Reversal of Fortune
Gaunt, toothless, with a full head of white hair, and wearing a loose mid-calf house dress, she is a familiar figure in the neighborhood.
Early in the morning, she rummages through every garbage can with a long stick that also serves as her cane. Then she puts her finds inside a sack.
In the beginning she would do it on the sly, when nobody was looking—usually very early in the morning when everyone was still in bed, or at noon when people were having lunch.
Then she dared doing it openly and everybody pretended not to notice. But now, every morning she does it as if it were her birthright, and people greet her as they would a neighbor gardening or jogging.
“Good morning, Mrs. Galvan!” I say. Sometimes she greets me back, sometimes she doesn't hear, or pretends not to hear, and goes about her morning routine.
Years ago, Mrs. Galvan* had it all.
She was the wife of a CEO in a big company; a lady of leisure whose only job was to see to her children who went to expensive private schools, and oversee her coterie of maids and drivers in her family's private motor pool.
But suddenly, her husband, who seemed infallible, had a stroke. He was rushed to the hospital where he stayed for months on end, going through every conceivable tests, surgeries, and other expensive medical procedures to stay alive.
When all hope was gone, he was brought home, where he lingered a few more months, draining the family of all its resources.
Because the kids were still in school and Mrs. Galvan never worked a day in her life, there was zero income. The maids and cars had to go, and the children enrolled in public schools.
“I sometimes earn as much as P1,000 from what I find in the trash,” Mrs. Galvan proudly tells friends. She uses the money for her share in the pay of the village security guards and the homeowner's dues.
Neighbors stockpile things that are still recyclable—crates and cartons, newspapers, wood scraps, etc. I, for one, don't shred my reams upon reams of drafts. All these go on top of the heap of our garbage cans, waiting for Mrs. Galvan to “find” them and sell to junk dealers.
She lives alone in the big house now, but her children (all married) visit her often. I am sure they could afford to make her a lady of leisure once more, but Mrs. Galvan neither begs or nor compels anyone to help her. No dole outs, please.
Her children, in fact, have all been persuading their mother to live with one of them. But Mrs. Galvan is defiant, “This is my house; here I am free to do anything I want.”
They have also been dissuading her from doing what they call an embarrassing preoccupation. But the moment they leave for their own homes, to the trash bins Mrs. Galvan goes.
“I am doing nothing wrong. This is a way to earn my keep. It's nothing to be ashamed of!”
Mrs. Galvan has found dignity in what people look down upon as the lowliest of “jobs.” And a community has found in her a worthy project, without waiting for a Typhoon Ondoy to make neighbors come together. Mrs. Galvan now wears rubber gloves, a gift from a family, when she does her morning routine; she has enough sacks, given by other families, for her treasures.
And nobody dares stop her—not even the security guards to whom she gives a part of her earnings—from what she feels is honest work for honest living.
Right on, Mrs. Galvan.
Through you, God teaches a neighborhood lessons in fortitude—a village, lessons in courage . . . and in grace.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV)
*not her real name