The Sparkling-White Side of Doing the Dishes

In this quarantine, I discovered the ugly beauty of doing the dishes.

Often considered the ultimate penalty chore of the 90s (when wifi was not yet a thing), it’s the one task at home that is often the meat of contention among brothers and sisters, the origin of all sibling rivalries.

When I was a kid, my sister and I would fight over who gets to clean the table after dinner — a hateful chore per se, but not as loathsome as the dirtier task of washing the dishes.

Doing the dishes was the accursed chore. Perhaps, more accurately, it was the chore of the accursed. It’s when you stand face to face with undesirable leftovers…and saliva and grease and, quite possibly, vomit laced with phlegm. Not only do you touch them, but scrape them off with your fingers, the same ones you lick when at KFC.


But now that a pandemic is upon us, plaguing our sense of time and making prisons out of homes, an inevitable metaphorical vomit must be swallowed: it-that-must-not-be-named.

My fiancée, Kath, calls doing the chore a sign of love; I call it martyrdom.

After many nights of doing the dishes, however, I came to an unexpected realization: this damned chore is an opportunity in disguise. An opportunity for a horde of benefits.

First of all, it’s my half-hour me-time (I can go longer than that when the OC spirit moves me…to clean the sink and kitchen and dining area as well, and then mop the floor too). In these odd times, it has become the chance for me to listen to podcasts uninterrupted, particularly Tim Ferriss’ interviews with “world-class performers”, because I’m a pretentious productivity snob like that; it has become my time to learn new things and open my mind to lesser known topics and esoteric life hacks.

Second, it is therapeutic. The chore has become a ritual libation, washing away the dark, slimy frustrations I’ve gathered after a whole day of aiming for perfection, a totally realistic objective.

Third, it is — admit it — poetic. The rushing water are the tears of my grief over the loss of prepandemic normal life. The vigorous scrubbing is what I could have done to meetings that should have been emails. And the sparkling-white plates are akin to my soul when all this purgatory-of-a-chore is over.

When all is said and done and written passionately as above, however, doing the dishes remains one of life’s great tragedies. Which is probably why it’s now midnight, and I’m just sitting and staring at the dish-filled sink, typing this blog post for want of transcendence.

A Fear Untold

It was not the best time to have a fever.

But I had it.

It was hours after I did some grocery shopping, for which I had lined up for five — ruthless — hours.

My fiancee, Kath, called it a sinat and asked me to take a rest. At her mom’s advice, she prepared ginger tea with lemon and had me take some Bioflu (“Not ibuprofen!”). She was panicking, muttering she really should’ve gone shopping and not me who is asthmatic.

“I don’t have cough and shortness of breath,” I said, reassuring her — but really nervous at the same time. Isn’t covid-19 supposed to have an incubation period? Aren’t symptoms supposed to appear at least two days after exposure? If this is — heavens forbid, covid-19 — then maybe I got this two weeks ago, before the lockdown?

It’s bad when you’re a chronic overthinker.

That night, I carefully noted that I didn’t have chills, but any draft of air felt noticeably cold. Thankfully I slept like a baby. But the next day, the fever came back (or maybe it just didn’t leave?). We didn’t have a thermometer, but I knew what’s normal temp or not. Worse, I found the left side of my neck swollen and red.

It was sunburn.

I concluded the fever had been due to severe sunburn. After grocery-shopping, I carried three bags with both hands, right while the sun was at its apex. I would hide my face from it, exposing my nape.

It was sunburn. Just a sunburn. With a side effect.

The next day, however, I started to feel tight in the chest. I suddenly felt aware I was heaving deep breaths. I didn’t hear any wheezing sound — wheezing is part of an asthma attack — which is bad. This may NOT be asthma. Maybe it’s worse. My heart skipped a beat.

Did I get infected? But I was obedient and stayed home and went out only to get food! Do I have to go to hospital? Can my fiancée accompany me? Am I going to die?

