I can’t help noticing the ways we greet each other these days compared to a few months ago.
Take my friend Chris, for example, who I meet along Main Street, as he pushes the wheelchair of his elderly neighbor Tom. Instead of the usual handshakes, they give me a cordial mock salute and a hand wave. We don’t come any closer.
“Stay safe, Manny.”
“You, too, guys,” I wave back from across the street. “We’ll get through this.”
In the past, we’d usually chat, but not this time.
Passing by the Te Amo Lotto Store about two blocks away I see my Hindu friends Sammy and Nick chatting at the store entrance.
“Namaste!” I greet them, my palms pressed together.
“Namaste, Manny!” They press their palms as well. Their eyes lost in slits cannot hide their wide smiles behind their facemasks. “Stay safe always, Manny.”
I continue walking and chance upon an acquaintance (Hamid). On impulse, I place my hand on my chest and I nod slightly. He does the same. If mutual wide smiles are an indication, the gesture assuredly makes our day.
On sudden hindsight, I realize I have just performed the “Bating Filipino” introduced by Marikina Representative Bayani Fernando. Put your right palm at the heart area together with a slight nod. I think that is patently Filipino. I think it is well worth practicing.
Queens County where I live is known to be the most ethnically diverse urban area in the world. It is populated by people who hail from more than a hundred nations. Between 150 and 800 languages are spoken in Queens. I have friends from different countries here and when I chance upon them I have my greetings prepared: the Wuhan foot tapping shake aka foot bump, the elbow bump, the Japanese bow, the stop and nod, the usual tilt of the chin for my Pinoy friends, and many other “social distancing” greeting gestures. All of these have replaced the unhygienic handshake, the beso-beso, and the hugs.
This virus has indeed changed our ways of physically saying “how are you.” This global pandemic notwithstanding, people still have the natural tendency and willingness to greet one another. Will the Bating Filipino work in a foreign land? No harm giving it a try.
As I continue walking, my mind wanders if these changes will have any effect in the development of very young children. Grandparents and other loved ones need to maintain social distancing from their grandchildren. I wonder what other forms of affection are in the offing to make up for the absence of hugs and kisses.
I share the view of many people who say that this new norm is just temporary and that sooner or later everything will be back to normal.
It may take some time. Maybe a generation. The scars are too deep and I fear that after this pandemic people will still hesitate to get back to their usual ways of greeting.
After 15 minutes of my daily brisk walking I make my way back home.
Meanwhile, my thoughts travel to my beloved Naga. I learned from the Bicol Mail that all events for the Peñafrancia fiesta in Bicol has been put off.
With regards to our yearly tri-state (NY-NJ- Connecticut) fluvial festivity by the Hudson River, everything is still up in the air. According to Peng Peña, a Nagueño, nothing is certain yet but they are looking into a live stream nightly novena, if the parish allows it. They are also looking into Zoom for larger crowds. Peng is a former chairperson of OLPDA (Our Lady of Peñafrancia Devotees Association).
Will we have a vaccine by Christmas? We hope and we pray. For the sake of the human race. Despite everything, I’m still thankful for some good news. A couple of months ago almost a thousand people were dying daily from COVID-19 in NY alone, with most of the number of deaths right here in Queens. It is now down to the single digits. Hospitalizations are down too and so are new cases.
My cell phone rings. It’s my niece Rena. She’s asking if we want to take a stroll at the beach near her house.
It’s 7:15 am and my wife is still sleeping. She’s usually up by 6 am but she stayed up late last night glued to a thrilling Korean teleserye.
“Wake up! Let’s have breakfast by the seashore.” She agrees. It’s one of the simple joys we look forward to in order to make the best of the situation.
We pick up a heady breakfast for everyone from McDonald’s, and get to the seashore at 8:15. I notice that there’s no traffic and there are few people on the seaboard. We meet an elderly couple walking directly towards us.
I put my right palm at the heart area and I nod slightly. “Good morning!”
“Good morning!” They both chime in. Then the woman pauses, and then puts her right palm on her chest. “God bless you, sir.”
The sun is still rising as we stroll through the sands with our facemasks on. “Bating Filipino” made our day. And it “don’t cost a cent.”
“The best things in life are free,” I tell my wife. She does not pay attention to me, so I belt out a Sam Cooke soul style on the beach:
Ah the moon belongs to everyone
The best things in life they’re free . . .
“Except for the McDonald’s.” My wife has the last word.