To the pockmarked moon who
sighs over my beauty,
You have brought me better days despite
the countless times I howled
and bored craters on your face.
At 30, I should be at the prime of my career, at the peak of my productivity. That’s the instruction of my 18-year-old self. But things got bumpy at 25, and the instruction was completely overturned at 28. Like the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, I have much to say on paper, but I am still quite empty-handed on deadline year.
It is 2:17 AM now, and I am looking at my mother who is fast asleep. We share a room so I can monitor her easily. It used to be an issue for me, having come from five years of independence, and a whole lifetime of not sharing a room with anybody. But now, her vision is imaginary, so it doesn’t matter. I wonder sometimes if she can still remember how I look, or how she looks, now that to her the mirror is just a shapeless vacuum of light.
I must be asleep by now after a day of full-time daughterhood. This role calls me to rise early for Mama’s breakfast of oats and fruit. Her bath water, lukewarm, is prepared and I wheel her to the bathroom. Then after her morning medicines, she has her second breakfast of bread, and a pinch of coffee on hot water. It’s a whole production of wheeling, lifting, adjusting pillows, bed-turning, and responding to requests. And in between, there’s the “back office” work of changing diapers, brushing her teeth and dentures, and shuttling her to and from the toilet for a chance at success, which like life, is often littered with false alarms and roadblocks.
Settling down for the day’s work and writing then can only happen when the radio already plays “Provincial Jail.” But the lilting saga of inmates lining up for an uninspired, unseasoned meal of “tinuktok nga langka” and “bugas nga NGA” always finds me falling asleep instead. So much for the prime of my career, the peak of my productivity. I look back at my 18-year-old self and give her an apologetic smile. That young idealistic girl never expected it to be like this at 30.
But that 18-year-old also never expected that her future self would learn, experience, and for the first time, be truly convinced of the most important thing in her life. At 30, I have come to believe in love, a love that never runs out, that never abandons, that never belittles or rejects, that never dies. And that love is for me, as it is for everyone. This kind of love is not a wish, or a theory. Contrary to one of the poems I wrote in my turbulent 20s, about God and the gods “twisting the truth,” this kind of love is the absolute truth. God never twists the truth. God never changes.
Mama’s sickness and paralysis, and the many circumstances that surrounded it, were an opening for me to understand, experience, and discover so much about that love.
One night, for instance, when I slept beside Mama, I began to wonder how two people can be side by side without worry, with guards down, defenceless in the night. Wicked as I am, what was stopping me from pushing Mama over for space while I was smashed, motionless against the wall?
Wicked as I am, what moves me to freshen, wash and perfume her bed after she wets it, when I could just easily let it dry out without a change of sheets?
Wicked as I am, what makes me see beyond the unspeakable when cleaning up my mother’s mess?
What makes me stay?
If it were not for love, then what? If it were not for God loving me and modelling love for me, then how come?
Many times, I still think of what could have been if I didn’t come home and leave the world, so to speak. There are dark moments when I question my tendency for absolutes, and my aversion to compromise; when I mourn my weakness and lack. But with how my early experience of loss has wired me – the death of my father, and some proud but poor choices – I take the wager, which is the kind of life I lead now. It is this life where daughterhood to the Father, and to my mother is my first ministry.
This week, when Mama’s caregiver took a break, my favorite pa-consuselo, karaoke-happy anthem while I do the chores has been this OPM classic,
Balutin mo ako sa hiwaga ng iyong pagmamahal
Hayaang matakpan ang kinang na di magtatagal
Mabuti pa kaya’y maging bituing walang ningning
Kung kapalit nito’y walang paglaho mong pagtingin
All the rest can wait. Indefinitely. I don’t care anymore. All the dreams can suspend in mid-air, and as they do, I pray that God runs his hands on each dream, so that I will not have anything in my heart that is not His.
As He does this to me, the pruning, the sloughing off, the binding, I feel how it is all very painful; and I don’t mean it to be abstract, but I feel a real pain in my heart, in my ego and pride. But unlike before, the pain I feel is not the hopeless, desperate kind, like when I wrote this during my “Gabing Pusikit” (Dark Night) years ago,
She limped to heaven by way of her crosses
Finally, she got there, but it had run out of business.
Instead, it is the kind of pain that makes me feel Jesus is present all the more, and that I don’t want anybody else to touch it or peruse it but He alone. And thus, I offer Him this beautiful juxtaposition, (pardon me, I am not good with exact Bible verses)
Itago mo ako sa lilim nang iyong pagmamahal Hide me in the shadow of your wing
Limutin ang mapaglarong kinang ng tagumpay What does it profit a man if he gains…
Sa piling mo ngayon, ako’y bituing walang ningning In my weakness, I am strong in Christ
Nagkukubli sa liwanag at kislap ng ating pag-ibig That I may decrease, and Christ may
Finally, to my 18-year-old self, I am happy to announce to you that at 30, on the week of my birthday, I received from the God of Love, my dearest Abba, Father, this gift: He promised me the certainty that by His grace, with His help, with his great mercy for a wretched woman, I will come home to him lovingly broken, used, and fulfilled… because He loves me.
Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.