I always complain that nothing good is coming out of my life, but I realize that nothing extremely bad is happening either. I remember that guy who played Leonardo da Vinci in the movie Ever After, cautioning with an impish wink, "It could have been worse!" That shook me out of my complacency. For each and every single thing boring the heck out of our lives hide a thousand things that could make life more hellish than it already is.
It must be another law of the universe: Things could get even worse so you better shut up. Think instead of the things you should thank for. You feel punished for having done naughty things? Thank God that you only received in pinch in the ear. Admit it: for having done the things you've done today, what you really deserve is flogging in the public square: 100 lashings with a rattan cane. Think about God's brand of justice - a justice always tempered by mercy.
This reminds me of the most ridiculous parental punishment I've ever witnessed. I once had this woman for a neighbor who had a daughter who tortured her daily with a typical dose of juvenile mischief. One such wayward act, one fine day, received a major spanking from mom which caused the child to cry a river for minutes. Perhaps tired of listening to the sound of suffering, the woman finally said, "O, may chocolate cake diyan sa ref." ("Go help yourself with some chocolate cake in the fridge.") I couldn't help laughing on the floor when I heard that. Maybe wanting to make her daughter stop bawling was not the reason for the anticlimactic gesture? I’d lie to believe she’s just trying to temper her justice with love.
I've been particularly bad today. On my way home, I looked up to a sky that promised torrents. At the end of the day, I expected divine punishment. For complaining about a problem at home, I deserved to get drenched in a livid downpour, not to mention getting struck by lighting within inches of my life. Being irritated to the edge of sanity by a specially rude caller in the middle of work probably should have merited getting trapped in a great flood. Yet what did I get for my trespasses?
I only got a mild sprinkle in the middle of the expressway. Oftentimes, a horrendous gridlock would ensue before I could spell 'vehicular traffic,' yet in my case, this meant I could get off my bus and walk my way home through a shortcut. For a few minutes, the drizzle turned into a storm but just in time, I got my head safe under the toll gate where I got to observe how the guy at the toll gate counter works (That's an exciting job, meeting all the people behind the wheels, including all the celebrities living in the south, and there's a lot of them.) Before long, the storm subsided, and I could walk in the drizzle again. When I finally got my head under my own roof, a real apocalyptic torrent poured down, complete with a lighting-and-thunder accompaniment that would make the heart of the toughest thug around here thud in fear.
So, you're missing out on the best things in life, huh? Look at the things that should have happened but didn't. Look at how we are blest despite our inadequacies. Look at how God’s little mercies are blessings, too.
Indeed, I could've crossed a street and got run over by a speeding car.
I could've forgotten to lock the door of my apartment and all my earthly belongings could've been spirited out by robbers.
Worse, some arson could've started a fire in the neighborhood and all that I've stashed in my years of working life would have gone up in smoke.
I could have walked through a dark alley and got bitten by a rabid dog or got mugged by thugs.
I could've crossed a bridge that would have collapsed out of sheer age.
I could've met the Grim Reaper in the form of a debris flying from a nearby construction area. Glass panels could've rained on me as the earth shook while I walked along Ayala Ave.
The jeep I'm riding could've figured in an accident on the expressway.
The ugly, overloaded and creaking tricycle I always take could've turned turtle after negotiating a hump on the road.
A terrorist could have planted a bomb at the mall.
Hooligans could've sprayed bullets on me as I line up for the ATM or I fix something about an account with an errant bank.
The bus I'm riding could have been held up by goons.
The taxicabs I have taken could've carried a robber masquerading as a driver.
What I'm gobbling up at the fastfood could've been loaded with poison and parasite and I could've caught the chicken flu or mad cow disease. I could've gotten electrocuted or could've caught hepatitis while drinking in a fountain.
I could've been suffocated to death by carbon monoxide in some car park, or by the smog at EDSA.
I could've been stuck in traffic on an emergency, which has a 98% statistical probability.
The planes crossing above my head could've crashed on my flat. (I live near the airport.)
I could've been trapped inside an elevator; got burned to a crisp by live wires; tripped into a manhole; hit by a wayward bullet while I’m out playing; trapped inside a burning disco, mall, restaurant, or hotel; swindled by mind-altering tricksters.
The soup I’ve been swilling with porcine delight could've revealed a roach at the bottom.
These things are not far-fetched ideas; they actually did happen to someone somewhere.
But so far, they have not; I’ve been spared so far. I take it that, so far, God has been very good – in spite of me. My worst nightmare had been falling in the larcenous hands of pickpockets because I was dressed up to the nines and about to fall asleep in a jeep. I've reached these five long years relatively whole, alive, virtually "unscarred" and unscathed.
As a result, living in the city has made me most grateful even if only in an ironic way. You know how urban life can get so distressing and frustrating. But, had I not chosen to stick it out with this place, I think I wouldn't have experienced God's loving protection in a most dramatic way.
The beauty of the countryside is indescribable, it's true, and I can never be grateful enough. But city life can be just as so, in its own unique way. Metro Manila is an odd mix of decay and birth. Here and there you see feverish construction of skyscrapers that scintillate from a distance side by side with all that splendid squalor. All of which makes for one such ambivalent place to live in. The element of pleasant and unpleasant surprise is inescapably a part of it, lurking in every corner, and I mean just about every corner. Thus, emerging intact after living in the city even just for a year is not something to sneeze at.
Tell me, if that is not God's love and faithfulness, then I don't know what is.
(Spare my life, O God, and save me. And I will gladly proclaim your righteousness.
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