The thought of Emelita, an indigenous woman, and mother of 11, who came to visit me on Christmas Day, has not left me yet. She made me reflect on the coming new year. “Binuhay ko po lahat sila ng walang turok, Father,” she vigorously told me, referring to the non-intervention of anything medical or scientific in raising her offspring. My immediate reaction then and there was mixed—amazement and, at the same time, bewilderment. How is she doing it? Her external appearance spoke to me of material deprivation and the like. Proof to it was, I had to feed her first meal of the day even though it was already mid-morning. Indeed, she does it, but what sort of life can one live with her circumstances or a dire lack of decent ways and means of survival? Her request for a pack of rice from me in exchange for a meager bunch of bananas reflected her daily struggle to make ends meet.

Truth be told, there were a lot of thoughts racing through my head as I stood close to this tribal woman’s irrepressible bearing. I must confess that I was attempting to keep her for an extended period of time in order to gather more information about her. Said she, “42 po ang edad ko.”…. “Apat po sa anak ko ay may asawa na. Kaya may mga apo na rin po ako.”….. “Kung wala pong bigas mapipilitan po kami na kainin na lang po ang mga saging po.” …. “14 po ang edad ko nung ipinanganak ko po ang panganay ko.” I am sure you have a lot of things running inside your head too as you read on.  Right? To me, I am reminded of the song (entitled Bui Doi) in Miss Saigon (musical), “They are the living reminders of all the good we failed to do.”  While it’s not unusual that we could quickly blame them for how they are but it could also be somewhat extraordinary if we point fingers at ourselves as well and see what could be done and what must we do.  The song exhorts further –“These are souls in need, they need us to give. Someone has to pay for their chance to love. Help me try.”

Try we must. 2023 is a chance once more. While we ordinarily look up to role models (the well-to-do and the more popular ones) for inspiration, it will certainly do no harm if we gaze, for a change, on our “woman of the hour” – 42 years old, mother of 11, grandmother to 10 and counting, with no stable income, etc. but she claims to be strong and is trusting enough of the blessings to come. “Malakas po ako, Father. May biyaya din po ang Diyos,” she professed. To be strong and to be trusting in the divine will could well just be what every soul needs as we usher ourselves unto the New Year.

Be practical, eating well and having a good sleep are fundamental to strengthen ourselves. Not having enough of these two signals an imbalance, and even disturbance. Regular exercise releases tensions and the like. To me, there is something in moving around (house-to-house visits around the barrio) that keeps my spirits and thoughts move as well.  Maximize time for eating, sleeping and exercise. If there is one thing that should be minimized is exposure to social media. It has been found by studies that overexposure in the internet is linked to mental issues – stress, anxieties, loneliness, low self-esteem and consequently issues with eating, sleeping and moving around.

Come to think of our Emelita – only consuming the fruits (natural and fresh) of the earth through her bare hands, sleeping soundly despite ramshackle roof over head and waking up not to any sound of alarm but to the chirping of the birds and moving briskly from one mountain to another. We could indeed be envious of what she has while in reality we have too many and yet could not achieve any of the basics that could strengthen ourselves. And while we have smartphones to connect us to the world, I could not even think that Emelita is ever jealous of that she has not touched a phone in her entire life yet. To say the least then, while we do indeed strive to be strong, for Emelita, the name of game is resiliency.

Of course, it should go without saying that we cannot rely on our own efforts and disciplines alone. “May biyaya ang Diyos,” reminds Emelita. We may have many things indeed but if we lack the one thing necessary everything could just turn as without meaning.  While money is undeniably enjoyable, it does not necessarily translate to being fulfilled though. Power could truly be exciting but it is not always correlated to being loved and respected. Popularity is glamorous but it cannot equal to being loved and cared about. 

To top it all, there is that decade-old study by the San Francisco Federal Reserve saying that “suicides are more common in richer neighborhoods.” It holds that this is a morbid demonstration of the folly of trying to “keep up with the Joneses.” In other words, you do things not because you want to do these things but just because you want to show off to others, especially to your fre-nemies. If and when you are unappreciated or go unnoticed, you would suddenly feel inadequate.  At the end of the day, you don’t feel blessed. Maraming pera, pero hindi ramdam na pinagpala.

How to be blessed? Become a blessing to others.

Be like Emelita. Have a strong and blessed 2023, everyone!

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