Friday, June 14, 2013

Finally, Peace

"I have to remind myself that some birds aren't meant to be caged, that's all. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice...but still, the place you live is that much more drab and empty that they're gone."
-Red, The Shawshank Redemption

The Saturday summer sun bathed us in the dining room as the sounds of "the young and the restless" quietly stirred in the background.  School had let out and our summer guest of honor was in State College to visit for the next couple of months.  From the kitchen, I heard the clammer of plates and the faint aroma of sweet pork and shrimp hung in the air.

Mamang Sulay was teaching me how to make her famous lumpiang shanghai today.

Moments into her practice, my fingers raced to mimic her movements, her tired and weary eyes fixed in a trance-like gaze upon her epic task at hand, to ultimately feed us one perfect egg roll at a time.  Each egg roll meant the world to her.  Her efforts, care and focus were invested into each equal spoonful of homemade filling, every dallop of egg and seasoning, every carefully cut square of wrapper, every lumpia placed on the stack...  She would roll them with that quiet smirk on her face, as if she was always remembering some inside joke she would tell herself to pass the time.

As she would guide me in learning her craft, I would feel the graze of her warm hand upon my own, guiding it with thoughtful and skilled precision; "so old already," she would say as I would run my finger along the back of her hand, upon the wrinkles that laid across it, each telling its own story. "but that's ok." she would then reassure, "that's how god intended."  As she would finish, "like that" she would say, as her fingers follow the automatic, familiar movements mapped in her head with grace and nuance, fostered by her practiced ritual.....And then she would giggle to herself as she observed me in my inadequacy, and correcting my own work.   And instead of cheapening the experience for me of learning the tradition, she always unraveled her perfect egg roll and insisted that I finish and redo it myself.  And in this practice she found solace and meditation, and stayed there all afternoon as if an eternity would be spent doing it if it took an eternity to finish and finish right.  She rolled each one as if they transported her to a world unfettered by the troubles of this one.  And that was her approach to important things.  She understood that they took time and though perfection could not always be the result, it certainly was a worthy expectation.

Though one of the strongest women I've ever met, she had a knack for creating the illusion of her own youth.  On those summers she would visit, she would have me help her give her hair a renewed color, hiding the years she had earned.  Hardly cosmetic, this was mostly to show the world that she was still relevant, when the world already knew that, insisting we acknowledge her still-capable hands through her heavy heart.  She always insisted on embroiling herself in family politics, even when they no longer concerned her; to see her family ever in turmoil was unacceptable to her.   Even in her age, she carried the burden life would unfortunately lay upon those more readily and easily able to carry it....

She was a true daughter of Claveria.  She had simple and pure sensibilities in a big, busy world.  And as small as she kept her scope, her dreams were always grand; to have all her childrena nd children's children happy, healthy and able to look back and respect all that came before.  To our Mamang, Ursula Llapitan Aguda, a restless and selfless spirit who lived her life never knowing when to be done raising her children and being present in the lives of those she loved and cared dearly for. The champion of mah jong, speeches that needed no occasion, daytime soap operas on lazy summer afternoons and the neverending fried-fish-for-breakfast, before she sends you off to elementary school. She left a vast legacy with her children, grand children, great grandchildren, closely guarded friends and her countless students all over the world.

Mamang passed away, in the company of her children, knowing the love of and remembered by the generations of family she leaves behind, and finally allowed the peaceful rest she has rightfully earned. Heaven is lucky to have her.  its easy today to focus on how she died....but let's not forget that we each were witness to how she really lived.

Mamang, someday, we'll all see you again, and you can sing to us your sweet sweet song.