NOTE: This article appeared in this column ten years ago. I’m reprinting it in this issue because the twelve-year old girl mentioned has grown up to be a woman with a captivating personality. Like her mother, she confidently speaks up for what is good not only for herself but also for others. She recently graduated from New York University (NYU) with a double degree in mathematics and economics under a full scholarship. My admiration for what she has become.
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She will probably always remember the days her father tutored her. The birthday hugs and kisses she will probably never forget. The weekend visits from Manila will probably remain etched in her memory.
What separates her from many young girls her age is that she recently lost a father.
I never met this girl before. I first saw her on TV a few days ago. She was in tears and being comforted by what appeared to be one of her sisters. But she stood steadfastly and calmly as she looked at her father’s casket. Like her mom and her two older sisters, she appeared to have understood the meaning of it all.
For over a week now, I always see her on ANC channel, the Philippine version of CNN. Whenever the TV cameramen focus on her family, I always look for her. I want to see how she is reacting to the many honors, pageantries and adulations her father is getting.
She has been the focus of my attention. I don’t know why. It could be her age. It could be her quiet demeanor. It could be because she is the youngest in the family. It could be because compared to her two older sisters, she is the one who has not experienced life yet, being only 12 years old.
The more I watch her, the more I feel for her. How does a young girl cope with life without a father? Life, it seems, is not fair. It is not fair that a young girl, who is a freshman in high school, is suddenly deprived of enjoying her father’s company, especially at that time she just won a swimming competition.
But who said life is fair?
Life may not be fair. But life, even in tragedy, can teach valuable lessons.
The news of her father’s death must have hit her hard. She must have prayed hard that night she first heard that her father’s plane crashed and he was missing. I would not be surprised if she prayed the entire night until she fell asleep. And when his body was finally found, she must have initially denied it and prayed some more that it wasn’t so.
I wish I could meet her someday to ask her where she got the strength to stay calm and composed during the wake of her father.
I wish I could meet her someday to ask her what her father’s dream was for her.
I wish I could meet her someday to ask her what she remembers most about her father.
I wish I could meet her someday to ask her how it feels to be given the watch of her father that’s still in excellent condition after three days underwater.
During the entire necrological services that brought her family from Naga to Manila and back to Naga, she remained calm and appeared reflective. Never said a word. Sometimes I would see her on TV with a blank look, as if asking herself: Why?
The only time I heard her voice was when she read the epistle at the requiem Mass for her father. For someone as young as she is, reading in front of the president of the Philippines and various members of the cabinet, not to mention the presence of several priests and thousands of people of various persuasions, could be nerve-wracking.
But she stood tall: reading slowly, confidently and enunciating each word correctly. She maintained eye contact with the congregation.
At one point during the mass, I had a glimpse of her smiling when the main celebrant asked the congregation to show their appreciation for her father and the people started clapping their hands.
This time she did not hide her face behind the shoulder of her older sister. She was her own.
Her name is Jillian Gerona Robredo.