Sunday, March 11, 2007

Love, Family and Cris Aquino

On my very first day, after a restful sleep filled with fond memories of China, I woke up late, skipped breakfast and came down for lunch instead.

I found my father and mother already seated around the dinner table. Like many Filipino homes, there is a TV set in the dining room. Before I could even see the TV screen, I already heard a familiar voice throwing a challenge at the audience, “Game Ka Na Ba?” (Are you ready?) The voice belonged to a famous politician whose murder on August 21, 1983 sparked an unstoppable wave of protests which swelled into a powerful political tsumami called the EDSA Revolution. This was Ninoy Aquino, arch-rival of Marcos, assassinated just as he got off the plane and fell on the Tarmac of the Manila International Airport. Ninoy was and still is a hero but his popularity and relevance may have almost been eclipsed by the that of his daughter Cris whose voice and face are heard and seen on national TV twice a day. It was Cris’ voice which greeted me last January 4, 2007 as I sat down to eat my first lunch since I left the country last February 11, 2006.

There was food on the table but no one has taken notice. All eyes and ears were on Cris as she grilled contestants competing against each other for tempting prizes from cash to gift items of varying worth. I thought and commented about how Cris looked a bit chubby. My mother explains, “she’s pregnant!” Being so out of touch, I inquired, “who’s the father?” “James Yap, a basketball player,” explains my mother. Before I could even ask more questions, my mother adds, “he’s twelve years younger than Cris, but it seems that he is a decent guy. Cris is very happy and Cory, of course is so much happier for her daughter.”

I looked at the table and saw Filipino food for the first time in more than eleven months. I felt warmth in my guts as well as in my soul. Let the TV blare. Let Cris do her emceeing for her noon time show. I was with my father Carlos and mother Naty. I was with my aging parents’ companions Che and Nila. I was with my sister in-law Kim and her two sons Paolo and Miguel. I was with family. I was finally home.

This is what every overseas Filipino worker or OFW feels upon setting foot once again on Philippine soil. There is warmth and peace that spreads throughout from head to toes. It’s an important ritual that must be done as often as time and travel money would allow. The Pinoy must go home for home waits with hundred or even thousands of open arms eager to give and receive a hug. I have become an OFW. I have left country and like so many am in a hurry to go home. Wherever her destination is, an OFW keeps an insatiable longing for home in her heart. This longing obviously has only one cure. Unless that cure is obtained, the OFW remains sick and must learn to meaningfully and productively cope with the sickness. Coping ranges from frequent long distance calls or texting to sending the popular and most awaited “Balik-Bayan boxes.” Coping may also take the form of regular remittances through the formal means of Banks or remittance outlets or the informal means of “padala” or requesting an acquaintance of friend who is going home to do a service or courtesy of bringing a certain amount or some gift to loved ones. Coping may also be in the form of regular social gatherings at fixed meeting places as Pinoys in Rome would be found on Thursdays and Sundays at the Stazioni Termini or Pinoys in Hong Kong along the long elevated walks of IFC Mall.

Where I worked last year most of the above did not exist. There were no Balik-Bayan boxes, remittance outlets, groups of Pinoys to meet or to request for “padala.” In such a situation, the longing and the sickness were quite intense. To cope, I had learned to enter more deeply and generously into prayer and solitude. I could only wait in patience and in faith. In the end, I realize how patience and faith required waiting. There could not be patience and faith without the wait. The wait was empty if there was not faith whose object was worth one’s patient wait.

Later that night, when I returned to the dinner table, the TV was on again. Surprised an amused, the same voice and face welcomes me. It was Cris Aquino’s second show for the day. She had a rather different mantra this time: “Deal or no Deal?”

I sat through dinner learning how to both eat and watch Cris. I watched her and thanked God and thought, “perhaps this is it…the end of Cris’ romantic misfortunes.

I sat and realized something seemingly trite yet important. This is how those back home have been coping. Aside from the love that family provides there is Cris, there is entertainment. There are televised games which entertain millions of eager spectators and reward the lucky few.

On that very first day, I began to reflect and worry. I began asking, “if this is coping, does it bring change, growth and meaning? If this is coping, does it bring life?”

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
March 11, 2007


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