Give me my food! Come quick, really quick! I pay you to feed me, and feed me well!
These are lines from one of the seniors I used to serve in a retirement home where I've worked. We will call her Amber. It was not fun to be rushed while scrambling to remember all the food orders of the other residents, as hungry (or as impatient) as she was. Being a dietary aide is not easy, but I enjoyed that stint nonetheless. I relished the travelogues of those who were fortunate enough to have money to last longer after retirement and thus be able to visit places I have never been to. I listened in awe to those who can play the piano as if they were in a trance. I trembled as survivors re-lived the horrors of the holocaust. I sincerely looked at brag photo albums when grandparents showed pictures of their grandchildren, at times, great grandchildren. My own parents never saw any of their grandchildren (they died too young) and so I earnestly pray to God that I will live long enough to see mine.
Just to pacify Amber, I would shout out to her from wherever I was in the big dining room, "I am bringing your food shortly - I am sorry for the wait!" She would retort back "You should be!" Once I was ready with Amber's food, I would compose myself (and that meant just taking a deep breath because I am really pressed for time) and dragged myself to her table ready for more blasting. Surprises against surprises - the devil suddenly turns into an angel! Amber becomes the sweetest of all the residents, very appreciative of my service, as if her life depended on it. Once she sees me going her direction, her profuse thanks fills the air, adding, "How are you, my dear? I love your new haircut." Really? Someone with dementia notices that I had my hair cut? Wow! I realized that Amber may have forgotten many things but gratitude is not one of them. Right there, I whispered to Him - "Create in me a grateful heart, oh God, just like Amber's."
At this point, I am reminded of my Uncle Donato back in La Union. He is old now but was still practising law before the pandemic. A lot of people loved to retain him as their lawyer, not only because he is bright (according to these people), but because he would take ripe mangoes and "bagoong" as his attorney's fees. To me, that sounds like a very down-to-earth attitude, but most people would call this a crazy feat. Oh, he was just grateful for anything, over nothing. His late wife loves to tell the story that if you do not see him downstairs around the house, he may be up in their room enjoying his ripe mangoes, one after the other, hence the diabetes. I wonder how many pieces of mangoes his attorney's fee is equivalent to.
On a similar note, I remember the old days when we were new in the country. Just like many other immigrants, I had to go through a lot of challenges. Unlike me, my husband got a job as a merchandiser in a store, right after he got his SIN. The job sat well with him because it was the afternoon shift which sometimes lasts until the graveyard shift. He has a nocturnal body clock so he was very happy with it. I, in turn, took advantage of his Metro Pass during the day - for unlimited travels around the city, looking for a job. I went to many employment agencies that I have heard of, but there were no jobs to be offered. I told myself that one day, I will get a job. Eventually, and naturally, I did find a job, a "survival" one as we call it. Thank you, Lord! Employers look for Canadian experience, but how can one have that Canadian experience if these workplaces do not give people the chance to work? The Catch-22 of things!
At any rate, I purposely did not mention where I first (then eventually worked), as that alone could be a whole new topic. During those times, all I know are the body pains from the physical demands of the job, the hurting words of the employers as to how slow (or stupid) I am, etc., etc., but looking back now, I am where I am now because of those work experiences. I am where I am now because certain workplaces trusted me to be able to "deliver the goods".
In the early years of our stay in Canada, money was severely scarce; it still is with me now, but at least I have more room for credit. Whatever money there was before needed to go to our basic needs. My children, however, did not readily understand this concept. As innocent as they were, they wanted to have the toys that their classmates and friends have. Thankfully, my girl was just happy with the Happy Meal toys. At one point, my older boy wanted a bey blade; the younger one wanted silly bands. Between the two toys, the silly bands were what I could sensibly afford. After much persistence from the older "Manong", I caved in to buying the bey blade, too. Guess what happened next? The one who got the cheaper toy was very vocal with gratitude, but the one with the more expensive, mechanical one forgot to acknowledge the purchase. That is one irony I will never forget. My boys have changed over time, and I hope that we all together will never forget to be grateful for everything and to believe that "it is the thought that counts".
Inversely speaking, we learned in our Values class about "utang na loob", roughly equivalent to "indebtedness". While we acknowledge what has been given to us, at times we forget, too, that we should give without expecting anything in return. Additionally, "payback time" does not necessarily have to be something tangible - it can be a prayer for our well-being, or a great advice, or help with anything. I have to admit that many times I have to catch myself and stop expecting anything in return for a favour I have given. I am sure that people have at some point failed to acknowledge what we do as a teacher, as a spouse, as a parent, as a friend, as a sibling, as an in-law, as a neighbour, or even as a coworker. This does not mean that we should go the same path.
