It is 3 AM, January 1, 2014 as I write. We just had a noisy merry midnight celebration which was crazy since I slept early and woke up an hour before midnight to find Sweepy hiding in Luchie's bed! Even with the firecrackers ban the people in my neighborhood prepared well with non-stop fireworks and firecrackers as early as 9 PM that lasted past 1 AM. This has been the tradition in my country. To make noise to ward off evil or bad luck. . . . I never really believed in it since I love animals and I knew how frightened they were and how the air gets polluted and how wasteful to spend all that money on something so unnecessary . . .
Anyway, I am sharing a story that happened to us years ago on new year's eve while we were still living in Makati. We had the traditional new year's eve dinner with the family and we were ready to go to bed when we heard loud banging on our door. My brother Jojo and I opened the door to our neighbor's urgent cry that a fire is ongoing in our block. We went out and saw a huge fire beside our apartment. We hurried back to the house and woke up my Mama and Papa and hurried out of the burning house with whatever we were able to carry with us.
My brother Joey drove the car out. I ran with my Mama to the neighbor's house across and watched our house burn. It was a real nightmare and I sat beside my crying Mama calling for the other members of my family. I saw my brother Jojo rushing out with our TV. I saw Luchie carrying our huge St. Bernard dog Vincent! And then I saw our house. It was the last house in the block to burn. It was well lighted and there were so many people inside.
In the distance I saw my Papa inside our burning house supervising people as they helped move our stuff out of our burning house. While I sat with my Mama people started delivering our stuff to us: furniture, wines, sack of rice, our Christmas tree!, etc. Our kind neighbor sensed that we were in a state of shock and started storing these items in his house for safekeeping. Later, we found out that so many people woke up and ran to our house to help save our things: the barangay captain (village head) who immediately organized a rescue group, the staff of the parlor house, our laundrywoman's son who was drinking with friends, and even strangers started rescuing our stuff for us that even if the fire took less than an hour, we discovered that so many of our items were saved by people and strangers!
I remembered how we were separated that early morning: my sister Loyd and I were brought to my Mama's brother, Tito Sario's house, while Luchie stayed in another relative's shop with our rescued items and our dog Vincent. My parents and brothers stayed in our burned house to see whatever else they can save that day while trying to find a new house for us. When we all finally moved to our new house we were delighted and surprised to find some of our old furniture (some of these are still with us!) that were too heavy (book cabinets, Mama's sewing machine, including my Papa's filing cabinet and desk!) yet they were saved! A miracle was seeing our Christ the King image intact until today! This image was in the altar of my childhood and it still reigns in our house to the present, saved from fire, time and memory. . .
Suddenly, it did not matter if we didn't saved anything. We were too happy to be together and too thankful for all that our neighbor has done for us. We realized that we were willing to let go of our things and that what mattered was that we belonged to a community who will help and shelter us. A neighbor, whose house burned also, told us how lucky we were to be able to saved a lot of things. But we didn't, my Mama said. It was the people, the community who did. It was my parents gift to us, this communal sense that we still carry with us to the present.
Years after and living in different communities and neighborhoods after, I looked back and wondered if these events have somehow shaped my perspective of life. Of how, days after the fire, we were happy and contented with our lot. Much like how I felt recently, after having a major operation, finding out I had cancer, losing my dog Babur, and seeing the fragile-ness of the present, that I am still thankful. That I can still utter happy prayers of gratitude at the end of each day. The way I did hours ago when the fireworks filled the sky and I was hugging my scared dog Sweepy in my arms, and laughing with Luchie, and praying for Loyd who was coughing inside the house, and partaking of the yummy food sent by neighbors as gifts. A year has passed and a new one has come. Blessed be.
We are given that which we give also. Whatever conveniences we have today was a gift from those we gave to others yesterday. And as I held our neighbors wonderful gifts of food and friendship it made me remember the same gifts we excitedly held out to them weeks ago. They were given with no expectations. They were given with love and love was given back to us.
This holiday gift of memory is my gift to all of you. To inspire you that in the midst of our troubles and worries, a bigger energy we call God, is working with smiling devotion. That it is not out of fear but love that is the root of that devotion.
I have abandoned my "free will" a long time ago. I have surrendered my fate and all that has happened to me are such wonderful blessings that I hope to share with you because your being here is not by accident. You were all a gift to me as I hope I was to you too.
I treasure you all and wish you only the best, the brightest, the merriest and meaningful 2014!