Monday, August 15, 2005

A Closer Look at What I Had Gotten Myself Into

I used to have a secretary. It was basic in the law firm that I worked for that every two associates should have one secretary between them. My friends complained whenever they called me because it was also part of the package that a receptionist would answer the phone, then she would connect the line to my secretary, then my secretary would answer the phone by saying, "Office of Atty. del Rosario, Good morning", and then she would check if I was available to take the call. I didn't feel comfortable with the setup, either, but it seemed to suit the image of a proper law firm, which included doing everything to impress our clients and show them how busy and hard-to-reach we were.

I worked in that law firm as an associate even before I passed the bar. One time, the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT) gave a free seminar to our office secretaries on phone etiquette. The Personnel Partner required me to attend the seminar and joked that I should be there so that if I didn't pass the bar, I could get a job as a legal secretary. Fat chance, I thought, as I didn't know how to do short-hand. Then the world turned upside down because I did flunk that particular bar (1999, there was a scandal that year and I was a victim of one of the lowest passing percentages ever, but that's water under the bridge now). Instead of applying as a secretary, I filed my resignation because I could not face the humiliation. This is subject of a thousand sharings already so I won't write the details here. A year after and armed with an official membership to the bar, I re-applied as a legal associate and resumed having someone to type, photocopy, and file for me, among other things.

The life of a corporate lawyer-wannabe that I used to tread seems ages ago. Now I go to my office in a T-shirt, jeans and sandals, taking the jeep and getting wet whenever the raindrops exceed the capacity of my pink fold-up umbrella. When I see legal dramas on TV and watch actresses wearing suits and pearls and carrying leather briefcases, I still feel something, a tug in my heart that asks why I could not find happiness and fulfillment when I was actually on the road to achieving that look, a legal eagle from my lifelong dreams. If people are shocked that I set aside all that for now to do what I'm doing at Lingkod Office, the details of which deserve the next paragraph, I do not blame them for I find myself weird, too, sometimes.

For a little more than a week now, I have made a career out of answering phones, making my own photocopies, and typing minutes of meetings. The lady lawyer who joked about my future as a secretary had some premonition that there was something more to my extraordinary typing skills than meets the eye. Something tells me now that I have always had the penchant for this kind of work, and true to form I find that I could be passionate about it. I am sure that my former secretaries earn so much more than what I'm getting nowadays. From the world's point of view, and from a part of me that is still of the world, it could be argued that I am suffering from a momentary lapse of good judgment.

It is a strange feeling, to be content and free. It is a strange life that I lead now, full of uncertainties as to what tomorrow would bring, lacking in financial security and career opportunities as my world has defined them all these years, yet within this paradox I wake up every morning with peace, joy, and anticipation for what the new day would bring. A lot of my friends and relatives simply stared at me as if I had lost my mind or suddenly sprouted long ears, because they too shared in my dreams, first to be a rich corporate lawyer with all the benefits attendant thereto, and then to be a radical, passionate court attorney fighting graft and corruption at Sandiganbayan, so that by this recent decision I have had to constantly contend with a barrage of cross-examination questions from people who could not understand how my heart could not embrace what everyone should be hoping for given my age, status and educational attainment. I find, however, that a life without pretensions and pressure is radically different, for it is pure bliss!

Being so new at this and still feeling my way around the office, I do still ask if I am doing what I'm supposed to do. As one well-meaning relative asked me, "Why don't you leave that volunteer/missionary work for those who are not lawyers? Shouldn't you be serving God using your profession?" Even if my heart is already leaping and dancing with all the time I have now to read and to write and to sing and to play music, I still do ask what in the world came over me, and if this is just me. "How much of this has just been brought about by burnout from your two previous hectic jobs?", asked one of the respected leaders of our community.

I found some affirmations to my current sources of joy as well as answers to the above-mentioned questions during last night's Lord's Day Celebration with Lingkod Quezon City. We gathered at sundown at the house of one of the sisters to pray the blessing of the wine and the bread and to share a beautiful meal. We listened to some sharings from our members who have felt joy in living for Christ, and I was struck by two Bible characters who were mentioned by our brothers who led us last night. In exhorting us to celebrate the Lord's Day, Paul told us that the basis of what we were doing came from the book of Nehemiah, an Old Testament character who, prior to his service in the restoration of Jerusalem, served as cup-bearer to the king. Nehemiah was so close to the king, though, that his service was not as ordinary as it may seem. Later on he had a great part in the history of God's people. At the closing part of the night, Ted mentioned the New Testament character and first martyr Stephen, who, prior to being martyred to death, served as a "waiter" to the disciples, so that the latter could go about with their mission. He who was last became first, true to Scripture, as it is written in the book of Acts that St. Stephen was a man filled with the Holy Spirit who glorified God even when his enemies surrounded him.

I was struck by these two characters who had to fulfill menial tasks and who had no idea how God was planning to use them so significantly. Going about their work for the Lord and not merely for man, they were found faithful in the little things and were thus given more service precisely because they had served the Lord well. Those two are now shining examples for me. I may not be able to have the expected answer to people's questions such as, "So Ella, where are you connected now? What do you do?" because I work for a little-known (at least, in the world) office with duties that I did not need to go to the University for, and yet I am certain that I am where my God wants me to be and that this is part of His plan for me. There is no doubt that I am being molded, purified, and polished even as I wash dishes and assist others in their particular services, having no major assignment of my own. Sometimes I have out-of-office assignments that are reminiscent of my old life as a BWM, organizing recollections, giving talks, etc., but most of the time I am just in the office. But when I'm there I forget the time, spending every minute looking around and finding something to do that brings out the best in me and gives me joy.

I am beginning to see what it means to surrender my life to the Lord. It is one thing to sing "I Offer My Life", "Take and Receive", "Sa 'Yo Lamang" and "Here I am, Lord" during Mass. It is another thing to be asked to live it out. It has caused me to lose my mind. My only hope is to gain my soul in the process. :)

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