A snapshot in the life of o:)

My earliest memory of him travels back more than a decade ago. It was a sunny day and we were   inside a room with our school's directress. I think it was because of a contest that we were gathered. There were other students with us but I could no longer recall any of them.

For some reason, I remembered him. He was a quiet boy, sitting by himself in one corner of the room. I was already in high school, then, and he was still in elementary. At hindsight, I think he was shy because he was in the company of upperclassmen. But I would not really know.

I am also quite reserved, so I never had the chance to interact with him. Not a word.

The next thing I can remember is a tricycle ride. We left our elementary school going to one of the public schools in our city where the contest was to be held. We rode in groups of four or three, and I was with him together with a teacher. He took the back ride while I sat inside the tricycle.

I do not recall why I took the safer seat though I was the older student. Maybe I was not mature enough then to realize that I had responsibility over younger pupils.

Abruptly, my memory of him ends in that tricycle ride. I did get his name when we all introduced earlier-- Angel Faith.

I got the pronoun right. Angel Faith is a guy. His name is quite unusual for a male. That's what I first thought as well. I later found out that all three siblings had “Angel” for a first name. They only differed  in their second names-- Faith, Hope and Love.

For Bible geeks out there, 1 Corinthians 13:13 easily jumps out, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” I haven't really confirmed if their names came from the verse, but I think they did.

Fast forward to 2012. From that last memory in the tricycle, I was about to meet Angel again after a very long time. How were we reconnected? One word. College. My last memory of him was of a quiet elementary pupil, then, there was a big leap. He was about to enter Ateneo de Manila with a Bachelor's Degree in Health Sciences.

I expected nothing less from their high school batch's ace student.

I graduated from the University of the Philippines-Diliman in 2010 but continued to live on campus. So  I made it my unofficial duty to help students from my high school who entered either UP or Ateneo. I've been doing this since 2009.

That's how I got in touch with Angel or Gel, as some fondly call him. We agreed to meet one time in June 2012 so I could tour him around UP's flagship campus. In turn, he would also tour me in Ateneo at a latter date.

We had a number of correspondences via text and Facebook until we finally settled on a Sunday. The quiet boy a few years back had become more talkative... at least on cyberspace.

I met him on a Sunday afternoon. He was a lot taller than I last remembered, much taller than me, in fact. His growth spurt seemed to have stretched his body vertically, making him lanky. His jawbone was more prominent now, giving him angular features on his face. His hair was also curlier than I remembered.

I called out to him when he alighted from the jeepney. That was our first real interaction. I figured that Gel was still a bit quiet in person, a "man of few words," as the poets of the old would say. Yet he was a keen listener, processing every bit of information I told him.

I soon realized that his moments of silence and serious look were processing time. I did not know that at first, so I thought he disagreed with some of the things I was telling him. Yet as the seconds of conversation turned to hours and days, I understood that he enjoyed dissecting ideas, thoughts and words before giving his own opinions-- a deep thinker.

In Ateneo, he involved himself with cause-oriented groups. One of his organizations focused on children in  urban poor areas in Manila. They would spend time teaching and mentoring these kids, journeying with them out of poverty.

His dedication and love for these children always inspire me. Once he shared that they had to go and check on the community they were helping because of the floodings happening in the Metro. They made sure that the children and their families were okay, so they visited and helped them even if the weather had not yet cleared.

He has one profile picture on Facebook that captures this passion best. It was their organization's Christmas event and they were giving their adopted communities a treat. Gel posed beside one of his orgmates while carrying on piggy-back a young boy of around eight. Though he hunched at the weight of the boy, on his face was still the signature pursed-lips smile. The small boy behind him also gave a sweet smile of contentment and joy.

Yet Gel doesn't stop there. His passion for people is also evident in his active involvement with the humanitarian group, Gawad Kalinga. He frequents GK's house builds, going as far as Nueva Ecija up north just to help build decent houses for indigent Filipinos. He even spent his last birthday “GK site hopping,” serving people even during his special day.

I want to share what he posted after one of his GK builds last December. He writes, “I think this picture best summarizes my day today. 'Lundagin mo beybe!'” Then he adds the photo below to cap the experience.

For all his seeming reservations, Gel is actually an outgoing person. He loves trying new things,  but still has a soft spot for the old ones he has grown to love. Take his high school friends for example. Though most of his barkada went on to continue their schooling in our province in La Union, he never forgot to reconnect with them when time permitted.

This usually meant breaks-- summer, Christmas and semestral. They always find time to go outing when everyone's in the province. Whether it be on the beach, on a swimming pool, visiting our old high school or simply eating out in one of the fast-food chains in San Fernando City, it did not matter.

He may have successfully made new friends in Ateneo, but Gel keeps true to the old song that goes, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold.”

Finally, his sketch would be incomplete without mentioning Gel as the son and the big brother. His dad, Tito Rex, works abroad in the Middle East for some time now. This may explain Gel's independence in many ways. Despite the distance, however, Gel's relationship with him never suffered. They had a father-and-son bond that no distance or time can break.

As proof of that, he considers him "one of the greatest gifts God has given me, my family, and this world."

I also remember Gel telling me that he opens up to his dad about many things, but he is among the few people he can talk to about spiritual topics.

Yup, Angel Faith is very active in church. He had been an altar boy in our high school and continues to serve when he has the time in Ateneo. I think this is also what drew us together. I, myself, am interested in spiritual things about God, the Bible and Jesus among others.

His mom, Tita Jocel, works in the Philippines. Because Angel and his sister are already in college, she's usually alone in the province. I have not really asked Gel about his mom yet so I can only share a little about her, but this one thing I can say. She has been very supportive of Angel Faith early on, perhaps explaining his courage in experimenting with the new and the challenging.

In one mother's day message, I got a glimpse of Gel's affection for his mom. He writes as introduction,"Para sa pinakamamahal naming Inay, walang katulad walang kapantay, walang kapares, walang kasingdakila't mas lalong walang kasingganda. Happy Mother's Day! We love you! o:)" Then in another lengthy message, he altered several lines from famous Pinoy movies to fit a mother's day message.

One example is a line from the movie, "One More Chance." In honor of his mom, he edited it to read, "She loved me at my worst. She had me at my best, at kahit isang beses, hindi niya binalewala ang lahat… And she never chose to break my heart.”

And as to his younger sister, Gel has been her guardian ever since she entered college in the University of Sto. Tomas. He is protective of Angel Love, finding ways to spend time with her as she adjusts in her first year of college.

They spend time eating together and making selfies together. From their photos alone, one can see the closeness of the siblings. Angel Love even posts as a birthday greeting, “Dahil sobrang gwapo ng kuya ko kahit sino o ano pa ang itabi sa kanya. Akalain mong kinaya ng mundo ang isang Angel Faith!? ...Love you pogi!”

These things are only a fragment of the life of Gel. Of course it did not take that one meeting for me to know all these information about him. It took dozens of other meetings and conversations and texts and chats. And my impressions of him are borne out of personal observations these past two years. I'm a trained journalist after all!

But beyond the countless hours of exchanging thoughts about faith and life in general, our meet ups always had endings. When he rides back to Ateneo after spending some time in UP, I always utter a simple prayer-- that God would protect Gel and draw him closer to Himself day after day.

Why did I remember him from back then? I still don't have the answers. But perhaps God allowed it so that I can immortalize in words today a snapshot of Angel Faith's journey as he once more ventures into a new year of his life.

Happy Birthday! o:)

This may be long overdue but I've picked two quotes from Christian author C.S. Lewis for a summary of my birthday greeting.

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.”

Thanks for the friendship! God bless you always! :)

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