The girl’s name was Angela. A year ago, at about the same time as it were now, she was a fourth year student cramming and racking her brains off for her final examinations- an eager high school senior who just lately then found out that she passed the entrance test to the most prestigious university in the Philippines.
It’s 2011 at present and the girl is already in UP Diliman, this time, enduring the headaches brought about by her unsuccessful pursuits for the sleep which always eluded her. She always had something to do- not a moment of peace to think things through. For that one subject, she had a 20-page research paper to finish; for that second one, she had to finalize her report to be presented in class; for another one, she had to prepare a persuasive speech that should last about seven minutes or so; another one entailed watching a theatrical play and critiquing the piece; another one required her to think about rebuttals for the debate on the existence of God; yet again, she was to have her finals in more or less five subjects, all in a completely single week. She was in the deepest, most inescapable tortures of hell.
She didn’t have time for things other than studying. Yes, she did not have time for anything at all besides coping with the new world she was so ecstatic to be a part of one time in the past. That time seemed so long ago to her now. But she did not actually dread the things she was experiencing now. Ironically, she saw these as obstacles that she will soon surely pass. She always did like challenges and she saw college as just that. If you could imagine yourself a painter who cannot let go of his paintbrush and lose sight of his canvass, the girl was equally immersed with the fresh fountain of knowledge she was quenching her thirst from everyday, with the realm she was now freely treading upon.
Motivated as she is, she felt something inappropriate inside her, like her chest had become utterly bare and hollow. She did not understand what the strange feeling was all about- she was undeniably contented in her present state, so why the ruckus? After thinking it thoroughly and still emerging with no rational answer, she decided to let the matter go. Her heart and her subconscious knew it, but she did not. The thing she was unaware of? Sadness. Yes, sadness. It was silently piling up like granules of sand, looming and threatening to fill her entire being up. She was definitely sad. And she was definitely clueless regarding the matter.
She awoke with a start at the sound of her cellular phone ringing. Because it was two in the morning and she just slept a couple of hours ago, she didn’t bother to pick up the call. She figured that no one in their right minds would dare to disturb other people’s precious time of rest, so whoever it was must just be suffering from severe insomnia. Trying to go back to sleep proved to be impossible. The caller was apparently persistent, so she gave in, got up and reached for her phone which was lying on top of her messy study table. Looking at the caller id, she was a little surprised to find out that it was her mom giving her a buzz all this time. Pressing the answer button quickly and sticking the phone up to her ear, she was taken aback at how her mother’s voice sounded so weary, so worried, so helpless- like her life was in jeopardy.
“Mommy! Why?! What’s the matter?!,” she yelled, losing the fight with the fear creeping up her spine, sending strong shockwaves of chills throughout her entire body. Her mom never got worried for nothing. This sudden expression of fear from her is so rare that the only times she could remember her mommy acting this way were the situations wherein a family member encounters an accident and adds a few bumps and bruises here and there. She recalled when she fell down from a bike, her mom was by her side in a flash, crying and persisting to apologize, insisting to take the blame. The memory just seeped right in and made her all the more anxious to know what was wrong, what was troubling her carefree mother that she began to shriek again, “Ma! What?! Tell me what’s wrong!”
“Angela!,” her mother began, “Didn’t you watch the news?! There’s a very strong hurricane wrecking everything in its way and it’s heading right for Quezon city now! Don’t bother to get your things, just get out of there right now! Go straight for the terminal and come home here! Hurry! I beg you, hurry!” Her mother was practically frantic, losing all the edges of her tone, and as she absorbed the shocking dilemma in her head, she heard her mother’s gasps. Her mother was crying. The little sobs soon began to vanish, giving way to the unstoppable flow of warm tears. She and her mother both knew it- there was no hope for her surviving this. She was going to die without seeing her family- her grandpa and grandma who brought her up with great showers of affection, her dad who always tried to deliver a decent joke and give them a laugh in times of worries, her sisters whom she always quarreled a lot with and her mom who always sacrificed her own happiness just to see her family have theirs.
