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Bertha HarianBertha Harian

News Reports

Musings on Good Friday

I wonder if it will rain today in the mid-afternoon. It usually does on Good Friday. Except that instead of hearing the patter on the church roof, we’ll be taking shelter in our own homes. Every time I see Roman Catholic Archbishop William Goh on video, he seems more and more sad. He seemed even sadder last night, celebrating Maundy Thursday mass with a lone altar server. I suppose it’s difficult to summon up high spirits when you’re facing only a camera, and not your congregation.

I am sure the religious folk had been hoping that the virus would have passed on before Easter. But, what the hell(!) it is still around. Like a plague that devours the weakest and vulnerable. Try as I might to take part in the spiritual communion, it doesn’t evoke the same awe and reverence as having the host in your hand and on your tongue. I think to myself what would happen when church resumes services as in the pre-virus days. I can foresee the many hugs and kisses among fellow worshippers that would be a natural outcome of relief and familiarity.  Except that this won’t happen even as the church re-starts services, simply because…social distancing.

Are you facing withdrawal symptoms, beyond the religious sort? Those who have heeded the social distancing warnings since the term was invented would probably be feeling worse than those who have had to comply with the circuit breaker measures now into Day 4.

Home is a familiar bastion, but also a cell. Work is where you can drop your “home” face and put on a “work” one. At university, I am teacher. At home, I am my mother’s daughter. I am sure full-time workers know what I mean. Work-life “balance” is also about the ability to change gears when placed in a different set of people at different times.  I know perfectly hearty men who become mice when they are with their wives.   Likewise, I have seen doves at work who become dragons when they are with their children. Would you like to be a full-time mouse or fire-breathing dragon? It would be so, so tiring.

What do you miss? The ability to go out to different places for lunch? For me, I miss the ride to and from  work, listening to easy-playing music. I haven’t been in a car for some time now. At home, my ear is tuned instead to the news on radio and television. I miss the expressways, the sight of tall green trees and beautiful Bougainville shrubs in their reds, pinks and purple. I miss watching container trucks and lorries, because they give me a sense that we’re doing well economically since they have goods to deliver. Looking out from my window, I see food delivery riders. I miss being “outside”. 

It is my brother’s birthday tomorrow and for the first time, my mother and I will not be with him to blow out the candles. My mother misses her grandson. Nor will we be out as a family in church on Easter Sunday, wearing our glorious best. I am still wondering if I should go out to get some hot cross buns, although I know hey are not essential items.

This morning, my mother told me that the neighbourhood sweeper seems to have “disappeared”. There was only one of them who could be seen clearing the area of litter, she said. She wonders if the other had been “quarantined”. It doesn’t help that ambulances seem to be popping up frequently in my neighbourhood, which is an old one. The screaming sirens send people to their balconies and windows, wondering if the virus had caught someone, or whether it’s the “usual” heart attack and other ailments.

While the newspapers used to land on the doorstep before anyone in the household was up, my mother now waits to hear the bang against the door.  It’s being delivered later and later since the lockdown (I am calling it what it is). Today, it came at 7.45pm, after she had caught up on all the news on television.  I told her not to worry about the newspapers not being delivered because it’s an “essential service”, but she shouldn’t expect perfect timing. No point calling the main vendor, a familiar neighbour, to complain because he probably has difficulty getting his foreign workers to do the delivery rounds in such times.

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My mother is an assiduous reader, and reads more thoroughly than I do. She is unable to fathom what is happening to the foreign worker dormitories, and pins the blame on the G for letting conditions deteriorate. Her long-standing endorsement for anything the G does has been slightly dented. It is a sign of how most people, especially the older folk, place so much faith and confidence in everything that the G does. Nothing should go wrong, because the G is in charge.

The G is in a weird bind, and it comes from its dominant position in society. It uses a tough tone towards those it deems troublemakers, but an almost pleading approach when it comes to getting the masses to do something for their own good.

Sometimes, I wish National Minister Lawrence Wong would dispense with his measured language and let his frustrations, visible in the furrows on his face, out. Say that it is a lock-down. Now. Say that anyone who breaks the laws will be punished. Make the rules clear, like the 10 Commandments. It wasn’t clear, for example, that staying at home and social distancing are really one and the same thing most of time. If someone does not stay at home but practises social distancing, like eat alone at the void deck,  it should be clear that this is an offence. Loitering, even solo, is an offence. Getting out of the house without an important purpose is an offence. In London, I gather that police officers won’t even let joggers catch their breath on a park bench. They move them along. In other words, the people who are out must have a mighty good reason to be out, and it can’t be to catch some sun.

Today is Good Friday, and I have just finished doing the Stations of the Cross. Again, I see an empty Cathedral, and Monsignor Philip Heng with a lone server. Catholics will understand how it’s a deeply spiritual experience  to take part in the passion of Jesus. My knees hit the floor at least 14 times. The service gives us, at least, me, the strength to carry on looking at the bright side of things and an awareness that even the least of us are children of God.

Maybe, there is a reason the virus outbreak is taking place during Easter. We can take the time to reflect on whether we have the same fortitude as Jesus and the same spirit of self-sacrifice. Of course, our sacrifices are paltry compared to the ultimate sacrifice he made.

I know I am usually more secular than religious in my writings but I can’t seem to help it this time. Perhaps when the material world looks so disorderly and dis-orientating, people turn to the spiritual for something steadfast and meaningful. I am grateful that I have this.

God bless everyone this Easter.



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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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