This school year has been a very challenging one. Despite anything and everything, I am grateful for the experience. I have had three teaching contracts this year. There is the constant adjustment and second-guessing of my colleague's (and students') personalities and preferences. I have met super warm and welcoming staff, as well as challenging ones. I have also met some students who had behavioral issues that were almost impossible to manage, but there were also students who I will remember as the "good and respectful ones". For both types, the good and the not-so-good, thank you, Lord!
Now that we are into the summer and have more time to enjoy the flowers in the garden, and walk through the trails without fear of snow-tripping, and sip our favourite hot or cold drink in the park, and wade in the lakes or beaches both nearby and far, and that we have jobs, and many, many other countless blessings (and blessings in disguise), we want to openly say thank you to God. Perhaps we can quietly read the simple poem below, and as the words pass through our eyes, let its beauty sink in the silence of our hearts (I have adapted this poem and translated for use in my Filipino class):
Thank you, God, for the world so sweet.
Thank you, God, for the food we eat.
Thank you, God for the birds that sing;
Thank you, God, for everything!
Salamat po, Panginoon, sa mundong kay tamis.
Salamat po, Panginoon, sa mga pagkain namin.
Salamat po, Panginoon, sa mga ibong umaawit.
Salamat po, Panginoon, ang lahat ay sa iyo galing!
Is there a day now that we do not hear news about the pandemic? One year into the novel coronavirus, we still do not have a positive perception of the future. If I gave birth when the first presumptive case in Ontario hit the headlines, my child would be toddling by now, with a few teeth, can pronounce some syllables, can recognize familiar faces such as mine, can pose for the camera pretending to blow the candle on the birthday cake. Additionally, my child would have been allowed to have the first haircut, one lump of which I would hide in the pages of a book in the hopes that s/he later becomes a genius!
Amidst lockdowns and stay-homes and go-out-only-for-essentials, one year feels like ten years. I wonder how much longer we will be in this mode.
Surely, we all have come to realize a lot of things during this pandemic, the challenge of the century. Please allow me to share mine, and because I have a lot of them, I had to find a way to delimit my writing. I decided I will cite them alongside my favourite classical movies and stories.
Sometime in April last year when most of us already had some sense of understanding and acceptance of what was happening, I had a nice chat with my previous colleague in the Philippines. She admitted she was happy with the pandemic. The children are home from university, her husband's workplace in the city shut down, there was a moratorium on her government loans (GSIS and Pag-IBIG), and the whole family was bonding, big-time! They would have movie marathons into the night, sleep in, wake up late to rationed food, although only twice a day, was enough to get hunger at bay. They were all happy. Life is good. Never has this ever happened, she said, and without the pandemic, her family may never have experienced this bliss. I said that I am happy for her, and that somehow my own family here and my siblings back home were getting by as well. I added, though, that if everybody was just in the same situation as we were in, then everyone in the Philippines would be enjoying pandemic life. Sadly, there are those who live a hand-to-mouth existence. For some, it means rummaging the streets for whatever can be salvaged as nourishment. I remember turning away from Philippine news then about people being charged under the quarantine by-laws. I can't bear to hear until the end. People gave silly reasons why they were caught out in the streets when they should be staying home. Oh, and how they concocted reasons - reasons that were obviously not well-thought of! They were labeled as "pasaway". I was emotional when an official from the DSWD, in their defense, said that "these people are violating the rules, not because they are stubborn nor stupid, but because they are humans - they need to eat, have a roof over their head, have to clothe themselves and their families, but mainly, eat". Some parents do not mind starving for as long as their children are fed. Oh, wow, parental love at its best!
This reminds me of one classic play in Philippine literature, The World is an Apple, written by Alberto Florentino. It is a touching story of how a father, in his love for his sick daughter, stole a crunchy-looking apple at work, which, unfortunately cost him his job. It depicts the struggles of a parent trying to provide all the great and wonderful things for his/her children, against all odds. Was a single apple, among thousands in a crate, enough to get one terminated? Did God create apples only for the rich? You and I know the answer - apples are for every soul in the world. This pandemic has confirmed that firstly, we are all equal despite our race, gender, socio-economic status, educational achievement, religious and political beliefs. The virus does not discriminate based on any of these. Didn’t Donald Trump and Prince Charles get infected, too? Their wealth and position could not save them from the unseen enemy.
