Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Invisible snowflakes

published 27 December 2015
Take a group of four women, all pushing 40, with last (maiden) names starting with either B or C.
They have known each other since grade school, where they were often seated next to or beside each other, for obvious alphabetical reasons. They belonged to the same group of friends, knew each others’ families and visited each others’ homes. 
Make no mistake about it: They were miles apart in temperament. Class Number 9 was bubbly and always had a story to tell—if she can do so without first bursting into laughter. She was brought to and from school by her uncle in an owner-type jeepney, which they also used for their tables-chairs-balloons catering business. The caldereta was mean; she would bring a serving or two if there happened to be any leftovers, much to the delight of her friends.  
Number 13 was already into Mills and Boon in Grade 6 when everybody else was giggling about Sweet Dreams of Sweet Valley High. She liked Johnny Depp and everything Hollywood when most of the others were subsisting on Ang TV or That’s Entertainment. She knew names and series her peers did not know about. 
Number 14 was the quintessential good Catholic student. The class president, she was always very early in class, and always mindful of what her parents—simple folk who sent their two daughters to the best schools through a bakery they ran—would say or feel. 
Number 15 was the daughter of a cancer-stricken newspaper reporter. She lived with her grandmother and gay uncle in a small apartment. Even then, she had always felt her life was charmed, turning out for the best despite early adversity. 
They attended different universities: 9 pursued a business degree along Taft, 13 studied broadcast in Diliman, 14 went into industrial pharmacy in Faura, and 15 took literature in Loyola Heights, getting married in haste just a year after their high school graduation.
Over the following years, life took over: careers and relationships, children and parents, homes and travel, technology advances­—social media, specifically. 
The four had been Facebook users for many years, but it was only this year that their longest-running chat conversation began. They themselves forget what had started the chat, but it has remained, containing conversations from the mundane to the catty to the silly to the profound. 
They have not stayed where they began: 9 is a BPO manager who works strange hours; 13 is now a Canadian citizen working at a public library in Ontario; 14 is with Big Pharma, living in a southern subdivision with two children; and 15 is a journalist and a mom to four nearly-grown kids. 
Despite these, the four friends have never been as constantly in touch as they are these days. Because one can go on Facebook anywhere, one can articulate any random thought or vent about an episode at work or talk about the growing pains of children or issues they want to raise with their partners. Sometimes they gossip. Every time, they have a guaranteed sounding board.  
They post pictures of the room they are organizing, their cluttered desks at the office, the pile of dishes they must wash, their I-just-woke-up hair, or take crazy selfies lying on their beds. 
The feedback is instant, too. You are told you are being a fool or get comforted or obtain a better perspective of your situation. You get chided for the crazy things you did in your youth. You get sound advice on a life crisis. With this chat, it’s like one always has the three others behind her. Voices of the kumares in the background.  
  This holiday season, Facebook has added cute features to its chat functions. You can change the color of the text boxes containing your conversations. You can have a heart or a Christmas tree or yet others on the lower right side of the conversation box. Press the heart, for instance, and a slew of floating hearts invades your screen. Press the tree, and snowflakes fall—ah, Christmas magic!
But 14 gripes she cannot see a single snowflake; 13 says she would fly to the Philippines to help with the phone settings. 15 tries to change the color to pink—making everybody wince. 9 sometimes says nothing but presses the tree in succession, making the snowflakes fall. It’s all magical, even if it’s just virtual, and even when we don’t see it at the same time.
We say thanks for many things at Christmas. One of life’s greatest blessings is the gift of lasting friendships. What distance? What packed schedules? In things like this, yes, there is #forever. It’s truly magical.  
adellechua@gmail.com

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