Illustration by  Carlo Patricio P. Franco“Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.” — Denis Waitley

TRUDGING with strangers through the muddy and slippery mountains seemed like an unlikely option to spend Christmas. But that just made a Christmas of mine as a worthwhile and meaningful one.

When I was in fourth year high school, our school had an immersion program where we would live with families overnight. The idea was exciting though they told us it was risky. They trusted the families not to harm us, and according to them, the families were worried because they knew we were used to live in the city.

I was assigned to an old woman who would guide me into the muddy slopes of several hills and mountains in Antipolo. Exhausted, I knew that it would take time before we reach their house. But as if giving me strength, she held my hand tightly. It looked like if she could, she would have carried me instead. Her smiling face and calm demeanor were silently reassuring my safety. I just met her for just a few minutes back then, and yet I instantly trusted her with my life. This was going to be a long trip, I told myself.

We finally arrived at her small house. It was on top of a mountain and the nearest neighbor was on the other mountain. She sensed my worry. Instead of questioning me, she showered me with her hospitality.

She showed to me the rest of her family’s house. It was quite small, with a toilet inside. They take a bath outside, and they cook with charcoal. During that time, her son was at school and her husband worked in the city.

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While we were eating, she told me their lack of money and the simplicity of their life. When she left me to help prepare the community’s food, many questions stirred in my mind. Why do good people like Nanay Lilia live in poverty when she deserves so many blessings in her life?

I pondered on the answer that night, until her son Allan, came. He was 11. I approached him and helped him cook rice. He shared his many dreams with me. He wanted to be a professional who would work in the city. He was eager to help his parents financially. He told me that even though their life is simple compared to ours, they are happy.

Deep in the night, Nanay Lilia fetched me to help them make pichi-pichi. We were going to host a Christmas party for their community.

While we were busy mixing the ingredients, my question continuously buzzed in my mind.

It took me several years to find the answer. It came gradually, and at first it was just a gnawing feeling when we left them.

What my nanay told me stuck in my mind. They were happy though they did not have that much, though they mostly live through their crops. She seemed to be very thankful from the time her family wakes up until they retire at night.

I guess, what they have is more than material wealth—she is blessed by God with happiness money that can’t buy.

A few years have passed and I still have that gnawing feeling. A lot has happened in my life and I realized that at times it may seem that life is unfair,but there will always be something to compensate for those that we lack. God is truly just. And I hold on to that belief every time I remember my nanay.

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