Nobody told me… (a reprise)
As we are witnessing the changing of the guards in this media institution’s corporate leadership, questions are flying from all directions. All I can say for now is that being with the Inquirer spells all the difference in my life.
Having written for the Inquirer since its founding in December 1985 and becoming a full-time staff member in March 1986 (as feature writer and later, also as columnist) I can say that this paper is family.
My Inquirer family and I — and even those not from the Inquirer — are going “senti” over the decades past. But as my colleague Tino Tejero (Lifestyle section) solemnly said in his text message after the news broke, quoting St. Teresa of Avila of all people, “Let nothing disturb thee; nothing affright thee. All things are passing.” Affright “designates a state of terror occasioned by some unexpected and startling occurrence.”
Let me now reprise something I had written years ago. It is not a eulogy, an elegy or a sad refrain. Just a remembrance of things past.
There was a voice, a call. I answered. The voice may have sounded like that of Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc but it mattered.
Thirty-one years and some 2,000 articles later, here I am still saying, nobody told me it would be like this.
I’ve had a great time. I’ve lived (and continue to live) a privileged life. Privileged, meaning I have been privy to so many things of this world that other mortals are not because “they are not there.” Oh, “to be there” where people live and die, feast and famish, laugh and cry, to be there where events unfold and to watch history leave its tracks behind for us to decipher and be sometimes awed and humbled enough to make us fall to our knees in thanksgiving and sometimes in mourning.
To be there where the heavens opened and hell broke loose. To watch great lives, small lives, dirty lives, fascinating lives, beautiful lives, incredible lives rise and fall, bloom, break into a thousand pieces or become whole again.
All those years are crashing down on me now, chasing me all over again. The weight of it in stories is awesome.
Nobody but nobody told me I’d be climbing mountains and bathing in freezing rivers. Nobody told me I’d be meeting with armed men and women who had spent away their youth and their dreams in uncharted jungles. Nobody told me I’d confront a snake and slip on a mountain slope or that I’d meet people of the forest who spoke in songs.
Nobody told me I’d be able to talk to the powerful and the mighty as well as to the poorest and the most forgotten of the land. Nobody told me that I’d mingle with people who were the epitome of saintliness or that I’d one day come face to face with a 17-time assassin who would tell me his life story. Nobody told me I’d have to track down members of a death squad and break bread with them.
Nobody told me people would entrust to me their ugly secrets and their deadly sins. Nobody told me I’d have coffee with generals, politicians and movie stars; or that I’d be sleeping over with prostitutes and embracing AIDS-stricken women. I’ve learned about the sex lives of the very poor as well as the proclivities of the rich.
I would not have met people so diverse and strange and beautiful and ugly had I stayed on a previous career in behavioral science or stayed holy in the convent. From behavioral science to feature writing? It was an easy shift.
There are stories I consider significant to me, not because they won honors or prize money but because they were high in excitement, danger, the human factor. Whether or not people loved or hated me for writing them is another story. I’ve been honored and praised; I’ve been rebuked and reviled. I am humbled that students are dissecting my works.
I have put many of my “great” stories and photographs between book covers. The stories are not exactly literary gems but rather imperfect shards of so many lives, events and places. What does it matter, I was there, others were not. And doing the stories gave me great times—of terror and joy and sadness and fun.
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