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Mountain high

/ 05:04 AM July 23, 2017

My wife thinks I’m crazy to accept last-minute requests from desperate clients to do legal work and attend actual trial in distant places that most lawyers avoid. But I actually embrace those occasions. My wife is only partly right. I’m half-crazy and half-romantic. The romantic part explains my obsession for mystery and adventure — the kind of high that comes very rarely. I must say I live and die for that moment.

I have just come back from one of those trips to the far south to accompany a friend, the owner of a company which I have been serving as counsel in the past few years. There were legal matters to discuss, some documents to examine, and a long-awaited visit to a far-flung community in the boondocks that was the recent recipient of humanitarian projects — the latest being a daycare center that the company funded in an act of meaningful corporate responsibility.

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During our two-hour trek to the mountainous location it rained so hard that the ground quickly turned into a sticky mud trap, making every step a struggle. Many times I slipped and fell smack into the mud. I didn’t count but if I were to guess, it must have been 14 times — the same number as the stations of the cross to complete my penitence. I didn’t break a bone, so I  didn’t much care that I was a walking chaos of mud and grime after all those spills.

I wanted to cry when finally we saw signs of human presence after wandering deep into the woods and seeing only trees and rocks. An entire community was waiting to welcome us, with disco music blaring from a beat-up sound system.

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There was a surreal moment during the event when my friend, the guest of honor, climbed up the makeshift stage to deliver his message. He had grown up in that place, and his people look up to him as a folk hero. More than the money and groceries that we brought, and all that food prepared from the budget that he had sent the program organizers in advance, it was my friend for whom the people showed up, it was his story that they came to hear.

It seemed like the sermon on the mount all over again, only this time the bearer of good news was nothing like a preacher, much less a prophet, but someone as ordinary and plain-looking as anyone could get, someone so human and so like everyone else in that community, except that he stood for something truly important. He symbolized their hopes and dreams. And in that magical moment he was telling them, speaking straight from the heart, that if they work hard, have faith, and believe in their own abilities, like he always did, then they, too, could make something truly great out of their modest lives.

In places like this where legal services could cost a poor man his entire fortune, I had at one time or another willingly settled for token gifts, like fresh fruits, a live chicken, or dried fish wrapped in a page of an old newspaper. The feeling of wearing a suit in court does not compare to this feeling of being in the company of these wonderful people. Truly, happiness means letting out my inner promdi from time to time.

When the day ended, I spent the night in a shack in the middle of nowhere. There was no cell phone signal, no electricity, but I happily put myself to sleep while watching the magnificent dance of the fireflies through the open window.

* * *

Adel Abillar is a private law practitioner with a small office in Quezon City where, he says, “I alternate between being boss and messenger.”

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