The battle for Christmas Hill

CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - December 28, 2020 - 12:00am

The troops were required to re-group, return to base and to make sure they wore the color pink. It was an odd instruction for the grizzled survivors of a war that had dragged on for nine months. Fashion or attire was farthest from the minds of men and women, young and old who had witnessed or heard of the death of friends and family but were denied the honor to pay their respects or even ascertain that someone dear had indeed departed or died in the war. The dead were simply wrapped up in sheets, bagged and burned. “It’s a war” and that statement is suppose to explain away all grief and queries. With every passing day, the innocents heard or read the numbers, statistics of a war that took lives along with their wealth and ravaged the nation’s economy. This war took away all sense of security.

It was a war like no other. It was fought on different levels and in so many forms like the devil’s version of a rainbow, pain for every color. Each warrior fought a personal battle, a different trial but all were familiar with the fear that hovered like a ghost that would not be denied its existence. What made it all so difficult was that they had to fight skirmishes, encounters, ambushes and although a war had been declared, the war was only against the main enemy and not its thousands of minions who brought sickness, poverty, despair, depression or bankruptcy. There were no super guns, smart bombs or chemical weapons in this war.

But everyday it killed and kept on killing. The cost of survival was so expensive, some even left instructions that if they fell, just to let them die so their families could save the money for themselves. No one would talk about it, but after nine months it was clear they all suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. They were numb to the reality, no longer questioning or challenging the turn of events. Sleep and slumber had left them in the night but visited them in the morning. They preoccupied themselves with menial tasks, hoping to snap out of it once the war was over.

They welcomed the call to regroup, a chance for rest and refreshments with family or community. It was Christmas after all and no matter the reality of the war and skirmishes around them, they too would not be denied their family tradition. They arrived bearing whatever gifts they could make, recycle or buy with little cash and they made up for the spartan gifts with delicious boxes and trays of cookies and pies. Slowly they trickled in, freshly bathed, wearing pink colored dresses long put in storage, old shirts, some even creased or stained but pink nonetheless. This time it was all about compliance.

Yes, we wore pink to honor our sister who recently got ambushed by breast cancer. That was her unexpected attacker. We wore pink to honor the thousands upon thousands of women who have been violently attacked by cancer. It was a simple request meant to be a strong statement. But it did not end there.

Little by little, ever so slowly, we learned about the pain, suffering and cost of our sister’s new and very personal battle with cancer. Like a soldier that been exposed to some chemical gas or victim of germ warfare, she recounted the endless waves of fear and initial confusion caused by the discovery. It was a grim situation that lasted for days, not knowing if her case was curable or rapidly terminal. That in itself entailed days of bone testing, blood chemistry test, cardiac tests, X-rays, MRIs, so on and so forth. All that was cheap. Yes, cheap because when we learned the cost of chemotherapy, it felt like the enemy had added insult to injury. It is no wonder that thousands of people end up fighting the early battles, going for one or two sessions of chemotherapy then opting to find a quiet place to meet their Maker. The cost of cancer treatment in the Philippines is scandalously shocking that it becomes a choice between getting treatments or saving the money so your family will have something if and when you die from cancer.

As my sister recounted her day by day battle, I realized we were all in the middle of another fight, another battle, this time it was the “Battle for Christmas Hill,” we came here for the right to celebrate Christmas, but it felt like the enemy was beating us in every hour, in every round. Unless we turned things around, our anticipated joy might just turn into unscheduled mourning. Mercifully, God used our stomachs to turn our minds to food and prayer. We gritted our teeth and fired off prayers, fighting emotions and made a beeline for the season’s best offerings.

In the midst of it all the first child of the new generation made the rounds reminding us of what “Sleeping in Heavenly Peace” looked like. We mingled, the old and the young exchanging tales of trips, dreams and goals, we played games, exchanged gifts, laughed and made fun of each other. For a few precious hours, we all forgot about the “war” against COVID-19. We all forgot our personal battles, our demons and our fears. We all managed to fight and defeat every obstacle that wanted to stop our climb up Christmas Hill. We won the battle – we will win the war. By God’s grace, we will win the war!

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E-mail: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com

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