I told you being an overthinker is inconvenient.

And what does “shortness of breath” mean? Is it the same as one experiences when having asthma?

I read as much as I could about the virus and its symptoms. Trouble is, the more information I got, the more I sensed that there is still a lot more to know and that nothing is certain. When the spectrum of manifestations of the virus is from having none to having severe breathing difficulty, it’s quite haphazard to say you’re virus-free unless you get tested.

So I took a puff out of my trusty inhaler. I had it since an asthmatic episode last year. With 200 actuations, it can last me maybe one or two years, if I effectively avoid my triggers.

I could hardly notice any difference in my breathing after that one inhalation. But I didn’t want to take another, else I might grow dependent on it.

I took more rest.

Fortunately, my throat was alright, my body didn’t feel weak (I was just sleepy, but maybe it’s the paracetamol working), and most importantly, I didn’t have cough.

When I called my mom, she also dismissed my symptoms as my body’s terrible reaction to having been trapped indoors for weeks then suddenly getting exposed outside without meal and water for almost half the day.

I felt relieved. Mothers know best, after all.

But on the third day, and on the fourth, the “asthma” repeatedly appeared. I was gasping for breath, kind of. So I began to doubt myself. Is this really just asthma?

Overthinker mode was on. When you say the disease’s symptoms are fever, cough, and shortness of breath, do you mean all of them at the same time or one or two at a time? And in that order, or not really?

I was drowning with questions, and Kath was starting to worry again. But I admired the quiet strength she acquired since two days ago.

“Maybe you should call the hotline,” she told me, after I brought up the idea.

But I couldn’t bring myself to dial the numbers. My dread added to my breathing difficulty.

“I don’t have cough, and I’m not feeling weak,” I told her, unsure.

“You better call, or else we’ll be worrying the whole time” was the reply.

So I called. 155–200. PGH’s hotline. Since PGH was practically my “teritoryo” until two years ago, I preferred it to DOH’s hotline which is scarily called “COVID-19 HOTLINE” in capital letters. PGH seemed more approachable.

I’m just going to consult, that’s all. I’m not gonna die.

“Hello, I’m not feeling very well.”

The operator asked for my basic information, then the symptoms. I also told him about my adventure to the supermarket some days back. And my asthma meds.

“No body aches or sore throat?”


He asked to be excused for a few minutes. He probably sought advice from his superior. I had a feeling the operator was a young doctor, or maybe a nurse.

But I was nervous as hell. The silence was killing me.

When he came back to the line, he said, “It’s most probably just your asthma, sir.”

Sweet Jesus!

I didn’t hear much anymore of what he said next. “Stay home” something, “call us if it gets worse” something, and something more. What’s important for me then was the fact that he dismissed the possibility it’s covid-19.

But those few words were enough for me to be at peace again. It was like getting a full blow of cool, freeing oxygen into my lungs.

Lesson? It sucks to be asthmatic.

And I really should’ve taken breakfast and water and prepared for a five-hour queue at the supermarket that one time.

I’m feeling okay now. And for the first time in my life, I’m glad to have asthma — just asthma.

That ordeal taught me another — and deeper — lesson. And that is: Life is fragile, appreciate every moment.

When I was still heaving breaths, end-of-life scenes already started to appear. Dying unmarried to the love of my life, crying in contrition and isolation, awaiting judgment and clinging to a frail hope. It’s a terrible train of thought. But maybe good to jolt me back to realizing the real valuable things in life: the little things of love, the soft voices of loved ones, the silence of understanding and being understood.

Going through that health scare hadn’t been easy. But, thank God, I got through that tunnel stronger and more appreciative of each day.

It’s still not the best time to have a fever. But it’s always the best time to count your blessings, especially your loved ones and your every breath.

Real Talk with Saint Joseph

If discouragement overwhelms you, think of the faith of Saint Joseph; if anxiety has its grip on you, think of the hope of Saint Joseph. — Pope Benedict XVI

Today, March 19, was supposed to be the high point of a seven-Sunday period of meditating on the life of St. Joseph — not only because today is his feast day, but also because today is supposed to be my wedding day.

