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Beauty in the Beast: The hugot of the Pinoy’s joy

By ROBERT Z. CORTES, rzcortes@gmail.com
September 10, 2015

Some nights ago, I missed my flight to Chicago. I've lived in Manila for more than 20 years, and I've been going to the airport quite regularly all that time, but this was the first time I've ever missed a flight due to traffic. In the car, I wondered out loud to the friends who were with me what the news would say the next day.

The day after, CNN reports "Downpour causes monstrous traffic jam in Metro Manila." I actually used that very same word – monstrous – to describe the EDSA gridlock, when I wrote to my dissertation adviser to explain why I'd be missing a rendezvous with another professor in Chicago.

Indeed, there was no other word more apt.

From where I was – feeling so helpless as the clock was ticking nearer and nearer to the flight schedule, and I wasn't even halfway to the airport 3 hours after leaving my home in Pasig – I saw before me a colossal snake with scales of glittering red lights on one side, of blinking yellow on the other. The beast was gorging itself on the Filipinos' patience and sanity.

For a while I felt I understood why road rage happens. I even thought for a second that suicide in this country would be perfectly justified. It was inevitable in this hellish traffic, I thought for moment.

But it was only a fleeting thought. For in the car with me were people who didn't succumb to the "inevitable." They made a choice to be serene. The two people in the passenger seats were either sleeping like overgrown babies or laughing at the whole absurdity of the situation when they were awake. Admittedly, they were irritatingly cheerful at times, but I guess that's better than being irritatingly grumbling.

As for the driver of the van – well, what can I say? The whole time, he was sympathetic to my difficulty yet patient with what we obviously could do very little about. He taught me – who was more than a decade older than him – that one always has a choice in these situation: to be either impatient or calm, a hell to others or a source of peace. I learned we can be virtuous in any situation, including the negatively superlative traffic of EDSA.

When I realized all this, I took out my rosary and, like a child, prayed as my mother had taught me. I glanced to my right and glimpsed Our Lady of Guadalupe on the huge LED board seemingly looking and smiling at me. "Nice touch for your birthday," I thought (it was Sept. 8) – and I meant both the traffic and her image.

I also did some bit of mental prayer as I had learned from St. Josemaria. Having finished 30 minutes of it, I began praying to Blessed Alvaro whose anniversary of beatification – a ceremony where I was present last year – is fast approaching (Sept. 21).

Having gone to all my "heavy duty" intercessors, and realizing that no miracle would lift the van to the airport in time for my midnight flight, I decided instead to lift up my will and unite it to God's. I prayed, "Thank you, Lord, for this chance to offer up something significant to me for whatever You want this to be offered. I ask not to know, but to love, your will." And, as always happens in these situations, I was filled with peace.

Some hours later, I read something similar in Bl. John Newman's "Meditations and Devotions". "My...perplexity may be the necessary means of some great end which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain...He knows what he is about... I trust thee wholly. Thou art wiser than I – more loving to me than I myself. Deign to fulfill thy high purposes in me, whatever they may be – work in and through me. I am born to serve thee, to be thine, to be thy instrument. I ask not to see –I ask not to know – I ask simply to be used."

I went to bed that night filled with peace and thankful for the little blessings, instead of thinking of the inconvenience this entire experience spelled and would spell for me. I was thankful for the Shell toilet that was available just when my bladder was near bursting; when I came out there was a long queue to the toilet. I was thankful that we made it back home at 1 a.m. instead of 3 a.m.; I knew there were still people trudging their way home in those wee hours of the morning. I always have a choice to be grateful.

I am definitely not fatalistic, and like every Filipino, I expect the government that takes one third of my salary to give us back the service that we deserve. Nevertheless, I also believe that we need to always maintain the characteristic Filipino goodness and joy in difficulties such as these. This experience has reminded me once more where the Filipino gets it – the hugot, as they now say. It is in prayer and abandonment to God's will.

There is where one finds beauty in the beast.

************

Epilogue:

The next day, I found myself enjoying breakfast with friends, laughing Pinoy style, over the silliest considerations. At some point, I told them about my devotion to Fr. Joseph Muzquiz who is my intercessor for things connected to the U.S. I explained to them that his intercession was weird: that he stops things from happening and gives me something better in return (I'd see that in retrospect, of course). It's what I call "negative intercession."

I told them that, ironic as it may seem, I believed this was Fr. Joseph's favor to me. I mean that the delay was made for me to have more days with friends, more productive moments of work, a better schedule over all in the U.S., and still make it to the interview with the subject of my dissertation on Sept. 14. I added that to "up the ante" for this intercessor, I was going to ask him to help me rebook my ticket for free. This was important for a cash-strapped student like me.

I called Asiana Airlines and told them my situation. A very nice lady spoke to me on the other end. She said, yes there's a flight available for Chicago at midnight 2 days after. She emailed the new ticket with no questions asked.

I intend to be in the airport by 8 hours before the flight instead of the usual 3 hours. Sure, there is beauty in the beast, and I'd appreciate it when it's there. But I have no desires of seeing it any time soon.

[Robert Z. Cortes is a PhD student in Social Institutional Communication at the Pontifical University of Santa Croce, Rome. He has an M.A. in Ed. Leadership from Columbia University, N.Y.]