I wasn’t brought up to believe I was special. My parents had the unique ability to inculcate in us a delicate balance of absolute confidence and absolute insecurity. The mandate was “finish first in anything, then go to confession and beg God to forgive you for desiring to be first.” If not kept a secret, doing well was a reason to feel shame.
My siblings and I were never encouraged to be the best in the world, just the best that we can be anywhere, at anything we do. Perhaps this is why I cringe whenever I hear someone say his or her husband or wife is “the best” or his or her dog is “the smartest ever.”
Often, I ask myself, “How do they know for sure? How can they make such a claim so publicly?” So I frequently dismiss these very ostentatious declarations to be no more than the negative result of young kids being prematurely told that they are “special.” It makes me think of that line from The Help: “You is special, you is kind, you is important.” I’m not special. I’m not important. And I’m kind of, at best, all right.
What was special was our home in Parañaque, a town within but at the edge of Metropolitan Manila. Its own city now, it was historically a municipality comprised of several fishing villages. The village where the town center is located is called La Huerta, Spanish meaning “orchard or garden.” And no, there hasn’t been an orchard or a historically famous garden there for as long as anyone can remember. But according to legend there had been, along the riverbank, an orchard so lush and breathtaking that no traveler could resist stopping for a stroll through its enchanted grounds. Thus, the town’s name, Parañaque is said to be derived from the Spanish, “Para aqui,” or “Stop here.”
There’s an old, painted semi-ornate, concrete bridge that connects the town center, leading to the boulevard along Manila Bay, working its way to the old city. I spent many days at dusk walking home along Roxas Boulevard. It was partly because I believed Manila Bay’s sunset to be the best in the world, but really mostly because I had a tendency to spend my entire allowance on Mondays, leaving nothing but just enough for an entire week’s morning commute.
OUR BELOVED SAINTS
FROM THE RIVERBANK
BY LOY BERNAL CARLOS