Monday, June 02, 2008

The Unlikely Loves of Ella

I've used a misleading title yet again to get readers to open my post.

My father instilled in us his children that we are not rich. It's one of his favorite lines, "Anak, hindi tayo mayaman."

True enough, while my friends were chauffered to and from school, my siblings and I had to take public transportation. While our classmates could eat anything from the canteen, we had baon prepared by our mother. But we all finished school from the country's premier state university. And now we are all professionals. My parents have often said that education is the best thing they could give us, and for that we are forever grateful.

And so I grew up believing this, that we were not rich, but we were blessed with a good education.

Not until I started spending time with the youth from all around Commonwealth Avenue did I hear myself actually be described as "rich". I got to know teenagers, entered their houses, met their families, and heard their stories, and I suddenly felt that my complaints about having "only one Barbie doll and one Lego toy" while growing up was so trivial, and that I should rejoice that all five of us were able to go to school at the same time, as apparently it was a luxury not all could afford.

My awakening is slow but it's transforming me from within. While the eternal child in me could easily share experiences the youth could learn from or at least relate to, the reality of their challenges sometimes hits me to the very core of my being.

Some of my kids have been abused, and I learned how to be an "Ate" or older sister rather than a lawyer, even when I wanted to hunt down the perpetrators and drag them behind bars so they would be banned from hurting another child again (yes I know, it's not even a lawyer's job to do that, but such was my feeling upon learning that my worst fears about my kids happened). I learned the hard way that these were not my kids and those decisions were not mine to make. All I could do was to listen, and to pray, and to encourage them as they struggled and grappled with things I had only read about in my case books.

Most of my kids have to skip school because of poverty on varying levels of gravity. Some of them work at fastfood joints just to earn enough money for their school projects and theses. Others rely on scholarships in order to finish high school. Quite a number have had days when they had to stay home as their parents could not give them money for their jeepney fare and lunch. I know a boy who walks home from school everyday and who stops over at his parish (not ours) so the priest could feed him lunch.

These are not just stories, for the kids themselves told me, and their parents have shared them to me. At times I wish I could give them everything but the clothes on my back, but I checked myself, as it would not solve the problem, and I could not help all of them. I have realized that more than money (which is non-existent), what I could give them is my love and my time.

They said they've never had a lawyer as a friend before. Up to now, the kids don't think I'm a lawyer, for, perpetually in jeans, T-shirts, and slippers, to them I dressed nothing like the lawyers on TV. I had to email pictures of me wearing a suit in different office events for some of them to believe that I was an A-T-T-Y. The reason for their disbelief, they said, was that they felt they had nothing to offer me, and somebody like me would not really bother to befriend them.

At least I could say that in our little youth ministry, a lawyer is in the same league as the priests (if only this were the case in the rest of the world!). Whenever I attend their birthday parties, I would be seated with the priests (probably because I could entertain them with my Taglish), asked to eat first, invited to be part of the 18 Candles and dispense words of wisdom, and welcomed by their parents. It always made me feel uncomfortable to be treated like that, but eventually I had to learn to accept their hospitality and to honor them with my gratitude.

In my heart I would think, I shouldn't be alone here. There should be more of "my kind" - of my educational and economic background - sitting there in their living rooms and eating with them. I never felt out of place; instead I felt the burden of inviting more people who had the heart for it to be one with them.

Of course I have been chided and corrected by some people - of my educational and economic background - for "wasting my time" with the youth of the Batasan-Commonwealth- Holy Spirit area. These old friends imagined me lawyering like the best of them before high courts and engaging in services that were more common within our little world - as a famous speaker, leader, sharer, singer, dancer, or writer. But the more I served outside of my comfort zone, the more I realized I was doing the will of God for me, without me searching for it.

The stories within this circle are endless as the kids' bickerings are oftentimes of telenovelaic proportions, but every time a song, a joke, a tradition, or a learning that I share with them makes an impact and is handed down from the young singles to the pre-teens groups, I have a feeling of being where God wants me to be, at this time in my life. So many things that I and my friends have taken for granted mean the whole world to these kids, and for as long as I am called to do so, I will continue to nurture this relationship with them.

There are possibilities within these discoveries but I will leave them up to God, in His own time. For now, I will continue to embrace this new world and take things as they come. I know I am not required to heal all ills and to be their Savior, but as I take part in their healing, the Lord is also able to enter my heart and work in me.

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