Is this all?
By Virginia Jasmin Pasalo
AS we passed by Lingayen Gulf, when we were fighting against the establishment of the cement plant complex in Bolinao, Mildred Yamzon, then a new member of the Women in Development (WID) Foundation, asked me a question.
“Is this all there is in life? No end in fighting for what you believe in. You win. You lose. And we repeat the same cycle all over again.”
“Every moment, every second, we fight for every breath. This is all that is important, the now. We live the best way we can now, and because of what we do now, tomorrow may be different. There are no guarantees.”
She looks out of the window, over the blue sea, the trees that line the highway, and the clouds swiftly passing by. I remember that conversation very vividly, how pensive she was, at five o’clock in the morning, as the sun slowly peeps through the horizon. That was 1995, when people can organize mass action and be engaged in a dialogue to participate in the solution of collective problems and in shaping the socio-economic framework of their communities.
Is this all?
After so many battles, she still asked me the same question, every time she is depressed about the oppression of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), about women being beaten by their husbands, about the street families who beg for food and sleep in makeshift cardboard structures, about government institutions approving the cutting of trees to make way for “development”, about the disasters in mining communities, and other things that disturb her gentle heart. She asked the same question, not always verbally, but in the distant look of her eyes, her wry smile, and the way her hands trembled. One day, she did not ask me anything anymore.
She has forgotten the question, and all the other questions in her mind. I learned that she was happy, she smiled and she recounted happy memories with Dr. Gloria Itchon, a mutual friend and colleague, who had a chance to visit her after a very long time. She was happily recounting bits and pieces of memory, very unlike herself, that it made Dr. Itchon cry.
“She is no longer the old Mildred.”
She was no longer the same Mildred. She did not take on the problems of the present, she was happy with the simplest things. She smiled a lot. Her eyes shone like a child at play. And why should that make us sad?
I tried to get through her landline and her mobile but the one who answered was another person, telling me, she is either sleep or busy doing something else. It surprised me that she is not picking up the phone. She normally gets it on the second ring.
I remembered the first time she cried. She was in the middle of her speech before a crowd of OFWs, when she suddenly stopped, stepped out of the podium and walked slowly to the bathroom.
“I blacked out, I cannot remember what I was going to say. I do not even remember why I was on that stage. I do not understand what just happened.”
She wept. After a few minutes of light talk, she recovered, she went back to the stage, and continued to dissect the programs and policies of government and how they are not responding properly to the conditions and plight of OFWs. Government failed, she reiterated. She was not happy at all. But that was the real Mildred. She was melancholy. She had questions and questions about life.
Is this all? A perennial question that echoes in her presence. In her absence, too. Now I cry, for the question that lingers.
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