10.15.2008

Poverty Is A Choice

Believe it or not, you can choose to be poor!

Years ago, I was jobless for months. My savings were dropping. I did some volunteer jobs, only walking to and from the office every day to save the little money I had for the day. At lunch, I would eat only two pieces of banana. Depressed, I asked God why I was experiencing poverty. Was that His way of favoring me? But, what is poverty anyway? Pointing at the beggars on the sidewalk of Makati Avenue, I asked, "Is that poverty?" I had no answer but there's only one way to find out. Be one of them.

Leaving all things behind except for the clothes I was wearing and a few bucks, I left home and spent the night in a park together with all sorts of homeless people. I couldn't sleep the way the homeless could. I had fear in my mind that someone might just strip me naked and steal everything I had, or find myself in the morning with a knife on my chest. Thinking that my life was already a throw-away, I went to places where men cruised for flesh trade. That idea in my mind could save me from my misery. I was disappointed! Nothing seemed to be favoring my plan.

Early morning, I decided to spend the rest of my life up in the boondocks. I arrived at an island late in the morning, hungry. Two pieces of bread and a drink satisfied my craving. I found an old and dusty chapel. I decided to stay there thinking that it could be my home. In one of the pews, I slept for I thought long hours, but time seemed so lazy my head was aching impatiently. It was serendipitous that I found myself inside a chapel. It reminded me to pray. Perhaps, God would grant me grace to understand what was going on in my life. For hours, I reflected and prayed. A few days from then, what I was wearing would already stink. Days after days, I would have sold my shoes and my watch and everything I was wearing and carrying, walking barefooted, begging from tourists in the island. How long would I be able to endure that kind of life?

Under the scorching heat, I walked towards the mountains. Eyes of local folks were all at me. Signs on trees were painted with red "NPA". Thoughts crossed my mind that at anytime I could be held a slave, then killed by the rebels; or I could be one of them. My tummy started to alarm - a warning that a call of nature would soon erupt. With a new lifestyle, I should start learning how to build a make-shift toilet the way dogs and cats do it.

A passenger jeepney passed along the road, spraying dust in the air. It stopped. The driver asked if I wanted I ride. I sat at the rear end. In front of me was a young man who after a while started talking to me. He asked me if I was looking for a place to stay. When he got off, I followed him thinking his place could be my next home. I was wrong. I had to pay P500 for the place. My budget for my daily food was suddenly washed out. A few days from then, I would start begging. It's what I wanted, anyway, but I could not disregard the great fear inside me.

That night, I spent a few minutes in the water. The sea was pitch black. The quiet darkness deafening. I could swim my way to death but I did not. Yes, I wanted to end my life. I could no longer endure the misery in my mind. But a kind of force was preventing me from doing it. A force was pulling me to go home.

Before I closed my eyes that night, I had made a decision. My experimental immersion had to end. I had to choose: life with hope, life without hope aka poverty, or death. In the morning, I decided to trash the idea of poverty. The ship for the nearby city was leaving at 8:00 AM. With a few cash left, I sailed home. But I was not giving up on death yet. I was still depressed. At the edge of the ship, I thought of jumping off. Until I felt a strong presence in my head or in my heart. I could not figure out. That strong presence was in tears, crying in grief about my hopelessness and His helplessness. My freewill was stronger than His. Was I experiencing auditory hallucinations?

I gazed my eyes into the open sea and sky. The green mountains were a beauty to behold from afar. The wind was refreshing. Was this life beautiful? It was. Life is. Suddenly, there was peace.

I chose to be alive again.

Hungry for truth, I desperately needed an answer. My religious upbringing taught me that being poor brings me closer to God, that poverty is a ticket to heaven. In my experience, heaven strongly disagreed with my religious knowledge. I can choose to be poor anytime I want it, and be miserable forever. I can choose life, on the other hand, with unfathomable hope. There's a threshold between poverty and misery. When you cross that boundary, poverty becomes ugly. Between misery and hope, you can choose hope. In such case, poverty desists to exist. Poverty is a state of mind. It's a choice.

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