Here’s the rest of my list, looking back at 2013 and its lessons.
7 Keep a balance. About three years ago I found myself in a territory so unfamiliar I believed the only way to tackle it was to throw all of me into the job with all its complexities and demands. For three years, I hardly saw friends, save for a handful. And thank God for text messaging because otherwise I would be totally cut off from the very people I valued and cared for outside of my family. It was all work, work, and more work. Unlike my work in showbiz though, the world of politics and public service is a very different genre — it is fulfilling but very exacting, cruel at times, thankless even. Nothing you do is ever enough, there is always someone complaining about something, and for the nine out of 10 times you say “yes” you still will be crucified for that one time you had to say “no.” I have felt many times that my best still is and will never be enough.
The elections of 2013 came and I saw how, across the board, it all boiled down to money, and how advantaged a candidate with goons, guns and gold was over one who lacked these things. That was an eye-opener for me. I know it is a part of political culture, but nothing prepares you for the real deal when it is there, before your eyes. In a moment, alliances can shift; those you think are allies and friends you will find out aren’t after all. And in the same breath those you thought were never your friends prove to be all that plus more. Talk about confusing times. Nevertheless. I remember reporting for work in Congress after the SONA and there was a group of us comparing notes about the recent elections. One Congressman said that in the many elections he had experienced, the most important lesson he learned was that, really, you are on your own. You have to fend for yourself, parry the blows, decipher the mixed signals. And if you had every intention of surviving all the cruelty experienced on the battlefield, after elections you have to know how to move past it and let things slide off your back. I think about that now and realize just how true it is.
I also know that I cannot bury all of me in work and not have a life outside of it. So the second half of 2013 became a lot about reconnecting with friends. We ate together, laughed, talked, did all the things good friends do. There were many small dinners where real conversations happened and bonds were forged. I met many new people — wonderful ones I would never have known beyond the usual “Hi”
and “Hello” if I had said no to their invitations because I was too tired from work.
So I say now: Do what you have to do, but please, also find time to do what you want to do. Have time for family and friends, find time to be with those you want and choose to have in your life. I know for sure that I do not want to wake up one day when I am 85 and realize that all the memories I have involve me working, working, working. I still work very hard but I now balance my time. And by embracing that shift, I find that I actually have more of myself to give.
8 It is never too late to learn. Anything. For me, 2013 became all about facing and conquering my fears. I took swimming lessons (which I surprisingly enjoy very much even if the breaststroke tires me and makes me pant like a dog), and I seriously want to learn how to sing correctly, even just one song. (I have always had this fantasy of being able to sing The Nearness of You.) I also want to take up calligraphy, learn French and Mandarin, and after Yolanda happened I seriously wanted to learn how to make a boat. I know I can make the prettiest boats. One day very soon I will join the banca makers in their craft. I also want to plant vegetables, if only to see for myself if I have it in me to nurture them into growth. What else do I want to learn? The list changes by the day. All that we really need to have is a wish in the heart. That is seed enough.
9 God will make it up to you. Really. I do not know if you call it karma but growing up, I would always hear Mommy and Daddy say “Sige lang, pailawin lang.” That translates to “Be the better person,” “Don’t seek revenge” — and this was wrapped in the comforting thought that however disadvantaged you become, regardless of how many times someone tries to overtake or put one over on you, God has a way of making it all up to you.
I can cite so many instances of that truth playing out in my life but I can’t share them here without incriminating people so I would rather not go into details. Suffice to say it is real and true on so many levels. It gives me rest, too, especially in a very fast and competitive world. You do not have to take payback or revenge into your own hands. For every joy or victory meant for you that someone successfully or unsuccessfully tried to take away from you, fear not. Trust that God will make it up to you. Take it from me.
10 Prayers get answered. Sometimes overnight. I know I have already mentioned many times how, after Yolanda, every single day has been nothing short of a leap of faith. But it’s also been a series of answered prayers. After a seemingly endless series of calamities over the very recent years, a big fear was that donor fatigue would set in. It takes all the courage I have to even actually ask for donations but I have to do it because if I don’t I will have nothing to give the thousands that still need help daily.
And so it was early December and I had just bought 3,000 shelter kits with all the donations we got so far. There were only several thousands of pesos left and I remember praying that night for a miracle. The target was 60,000 shelter kits (each cost P3,007.70). There was enough for only 3,000. “Please, God, give me more shelter kits to give away,” I prayed. I woke up the next day to a message that simply said “Ma’am, I have news for you. Please call me the moment you can.” It was from my secretary, Yeye, and I found out upon calling her that she had just gotten a call from out of the blue from this hardworking, active and funny lady named Jo saying that the Sultanate of Oman wanted to donate specifically to the district I represent 5,000 shelter kits. Five thousand! I had crawled into bed the night before with only 3,000 and I woke up the next day to realize that I actually had 8,000 to give away. And all I had to do was whisper a prayer — from my lips to God’s ears. There have been many other miracles after that, involving names like Ben, James, Wen, Benson and Philip, and Denise, Fe, Mike and Tess, Cesar, Oliver and Jowette, etc. but those stories will be for another day. For now, I just wanted to point out this simple and beautiful truth: how I should never underestimate the capacity of the human heart. Over and above that, I should never doubt how God’s timing is so perfect. All we need to do is believe, and pray.
11 Where you are at any given moment is exactly where you are supposed to be. Ever since I attended a Centering Prayer seminar in 2004 this has been the single most calming truth I have armed myself with. We all need perspective, and this one just settles all that is chaotic around and in me. It makes me breathe, even and especially when circumstances dictate otherwise. It makes me move forward, even as all else tells me I must stay crippled in analysis, fear, sadness. Respect the space you find yourself in. Like it or not, it is part of the journey. So don’t fret if the plane does not take off on time, if the driver makes a wrong turn, if you can’t send out that letter because your Internet connection is not working. Never mind that you did not get that promotion yet, or that you had to be at the receiving end of someone’s rudeness or inefficiency. We are all pieces in a puzzle and there is always a bigger picture, something that we do not yet see and know, much less understand. So, happy or sad, in victory or defeat, in plenty or in want, accept what is, even as you continue to hope and pray for what will and can be.
12 Cookies. Or bookmarks or letters or donations. One of my favorite stories is that of a woman who was depressed. Nothing could snap her out of it. She went to a priest who told her to embrace her sadness and offer it for the people who were suffering. Try to make it a point to do something nice for others, he told her. The woman said she did not feel like doing anything because she was depressed although she was quick to add that before her depression, she was very proud of the chocolate chip cookies she could make. They were always a hit, she exclaimed, a brief glint of happiness in her eyes. Well, then do that, the priest told her. Just bake those cookies and give them away or eat them. And then come back after two weeks.
Two weeks passed, there was no sign of the lady. A month, two passed, until he saw her finally after Sunday Mass. You never came back, he said, and she chuckled and said that she was so busy. Ruddy cheeks, happy eyes, a smile on her lips, she relayed to the priest how, with every person she made happy with the cookies she baked and gave out, her own happiness grew. And that she looked forward to each bag of cookies being given because it always left her with a joy that she could not explain, one that went all the way from her heart to her toes.
So the next time you are so sad you cannot move, remember the woman and her cookies. More often than not, getting back your sunshine could be as simple as stepping out of yourself and making someone else happy. Because even in the grand scheme of things, the basic truth about reaping what you sow always holds true.
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