The dizzying rise in the price of oil worldwide has wrought havoc in the lives of people everywhere. In the Philippines — where being poor is the norm — the steep rise in the prices of basic commodities has left “Juan de la Cruz” the Filipino Everyman catatonic as he is simply unable to “make ends meet” in his daily struggle to merely survive…
However, long before this current crisis, years and even decades ago, I had already come across people, their [ very ] comfortable personal circumstances notwithstanding, for whom simplicity and frugality had always been the preferred way of life.
There was a Laguna dowager who lived in a splendid home filled with unparalleled treasures which she and her husband collected zealously during their marriage. Yet she lived, and dressed, simply and occupied herself everyday with unending work and prayer. She led a very disciplined life. Every early evening, she went to her ledger on an antique lectern in her boudoir and wrote down all the day’s household expenses down to the last centavo. For all the splendor that surrounded her, she remained grounded in life’s realities and was very charitable, in her own inimitable way, to the less fortunate. She defined “blessed are the poor in spirit.”
There is an unassuming old lady of a vast Manila real estate fortune — buildings upon buildings in the old commercial districts of Quiapo, Binondo, and Divisoria / Tondo — living in Forbes Park who, despite her great wealth, lives a life of “moral decency” [ by her own words ] and understatement. She generously supports several charities anonymously and spends endless hours of prayers before her simple altar. Despite her age and health, she still troops to the Guadalupe public market for foodstuffs, to Divisoria for textiles, to the Greenhills “Tiangge” for fancy jewelry and is — as with most of the established rich — always on the lookout for bargains. She wants to leave a legacy of education, hard work, duty, decency, and an honorable surname to her children and grandchildren as these were also handed to her [ and her siblings ] by her distinguished parents who were pillars of morality in their lifetimes.
I remember a dear, uberrich Spanish mestiza friend of mine whom, for all the great international wealth of her family, lived contentedly in a three-bedroom condominium unit of modest proportions [ in a building owned by her mother along Roxas boulevard ]. There was her husband, she, her baby daughter, and the irascible, all around “yaya”-cum-cook-cum-maid with whom she had frequent arguments. No visible “status symbols” such as “important” art and furniture; everything simple, comfortable, and tasteful. In amazement, I told her: “I admire you, you live so simply considering what you can really afford. Way below your means.” And she answered: “I have everything I need, Toto. I’m happy. A few problems here and there but nothing really terrible. I’m OK.”
One would suppose that having grown up in a rich family in Forbes Park, graduating at the top of the class at an Ivy League university, marrying an heir to a great agricultural and manufacturing fortune, having many children, and living in a commodious contemporary home would mean a socialite’s life — filled with endless parties, couture dresses, and haute bijoux — for this lady in Ayala Alabang. But NO. She took after her very sensible mother and father who built up their own great fortunes. She is a traditional homemaker: takes care of her children, delights in cooking and baking, and likes to sew, making her children’s clothes as well as her own. Truly an admirable lady in this day and age.
It seems that the greater the wealth, the greater the understatement.
The moral responsibility of wealth.