The Manila City Hall is one of the most iconic structures in Manila. Built in 1939, this building has not just withstood the test of time but has also become a witness of the city’s vibrant history.
Today, there are a lot of people in the area. No wonder, because a huge mall is just located at the back of the building. Beside it is a university, and between the school and this building is a park where students group together to relax and chit-chat. This is also a place for others to grab a bite as food stalls and kiosks are lined up.
After so many years, I’ve found myself sitting at the park again. I’ve never expected that I would enjoy being in a place like this. It was nostalgic. I remember when I was a kid, my parents used to bring me and my brother to Luneta Park, the most popular spot in Manila which is also situated near the City Hall.
I just finished a meeting with a client near the place when I decided to take my lunch at the park’s food stalls. I work as an Account Manager for an international shipping company, visiting customers is a big part of my job.
At that time my car was busted so I took a cab going to my client’s office. I admit, the inconvenience aggravated my mood.
I felt lost. I was experiencing a deep sense of unhappiness. I was looking for meaning.
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There is no tangible specific event nor situation in my life that would make me feel this way. All I knew was I was beginning to feel unhappy, unsatisfied with everything.
I just sat there, observing. People who pass by. Students having lunch, some were puffing cigarettes. Then, a woman wearing a medical mask sat near me. It was so near I felt she wanted to talk to me, but when I looked at her she was also observing, looking at the vast place, her eyes seemed sad and empty.
We were silent, like statues sitting with heavy sighs.
After a few minutes, an old cheerful gay man wearing colorful shorts and shirt approached us. He was carrying a plastic box of nail colors. He offered the woman beside me to get her nails done at a very affordable price.
All the woman could do was just laugh. It was the first time I heard a sound from her. She fondly told him, “One more pedicure is enough to take off my nails.”
That made me turn. I didn’t quite get that. I saw her looking at her toes then she smiled at me. “My toes hurt, my body aches. I just had my chemotherapy a few days ago.”
Though intrigued, I smiled back. I was about to ask her some questions when she bravely told me that she has stage 4 cervical cancer.
I moved a bit closer to hear her story through her fragile voice.
She introduced herself as Michelle, 38 years old. She planned to go to the mall in an attempt to forget and let go of her worries. She said it was just three months ago when she was diagnosed with cancer. In a short period of time, her condition has made her look so much older, losing 30 pounds and feeling sick and weak because of chemotherapy.
She lost her job and struggling to make ends meet. And with enormous medical bills, she’s beginning to feel that she’s a burden. For the first time, her family has experienced how to be in dire poverty.
As she tells her story, I noticed she was holding back her tears. With her situation, her family is her sole source of strength so she has to be brave. There were moments when she wanted to give up, but she has to be strong for her daughters.
It was obvious she needed someone to talk to, so I just listened to her. I only talk when I ask her something. I was surprised by her strength and vulnerability in sharing her story with a stranger like me. The conversation was uplifting yet very painful.
But in the end, I noticed a smile on my face. I was so amazed at how her authenticity made an impact on my mood and emotions.
Before she bid goodbye, tears has finally come out of her soul. She said she has accepted everything. At first, she has gone through a state of depression. In denial of her condition, of the possibility of leaving her kids without a mother to guide them. But now, she has made peace with herself, embracing her situation and what the future is in store for her.
Michelle put on her mask, stood up and thanked me for listening. I told her, “I should be the one to thank you.”
As she walked farther, I saw myself getting a bit emotional.
Being in a public place, I was able to contain myself. But the truth remains, that her story came just at the right time.
To slap me hard, to remind me that I should still be thankful, that I should stop giving a fuss about some shallow situation, and just focus on what I have and start living my life.
I genuinely wish her well.
Right now, all I know is there is a reason why Michelle sat near me that day, to remind me that no matter hard times can be, there are still reasons to be grateful. That it is not too late to search meaning in my life, and I can do it armed with a positive mind.
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