By ROBERT Z. CORTES
June 12, 2017
Three Saturdays ago, I and
two of my friends met a lady who can easily qualify as the coolest and
funniest octogenarian of our lives - even if she could hardly walk.
(She's not in the picture though :) )
She lived in a house also
occupied by her older brother and his wife who, she later told us,
both hardly minded her. She had one little corner in that house but it
was practically a separate unit since it had its own private entrance
from one side of the house.
Our random meeting happened
through the recommendation of a barangay counsellor-friend who knew
her semi-abandoned plight. That first meeting was unforgettable. There
was a kind middle-aged lady who led us to Lola, and what followed was
easily an hour of laughter and deep insight when we thought it was
just going to be 10 minutes of expressing our piety and pity.
The upshot of that first
meeting was that we resolved we were going to visit Lola more
regularly - bringing our other friends. Pope Francis, after all, has
been very clear about not abandoning our elderly – they’re one of
those in the peripheries of the Church. And here was one who would not
only give us an opportunity to obey the Pope; she was even one who
could make our and our friends’ Saturday mornings much more
meaningful. Most importantly she pleaded with us to please come again.
Last Saturday, we made that
next visit. It was raining but it didn't matter. When we arrived at
Lola's side of the house we saw that the main door was open, but the
screen door was locked. We then called out to Lola. However, instead
of her, someone else heard us who came out from another door. Seeing
the apparition was like an encounter with Medusa: we froze.
And it was not because she
had snakes on her head (in fact, she only had a fake flower stuck on
top of her left ear). It was rather because she was someone we knew as
the "pious lady" of the parish church nearby: always hopping around
busily fixing things on the altar, approaching people nicely, making
sure shawls were placed on "errant" girls who insisted on wearing
sleeveless tops, etc. But she was now anything but that. She had been
transformed to the imperious lady boss of the compound.
Looking at us like we were
masked men about to take Lola hostage, she asked us what we were doing
there. When we told her we were going to talk to Lola she asked what
for. And before we could answer, she asked what we were going to do
after we talked to her. And while we were formulating the answer to
that last question – wondering if we were still going to answer the
previous – she asked how long we were going to talk to Lola. This time
one of us was quick enough to say “around 30 minutes,” and she
replied, "one hour?" I then realized she really was paying attention.
And very interested in our answers.
Seemingly satisfied that she
had made quite an impression on us, she then pounded on Lola's door
with all the vigor that her imperiousness could muster, as if she were
demanding the Maute rebels to come out or else. She muttered
impatiently under her breath why on earth Lola locked her door. (I
thought I saw some flames coming out of her nostrils, but most
probably I was just seeing things.) Very condescendingly, as if taking
pity on the suffering we were about to be subjected in the visit, she
advised us to be patient with Lola since Lola was "baliw." She then
I was interiorly shaken when
I entered Lola's unit. I had begun to understand that Lola was around
someone who didn't regard her the same way we did and wondered what
other sort of abuses she received from this woman the rest of the
time. Thankfully, Lola was her old self the last time we met her. We
again laughed and learned from each other. We soon found out that she
was the ignoble sister-in-law (ISIL) and Lola gestured that the lady
was "baliw" by waving her two hands in circles near her head. The
feeling was clearly mutual. That fact was a source of a good laugh for
all of us and we continued our gossip in whispers. It was good, albeit
innocently mean conspiratorial fun.
Pretty soon the meeting had
to end earlier than we had wanted. After all, we were painfully aware
that someone was timing our stay. When we went out of the door,
planning to pay our respects to the ISIL before we left, we realized
she was nowhere to be found. We then headed to the gate fearing she
didn’t want to be disturbed anymore. And just when we were opening the
gate, she made her second apparition – and she was definitely no Lady
Nope, after all, she caught
us "red-handed" leaving without even the decency to say goodbye to
her. Didn't she see us opening the gate, and we never even bothered to
look for her? There’s a door, you should’ve knocked! Is this how you
do things - you are welcomed like decent guests and you sneak out like
thieves? Don't do that to me or anyone else ever again you understand?
Sige, umalis na kayo!"
That was the end of the rope
for me. As we were out of earshot I said, “What a disgusting
One of my friends asked me,
“Why do you say that?”
I said, “Don’t you realize
that the Gospel this morning was about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees
who paraded their piety outside but were full of wickedness inside?
Didn’t she hear the priest’s homily this morning? She was right there
in front, piously folding her hands.”
My friend meekly answered,
“Well, maybe she needs a visit herself.”
His reply gave me pause, and
I immediately knew where it was going. She’s one of those in the
I also quickly realized that
he was right, but I just wasn't willing to fully admit it. Not yet.
Darn it – how can someone so mean be in the same peripheries as such
nice people as Lola? In fact, I wanted to resist the idea so much I
managed to quip, “Well, I can ask a psychiatrist to visit her.”
But a few more steps, I had
to accept a fact that was as clear as day: I was now like her. By
putting her in the category of the disgusting, I was now in that same
category. What a sad thing: many times we don't realize that we who
think ourselves very much within the Church are in reality in its
But with acceptance comes
hope. Thankfully, the source of hope is clear. "Blessed are the
merciful for they shall obtain mercy." It's the very same idea that
brought me to the coolest and funniest octogenarian I've ever met.
Only now I understand better how much more deeply I still need to
understand that word "mercy."