I had asked St. Joseph to be my guide in navigating the transition from bachelorhood to married life. After all, he married the best woman and became ‘father’ to the best Son.

That rosy outlook — nay, plan — did not, of course, play out as expected. A global pandemic exploded. The wedding was deferred. People got sick. Many died. The period that was supposed to be the happiest became one of the most difficult in recent memory.

Looking back on the past month-and-a-half, however — in that period of reflecting on St. Joseph’s “joys and sorrows” — I’ve come to realize the hard (and painfully obvious) lesson of that Seven Sundays devotion: life is joys and sorrows.

It’s an ancient custom wherein for seven Sundays before the feast of St. Joseph you ponder on the holy patriarch’s joys and sorrows — such as his sorrow when he lost the Boy Jesus in the Temple, and his joy when he found him three harrowing days later. The Seven Sundays of St. Joseph may be seem like an easy devotion (you only do it on Sundays!), but its lesson is quite the toughie.

Life is joys and sorrows! Many times we think sorrowful times are defects or blots that should never mar our life-story — such as the dark areas on a Caravaggio painting. We forget that it’s wrong to expect our lives to be perfect tales where no conflict or lack or loss exists. We are supposed to consider life as we do a Caravaggio: see the dark areas actually bringing out the beauty of the illuminated parts — indeed of the whole picture.

And given this salad or confetti nature of life (joys and sorrows galore), the deeper lesson from St. Joseph is that whether we are glad or sad, the love of God is as constant as the sky.

I can only imagine St. Joseph’s distress when he had to bring Mary and the Infant Jesus to faraway Egypt, because Herod was about to have a baby-killing spree in Bethlehem. But St. Joseph surely wasn’t troubled for very long: he understood that God Who is Constant Love was with him — literally — and so soon had peace and joy.

Of course, our unfortunate lot today is that we are amidst a ravenous pandemic. A sorrow in every way you look at it. But — without diminishing the gravity of the suffering of COVID-19 victims and their families — we also know this is just one of the sorrows we encounter throughout life. But we also understand — by faith — that despite these sorrows, God’s love remains mysteriously, inexplicably constant.

So we go through the crucible of this crisis with fortitude, as St. Joseph did in all his tribulations. We work, we pray, we help — we await the unfolding of the will of God.

Love in the Time of COVID-19

How a Pandemic Stole the Wedding We Prepared for a Year — and Why We’re Still Winners

It’s probably one of the stories I’m going to tell my grandchildren: a pandemic postponed lolo and lola’s wedding.

With only seven days before our big day, Metro Manila was declared on semi-lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Which came as the bittersweet conclusion of nights of lost sleep. We thought, at least now our suppliers won’t charge us for the postponement.

The emotional toll of the postponement also turned out to be more manageable than we had feared. A few tears were shed, but then came the thought that a later date is going to help us execute our wedding plans better, probably gain the guests who couldn’t attend on the original date and, above all, truly keep our guests and family safe. (And with all the wine we already bought for the wedding toast, it now seems we’ve “hoarded” enough “alcohol” to fight this pandemic!)

Seriously, though, this crisis has become the dramatic climax of the series of lessons learned over the course of our engagement. Elsewhere I’ve said going through our engagement period helped us to rediscover the reason of getting married in the first place: to be gifts to one another and to give glory to God through whatever challenge life throws at us. Well, COVID-19 is quite the challenge. And when we overcome it, boy what an honor it will be — like a scar earned in battle.

In the meantime, I will just savor the fact that my loved ones are all safe and healthy. I suppose this pandemic has truly brought us to our knees to thank God for our blessings, feel that that we are all one army fighting one enemy, and cling on to the hope that soon all will be well again. I guess, in a way, that’s how you cancel a pandemic.