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Quarantined in the abbey

I traveled by plane to Mindanao earlier this month with my two sisters and my 23-year-old daughter.

We “quarantined” in the guest house of the Abbey of the Transfiguration of our Lord in Barangay San Jose of Malaybalay City. We timed our travel on Dec. 10 so that we would be “released” just in time for Christmas Eve to go home to our 91-year-old Mom.

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The abbey was vast and the air was pure and cool. We explored the natural trails by foot and, along the way, we met chickens, cats, dogs, cows, and a few horses. In the wide-open spaces marred only by treetops, we experienced rays of sunrise, foggy mornings, bright midday sun, refreshing rains, a double rainbow, fluffy cloud formations, colorful sunsets, velvety night skies, and the Geminid meteor shower.

Food was delivered to us every meal, plus morning and afternoon snacks. The meal was complete with the go-grow-glow ensemble: vegetable (eggs for breakfast), fish, a pork or beef dish, plus fresh fruits for dessert! Snack consisted of freshly baked cheese bread or cinnamon roll or raisin bread with brewed Monks Blend coffee, all products of the abbey. We felt like we were pigs being fattened… just waiting to be fed! Surprisingly for me, I found this very liberating. At home in Los Baños, with my family of five and without a house help, I am the cook. Planning the meal is done at least a meal ahead. It seems such a simple task, but the decision-making, when done 365 days a year, can be taxing!

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As we could not go out to socialize — the internet connection was spotty at best and there was no TV — we bonded.

Laugh we did, and talk we did, never running out of topics: plans for retirement, what to do with our parents’ unused lands, how our children have grown; detailed kuwento stories of recent events; and of course, reminiscing… My daughter was an eager ear and a bystander to all these. She contributed where she could and asked questions that triggered “Remember when…?!” story-telling. She aptly observed that our chika was “unli” and “hindi nauubusan ng load”!

On a couple of occasions, we caught up with the abbey’s guest master (Dom Carlo) whom we first met when he arrived some 30 years ago. And after one of the morning prayers, we broke fast with the abbot, Fr. Eduardo Africa, who is a very good friend of the family. Conversations with these gentlemen show that they, as Father Africa said, “are also humans.”

We also joined the monks in their morning and evening prayers, and Mass, with proper distancing and face masks, of course. We stayed outside the church at the far corner from the main entrance to be isolated from everyone else.

On the first Simbang Gabi of this Advent Season, we arrived much earlier than 4:30 a.m. The chilly breeze was kept at bay with our thick sweater and turned-up collars. We settled in our usual place, and, while silently praying, I could hear, in the distance, the faint cascading of water. And I remembered that there was a waterfall nearby that we hiked to 21 years ago with one of the monks. I excitedly whispered to my sisters that we should visit it after the Mass.

So, we walked down to Sawaga River accompanied by an abbey worker and their resident Dachshund, Carla, who pranced around us excitedly all throughout our walk, even by the river and over the rocks. The 20-minute trek from the church, with the ever-increasing sound of rush and tumble of water, revealed the Natid-asan Waterfalls. The falls was framed by rock columns and lush vegetation all around. It was thundering and beautiful.

Going back to our temporary quarters, we heard the chirps and the trills of different birds — our music for 14 days!

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We pray that this COVID-19 will finally be controlled, but we are truly grateful for what it has brought to us: a time to pray, a time to rest, a time to be with family nestled in nature. And I believe that is what a time with God is.

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Marianne Leila S. Flores, who turns 49 on Jan. 25, is a veterinarian based in Laguna.

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TAGS: Commentary, coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus philippines, COVID-19, Malaybalay abbey, Marianne Leila S. Flores, Quarantine
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