“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Allow me to share what I learned to live by, for decades, which keeps me inspired, which keeps me jumping out of bed, and which keeps me engaged with folks and seeking new travels.
It is a life that is simple in wants. Well not all that simple — as I can enjoy yellowtail sashimi with shaved truffles and miso sauce to flambé wagyu beef on rocks, to roasted yellow, white and purple cauliflower with cilantro and jalapeño dressing for my 39th wedding anniversary to at times, street tacos al pastor at $1.25 each with a slice of roasted pineapple at the corner gasoline station, when we both are not into cooking that evening.
How did I evolve to this place in my life where I can be ‘at home’ to the most luxurious flavors in upscale restaurants, be in the company of multimillionaires, and at the same time, ‘at home’ with blue-collar workers, grassroots musicians, students and professionals?
I was once this fastidious petty bourgeois, middle-class individual, who wanted to dress up in lace in a high school prom, and who wanted to be seen in the right places with the right people until I got to the University of the Philippines, Diliman.
It was once a snooty kind of life in high school, that looked down on what was not practiced within my comfort zone. It was also a very stressful kind of life that self-selects and discards prematurely what is not aligning with that precondition. It was quite tiring.
Until, I got to vacation in the provinces. I found it so satisfying to eat in the market with school friends and buy the local suman and drink the tsokolate. I found it even more gratifying to spend hours in conversation at the local coffee shop and exchanged lessons about life. It made me less dependent on acquired commodities.
In my first months-long extended trip to the provinces of the Philippines, I had packed two balikbayan boxes and sent it months in advance. I had lived for a month in Leyte, without these boxes. When they arrived, I simply gave away most of the stuff.
It taught me a big lesson: all that really mattered were relationships with family, relatives, true friends and dear classmates from elementary and high school. There is something so genuine about lives spent with classmates, as it is simple bonding moments, choosing to be with one another!
Investing in self-care to serve others
It is life that climbs trails and sees beauty in the ordinary wildflowers: the white sage brushes that give off their smell in the morning, toyon or what looks like red holly berries, hence the name Hollywood (no wonder I keep taking a photo of the Hollywood sign, visible at the horizon, along with downtown skyscrapers); prickly pear cactus that is being rehabilitated, and mulefat with white buds about to be blown off by the winds.
Imagine being greeted with this new bloom of the prickly pear cactus the first few days this January. But, can you even imagine being greeted by the bighorn sheep on Christmas Day, one that is called desert reindeer? You simply know God is greeting you through this big animal, who stopped, and who allowed us to take his photo.
It is a life that prefers to see the changes of colors in the mountains, soaked by the rising sun or the setting sun. I still have to figure out the colors of sunset and sunrise just by looking at the colors of the mountains, which my husband competently does.
It is a life that does not shy away from making myself available to folks who share their innermost dreams, aspirations, and sometimes, life’s deep-seated angst and issues. It is a life that stays open to receive folks at various stages of their lives, even to hear their tragedies, which at times, disturbs me for hours, and one in which I have to resort to praying to the Holy Spirit to surrender all my angst and implore God to help them.
I now spend the later chapters of my life with few true good friends who contribute to my spiritual development, whose lives are equally generous to serve others, and whose lives are not just for themselves, but serving others.
It is quite endearing to also hear the pleasant news from Stephanie, whom I had mentored since 3 years old. She is about to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in supply chain management and with three courses shy before graduation, already has a full-time job at a major transport company. I used to tell her that she was unique, so special as God gave her the golden hair, as if telling everyone she is God’s beloved. I brought her to all my public events, including high tea at the Biltmore Hotel and several bookstores to introduce her to books and love for reading.
But, even with the best parents, she went through some difficulty, not of her own making, but from witnessing the near-death emergency of a college student who was addicted to drugs and had passed out, prompting her to call an ambulance to save her. It turns out that the student’s irresponsible mother was enabling her addiction by supplying her with marijuana-laced brownies.
That incident traumatized Stephanie’s sensitive heart and beautiful disposition to be in a slow mode to finish college. While taking community college courses, she became a receptionist, airline customer representative, sales representative and all those jobs formed her life’s perspective.
She became more diligent about college education, got herself tutored in subjects she was weak at, and voila, in the last two years, led her team to complete several university team projects. Even with a full-time college load, she babysits her preschool niece and toddler nephew.
Stephanie’s mother takes the time to have high tea with her, a daily one-on-one bonding, after her mom puts in a grueling day of caregiving to an almost 90-year-old German woman, who was raised under Hitler’s time in Germany, and who can exhaust her mom’s patience and even more so, after a long commute of hours from the Valley. Imagine what her mother has to do to make Stephanie feel like God’s beloved. No wonder she bloomed and soared!
No dreams are now too big for Stephanie. She got her first professional job by herself as she knows her worth and more importantly, her capacities. She now faces her life with positivity and vigor and knows that her future is bright.
After her graduation this May, Stephanie will travel to Europe, her very first, accompanied by her dad, her mom, her brother, her sister-in-law and her niece and nephew.
If you ask me what fuels my soul to be on fire — it is being part of the lives of others, whom I mentor, folks like Stephanie whom I have known since she was 3 years old, and one who pushes herself to be her best now that I feel so lucky to be a witness to her life. She even told me, “I see myself getting married someday.”
This 2018, set your souls on fire, by maximizing your service to others, but also, by maximizing your self-care, so you can be a living presence to others, much like this toyon aka holly berries from which the Hollywood name was derived or the bighorn sheep, aka a desert reindeer.
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Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 9 years now. She contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Mexico and 22 national parks in the US, in pursuit of her love for arts.