Monday, October 25, 2010
THE OTHER FACE OF CHRISTMAS (An OFW Story)
For a lot of people, Christmas is a happy occasion to look forward to - a celebration of togetherness with family and loved ones. But Christmas has two faces; while the lucky ones luxuriate themselves in profligacy and profusion, the less fortunate go through agony, loneliness, or deprivation.
It has been three years since I last celebrated Christmas with my family. We are only poor but the happiness that we feel together in the celebration of this special occasion was never lesser than the happiness that the rich feel - even in the absence of delicious foods or costly gifts. For the members of my family, seeing each other healthy and reunited are the happiest things that happen every Christmas. We might not eat the most exquisite foods on earth but we have always liked to savor of whatever was served on the table. We might not have enough money to buy the things we wanted, but there was always something for everyone. What counted most to us was to celebrate the occasion together; to enjoy and to share whatever little or simple was there, like our dreams as a family. And one of these dreams is to be together, at least, every Christmas.
But on the Christmas since I left, things changed. It was when I decided to work overseas - here in KSA. I came up with that decision because I have always wanted to help my old parents, and my nephew and a niece to go to college. I am the youngest and the only professional in my family. My two elder sisters were both intelligent but they were unable to finish a degree due to financial reasons. When it was my turn to go to College, they supported me in spite of their own hardships. And seeing how difficult life had become of their families, I decided that if I could, I would never allow the same fate to happen again to my nephews and nieces. So here I am in this foreign land, struggling to face all the odds for a reason bigger than myself… And this decision has changed my life and has brought about a different meaning of Christmas in my family.
I don’t know now how my family really celebrates Christmas with me many miles across the horizons. But my mother would always write after each Christmas to tell me that it was never the same again since I left. She would narrate how they started the gathering, the activities, the pleasantries, and how the night had ended. Then she would add in her P.S. that during the family’s “salo-salo”, they had reserved a chair vacant for me and had filled-up my plate with the dishes I would surely want to eat had I been there, especially my favorite “puto”, her specialty. It hurts. And it hurts me more to be here on Christmas - away from my loved ones, so alone and lonely.
This Christmas, I’m sure it will be full of loneliness and heartaches as my last Christmas. It pierces my heart to know that while the whole world enjoys being with their loved ones, I would be alone confined in the four walls of my room figuring out what my loved ones and friends are doing and if whether or not they remember me on that day. Maybe, I would like to force myself to sleep and forget that it is going to be Christmas time and the whole world frolics. Or maybe, I would just suppress my thoughts in the hope that it would never haunt me.
Last Christmas, I felt like being tortured. The time passed so agonizingly slow that I could count with impatience every tick of the seconds. A minute passed seemed like a year and the hour, a century. I tried to divert my thoughts to some other things but no matter how hard I tried, there was no escape. Whenever I tried to turn on the TV, it was the faces of my family I see, calling out my name to join them. The music played over the airwaves seemed to be the saddest songs I had ever heard in my whole life. And there was the unusually deep and apathetic silence, which deafened me and drove me crazy. I felt like going out of my room and find escape outside. But the fact that we were in the middle of the desert, it was not just possible on that time of the night. Besides, even if I would have reached downtown, there was nothing to soothe me as there wasn’t any night life here, not even a movie house. And worse, there is no Christmas in KSA!
I didn’t really know what to do but I found myself sitting by my study table, reading over and over again the cards and the letters sent to me by my family and friends. Then I searched for the other year’s photos, which I chose to bring here and for which I have learned to treasure. As I scanned every page of the album and reminisced those happy moments I had with my family and friends, my tears just rolled down my face…I hadn’t cried for a long time. My father had always taught me to be a strong person and to manage to hold on in the midst of adversity as much as I could. But the pain I felt at that time was so compelling and so excruciating that it could break whatever rule the strongest of the strong sets for himself. So I broke down sobbing helplessly against my self like a child who had lost his toys…I didn’t know how long had I cried and stayed that way but I just thanked God that it was over the next day, at least, for that year.
But this year, Christmas is back. I’m sure that it would be most likely a repeat of my last Christmas. Only that this time, it will be a more excruciating one.
