To the elderly like us, acceptance is an essential ingredient in our life. Acceptance of the loss of loved ones by death or migration; the deterioration of physical health; the diminution of resources, financial or otherwise; sorrow and pain; all “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” as Shakespeare put it; and especially, our mortality. Without acceptance, we court loneliness, depression or even despair. But with acceptance, life acquires serenity, contentment, even joy.
Let me illustrate this by relating an inspiring visit that I had decades ago with my good friend, Beb Casas. Picture us.
* * *
We are facing each other across a small damask-covered round table in her air-conditioned bedroom. “This used to be Doc’s clinic, do you remember?” Of course I remember. “And the dining room upstairs is now seldom used. I have difficulty climbing…” She smiles ruefully. “So I have my meals here. It’s more convenient.”
I agree. We recall our college years, our Cursillo activities, parish work. There’s a lot of banter and, from time to time, laughter. Plus companionable silence as we take our lunch of noodle soup, arroz a la Cubana, chicken and fish.
Across the table she looks at me with her almost sightless eyes, the result of deteriorating retinas. “You know,” she confides, “I can hardly see you; in fact, I cannot see your face right now. But if I move my face sideways and peer at you from the side of my eyes, I can make out a rough outline. And my condition won’t get any better…” She’s smiling brightly as she talks and pushes the piece of fish on her plate toward her without looking at it. She’s become an expert at coping, I tell myself. “Do you like the daing na bangus? It’s got plenty of garlic.”
“It’s delicious. And don’t worry. I’ve eaten all the garlic. It’s good for my ‘high blood,’” I tell her over the microphone. Yes, there’s a cordless mic on the table which I have to use so that she can hear me; one ear is covered by a hearing device.
“What a coincidence that you caught me this morning. I was allowed by the doctor to leave the house only last week. And as you can see, I have a midwife with me all the time. The children don’t allow me to be by myself anymore.” And she tells me how, last January, she miscalculated the distance of her bed from the floor, and fell and was bedridden for months. I feel guilty and tell her I didn’t know. “It’s all right,” she assures me, “but I’m really blessed. Every Sunday, all those months, Father F came to say Mass right here, and once a week, an Opus Dei priest came to hear my confession. Really, God is…” She pauses, overcome by deep feelings.
“So good?” I offer. And at almost the same time, we cry out in unison, “God is so good!”
“Truly, Nena, I’m always amazed at God’s goodness. You remember my tongue cancer? We had very little money then, the children”—she has 13 to my 12 because she has a set of twins—“were in college, but my kinfolk all pitched in and before I knew it, I was in the United States, everything went well and I felt no pain… That was a long time ago.”
The mic remains on the table. We are both silent, conscious of God’s presence. “Whenever two or three are gathered in my name…” I am reminded of a poster with the inscription: Jesus is the unseen Guest at every meal.
The plates are removed and the moment of communion dissolves. A dish of mango halves is now in front of us. “Please scoop my mango,” she tells her handyman of 10 years. “See how lucky I am? My helpers just stay on and on.” We both laugh.
I observe and admire this gracious and lovely friend of mine—a cancer patient, almost deaf and blind, recovering from a bad fall, and yet relishing her fruit. “It’s sweet. Thank God I’m not a diabetic.”
“You want another slice?” I ask her.
“Not anymore. I don’t want to lose my figure. I’m still vain, you know.”
We giggle. And all of a sudden, the years slip away and I’m again a girl of 16 and she, 18. I watch my friend more closely and she looks content, but more than that, she exudes, what? I search for the right word. I finally get it. It’s joy! She exudes joy. She is joy-full. I feel so happy for her and so infected by her spirit that I myself become full of joy.
I pick up the mic. “You know what, Beb? You’re amazing. Right now, I’m inspired by you—your faith, your trust, your generosity of spirit, but most of all, your acceptance.”
“Come now,” she interrupts, “don’t exaggerate. We’re still, both of us, still far, far from what we should be.”
“But we’re trying hard, right? Perhaps, someday, God willing…” The words hang between us and we relish the silence that falls like a mantle enveloping us. I recall what a retreat master once told us: “Be transparent. Allow the Jesus in you to reach out and touch the Jesus in the other.”
The table is cleared. “Tea, coffee?” she, the perfect hostess, inquires. We say our thanks to God. We stand up and leave the bedroom.
The windows of the sala reveal the dripping leaves of trees. “It rained!” she exclaims. I’m not surprised at all because I heard the rain on the rooftop earlier, but, of course, she didn’t. “If the driver is here, the car can bring you.” I dissuade her, telling her that it’s more practical for me to walk the two blocks to UST than to be held up by traffic. We hug each other. “Let’s do this more often. As you can see, I’m alone at noon. You really made me so happy.”
“And you, you’ve inspired me,” I say, my voice breaking. “You’ve inspired me no end,” I repeat, my lips close to her ear.
* * *
May she rest in peace.
Lourdes Syquia Bautista, 91, is a retired professor of the University of Santo Tomas, widow, mother of 12, grandmother of 27, and great grandmother of 14.
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