Belen and I were the older of 13 children, some have gone before her. Living in separate continents, we had been separated by time and place. In the last few years, I have been free to travel and have chosen to spend a great deal of time visiting her in Sydney, Australia to recapture time lost. I have learned a lot about her during these visits.
|Belen and I November 2014|
We reminisced about our childhood and having had the good fortune of having been born poor (though we did not realize it at the time.) We were born in a remote village in the Philippines. It was not in the map. We lived in standard issue bamboo and nipa (straw) huts. It had no outhouse and we did our business outside and washed up in the river. We planted and harvested rice and crops with our grandparents, learned to swim in San Miguel Bay by tying two dried coconuts for life preserver, rowing out in the middle of the bay, and jumping off capsized canoes. (Ironic that as adults, we could not swim to save our lives.) We marveled at how far we had come. We thought it was a hoot that we had these experiences because it taught us to take life as it came. And Belen looked the world in the eye and met it squarely.
Belen studied law at the Universityof the Philippines and after a few years of law practice, moved to Sydney, Australia. She struggled to get accepted into law school again and eventually became a solicitor specializing in immigration law, which became her passion. She was very a formidable lawyer, researching every possible loophole, often taking cases to the High Court if needed. She was responsible for having many immigration law loopholes closed. Government immigration lawyers coveted her briefs and notes.
Belen would have died rich but for the major flaw of allowing her heart to get in the way of business. It was not uncommon for clients to come to her after exhausting their life savings with other lawyers with unsuccessful outcome. They could not pay her customary fees but she took them anyway. I met clients who would come to the house to see her because they had a problem "That only Belen Oag could solve." It became a family joke together with her usual instruction to "Bring a piece of paper, write down and follow everything I tell you." She was passionate about making sure that the immigrant brought the family intact and worked tirelessly to ensure that parents got their children. She was also a stickler for timing. Like a chess player she could see the moves from start to the desired outcome. It was important not only to know the what, why and how but especially the when.
Adversity was not a stranger to Belen. She had more than her fair share of ups and downs and she took them as learning experiences. Belen took care of siblings who strayed from their life paths at such enormous financial and emotional burden to herself, even I could not fathom. She served numerous people some of whom even bit the hand that fed them. She had her standard remark of "It was a lapse in judgment. I just need to learn from it." On the surface, she seemed to be a glutton for punishment because she had no qualms about offering help again and again. But like I said, her heart always led the way.
Towards the end of her life, as we talked about things, I discovered her life secret. Belen loved the challenge. She reveled in it. "I first have to define the problem and know what it is and how it came about. Then I can figure out the solutions." The more difficult the challenge, the more resolute and invigorated she became. She believed that there is no problem that cannot be solved in law or in your personal life. You just have to research it. You have to bite the bullet and ask yourself how you got into the situation that you are in and only then can you get yourself out of it. She even took to studying the challenge of the casinos, a pastime she enjoyed. Whenever we went, I would be disgusted after losing my $50 casino donation quota while she would end with $500-1000 wins. She would laugh at me and out of pity, gave me her insights on how to beat the slot machines. I can't wait to try it.
Belen made no excuses for herself. She admitted to being a lousy homemaker. She could not cook either. When it was time for her daughter Mabelle to put on the annual boarding school senior bash, Belen gathered the committee, polled their talents, made the assignments saying it was not a democracy, that she knew nothing about giving a party but that she can take care of the trash and clean up. I am told that to this day, it is a boarding school event yet to be topped.
Sometimes, when I would suggest a business attire to go to the office, she dismissed me with, "What for. I am comfortable and confident within myself. My attire does not define me." You would not know it though because she was the slowest moving person you might ever meet. She moved slowly, spoke softly and never had a harsh word for anyone. She is the example how to slow it down so you can get things done faster.
|Children Mabelle and Wello|
Towards the end, she counted her blessings, her pride in her two children, Mabelle and Wello who had grown to be exceptionally good people. She lamented that she could not see granddaughter Aria grow up. But she said if she had to do it over, there would be nothing she would change.
|Belen Oag 1945-2016|
Beloved sister, move on with your journey unencumbered and free to find challenges yet to be researched and solved. But every now and again, let your spirit touch mine. I will know that it is you. Know that you are loved. I truly truly miss you.