Saturday, January 17, 2009

Finding Joseph

SHE was born to be misunderstood.

When she joined our circle of women, she stood a head taller. Her riotous graying curls blocked my view of the tiny red-and-gold figure in its gilded glass house. A beige strap peeked from her gossamer-thin sleeveless blouse. A girlish ribbon of white cinched the lower V of her back.

Those curls, that indiscreet strip, the faint spots age left on the back of her dimpled upper arms. I tried to move my eyes back to the distant figure of the Holy Child but my eyes had a mind of their own.

When the sea of devotees broke into song to open last Friday's 7 a.m. Misa de Translacion at the Basilica Minore, the woman in white began to shimmy, quiver, rock. There may have been only a pocket of space separating her from the rest of us. Her curls, shoulders, torso, hips and rump conveyed this space was a sweeping stage, a grand auditorium, a raised dais.

At the end of the first two songs, she lifted both arms and offered herself to him. While the rest of us stolidly sang, holding on to our bags, packages, fans and portable chairs, she blew Him a kiss.

Though the rest of us who surrounded her did not budge, I sensed the molecules shift among us. Standing next to where I slouched against the barricade was a group of older women, clad all in brown. Blinding white veils covered their heads.

They, too, glanced when the Woman in White began her dance-worship. One of them, a woman cradling a sleeping infant, ignored her and stared ahead.

Blocked by those curls, I thought of Jezebel and wondered if a permed head also wreaked as much havoc during ancient times.

When the direction to sit came, the Woman in White unfolded a stool. Glancing back, she saw the mother holding the sleeping infant. She stood up, touched the other woman on the arm and offered the stool. But the mother shook her head, without even glancing at her. When the Woman in White repeated her offer, the mother tightened her arms around the child and refused, sharp and final.

After the woman resumed her seat, I found out I could now look down on those curls.

When the baby woke, it first made no sound. Its mother shifted and began to rock and sway. But it would not be rocked to sleep; it wanted to nurse.

When the mewling protests began in earnest, the mother's brown-dressed companions shared the mother's distress. The mother whispered that her daughter, who brought the bottle of milk, had gone to the toilet. Someone whispered that the girl will have to cross oceans to get back to them in this crowd. Another remembered that their group had since moved from the spot where she left them. And the final whisper: neither the women nor the girl in the toilet brought a cell phone.

Remembering how my milk flowed when my nursing sons woke and cried, I was about to urge the mother to nurse the infant when I saw the zipper at the back of her brown dress. Then I, too, wondered if the girl with the milk bottle would ever come.

The mother beseeched the Woman in White if she could take her seat. The older woman immediately stood up. The rest of us women drew closer and shielded the mother as she settled down and prepared to nurse. When the mewling quieted and the mother became still, we, too, were becalmed, as if our long barren breasts had found the release and life once more flowed.

In a whisper, one of the women in brown told the Woman in White that the infant was born 12 days ago. In the Misa de Translacion, or Translocation, the Santo NiƱo is reunited with Our Lady of Guadalupe. The images are then brought to St. Joseph Parish in Mandaue City, completing the connection.

From advent to Christ's adulthood, Joseph was near invisible but essential: he helped the Mother bear the Child, the Man to achieve His Father's plans.

At mass end, I found myself again beside the Woman in White, pinned against the barriers as priest after priest sprinkled holy water and benediction on petitioners and icons.

"Father, drench me," she said, swaying. While people turned away from her uplifted face and raised arms, I smiled at Joseph. 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu's Jan. 18, 2009 issue

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