember this moment when they are bickering about the dishes or the trash back home.
On the third day, upon my daughters’ advice, I rummaged through my bag for all the dresses I had not yet worn and taken photos of. I had a photo of myself with my boys, who both did a great job of getting in shape this year, and with my girls, with us wearing similar dresses in different colors. We used to call ourselves the Powerpuff Girls.
Again I felt a wave of contentment. We were a shallow bunch who had had enough of big drama early on. Too soon, our ride arrived, and just as we piled into the van we realized we had not firmed up our dinner plans. I got dizzy from the zigzag roads, fell asleep, heard that a few calls were being made, and when I woke up I was informed of our New Year’s Eve menu. I thought – they’ve got this all figured out.
We knew it would be a different Manila we would return to – scarier, more menacing. COVID cases had doubled twice over since we left.
And indeed, 2022 opened with many ups and downs at once, for my own bunch and for many of us. Who knows what challenges this year would bring? Then again, who knows what triumphs, small mercies, and pockets of perfection we would be blessed with, as well?
Happy New Year, dear readers, and please let us all take care.