I am grateful in the deepest sense of the word, that is, “open to grace.” For me, grace is not only something spiritual, it does not only concern my relationship with God; although this too is included. To him I certainly say “Thank you.”
But now I am also talking about the experience of grace each day, every week, that becomes concrete in small things that are quite tangible, like a piece of bread, a glass of water, as well as a pair of shoes, a birthday party, a hug or a smile given to me, when perhaps, I no longer had a reason to smile.
Let me go back to “that time.” I had friends who would always begin their stories, sharing about what they were doing at school. They possessed so many things: shoes, new clothes every year, school bags, and their homes too probably were quite beautiful, full of technical gadgets that we are hardly aware of, but which improved the lives of many families.
Many families…. but not mine of course… I’ve never had all those things they talked about. My mother is a simple housewife and my stepfather was earning just enough to meet the daily needs of the family. I remember how once our family reached rock bottom.
The owner of the house was angry because we could not pay the rent, so he removed the stairs of our house. We lived on the second floor, thus we could not leave the house until we could find money for the rent. I remember climbing down the house like a monkey, clinging to the wood of our neighbor’s house and stepping on the big nails left from the staircase that had been removed.
My Aunt Letty, a Focolare Volunteer who works in Bukas Palad Social Center, must certainly have noticed this because she noted that I was so thin, so small! But what could I do? I didn’t even have the strength to cry, even though I often did cry when I was alone, far away from my friends.
From this situation, what changed? What happened that has given meaning to my life today, that I am what I am now, and not something else that I could have become? What was it that has saved me? In my case, it was, or rather still is today, finding an open hand, or several “open hands” … in fact, the center, Bukas Palad, means “open hands” in Tagalog.
Many people already knew about Bukas Palad Social Center in Manila, and I started to get stronger when I, too, got to know this place! I went there every Saturday, thanks to Tita Letty who spoke about it to my mother and later brought me there. They gave us good, delicious food there, and afterwards, we had lots of fun washing the dishes and bowls we had used.
And yet all this is just a very small part of what Bukas Palad is for me. Bukas Palad is an amazing place, not only because they help many poor families like mine, but also because they have a special way of doing things, a special way of loving us that makes us feel very special! The most beautiful thing is that I am not someone “who needs to be helped”, someone “in need”, someone whom people think of as “that poor thing!” I am loved here, even though I am poor, just as I am.
My dignity as a person is recognized and I am part of a greater reality, which includes other people, and so I no longer feel alone. This was the first important step, essential for coping with everything else that was to come later… the separation of my parents, the loss of our house, and the resulting dim view of life that I acquired, where life seemed like a tunnel with no way out.
If I look back now, what was important for me then was not to have given up, never to give up, even in those difficult moments, but always to believe I could do this only because I finally felt, thanks to all the people who took care of me, starting from those first Saturdays, the trust of someone who finally believed, believed that I, simply as I was myself, could make it!
Like Tita Letty and her brother, for example, who realized that I was getting very good grades at school and so they helped me and my brother go on to high school. Or like Lola Celdran, who helped my mother get another job, easing the financial challenges of our everyday life.