LIKE the rest of the country despite the problems that lie about us, it is the season to look at the brighter side of life. Bringing our thoughts upward to the Divinity remembering the birth of His Son to redeem Mankind, familial warmth, public celebrations, hearty repasts whether modest or over the top, the sudden chill in temperatures, and finally the advent of the New Year with renewed hope and the optimism that we somehow find in ourselves time and time again.
As ever, for those looking at our country and at us from afar, the scene always looks darker. We have been consigned to being sick, unreasonably underdeveloped, seriously wanting in leadership and sometimes just plain irresponsible or foolish. We may be these in parts but not on the whole.
We still love this country no matter that many of us leave for economic reasons. And those who do dream of coming back and living the ideal Filipino way–surrounded by loved ones, helping them and committed to our values learned from our ancestors, imbedded in our ambitions. This country is still the happy home we can return to.
Sacrifice, loyalty, resilience, faith and goodwill are still foremost among us. Only utter need and self-preservation can dent them and even so there remains the underlying good. And it shows up even in adversity.
When we go through the streets of this metropolis of the struggling, many note the courtesy and politeness of people dealing with each other. The parents bringing their children to school either walking with their bags, riding a tricycle or a motorbike. The closeness, the care and love for children rings true from whatever walk of life. Note the markets and the dynamics of vendor and client, always polite and respectful, maybe even comradely, not just matter of fact. They joke, they converse, they express opinions, they laugh. The ubiquitous security guards of buildings, particularly those housing government offices, are in general unfailingly helpful. They answer questions patiently, direct people towards where they should be going, help them attain what they came for.
Public transportation can be crowded and uncomfortable but there are no fights along the way. Riders bear the discomfort with stoicism. Traffic conditions may cause incidents of road rage but considering the aggravation they are few and far between and instantly sanctioned.
Note the basketball games off the streets or on the streets in neighborhoods that allow them. Everyone is involved and enjoying the moment. Be it the players, the benchwarmers, the neighbors, the friends, the just plain onlookers. Basketball is our joy in mundane levels of our everyday life.
The churlishness of government employees who make people wait, or give procedures that have to be done in piecemeal fashion or are plain rude are countered with patience and disguised contempt. Philosophically, it seems. I have seen people burst into tears in the US visa section but, despite worthy reasons, not in government offices. And if they did, they would be helped and consoled by the offenders themselves or those around them. We are comfortable with each other no matter our differences or opposing positions.
At this time the Christmas parties are at their apogee—around the neighborhoods, in offices, and any and all institutions, whether hospital, school, religious, civic and sports associations. For the partygoers, this is the fulfillment of their year’s work, their partnerships and whatever common experiences they have had with those they party with. It is time to show them with food and gifts that friendship and companionship are appreciated.
In the slums, joy and merriment are equally present. In these neighborhoods of hardship, the spirit of care and concern is still alive, if not more so. The human flaws are ever present but they are balanced out by the virtues. Togetherness in adversity brings people to think of others before themselves when it counts.
I remember my late friend, Sister Christine, who in the spirit of Christian brotherhood abandoned the comforts and privacy of her convent to live in the slums of Leveriza here in Manila. She once told me that whenever she came home to her slum home, she felt safe the minute she entered the neighborhood for the care and concern of her neighbors towards her and each other. Among them was a bunch of idle men who would have drinking sessions in the evenings. Then there was a fire in the slum and the heroes who put up a water brigade, saved persons from burning homes and took care of the possessions saved from the fire were those very drunks she had not thought too well of. They showed humanity in time of need. It was in them even as they drank the night away.
Let us be grateful to be in our country in this season of joy and love for God and neighbor, especially the neighbor who needs you most.