A few years ago one December night, I found myself walking along Freedom Park. I was 22, already past my supposed graduation age, but I had just given up studying. I didn’t know what was in front of me, left to decide on my own, needed to think of possible ways how I can survive.
I was dealing with lost dreams, zero financial and moral support from parents (I do not hold this against them, I was not a minor anymore), possibility of losing friends, unstable ministry involvement, feeling of inadequacy and deep regret for what I’ve just ‘thrown away’, and well I could go on… But the point is that it was the time when it felt like everything was stripped away from me.
I was just walking slowly, looking nowhere, and being interrupted was the last thing I’d imagine. I was in my bubble.
Then, there was this Tita whom I met along the way, bending her back while titling her head up towards me, just so she could grab my attention. It was as if she appeared from thin air and poked that little bubble I’ve wrapped myself with.
She asked, “Ella? Are you okay?” The question made my heavy heart want to explode right then and there, if only I could properly articulate my thoughts.
“Halika dito. Okay ka lang ba?” she asked as she signaled to stand on the edge of the sidewalk to make way for the passersby.
“O, anong problema?” she asked persistently, to which I still could not give her the right words. I remember answering her but not exactly what I said.
She then invited me for dinner. We walked from in front ACCI Dorm to the parking lot in SU as I slowly opened up what was going on inside me.
While she was driving, she was deeply encouraging me words I needed at that moment.
“You have to remember that UP is not everything, and Chemistry is not everything. The world is bigger than these. Los Baños is not the whole Philippines. It is not the whole world.”
At that time, she was pursuing her passion from her younger days. She was taking up Film at UP Diliman as her second degree. She was past 60 and had lived in Italy for years but chose to go back to the Philippines–experienced enough to tell that I should stop making this small town my whole world. Because there was just too much to see out there. I was deeply encouraged.
She took me to a nice restaurant in Anos (they’ve closed already), and ordered for me the best dish she could think of as she talked me out of my anxiety. I felt the burden eased somehow. And free food is always uplifting, right?
We were having a good talk over a good meal when it started raining. She was telling me how that moment was actually orchestrated because she was about to go home before she met me but she decided to go one more round in the Freedom Park. Had it rained a little earlier, it would push the both of us to just go home. Maybe we wouldn’t even meet.
I went home that night with a lighter heart, heavy stomach and an extra meal for the morrow.
Two years after that, we saw each other again. I was walking (again) along Pili Drive (near Ansci) when she saw me. She’s driving a different car this time. She pulled over and gave me a lift to our office’s building. We had a little catch up. I was then training for my first job, already graduated and board exam passer. She was so glad knowing that.
There are a lot of people who believed in me along the way, and I wouldn’t be as strong, I wouldn’t be where I am not had I not met them. But tonight, I just remembered her and how she believed in me.
She believed in me when I was so lost. I had nothing. But she believed in me, invested her time and resources to me. She believed. She stopped for the one. She stopped for me.
Oftentimes, you’ll hear enough voices in your head (and in the world outside) that would reason out why you should stop believing. But rare are the people who carry such light inside of them and share them to people. She believed in a bruised reed, spoke to her tender words, and left a mark in her heart forever.
Of course the road to healing and recovery was slow and must be taken one step at a time. But that night was enough to keep a faint heart going.