She could not move even an inch from where she stood. She let down the phone from her ear, clasped it tightly between both hands and hugged it to her chest. Mixed waves of emotions surged through her and she realized that streams of tears also trickled down from her eyes. She closed them tight now and images of her loved ones began filling up her head. Out of nowhere, a throbbing pain started to strike her from deep inside. This felt quite familiar, she thought to herself. It was the same ache that always visited her, but did not present itself directly. It gathered up its strength now and was giving her gut punches with its mighty force. Now she knew. Now she understood what it was. She guessed she was actually waiting for this. She knew they’d come eventually- the uncountable and unfathomable regrets. When she was a little girl, there were none of these. But ever since she decided to stop being a kid and let go of her tight grasp on the innocence that only a child can hold, she knew they’d silently accumulated. Like a devious murderer lurking in the shadows, it was waiting for the fitting time to take the kill. Apparently, the destined moment was now.
She regretted not helping her older sister when their mom asked them to take care of the chores; she regretted not listening to her dad when he advised her to learn the piano; she regretted not wearing the sweater that her lola saved up for and bought her for Christmas; she regretted not teaching her little sister how to draw; she regretted not tutoring her other little sister in Mathematics; she regretted not answering her mom’s flow of text messages most of the time when she did not feel the need to; most of all, she regretted every minute that was spent not telling every single one of them how she loved them deeply, how she’d give up anything for them, how truly grateful she was that it was them whom God made to be her family. She pitied herself for not grabbing hold of the numerous opportunities wherein she could have kissed them or given them a tight hug.
When she opened her eyes, she found herself standing on the beach, the trail of her footprints evident behind her. The wind was gently turning into an average breeze, sweeping her hair backwards as she looked out onto the sea. The waves were fun to watch as they crashed just before the shore. And when you listen to it intently, you could almost hear peace, you could almost hear serenity.
A memory proceeded to present itself again. This was one of her entire family and her on the beach back home when she was just twelve. They had been celebrating for something, but she could not recall clearly what it was- her birthday perhaps? Anyway, as she searched through the scene, she began to long for the sheer purity of the plentiful laughter the family had that day. How she missed them, she thought again.
Just then, God appeared by her side and smiled at her. He reached for her and touched her face. She did not know she was crying again. And when she realized this, she began to wail harder. God knelt down on His one knee and motioned for her to come to Him. She was happy with this and she ran without any hesitation, breaking to a stop when she’d come to hug the Lord. He spoke, saying:
“See how life works? We always assume that some things in life are far more important from the others- that these things must be prioritized and given much, much more attention. When the time comes for us to leave the world, that’s when we comprehend that we neglected what was really significant, that we pretended to not see the real things that would have given us the contentment we were always trying so hard to search for.”
The girl replied, “I was such a fool to be blinded with the requirements of living a good life when in fact, there were really no such things to begin with at all. And now, I cannot ever forgive myself for overlooking what would have easily made me complete.”
Then God said, “I don’t do this very often, so let’s keep it a secret between the two of us, agreed?” as He winked and let out a chuckle. His voice was so soothing- like a melodious lullaby playing softly in the background. And what He said aroused every sense of optimism in the girl. Listening to God made the girl drowsy, but just before dozing off, she also winked and agreed, saying: “Yes. It’ll be our little secret, Father. Whatever it is…” Then her eyes fell shut and she felt as though she’d taken a deep slumber in a beautiful meadow with the birds chirping, the flowers dancing with the cool wind, the big tree hiding her in its shade and God kissing her forehead and whispering:
“Now that you know how quick and sudden a life on earth could end, grant me a favor and live yours- without any regrets this time, alright, my child? Here’s your chance to go back. Always remember that I’m with you every step of the way. Now, my child, awake!”
She awoke with a start at the sound of her cellular phone ringing. She picked the call up at once and when she heard who the person at the other end of the line was, she touched her chest and realized that the hollowness was gone, she smiled and she said, “Ma, I love you!”