Life is a mixture of opposites

Part 1
There are times when my mind drifts away from everyday regular occurrences and activities that remind me that I am still alive while getting older and have to take care of precious life to prolong and enjoy it as long as possible. Today is one of those times.

When the pandemic hit in 2020 and several people known to me -- regardless of their status in society -- perished because of it, I realized that I don’t really have control of my existence on earth, regardless of how well I take care of myself. I have accepted that every single day of life is a gift that I shouldn’t take for granted, and choices are present for me to select what’s “good” or not for me or for others around me.

Then I also thought about the reality that life is full of opposites: black and white happy and sad enemies and friends night and day full and empty rich and poor war and peace. Yes, as we go through this journey, we all have tasted most of those realities. Let me tell you my story. At my age (70 years old), I have endured the negatives, enjoyed the positives, and kept hoping for the best.
I don’t remember being sad when I was very young. Christmas season and birthdays were the best family gatherings where beautiful lights, food, and gifts were aplenty. Our family, while not wealthy, was alright financially and perhaps in everything else. My parents were both public-school teachers. We had a beautiful yard with a small poultry and lots of vegetables and fruit trees. My father would join fishermen at Laguna de Bay every other day, to catch lots of fresh-water fish for us. My mother was an extraordinary teacher who also did stage direction for local presentations such as her Tagalog version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. She was always invited to sing in several occasions and venues with her little string band. Perhaps to interest me in music, my parents bought me a piano when I was eight years old and enrolled me in a piano class in town. In our barrio where I grew up, there were happy fiestas and lots of community celebrations as well. And while modern gadgets were still not in existence then, I enjoyed playing local games with other children, such as “play house,” hide & seek, jumping rope, etc. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t remember being sad when I was very young.

Everything changed though, when I was 11 years old. My parents separated. They finally accepted they didn’t love each other anymore…perhaps. How else could I conclude that moment when personal grudges were hurled at each other and demands of freedom were shouted in high heavens? This part of my childhood was the saddest moment that I ever experienced in my youth. I cried even in my dreams.

And in the days ahead, I also felt the stigma carried by my mother as a “separated woman”. Those days (early ‘60s), women stuck it out with their husbands regardless of how they were treated, because that was expected of them. My mother was different. She was very outspoken for women’s rights and oblivious to society’s dictates, or to her, erroneous norms. As the only Catholic country in Southeast Asia, the power of the church in the Philippines has always been something to reckon with -- wives should be under their husbands…or something of that sort. That is probably why up to now in the 21st century, any divorce law couldn’t get approved in our legislature (despite many legislators cheating on their wives!). So, basically, my sadness started after my parents’ separation, the loss of the single gift that I treasured most, my piano (because my mother could no longer pay its monthly installment), and the ensuing hardship our family had to endure with a single bread winner-- a mother with five growing children. We ended up losing our home by the river and drifted from one rental to another. Sadness truly was reflected in my eyes and on my young siblings’ faces because we were always hungry.
Early youth:

I started high school full of hope in my heart. We were poor, but my mother tried her best to provide for her children’s needs. As the eldest of five, despite my young age of 13, I tried to help by teaching young kids solfegios --the abcs of music--and earning 30 pesos a month to help buy rice or bread. I also played organ music in church at daily masses for a few more pesos to cover my school supplies. Our family was able to cope with some help from my Aunt Leonor (an elderly sister of my father), and we’re grateful to God for her. Happiness in the family came in the form of food on the table and the honors I brought from school. Being poor, well, like many other families of my classmates, became “normal” to me as I witnessed several friends of mine experiencing similar hardships lack of food, absence of home appliances, inability to get proper medical attention, lack of school supplies, and the like. When someone collapses in class, it was always 100% certain that he/she had no breakfast. Well, that happened to me once, so I knew.

Despite our poverty, I, like several poor classmates, excelled in school, both in academics and extra-curricular activities. I was always in various school performances and competitions representing our school. I simply wanted to make my mother happy through the medals and trophies I usually won. I was also the school band’s majorette, thus exempting me from Physical Education classes throughout high school.

To help our family financially, aside from my daily church “work” as organist, I also joined a youth band and served as its soloist. We accepted gigs during events/celebrations, and this “work” helped me heal from my despair of losing my piano and boost my confidence in music performance. Music truly made me happy (until now!). My high school graduation was so memorable. Aside from several awards, I was one of only two students who brought the most honors to the school, and the only one who won a national 4-year college scholarship (all expenses paid, including boarding and a monthly allowance) at the prestigious University of the Philippines. I’d say without fear of contradiction that that moment was truly mine.

Next Issue: College Life, Leaving it, and what happened beyond…