As I write this it is a little past midnight and I am very alert (when I should be sleeping already, as I have a 4 a.m. flight tomorrow). Swimming in my mind are a thousand little lists: of things to do, emails to send out, people to call and meet up with regarding bancas. I realize at this very moment that I am very hungry. I totally forgot about dinner. Richard is hungry, too, after having come home from sports training and for a while we toy with the idea of going out to get something to eat. But the day has been long, and thankfully, happy. We decide to raid the ref instead, in our sleepwear, in the still of the night, just as we have countless times in the past.
Richard finds some bread to toast — wheat for me and for him, his favorite muesli bread from Paul. He takes out butter and jam to go with it. I want something more savory. I find the last two lonely pieces of salted eggs on the side of the ref, staring back at us as they sit side by side, and Richard peels and cuts them in wedges. He then drizzles the lot with olive oil and some fruit-infused balsamic vinegar. He has a knack for making simple things special like that. I add a few pieces of sardines and as we settle into our meal it feels like we have made the right choice to stay in instead of roam the streets in search of food.
I babble on about my many stories, both the happy ones and the not so, and my man just lets me be, as he always does. He is very indulgent that way, and during moments like this, almost shrink-like. I’ve always thought of myself as not exactly a talkative person, until I married Richard who says I talk to him even when he is already asleep. That amuses me. Thinking back, somehow he still manages to mumble a reply although heaven knows what he will remember of what I ask or tell him during that window when half of him is suspended in sleep already.
As we eat I continue to find out more things about him, how he missed out on bedtime stories that I, on the other hand, had so much of, and how he already knew how to commute at age eight, among other things. This he tells me, neither with regret nor resentment, just as a matter of fact, and I try to grasp this bit of info. We are a sum of all our experiences and I realize all the more that different as my childhood was from his we have, as parents, somehow managed to draw little lessons here and there from our past that we merge and apply to Juliana’s upbringing. From him I have learned not to bear down on Juliana too much, to give her more space, to allow her to run even if it means she will skin her knees every now and then, literally and figuratively speaking. He always gently reminds me about independence and strength and courage.
From him I am able to understand that just because she is very happy to be with her friends does not mean she is less happy to be with us as a family, and that it is healthy for her to carve out a place for herself in her own corner of the world. From me, it is safe to say he has learned the importance of tradition, and the value of rituals and celebrations that families take on as one. In the larger scheme of things, I tell him, it is what keeps one rooted. I know there will be many more lessons along the way, not just for Juliana but for us, as parents, too.
I tell him about how mentally exhausted I have been over the course of the last four months and I ask him how he manages to multitask yet never seems crushed by the weight of it. He is never idle yet he goes about all his activities with a lightness that I envy and can only aspire to possess maybe half of. Yes, it’s been quite the journey since typhoon Yolanda happened; I have been stretched in ways I never thought possible and maybe I am stronger. Maybe. I don’t know for sure. Or maybe also I am just coping, and exactly how this particular time of my life has shaped me I will never know for sure until many, many years down the road. I really don’t know. Life nowadays is a daily commitment — I wake up, I jump into the day (sometimes with nothing more than faith), and I surrender to the tide, allowing it to take me where it wants to. That is not to say I do not put up a fight when I need to, or that I do not weigh the choices I make. I am just cognizant, and appreciative of the value of letting things be. Every day I may start out with a plan, the people I meet also have a plan, and what always prevails is God’s plan. It is not always easy to say “God, your will be done,” but the more I say it and mean it, the better things play out. That gives me peace. As such, the disappointment any setback may bring loses whatever power it has over me.
Many times I have said I am exhausted, even more times I have broken down and cried. Sometimes in the most unusual places and occasions. I spoke to a colleague of mine in Congress and he said that when a disaster happened in his district the weight of it was also so heavy that by the third week he literally broke down. That gave me some measure of peace. At least I know for sure I am not going berserk. Through all this, God has had a wonderful sense of humor. Just when I have had a really bad day he sends all these angels my way. One time I was in the studio for dance class and as I was spinning on the floor in the arms of my dance coach a lady from across the floor calls out to me: “Lucy, I want to give two boats to your district.” Then I am renewed. How can I stop now when every day I move closer to my target of 6,200 boats? In my office in Congress people walk in, pledging a boat or two. Other times it is a fleet of 10 or 100. I open my email and there is always someone reaching out. Every day is different. But every day has some redemption to it.
I went to the district earlier this week to distribute the first 70 boats. It was beautiful. The donors were there (Rotary Club of Makati South) and the recipients were all present. One fisherman, this brusque man stood up to get the mic and say thank you, but by the third sentence he broke down and cried. He said in a voice cracked with emotion that in all his years as a fisherman, he has never had the gift of a complete boat. At best he has always had to piece it together over time — some wood here, an engine there, a new fishing net when funds were enough. The day was special, he said, because he was able to receive what he would only be able to afford after years of saving up for it. Even the other fishermen recipients had tears in their eyes. At that point, all the painful experiences I have had to endure in the course of pursuing help for rehabilitation and relief were worth it.
The days ahead do not promise to be easier. But they will be beautiful still, I know. And I will have the memory of that time I had with the first batch of fishermen to fuel me. What do I look forward to? Oh, the many comforts that can be had within the confines of the day. Quiet kitchen dates with a man, sturdy and loving and dependable. Comfort food like salted egg and sardines with toast and 3-in-one coffee (which I honestly prefer to strong brewed coffee). In the district, going home to a house filled with the loud guffaw of my nephew Valiant and the cooing sounds of my niece Julia. As a family we sit to meals in a house that doubles as a relief center, what with boxes of stuff here and there and make-shift office spaces in available corners. What else? Oh, yes, who knows, maybe somewhere along the way I will have time to learn even just one song that I can sing well in the shower.
Life truly is in between, and all that is beautiful about it can be found in the journey as much as it may be in the destination.
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