Sitting in the chair of privilege

“LIFE is a battle – you must enter into it fully, and do what needs to be done. You cannot shrink from your duty. Life presents difficult, sometimes horrendous situations, unwelcome tasks, and obstacles of every sort. Despite this harsh reality, you must resolutely go forward.”– Pierro Ferrucci

I have wrongly believed life is a battle, in which I have to face all the challenges every day by myself.

It was much later in life that I realized that my Universal Partner is always with me and that I have the capacity to create my own life of privilege.

I have often wondered what it is like to sit in “The Chair of Privilege,” wherein one’s checkbook is freely accessible towards a donation for a church project or a non-profit cause. Or perhaps where one’s circle already includes the ‘sifted and the centrifuged’ crème de la crème of society. They can be folks who have endured their own life’s challenges, embraced them, and now are at a point of coming to their privileged times of harvesting the fruits of their labor.

Or simply folks who are children of elites, who have no financial barriers, yet still, have interior challenges of living a life of purpose, fulfilling their own goals using motivation and determination that we all must have to reach ours.

When I was going to the University of the Philippines’ College of Home Economics to pursue a science degree in food technology, I was part of a different universe. Some of my classmates were children of elites, chauffeured by their own drivers, in their own cars to the university campus. I was trained by my working parents and my elder sister to take the bus and to ride the “ikot jeepney” to reach one end of the campus, and back. It was a sheltered life: go to classes, go to mass, go to the cafeteria, do laboratory experiments and sleep in the dorm. Our weekends were spent at Ma Mon Luk for siopao and mami and the movies.

While I lived a sheltered campus life, I was not content. I compared myself to the children of elites, as if I had much less. My mindset was quite wrong. Somehow, I expected a rich person, an elite, to reorient my life to work for me. I did not educate myself to look at my parents as my role models. Not having that secure belief in my family and myself hindered me.

Could it have been my Christian education, then in the early 60s, wherein the nuns emphasized a life centered on academics and prayers, but not service to country and its poor? Or was it my university education, which emphasized having the skills to work abroad, but not harnessing my skills to improve the industries in the Philippines? While my core education gave me skills, I did not have the inner fortitude to have a correct mindset.

It was not till much later when I was in the United States, that I came to realize how much my father, Eleazar, sacrificed to get his higher education in law. He was an orphan, and without financial means of support from his parents, he befriended hunger. It was his daily companion. He walked barefoot several miles to go to school. He had water but no food. He believed that his higher education was his ticket out of poverty. And it was by divine providence that he got to eat.

His active imagination helped him visualize a better life for himself. Then, he met my mother, Asuncion, who had her own inner determination. She burned the midnight oil to get her master’s degree in science, while teaching full-time and raising five girls. She showed me by example how to work hard to reach one’s goals.

While I had those life examples to learn from, I took them for granted. I incorrectly viewed myself as poor, when in fact, I am richly endowed with my parents’ life examples of patience, perseverance, true grit and imagination.

Because of what they showed me, I instinctively knew I could pursue higher education. Because of how my dad and my mom sacrificed, I knew I could achieve, with sacrifice and hard work.

But, my life did not turn around to be a life of privilege until I was grateful for what God has endowed me: my own skills, talents and knowledge. It did become a life of meaning, of purpose when I serve others, mentoring them to reach their own life’s goals.

I began to realize that my poverty of imagination and my poverty of spirit stopped me from having a life of privilege — one that is connected to the Higher Source of imagination and creativity. I stopped desiring what others have. I started cultivating my own gifts of imagination and creativity.

So here goes now, my life begins with an ambitious climb of 282 steps at the Baldwin Hills Overlook Trail. This overlook trail was created by the collective foresight of the community and good governance by the state government. It took over a decade for the community to gain this public victory. The Baldwin Hills’ African American community persisted and sustained their community efforts not to fall apart to dissension. They solidified their ranks, through their social ties, and with their own creative skills of coming together by holding coffee klatches, movie nights and dinner potlucks, they succeeded in stopping the development of 241 homes over 50 acres of private land. It was not till the land was bought, and state rangers appeared did the community truly recognized their own strength.

Now, this scenic overlook trail is populated by folks of different origins, of different ages, of families persisting to have their own lives rich in imagination, rich in creativity, but mostly, rich in connections with their Universal Partner. Here is where I found a 78-year-old poet, running up these stairs and working through her own issues of poverty, unbeknownst to her, her own writing skills, stumped by her own grief, and expecting folks to like her. Here is where I found close to a century-old couple whose formula for life is not about viewing challenges, but to take a step at a time, by loving one another for 64 years and smiling as they walk together. They appear to be living lives of privileges, connected to their Universal Partner, the source of all Goodness.

[Editor’s Note: This column was previously published in 2010.] 

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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.

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