JAKARTA, INDONESIA: I have been stuck in this city, in a hotel near the airport, for the past two days now. My life centres around flights, planning, making new plans, and keeping one eye on my smartphone, the other on news channels.
I am hoping to make it back to Ireland at some stage in the coming days, but airlines are curtailing flights or simply not flying, airports are closing or shutting down access to transit passengers, and nations are simply shutting their borders. It’s a chess game where the pieces shift or disappear before you can make a move.
Over supper, there was one large television airing a 24-hour Indonesian news channel. You know the sort, all ticker tape items along the bottom, weather down one side, a constant broadcast of young presenters in smart suits and all serious, and videos that seemed to be on a loop if you watched long enough.
But it changed suddenly as I watched, and even the words ‘BREAKING NEWS’ appeared in English over the Indonesian headlines.
I could make out the words ‘Joko’ and ‘Widodo’ quite clearly – he’s the president of this country, the world’s most populous Muslim nation and the world’s fourth largest after China, India and the United States. China is coming out of lockdown, India has just entered, the US in a mashup of similar states and here, there is a sort of a lock-down in place.
My fear is that it will become much stricter, that the airport about 2 kms away will close, and I am stuck here for weeks or longer.
Google Translate is a blessing.
I inputted the headlines as best I could, fearing that ‘Jokowi’, as the president is widely known, has suddenly changed the ground rules.
It was good news for me. Alas, for Jokowi, a very sad day indeed. His mother had just died in Surakarka in central Java. Sujiatmi Notomoharjo was 77 and may God rest her soul.
Losing your mother is a pain that is hard to bear. The video images showed the little mother beaming as she walked with her son in his role at various times. She had a gentle and loving face. Big smiling eyes. She seemed as every mother should be. She reminded me of my own, and may God rest her soul too.
There is no worse moment in life than receiving a phone call to say your mother has passed. Nor a worse place to be that by the side of your mother as she passes.
Yet the Great Leveler of life comes to us all, to those we love, to those who nurtured us, to those we ourselves have nurtured. Such is nature.
And now, in this this time of uncertainty, of unease, of unnerved, there are many who will face the saddest of realities that those we hold nearest and dearest will not see out this epoch of pandemic.
Yes, we may find solace in our faith or beliefs, but there is still pain to bear and share. And because of these lockdowns, there are many whose passing will go without due rites and recognition.
In Madrid, an ice rink has been turned into a temporary morgue. In Italy, the dead are laid to rest with the most minimal of rites or formalities.
I read or watch news channels of heroes of wars past who died gasping for air in over-crowded hospital units, or young doctors and medical workers who died because they simply do their job and try to help us all.
There is a cruelty to this virus in that it targets the most vulnerable, those at their weakest, those who are the oldest, those who have filled our lives for so long with so much.
But this coronavirus also targets the young, the foolhardy, the arrogant and the cautious. We know not the rhyme or reason, nor how nature calculates the algorithm of who lives and whose number is up.
There are many mothers and brothers, fathers and daughters, friends and colleagues, strained acquaintances and others who will acquiesce. And we may not be able to pay our respects.
This time of lockdown should provide enough time to reflect on how we treat others and how we want to be treated.
During our working days, we spend hours away from our families. What a great joy it is now to be able to share their time and space, to reconnect and simply tell them that yes, they are loved.
How long have you avoided talking to extended family for reasons that now, in the light of what is unfolding around this precious world, seem trivial or non-consequential?
Over these past days I have had text exchanges to one cousin in New York who I have seen since we were both 15 – and the world has changed so much since in those past 45 years and will change so much in these next 45 days.
I have called others who only gather for weddings and funerals and, as we all age, it is the latter that are too common.
We live in a world where we can work many miles from our homesteads and birthplaces, but they are still there, at the end of a mobile connection. We should reach out and touch someone with our words. Even to say “I was just hope you’re doing ok” would change lives and bring a positive moment to what are challenging days.
Sadly, as those of us who have lost parents and those we love know, you can never say what you wanted to, what you should have. The silence from the grave is the most deafening of all.
Stay safe, one and all. Stay safe.
Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in Europe