Lessons from Manong

In life, I only knew him as Manong (note: Manong is a Filipino term that we use to show respect for older males). He was, as my favorite childhood TV show, Sesame Street, called "a person in my neighborhood" -- "a person that you meet, when you're walking down the street, they're the people that you meet each day..."

Manong was our subdivision's friendly taho vendor. (Taho is a warm, soft, soy-based snack, topped with sweet brown syrup and sago -- is sago tapioca?) Each day, when I would take my 30-minute walk, I would sometimes see him as he pedaled away, peddling his taho. He would always have a ready smile for me, and then a friendly wave accompanied by "Hi Ma'am" or "Good morning Ma'am), even as he labored under the heat of the sun.

Manong was friendly but was also not one to get too chummy. He had a keen sense of observation too. During times when my father would disappear (he also walks for exercise daily) when he was away on a trip, Manong would inquire about his wheareabouts: "Si Sir, po?" I would then reply that my father was out for a trip and Manong would look relieved. He didn't strike me as a nosy person, just asking a question for the sake of chismis (gossip) or just to make small talk. He would ask because he was thinking that my dad might be sick or something of that sort.

Quite recently, Manong would disappear for days and our family would miss our supply of taho. Some of the occasions happened after the strong typhoons and so I would worry whether his family was alright. Once, after a long absence, Manong came back -- with his young son in tow. I asked: "Ano pong nangyari sa inyo?" ("What happened to you?") He replied by saying that he had gotten sick, became weak and could not work. His doctor had advised him to rest. He needed to resume his work though so he just brought along his son to teach him and also to help him so he won't get too tired.

Manong would be gone a few days, every now and then, but after awhile, he would come back. Last weekend (January 20), though, in Manong's place, two of his sons came, with their taho and also bearing news that Manong had passed away last January 15, 2007. It was only then that I found out what his full name was as I read the death certificate. He was only 62 years old and had died of tuberculosis.

It is frustrating that in this day and age of modern medicine when tuberculosis is so easy to cure, people still die of it. Makes you wonder where all the health funds in this country are going right? I got to talk to Manong's two sons and learned that Manong had 10 children. The younger son would now take care of Manong's taho business at our place while the older one also had his own taho business elsewhere.

Rest in peace, Manong. I am sure that heaven is a sweeter and sunnier place with you and your taho around. We didn't converse much over the years but each morning that I would see you do your rounds, I picked up several valuable lessons. Seize the opportunities that life brings your way. Whatever role we have been assigned, fulfill it with joy and dedication. You don't need to do extraordinary things for other people to affect their lives -- you can give them a sincere smile; a friendly wave of your hand; a warm greeting. Pay attention to people. You may not know it but they notice you. Yes, they really do. =)

To all our viloria readers, please say a prayer for Manong's soul and for the family that he has left behind. God bless.

[By Angelica Viloria | Monday, January 22, 2007]

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