Friday, May 20, 2011

Filtering What's Important

Youngblood : Forgetting

By Raoul Felipe, M.D.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Posted date: May 03, 2011

“How do you measure a year in the life?... Measure in love.”—“Rent”

IT WAS your usual Monday morning: the hustle and bustle of patients, papers and clinical abstracts that needed to be written, spilled coffee—you know, that kind of Monday. In fact, you would have missed it if you were too busy texting or going about your business. (And indeed, most people did.) There was no fanfare after all, no parade or entourage or flower girls or sweet music, and yet there we were in the middle of Ward 1, a huddle of doctors slowly gathering for the culmination of a most captivating love story. You could feel the charm flitting about the place, a contagious energy infecting a group eager with anticipation yet hushed by the sacredness of what was happening.

Lola had been diagnosed with stage 4 nasopharyngeal cancer (a brutal disease), and doctors had given her only weeks to live. The mass had grown beyond normal proportions (it was the size of a football) and it didn’t take long to know that her prognosis was beyond awful. She was unable to stand anymore, crippled and bedridden by a sickness that not only drains you physically but mentally and emotionally as well. She had become dependent and needy, relying on Lolo for pretty much everything, including going to the bathroom.

Throughout all this, I never heard Lolo complain. Not one bit. And he never left her side. In the months that I had been rotating in Internal Medicine, I never saw a more committed bantay—running around like a headless chicken, trying to cope with whatever orders we gave: “Lolo, paki lakad po itong dugo sa laboratoryo. Lolo, kailangan po natin bumili ng gamot. Lolo, dalhin niyo na po siya sa X-ray.”

It didn’t matter how demanding the task or how intimidating the Philippine General Hospital can get (I actually still get lost here) or how expensive the medicines were, Lolo never failed to deliver. I didn’t know how he managed to make ends meet but every time we needed something, it was Lolo who supplied it.

So there we were in Ward 1, underdressed in our scrub suits, trying to contain our kilig. The other patients paid no attention—they had, after all, their own sicknesses to worry about. And the other doctors didn’t mind us too, being too busy doing what was important for them. The nurses were apathetic as well: a celebration like this didn’t need attending when you are too busy doing your job and what-not. But those of us who came, those of us who thought that we couldn’t let the event go unwitnessed, we all learned a lesson we will never forget.

And so on Sept. 13, 2010 at 10 o’clock in the morning, Lola and Lolo got married after spending nearly 50 years together. They had spent every waking hour together—literally in sickness and in health—and now it was time to end it together, too. It was Lola’s last request, her dying wish.

In a world that values resumés and bank accounts and positions and accomplishments, Lola had nothing to offer. She was beyond poor, had no resumé to brag about, and certainly had no position except what she was by choice: a humble mother and wife who spent her afternoons doing laundry and frying kamote-cue on the street. She had done nothing out of the ordinary, either. She never played in a band or reigned as prom queen or appeared on TV. But when she smiled, she smiled like she meant it. The edge of her eyes were creased with the lines of age and wisdom and her laugh penetrated through you, making you wish that you could smile like she did and laugh like she did—with sincerity and substance. Her bald head, long battered by bouts of chemotherapy, was always covered with a bonnet (the ones you find along Minesview Park, with “Baguio” embroidered along the edge, which never failed to make me smile because like hers some of my best memories were of Baguio).

Lolo was as unassuming and normal as Lola. He was a fisherman. His dark skin had been baked by the sun, his hands callused by hauling nets all day, his thin body no longer framed by taut muscles because they could barely afford one meal a day now. When I looked at Lolo I was always reminded that what I was doing was nothing compared to what he did.

In spite of all they had done—or rather all they had not done—they taught me what I had known all along but chose to disregard: that life is not about remembering or even re-learning what is important, but about forgetting what is not.

I believe that deep in our hearts we already know what is important. We were created with that truth and beauty in us. Yet along the way, distracted by a world that places value on what is seen and measured, we have replaced what is important with what is not.

We need to develop the habit, we need to develop the skill of forgetting. We need to because every waking day is a constant battle between what is valuable and what is not. We already know what matters, but we need to forget what doesn’t.

In the twilight of her life, as the sun set and the end of her journey neared, Lola had already forgotten what was unimportant. After 80 years worth of living and working and smiling and laughing, she knew love is all there is to it. That money lasts weeks, positions last years, careers last decades—but relationships are forever.

(Raoul Felipe, M.D., 25, is a graduating medical student at UP-PGH.)

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