Secondly, people, in their goodness, can be selfless as they show courage and concern for others. When my father-in-law was hospitalized late last year, these are always my parting words after we speak with the nurse or the doctor: “Thank you for all the work that you do, and please take care of yourself, too.” Yes, while it was scary to go out and work, there were people who braved the risks of this virus and went to work - in grocery stores, in long-term care facilities, in nursing homes, in shelters, etc., with one foot dangling six feet underground. Our heroes! Don’t we have some of them in our PTAC? Cheers to you, our heroes!
In Titanic, one man was willing to pay lots of money in order to get a priority spot in the lifeboats while the luxury ship was sinking. Alas, his money suddenly lost its value! The bills became just plain, rectangular pieces of paper. A friend of mine from the US related that, during the pandemic, she looked at her signature shoes and purses with dismay. She paid thousands of dollars for them and now they are just collecting dust. I myself am guilty of holding on to a lot of material things. I do not own them - they actually own me. It may sound ambitious, but I am advocating for simplicity and right now, I am a work in progress. I know that when I leave this world, I cannot bring with me any of these.
In Wedding Dance, Amador Daguio writes about how a couple, in their inability to conceive, had to part ways despite their love for one another. Awiyao had to leave Malumnay for another woman, because that is according to the tribe. It is a difficult decision, but it must be made. The mask-wearing, the social distancing, the closure of billion-dollar businesses and industries were absolutely contentious decisions that our government officials have to implement. I remember the first time I wore a mask – I thought I was going to die from suffocation. The more that my brain focused on the fact that my nose is covered, the more that my lungs gasped for air. Luckily, I got used to it – we all did. I am just glad that government officials both in Canada and in the Philippines listen to medical experts and do not make a fuss over the mask for one, such as what the controversial man from across the border used to describe as political, taunting those who use one.
The Last Leaf by O. Henry describes how Johnsy, a budding painter and very sick with pneumonia, was literally counting the leaves in a tree by her window, predicting that when the last leaf falls, she “goes” too. Mr. Behrman, a struggling old painter, saved her by painting a leaf by the wall, on the stormy night before the last leaf fell. Mr. Behrman contracted pneumonia while painting and never made it to see his masterpiece!
This confirms that we have survival tactics. For every challenge, there is a “leaf”, a remedy. I am still amazed by how we entertain ourselves during the lockdown. TikTok tops the list. Technologically-challenged that I am, I am sure that there are other apps that people used to be occupied and have fun. Facebook was flooded with stories and pictures of plants that not only occupied our “kababayans” but also accorded them a source of livelihood. What were they called – plantitas?
A great blessing during this time is the presence of improved technology. While we can still be one in spirit despite the distance, I cannot, for the life of me, imagine a world now where communication takes forever, the telegram a perfect example. Surely, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Zoom, among others, kept us “adrift”. Medical experts confirm that people can die from isolation. We have seen people dying in hospitals with families unable to visit them and sit by their deathbed as they breathed their last. Without communications technology, the death rate would have been faster.
On a different angle on technology, when teachers were first made to teach virtually, I was doing Saturday Filipino class and boy, I struggled setting up my Google classroom and using Zoom so much to the point of anxiety. While there were webinars, they were not actual trainings so it was more of a DIY activity for me. I am still not an expert, but I realized I can do it after all.
Carpe diem! In Dead Poets’ Society, a young man pursued his dreams of acting, kept hidden from his father who was very vocal and authoritarian in steering his son to go to medical school. While the movie has a tragic ending with the young man’s suicide, this classic teaches us that we pursue things that make us happy and give us fulfillment. For us to “seize the day” does not necessarily mean we will paint the town red. It means being able to do even little things that bring happiness, not just to ourselves, but to others. Perhaps I can pay for my colleague’s coffee? Or braid my mother-in-law’s hair? Or remit a little to the Philippines?
If one of my children is a “university” material but chooses to pursue a college program instead, and is happy, then I am a happy mom! I think that I have emphasized this to my children so constantly that when I start saying, “as long as…” they finish up the sentence for me saying, “we are happy”. I am quick to add, though, “for as long as we are not in violation of anything and not hurting anything or anyone.” What is it that makes us happy then? Is it teaching, despite the workload? is it caring for the elderly, or the little ones, although physically exhausting? Is it customer service, despite irate customers? Is it being a homemaker, unpaid and sometimes unappreciated?
