Be good to yourself. People will only treat you as well as you treat yourself. ~ M. V. Hansen

Monday, October 10, 2011

Helping Others - What My Parents Taught Me

One of my male cousins visited us yesterday. The last time I saw him was three years ago. Within that period he got stabbed and hospitalized. He also became a father at age 50 or so. I was really surprised to see Kuya Willie ("kuya" is a term of respect Filipinos use to refer to an older male sibling, cousin, friend, or acquaintance). I even said, "Oh, you've resurrected!" He replied, "I was never dead." "I know. Why haven't you visited us in ages?" I clarified. 

While talking to my mom - his paternal aunt - I learned that he had a falling out with his two sisters. Kuya Willie is the middle kid, by the way. His eldest sister, one of my beautiful spinster cousins, has been working in Dubai; while the other one is a single mom, a nutrition graduate, who has dedicated most of her personal time taking care of her twins, my smart nieces. Kuya Willie revealed that they got mad at him when he got his girlfriend pregnant. They didn't approve of her and Kuya didn't want to abandon her.
The anger is influenced by the amount of money involved in raising a family. You see, it's Ate Pen ("Ate" is the counterpart of kuya) who has provided for them for decades. They've been orphaned at such a young age, with my uncle dying of a damaged liver after being stabbing by some gang who mistook him as one of their enemies. Their mom died decades later due to a car accident. Since then Ate Pen worked hard as a department store sales lady until she landed a job at the Duty Free, an airport shop, in Dubai.

I'm thinking it could be that his sisters felt that Kuya Willie and his family would depend on them, on Ate Pen particularly. There could be other reasons for the rift, but I'm hoping they'd reconcile soon. Good thing my mom is still around to help Kuya Willie.

Kind parents are role models to their kids.
I grew up seeing my parents' kin visiting us for various reasons, but mostly it's to seek temporary shelter in our place as they find work in Manila or as they prepare travel documents to work overseas. One of the poignant moments I've had with my mom was when she tearfully revealed how much she misses the occasional visits from her nephews and nieces. With Kuya Willie and his siblings, she misses her brother who supported her college education. Uncle didn't expect any kind of material payment in return, except that she would look after his children. However, how can she help them if they don't tell her what their problems are? 

My dad is similarly generous and kind to his relatives, particularly with a brother who lives nearby and whom he helps whenever he can. His sisters, on the other hand, would approach my mom directly to seek help. Unlike my mom who is the youngest in her family, my dad is the eldest. They have a relatively harmonious relationship, except when my mom always complains about whatever, especially about things that concern money. Nevertheless, she and my dad are willing to help others, especially their relatives, but only when they've got resources to spare, of course.

I know I may not have now the things that my parents have worked hard to secure nor do I have a consistently good relationship with them, particularly when they remind me of how delayed my progress is. Much as I need to forgive myself for my shortcomings, I need to forgive them too. Nevertheless, I do my best to help others as well. 

Sometimes, however, I feel that my help isn't enough. I've experienced hearing a former house helper say "Only this?" after receiving a few hundred pesos from me. It wasn't her salary, but a humble gesture of help when she asked me if I had some money to help her buy medicines for her sick child. I felt bad, of course, not because of what she said, but because the situation made me feel I was so inadequate. This is why there are times when I think I don't have the right to give help, particularly financial assistance. 

However noble, it seems to me that a person's capacity to help others reflects one's "success" in terms of accumulating resources to give. It may be that this kind of resource is non-cash, but with the kind of economic system that dominates in our world for the past centuries, most of the labeled "philanthropists" in our midst are people who have more than enough money to spare. 

Please don't get me wrong. I don't envy the rich and famous. I know they have problems to deal with too, just like the rest of us. What I don't agree with though is that how goodness to others have been commodified, giving the public the impression that genuine kindness has to do with helping many people as much as possible - and this requires a lot of money, something that millions of humans don't have. However, any kind of attitude and value - whether positive or negative - goes beyond one's economic status, political beliefs, religious affiliation, etc. People may not have equality in terms of material wealth and access to resources, yet there is equality in terms of being subjected to uncertainty, not having everything we want, falling ill, losing loved ones, and dying.

It's saddening that Kuya Willie's sisters view him as a burden, not as a brother. If that were the case, they would not have given up on him in spite of all the troubles he got into. Of course, we're only human, and our patience has its limits. Still, he deserves to be forgiven, as well as an x number of chances. He's the underdog in this situation. I'm not even sure if he's literate enough. It pains me to know that there are many adults like him who don't know how to read and write; yet, they also have the right to survive and be given opportunities to improve. 

I'm hoping Kuya will decide to live in a nearby lot that my parents own. The house helper I mentioned earlier and her family have been living there for almost a decade now. I'm sure my parents would be kind enough - again - to have Kuya and his family reside there so that he'd have my mom to go to whenever he's in need.  

I can relate to Kuya's situation, since I've been living with my folks too after leaving my daughter's father. Yes, I'm not independent, and I'm not proud of that, of course. At least, however, I have parents who have helped me provide a sense of security and stability to my child. We, together with my younger brother whom they have adopted from another maternal cousin, are living testaments of my parents' kindness. I pray that God will give me the chance to "repay" them somehow, in both small and big ways and whether or not I reach the kind of "success" that has been defined by a discriminating society.

*UPDATE: I've just learned from Kuya Willie's sisters that he physically and verbally abused them. My nieces even saw him hit their mom during one of their past altercations. I know Kuya is an alcoholic, though he claims he's lessened his weekly drinking sprees. Still, he has no right to physically hurt his sisters. Nevertheless, Ate Pen hopes that he takes my mom's offer for him to relocate nearby with his family. She thinks that such arrangement might temper Kuya Willie's violent reactions, considering that my mom is the only relative he's got who truly cares for him because he reminds her of the brother who helped her live.

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