Ten days before Christmas, I conditioned myself for the inevitable—for the 24th time, I am celebrating a “loveless” Christmas.
I still remember how I jokingly instituted an organization back in college called Samahan ng Malalamig ang Pasko (SMP). I was a proud president with only one member, a friend who was a freshman when I was a senior student in the university.
Ten days before my 24th Christmas, I was preoccupied with academic requirements, work assignments, scheduled Christmas parties, and tasks for a Christmas outreach I volunteered to. My preoccupation was filled with all the worldly duties but never “romantic love.” During the times I managed to squeeze in moments for reflection, I only had one thought—what if my 24th Christmas wasn’t loveless?
Five days before Christmas, I joined the Basket of Joy 2014 project of Initiatives for Social Action (ISA). The organization is a group of young professionals in the Philippines geared towards social involvement and nation-building. I was recruited by Jaypee Ortiz, a good friend and a fourth year law student, who founded the organization in 2011. We visited our Aeta brothers and sisters in Sitio Yangka, Capas, Tarlac. We brought little Christmas gifts and toys for the children. ISA also had a team of lawyers and paralegals from the Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC) and Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE) who talked about ancestral domain and voter’s education.
The community welcomed us with unfailing hospitality. The tatays helped us carry about 950 kgs of goods to Sitio Yangka. The children even offered to help us with our personal bags during the hike. The children prepared an entertaining dance number with their native musical instrument. Each volunteer was given a necklace made of corn-like beads. Sitio Yangka prepared a bounteous lunch of cassava, banana, suman and fresh buko.
I was assigned to be the daughter of Tatay Junior’s family, with Cza, a fellow volunteer. His wife is Nanay Nena and they have five children: Romalyn, Lans, Pingay, Jeehan, and Jessica. Our conversations revealed that the names of the children were suggested by previous volunteers who stayed with them for an immersion. I felt a bit pressured to be an excellent and loving volunteer then, if volunteers had that influence of suggesting names to their children.
We were called “‘Nak” by Tatay and Nanay. They fed us well with home-cooked meals. Tatay invited us to visit the place where they plant crops. We harvested vegetables that Nanay cooked for dinner. My sojourn in Sitio Yangka made me feel one thing–loved. My experience with ISA was an avenue to love and be loved.
I was glad to realize five days before Christmas that I’m not celebrating it loveless. I never celebrated it loveless all this time. Five days before Christmas, I stopped calling my Christmas loveless (just because I didn’t have it the romantic way). There are various manifestations of love whether as the giver or the receiver. The volunteers showed love by offering themselves to Sitio Yangka. The Aeta families loved us even if were just visitors there for a short while. Jaypee showed his impeccable love for Sitio Yangka and ISA volunteers. I felt loved by my newfound friends from ISA. I was inspired to be more loving by dedicating my God-given talents to things worth doing, with people worth being with.
Five days after Christmas, I no longer blame my night classes which prevented me from completing the nine nights of Simbang Gabi for my Christmas wish—love. Five days after Christmas, my experience in Sitio Yangka enriched my heart with a more genuine definition of love—love that is directed towards the others, one that transcends romantic love. Though I do not discount the power of such love, I probably will have to complete the next year’s Misa de Gallo for that! P