On my last vacation this year, I married - on the 28th of July - the girl of my dream. Actually, she became my fiancée only the day after I arrived back in the Philippines. That was July 2. We didn’t have much time knowing each other that deeply, but I married her anyway. It was because, not only of the limited time I had on that vacation, but I found in her all the qualities that I had been looking for in a woman - thoughtful, caring, understanding, not to mention beauty. But the best thing I liked in her so much was her determination to face life bravely and squarely. She had been through innumerable hard times in her life but still, she managed to go on, more determined and ready to surmount every challenge that came her way. In that, I learned to love her. And since that day when I married her, I have loved her more and more each day.
But our happiness was short-lived. Just as we became closer and fonder of each other, I had to leave her for another contract here in KSA. I left her on the 28th of August just one month after our marriage. It was so painful to see her on the airport trying to have a last glimpse of me, holding back her tears and her emotions. Her pain was beyond compare, as was mine. But I had to be stronger to make her feel self-assured that things were going to be all right. Then I gave her a consoling smile as I planted a kiss on her lips and bade goodbye. I felt the whole world on my shoulders as I plodded my way to the check-in lounge. I could feel her eyes following the last footsteps that she could manage to see of me. I knew that she broke into tears. But I had to go. At 6:00 p.m. on that day, the plane touched off the runway of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. That was the last time we saw each other.
Last month, she wrote telling me that she was two months on the family way. Hopefully, I will be a father soon. I could hardly contain the happiness that I felt upon learning the news from her. For the first time in my life, God willing, I shall see my baby. The thought of it lifts my spirits to invigoration and much inspiration. I think about it every time - in my works, in my solitude, even before I go to sleep. But the happiest thought which I have been keeping deep down is the day when I finally cuddle my baby in my arms, look at him or her in the eyes with all affections, feel the rhythm of our heartbeats together, touch our flesh, and communicate an unspoken but intimate language only a father’s heart can decipher.
But the more I think of it and my wife these days, the more my heart aches. This would have been our first Christmas together. But I guess we just have to let it pass this year without each other. It is not going to be a happy one for both of us and perhaps, for our unborn baby. But I have to accept it - that there are always two faces in life as in Christmas.
And this fact of life is what keeps me going. One mentor I highly respect in College told me that there is nothing really free in life; that there is always a price for everything that we want to have - be it happiness, success, wisdom, or material possession. One cannot really feel what it is to be happy if he has not experienced first what it is to be sad; one cannot succeed without rising above trials and obstacles; one cannot learn the hard lessons of life without undergoing pain. And definitely, one cannot have a pair of shoes without having to pay for the tag-price attached to it. And I guess that my being away from my loved ones is not an exemption. It is going to take sometime but as long as there are people willing to extend to me their support and their helping hand, and there are my family and loved ones behind me, there is no turning back. If it were to realize our little dreams and our future, then for my loved ones, life is worth sacrificing; even worth dying.
So I am not losing any hope. I know that a day of sunshine will come after the storm; a day when all of our dreams and aspirations together will come true; a day when I and my wife and kid will be together for the rest of our lives. And I am looking forward to that day in all optimism, in all faith…
This Christmas, I’m sure I will miss again our family reunion. Most likely, a vacant chair will be reserved for me beside my wife as she would be there, an addition to our family’s gathering. Of course, as my mother would always prepare her specialty, I will miss my favorite “puto” too. But even if I won’t be around to celebrate with them this special occasion, in my thoughts and in my dreams, I will be there. Without me, still I wish them all the merriest Christmas ever!
For my wife, I wish she knew how sorry I am to have been away from her on our first Christmas together. But I know that her understanding is as deep as mine as to why I should be away for a time. This is for our future and for our little dreams. Now that we have a coming baby, I need to work harder and to be stronger and braver. She and our coming baby are my inspiration. They make me smile in all my pains. They help me ease out all my sufferings. They have made me a complete person and have helped me mend my shattered dreams. And for this, I love them beyond words can ever say.
On the midnight of December 25, as my wife would look at my picture and think of me, I will be doing the same thing. I know that beyond the skies above, someone who grants wishes and whose understanding is all-encompassing will make our thoughts and all our longings for each other to meet…
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