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Phil. Daily Inquirer: A Grateful Heart

“Thank you, Ma’am. Praise the Lord!” the old beggar exclaimed in clear American English, as I hastily shoved a ten-peso coin into his grubby hand. I was on my way to a worship service at a city park one hot February day when I chanced upon the kindly old man by the side walk, charming passers-by for alms with his toothless smile and unusually sunny disposition.


Minutes later, I was sitting comfortably in the shade, listening to an American preacher’s musings about God. Still, the memory ofthe old man lingered in my mind. I discreetly got up from my seat, excused myself from my friends and looked for him in his spot under the shade, but he was gone. About to give up my search, I saw him a few meters away, cooling himself under the tree.

I offered to take him to the meeting, hoping that the preacher’s words would somehow give him some solace from the hard life I assumed he was having. “I’d rather stay here,” he defiantly but nicely said. His arthritis had been giving him a lot of trouble, he said, so he’d rather stay put. Not wanting to upset him further,I relented and instead sat with him by the side walk. A group of passing teenagers curiously stared at us, wondering why a well-dressed twenty-something would take interest in chatting with an old, dirty derelict.

I learned that his name was James Moreno and that he was 80 years old. “I’ve been here since Mt. Pinatubo erupted. It isgenerous hearts like you who keep me alive,” he wistfully shared while gesturing to the passers-by. Owning nothing more than the grimy shirt on his back and a few mementos from his past, he roamed the park everyday, depending on park visitors and joggers for his daily sustenance. When it rained, he would take shelter under the trees and concrete structures that dotted the place. Park authorities must have found him too pitiful and too old to shoo away.

When I probed further, he told me that he used to entertain American GI’s as a cabaret singer in Olongapo City. He got his American accent from them, he shared. When Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991, torrents of lahar covered entire towns. He tried to save his wife and children, but in the end he could only save himself. Having no where to go, he pushed his luck in Manila, and ended up begging at this well-maintained park.

I took his story with a grain of salt, wondering if senility had somehow affected his memory. His story reads like a movie, I thought to myself. I looked intently into his cataract-laden eyes as he was talking, trying to find some clues as to the veracity of his words. As if on cue, he quietly pulled out his wallet–his last remaining treasure– to show me a picture taken more than 50 years ago. It was a glamour shot of a handsome young man with a prominent chin and kind eyes. “This is me when I used to sing in the nightclubs in Olongapo,” he proudly intimated. Looking at the photograph andthen at his wrinkled face, I couldn’t deny that the man in the picture had his eyes.

“People say that this is a punishment from God. It’s not. God is love, period,” he said of his fate. To lighten the mood, I asked him to sing me a song. “It would be your Valentines gift to me,”I coaxed. He began crooning a song made famous in the late 70’s, melting away whatever remaining reservations I had. “ I cried the tears, you wiped it dry. I was confused, you cleared my mind. I sold my soul, you bought it back for me. You put me high upon a pedestal, so high that I could almost see eternity. You needed me. . . You needed me. . .” His voice sounded good despite the raspy quality that must have been brought by both age and grief. I couldn’thelp stifling a sob. I told him it was one of the best Valentines gift I had ever received.

Having had lost both sets of grandparents early, I asked him if I could call him “Lolo,” the Filipino word for grandfather. “Itwould be my pleasure,” he chirped, flashing me a toothless grin. By this time, a crowd had gathered around us. The same group of teenagers who stared at us minutes ago was now smiling back at us, eager to hear what we were talking about. “God sent you to me. You are a blessing from God. See, most of the time people don‘t even mind me, but because of you they‘re noticing me,” Lolo James said.

Somewhat afraid that this vision before me would suddenly vanish and turn out to be a heavenly apparition, I fished out my camera from my bag and asked someone in the group to take our picture. When the teenagers left, Lolo James gave me an advice culled from a life fraught with both joys and sorrows. “I have a message for you,” he thoughtfully said, “Always give thanks. Appreciate what you have. Don’t ask for what you don’t have. When God gives people an apple, they will ask for a dozen. When God gives them a dozen, they will ask for a sack.”

As dusk was about to settle, I asked Lolo James if he wanted to eat with me at a restaurant nearby. Since he didn’t want to enter the establishment, I ended up buying burgers for us to eat under the tree. Before long, I had to go back to the meeting to join my waiting friends. I left Lolo James sitting contently on a park bench, getting ready for bedtime. I promised to visit him when I could.

It has been two years since I last saw my adopted grandfather. Still, it amazes me how someone who has suffered much can have such a grateful heart. I guess it is true what I once read in a book: God is sometimes closer to beggars than kings.

02162005

 

— by Jennifer Yap Caspe
Written Oct. 22, 2004
Published as “Grateful Heart ,”
Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Young Blood,
Nov. 13, 2004

 

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8 Comments

  1. i went online today hoping to find inspiration– and i did through this story! forward on with a brave heart. 🙂 I know God has a purpose for everything– even pesky jobs. thanks jen 🙂

  2. Glad you had your second chance with “Lolo.” I remember driving down a busy street once, past a beggar who was hanging on to a sign post and clutching his stomach in pain. The light was green and I couldn’t stop and jump out of the car. There was nothing I could do but pray for him… Carpe diem!

  3. —because of you, they‘re noticing me,”— your adopted Lolo James said.

    colorfull life experiences that all had been written on Jame’s wrinkly face, provided an optimistic view on his life.

    Recalling the past seemed to be an enjoyable moment in HIS mind…..

    sometimes, we may not have to ask people who need your help, but to seek with your keen sense, tounching heart that God has given you. use them as the time in need……..

    —because of your kindness, they are noticing him
    —because of your concern, they are noticing him
    —because of your passion, they are noticing him
    —because of your generious, they are noticing him
    —because of your great love, they are noticing him

    this world needs more people like You + He/She + I ………..

  4. your anecdote moved me…we should look around for him and do a follow up story..whaddaya think?

  5. To colored socks: The pleasure is mine. Luv ya, friend!

    To myvilla: Yeah! Thank God for second chances.

    To Anonymous: Wow! Hope there’d be more people like you, too. Now if only you’d reveal yourself more, then more people would be like you. Did that make sense? You’re deep. You can figure that out! Thanks!

    To JC Gomez: Yeah, I think I should. Tell you if I find him.

  6. Love has been an enternal topic of our human being……

    We need to Sense, Distribute and Appreciate.. indeed……

    Thanks Jenny for sharing your feedback to my comments—–posted was an Anonymous

  7. Oh Jenny! You made me cry! sob,sob.

  8. hey jen, that was a touching article. it reminded me of my wife’s old folks in a remote barrio in Pangasinan. Well the people there so simple. they wear old clothes they even go barefeet when treading in out and out of their home. They dont use shampoo and face cleansers!
    hehehe they are not concious at all of their looks, yet they own lots of hectares of land as large as what your eyes could glance on. Everytime we go there I always bring home lots of vegetables and fruits.compliments of pang!(that’s how we call our father). Giving small things like a 3 month old baseball cap or a nice old polo shirt would easily bring smiles to them. I guess the thing here is, it does’nt matter what you do or what u own. but It’s our inner condition. Are we content with what we have? and do we have peace of mind in our soul?

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