I have lived by the conviction that everything happens for a reason. What then is the force behind this continuing surge of infections and countless loss of precious lives? My brain is still reeling from the whirlwind resulting from this pandemic, a pandemic which I never thought I would experience in my lifetime.
Well, for everything that is to come, for every problem that will bog me down, pandemic or no pandemic, I will inhale the spirit and power of the Highest Being, as I am blessed by the “apple” from family and friends, knowing that I have a “leaf” for every and any obstacle, and before I “go”, will seize the day and smell the roses. In the meantime, when the roll call starts, I will say, “I am here – still here!”
Trust me, my friends, for someone like me who survived COVID-19, all this is real.
Sapagkat Tao Lamang Ako...May Damdamin na Dapat Pahalagahan at Ipagbunyi (cielitodrapeza)
Naiinis ako sa sarili ko at napaka emosyonal kong tao. Kahit mga maliliit na bagay ay iniiyakan ko. Kung hindi man tumulo ang luha ko, parang may naka bara sa lalamunan ko, o mabigat ang loob ko ng mahabang panahon. Hindi maikakailang apektado ako. Kaya naman mahirap para sa akin ang mag trabaho sa korte dahil naririnig ko ang problema ng may problema - may sarili rin naman akong mga problema, eh!
Tandang tanda ko noong nasa kolehiyo pa ako, pinanood namin ang Dead Poets Society na naging paborito ko sa lahat. Tumutulo ang luha ko habang nanonood. Gusto kong humagulgol. Noong matapos ang pelikula, halos ayaw ko na buksan nila ang ilaw dahil mugtung-mugto ang mga mata ko. Nahihiya akong pagtawanan ako ng mga kaklase ko sa kababawan ko. Pero kung hindi pala binuksan ang ilaw, hindi ko makikita ang guro naming naging paborito ko rin sa lahat, si Dr Tess Azarcon (sumalangit nawa ang kanyang kaluluwa), na mukhang mas mababaw pa pala kaysa sa akin - hindi lang mugto ang mga mata kundi pulang- pula ang matangos na ilong!
Noong ika 24 ng Oktubre, taong 2017, ibinilang ng insurance company na "total loss" ang sasakyan namin pagkatapos naming mabangga. Binalikan namin ang sasakyan para kunin ang plaka at mga personal na gamit. Habang nagpapaalam ako sa van, tumutulo ang luha ko. Totoo ba ito - sasakyan lang, iniiyakan? Ito ang pinaka unang sasakyan namin sa Canada. Naging kasama namin ang sasakyang ito sa aming "paglalakbay" - sa daan at sa buhay-Canada.
Kaugnay nitong paksang ito, may dunong sa usaping hindi dapat babad ang mga bata, o kahit mga matatanda pa, sa mga video games o mga palabas na puro patayan at labanan. Ang nakakatakot ay kung may mangyari mang labanan o patayan sa totoong buhay, maaaring wala nang reaksyon itong mga bata o mga taong ito, normal na lang para sa kanila dahil sanay na silang makakita nito. Balewala na lang ito sa kanila. Baka imbis umawat o tumawag ng pulis, kumantiyaw pa doon sa talunan. Bukas man ang mga mata, sarado naman ang puso at isipan. Siyempre, ang nais nating lahat, walang duda, ay mga taong may malasakit sa lahat ng nilalang ng Diyos, pangunahin dito ang Tao.
Kagabi sa Parent-Teacher interview, sinabi ko sa Religion teacher na pangkalahatan, malaking hamon ang magpalaki ng anak, pero naka abang ang Diyos. Sabi niya sa akin, "I want to give you a hug - I don't even have children, but I know it is not easy, that is why I don't know how you do it". Naku, sa higpit ng yakap ng guro, napaluha uli ako.
Habang tinatapos ko itong paksang ito, tulo-luha pa rin ako pero hindi na ako nayayamot sa sarili ko dahil naalala ko na napanood ko isang araw yung palabas sa telebisyon na Law and Order (Special Victims Unit). Tama yung sabi ng Captain, dahil mahirap ang trabaho nila na may kinalaman sa mga biktima ng pagpatay, panggagahasa, brutal na pananakit: "Elliott, don't worry if you feel something; worry if you don't. "
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