Years ago, when I was living alone in the city, I had longed to quit my life and move back to a much more remote place like my province. I hated the state of things I was in, I was in bad health, I hated the people around me. I had developed an aversive stimulus to the clutter of garbage, graffiti, beggars, traffic, heat, and the fumes that would probably best describe an urban jungle that is Manila. But I did not leave, I wanted to challenge myself to rise out from the din, and to make my angst known to the world. I must have been lingering on the remnants of a melancholic, if not exactly troubled, youth--that I thought it was alright to engage myself with feelings of anger, fear, regret, or maybe even resentment, particularly on the unfortunate circumstances brought about by my mother's early death. I didn't use to have a blog then, but I wrote vicariously on paper, and have kept the notes intact until today. Now however, when I get the chance to read my old thoughts, I would somehow stifle a laugh, and amuse myself with the vagaries of my youth, of how I had unwittingly turned into an emotional sponge and inflicted a kind of grievance on myself for living a less than perfect life.I will leave 39 in a few months. It would be safe to say that I have immeasurably grown, and am not the same bitter person I was once. There is a degree of acceptance that I have now allowed myself to feel towards things that don't happen in my favor---it's not passiveness I would say. I believe that all things, bad or good, shape us into what we are at present. So, instead of depriving myself of happiness, it would be nice to do the opposite, for a change. Thus the gratitude project. However, today I would like to express my thanks, not for something that I have, but for a person who has been there--and was a big part---in my life.
Ma. Concepcion, or Connie, or Tita Nini to others, will always be Mama Nin to me and my immediate cousins. She is the third child in my mother's huge brood of 15. She has always been someone that everyone had to prepare for whenever she visited--and that always entailed clean house, clean nails, clean clothes, clean everything. Why, she's a doctor after all, and a stickler for hygiene. It didn't come as a surprise then that we had stuck with the idiom cleanliness is next to godliness, owing to the fact that she was a very devout Catholic as well and had always made it a crede that in our household, like being clean and tidy, there can never been too many excuses for not going to Sunday mass. It was an imperative. A few years ago, she told us, her nieces, she belatedly realized that she must have come off as a "fastidious" woman too all of us. I bet she did--but because of her fastidiousness, I have learned many things, much more than I could have ever hoped for. Mama Nin is a hero in our family, and personally for me, a symbol of courage and selflessness. I didn't get to know her full history, and even as a grownup now, I reserve that kind of diffidence towards her, maybe because I had always looked up to her from the point of view of a small girl, that she always appeared larger than life, and I would never overcome the habit of seeing her that way. It would be nice to go up to her one day, sit idly on the patio, and spend the afternoon over coffee just listening to her life story, like equals. There goes my wandering mind again...
I have been rather astute in recalling the stories that surrounded her when I was a child. It has been said that Mama needed to finish her final year in medical school in UST Manila, and as my grandparents were mere office workers back in Bacolod,they could not afford to send the kids to school, all at the same time. So that a compromise had to be made, that Mama would graduate and some of the children would have to take a year off. She did graduate and went on to become a physician-surgeon. But because of the sacrifice that was made for her, she would devote the better part of her professional life, serving the poor in remote La Castellana, and her personal life--helping her family. She never married, and took two of my cousins under her wing. I often spent summers in her place in La Castellana, helping out in her pharmacy, learning stuff around the house, getting rigorous training like sewing or catechism --but also enjoying the perks of eating delicious healthy food, having new clothes, falling blissfully asleep with my cousins at the back of her volkswagen as she makes an afternoon drive along the mountainous part of La Carlota, swimming in hagimit, going back to Bacolod with a renewed sense of self.
The part, however, that I have truly to thank Mama for, is how she gave her unwavering support, financially and emotionally, during the months that my mom battled with the big C. The doctor in her proved to be more than useful in mechanically sifting through the possibilities of a cure for my mother's illness. But the sister in her must have been pained to see the truth that my mother was going to wither away, and that a cure was not in sight, and everyone else would have to deal with her fate. Mama Nin saw to us, made sure we children were fed and schooled, and became a mother figure until the very end. There are possibly a lot more that I would never come to know about her, but its enough that I have seen her benevolence, and the strength with which she carried the burdens in her life, and how mightily she embraced them.
Mama is now in her 70s, but she always has that dignified aura about her. The nephews and nieces fuss over her, yet she seems to point out, all that is needless, and she will not allow herself to saddle us with her weight just yet. She has retired from her medical practice, but she's never one to be idle. All those years that I have seen her knit, smock, crochet, cross stitch, paint, create wonderful things besides being a doctor, I thought she would have hung her mitts and called it a day. But, not really. Last year, she was making these rosary beads, have them blessed in church----one of which she gave to me as a gift, and which I have kept close to me everyday. She herself is a gift to us, her family, but she would probably not wallow in that. So, thank you, Mama. You will always be loved.