I AM almost never at a loss for words. In a previous life, I may have been a lexicographer, a surrogate writer of love letters (like the main character in G Garcia Marquez’s Love In The Time of Cholera), or a royal speechwriter. I am at ease expressing myself, especially using the written word.
Which is why I’m a bit surprised, putting pen to paper, when attempting to communicate my thoughts about a particular person who came to mind on her birthday. She is not so much remarkable as she is incredible, as she has made, in my life among many others, an impact that is beyond compare. I am momentarily unable to say what I feel.
At least, I will try. There are many, many instances on which I have witnessed the greatness of this person, but on one particular occasion she asked me to help sort out items which she had stored in boxes from decades past. Through the years, she never threw out anything which she felt was a record of her busy life, and as a result she had a room full of journals, envelopes, folders and assorted containers of artifacts of her life.
She asked me to take my time, not to rush, and to sort things by the year, and to consult her first before dumping anything.
My first impression was that not a scrap of paper was thrown away from the last four, maybe five decades. Receipts, lists, notes, letters, bills, statements, mass cards, novena cards, promissory notes, greeting cards. Every scrap of paper that documented the length and breadth of human transactions, business, personal and whatever else, was stored in those boxes.
The one thing that stood out, and which made a real impression on me was the consistency of two particular things : Cancelled cheques and thank you cards.
Over and over again, this remarkable person issued cheques almost every day of the week, every week of the month, and every month of the year. She issued cheques for tuition payments for children she would never see, bill payments for people she hardly knew, donation remittances for charities she had hardly heard from, and even utility payments for people who could no longer support themselves.
She was an equal opportunity, across-the-board, all-weather philanthrophist, although her favorite activity, I noticed, was writing greeting and gift cards herself, replying to thank you cards, and buying big bags of sweets and delicacies, then dividing them up for redistribution for nephews, nieces, grand-nephews and grand-nieces.
Like a freshly-glazed mirror image, all these perfectly reflected what she was/is at work. I was fortunate enough to be a worker bee three years at 105 Paseo de Roxas and most of my free time, I chose to hang around in her office, which never ran out of tasty merienda, candy, chichirya and Friday club provisions.
I never saw her turn down a request for help as long as her inner compass pointed to the request as legitimate. Three quarters of the time, she knew the assistance, in the form of loans, would take forever and a day to return, the remaining quarter she chalked up to spreading good karma that would eventually find its way back to her.
And find its way it did, in a BIG way, tenfold or more probably. Because she is blessed in almost every way; she has resources for herself and everybody else (and the number is considerable) who depend on her; friends relatives and loved ones that keep multiplying like YouTube hits; health and a youthful countenance that doesn’t quit, and above all a positive outlook that renews itself everyday.
It would be no exaggeration to say that she has sent more or less a thousand children to school, been primarily responsible for the professional careers of hundreds of practicing doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers and nurses, sent so many migrant hopefuls (including myself) on their way to their land of promise, and paid for the life-saving hospital expenses of people who otherwise might never been able to shoulder it themselves.
Besides the magnitude of this once-in-a-lifetime generosity, the collateral wonder is that unless the moon is blue, the sun is dancing or Halley’s comet has chanced to pass by, you would never hear about it, all these unceasing gestures of altruism, least of all from her. And she probably prefers it that way.
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It’s a very belated birthday greeting that I have for her, almost a week past. I’m ashamed for myself, after all she has done for me, my children, my brothers, my parents, and everyone else in my family. It comes as no surprise that she has been like this all her life, to co-worker, colleague, neighbor, co-CWL devotee, co-parishioner, and has never made a distinction between relative and friend; even people who have not been kind to her have been recipients of her legendary kindness.
I have only one other anecdote about her, among so many others, and this concerns her driver, Mang Gaudencio. He and his three sons, along with the rest of his family, have been helped by her sterling recommendations on the way to good jobs and stable lives. Mang Gaudi told me once that, despite his age, if his employer ever needed them and his organs (any of them) were still serviceable, he would gladly donate his kidney, liver, eyes, lungs or heart to her. And he would consider himself richer for it.
[ The knee-jerk reaction I felt was that why did he think of it ahead of me? Because no greater source of pride would I have than to be able to say that a part of me could be used by this person I’m talking about, now. ]
He was probably exaggerating when he said it, but I couldn’t blame him. For besides my parents, I know of no other person who has so enriched my life, in terms of her immeasurable and inspiring selflessness, as this person. I once thought that it would take my entire lifetime to repay her for all the things she has done for me. Now I know that one lifetime is simply not enough.
Belated happy birthday Tita Lily / LBY, you are definitely one of a kind. Speaking for myself and the rest of the Bautista and SycipLaw families, I love you very much, thank you for being in our lives !