12 things 2013 has taught me (One for each month of the year that was, in no particular order)

Detachment can be a beautiful thing. From material things, especially. We moved to another house to allow renovations on our 17-year-old home. More than half of the things we own are in storage and we’ve gone through an entire year not needing any of what is in them. That fact has really made me rethink buying (and keeping) habits.

During the campaign period and when I do my rounds in the District, I lived in jeans, cotton shirts, rubber shoes, hair pulled back into a ponytail, my face bare except for sunblock, cheek tint and lip gloss. On the other hand, my work in Manila requires me to be a bit more polished. We have a strict dress code in Congress, there is no way I can report for work in sneakers and denims.  For TV, I cannot go on-cam without being dolled up a bit. Often, lip color needs to be changed, to match the dress, the occasion, the mood. I now know I cannot be without any makeup, but I also know I need not have trunks of it. Just enough to have options. The same goes for shoes and bags and clothes, china and linens and candles and scents. Paring down excesses is quite the beautiful challenge.

And then Yolanda happened. My parents’ home has gone roofless and is badly damaged; ours, too.  We’ve all squeezed into my sister’s and her husband’s home, still in the same village; their house at least is still standing and in one piece.  Every time I am there now, in the thick of relief and rehabilitation efforts, I live out of a suitcase.  And I find that it’s still all good that way. It’s amazing how little we need to get by, really.  Those three events have strengthened my resolve to simplify. To give even those things I still want to keep for myself. I try to stretch myself that way. Sometimes it’s easy, other times it’s not. I try constantly, and I aim to get better at it this year. Detachment does come with a strange kind of joy that is empowering.

2The God of great things is the same God who takes care of small things. It’s been quite a year — replete with beautiful moments, but also some quite perplexing ones. There were times when I actually asked God about the whys and hows, and I flitted from wanting to know the answers to just accepting what was. I once read that it is wise to have an “I Don’t Understand It” file. It exists in a cloud above you and you just sort of toss into it anything and everything that does not make sense. Instead of worrying about it you just push it out of your mind and in there, and get on with your life. Some things are not for us to understand. Period.

Anyway, that file kind of thickened this year. Plus, Yolanda happened and I could not wait for 2013 to be over, just so things could start shifting for the better. I have never worked so hard, and I have also never been this tired. I am not complaining, by the way, just stating a fact. I am a December baby and my birthday came and all I wanted to do was catch up on sleep. But then I got all these little doses of pure joy, on the days leading to my birthday and after it. First, Lea Salonga had a concert. I’ve always wanted to watch her and the opportunity came along when I least expected it. I was so happy. The very first cassette tape I ever owned was of her, singing I Am But A Small Voice, among others. It was a most lovely evening. She was beautiful and flawless and being in that space, even for a moment, after being so tired for a stretch, felt like such a reward. Thank you, God.  A few days later Candy sent over a bag of pretty things, one of which was a music box. I’ve always wanted a music box, but I did not want to buy one for myself. There was no pleasure in that. I wanted it given, as a gift. Finally getting one, on my birthday no less, was another one of my little dreams come true. And then on the eve of my birthday I was working on letters for bancas and shelter kits for the district when from out of nowhere a big cake arrived and with it, pretty little sandwiches called Pigs in a Blanket. Hotdogs happen to be one of my absolute favorite comfort food and for it to appear suddenly in the course of my day brought a real measure of happiness.  Again, I say thank you, God, for all these wonderful, little surprises. Even at an age when birthdays are just like regular days, You found a way to make it special, still.

3Person to person, one day at a time. There are countless opportunities to walk in faith. Yolanda has taught me that. When I took on relief operations I had no resources to start much less sustain it. If I knew the enormity of the task I might have cowered in fear and I would have opted to not start anything at all. But ignorance really is bliss, and on Day 1 it was just about getting food to the people. Kris sent the first check that got the ball rolling; with her donation we were able to immediately buy the first 192 sacks of rice. As more people donated we moved on from relief packs to shelter kits and now the team has started on bancas. Every day has become a leap of faith — if today there is enough to help only 10, then so be it. If tomorrow 100 or 1,000 can be assisted, then that is what we will take on.

Humility is a daily commitment. It is something that must be worked on constantly, especially when you are the one in need. You have no control over how others treat you but you can at least regulate how you react. Especially under stressful conditions people can become cross, irritable and they can always choose to use you as their scapegoat. They can also give you the runaround, and dribble the help they (and you) know they can give. I do my best to persevere just the same, and take it all in as part of the human condition, all the while being careful not to take it personally. It does not make anyone bad or good, it just is the way it is. Patience is a virtue, a very hard one to learn and deploy at times, so I pray daily for the grace to get it in doses enough to sustain me in the work I have to do. In the line of duty I have, to some degree, learned to envelop stress in a kind of peace that comes from knowing that 1) I cannot control everything; 2) I cannot help everyone all at once; 3) I, too, need help at every turn to be able to do the work that is required of me; and 4) I am not and I cannot be superwoman. That said, I am committed to do my best always, however, that is possible, even if it has to be on a purely day-to-day basis.

5 It’s okay to smile even in the greatest pain. Some people take offense when they see others smiling among ruins. They say your mood and countenance have to match the background, always. They think it is inappropriate to even think a happy thought when you are going through some kind of pain or turmoil. But I grew up in a home where Mommy taught us to do otherwise.  She always says that when you are in pain, sorrow even, and there is suddenly a window to be happy, no matter how fleeting, take it. That in itself is a gift, a respite of sorts, a chance to afford yourself a second wind. Even when life is difficult, you smile when you can, and even throw back your head and a laugh a little if the moment does call for it. God is good that way. Those moments are like little packages from heaven, and there is no reason to fault yourself for enjoying that moment of joy, even if you happen to be wrestling with some form of sadness.

Family is love. A few days after Yolanda, my siblings and I sat down to dinner in a night lit only by lamps and flashlights. The air smelled of mud mixed with rainwater, the streets were laden with debris, destruction and despair (at that time) was all around us. The entire Ormoc City looked like an atomic bomb had struck it. But that night will stand out in my memory as one of the happiest, most beautiful and meaningful. We may have lost so much in terms of property, but we had each other. We were complete, we were all healthy and safe, together we will be able to rebuild. The days ahead will be challenging — both on a personal and professional level. But I have always trusted in something and Someone bigger and greater than myself. I am most thankful for the gift of family. My family, each one of them, is my lullaby. Their presence in my life pushes back into place, together with all that is good and right and perfect, all that is abrasive and sharp and unpleasant, so that as a whole I am able to take it all in stride and count my blessings still. As far as my family is concerned, because I have them, I have everything.

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(To be continued)


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