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On Liverpool and the Meaning of Gratitude

A few thoughts on being thankful.

Liverpool FC v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images

I’m writing this ahead of Thanksgiving in America, knowing that it will land in your laps after that has happened for most of you. Or, in the case of folks on the West Coast of America, perhaps the second turn through the buffet line. (Hawaii and Alaska, I haven’t forgotten you! You will certainly get this in a manner that’s timely!)

Which is a prime spot on the calendar, I think, to reflect on the concept of gratitude. What it is to be thankful. Who it is we’re thankful for. And why we express it.

Liverpool fans have a lot to be grateful for this over this past year and we’ll get to that in due time. But, given that this is my work and you know I love taking circuitous routes to get to my eventual point, we’re going to start some place else.

I want to start by talking about three different stories about three different homes and three different people who made those places better by simply existing. I want to start by being grateful for the people we’ve lost.

I was born in Manila. A little neighborhood that had, perhaps seemingly impossibly, given birth to some of the biggest political figures in the Philippines through the 80s and 90s.

I remember the floor of the home we occupied - a subdivision of a parcel of land that my Lolo - grandfather in Tagalog - and his brothers had divvied up amongst themselves, erecting tall and narrow homes to house multiple generations. This was the reality I was birthed into and, for a brief moment that lasts in my memory, where I first intimately knew the meaning of family.

My family eventually moved to America, chasing not the American dream as much as being pushed out by the lack of opportunity. Pulled, in a way, by the promise of better jobs. But also forced away as a way to honor the sacrifice of the people who’d come before us. Because they would be relying on us making it and doing well.

We immigrants talk a lot about the things we give up and lose when building a new life elsewhere. Language and food and customs and tradition all dropped as if having spilled out of an overstuffed suitcase. Falling out somewhere over the Pacific or into the slipstream of time that creates its own kind of distance between there and here.

I lost my Lolo this past April. But, in many ways, I suppose, I lost him many times over the 31 years since I’d left the Philippines. I lost him first on that day we boarded the plane and lost him little by little when the phone would drop over the rickety, transoceanic phone lines and again when the phone cards became too costly. I experienced losing him years ago as his memory faded. I lost him, finally, on a quiet night or morning - I don’t even know which - thousands of miles from where I was.

The losses are a way, I guess, to be reminded of what does exist. What still lingers. Something to be grateful for in the midst of the grief that still finds new ways to reveal itself to me. His gentle smile. His dogged determination. The way he managed to build a life and raise a family despite extreme personal hardship - coming of age during a war, surviving occupation, and watching the love of your life slowly die as disease ravaged them.

My Lolo was a mountain of a man and I’m grateful for all that I’ve learned either directly from him or through the model of his life. I’ll miss him forever.

The thing about immigrants is that when you make your way to a new place, you become instantly grateful for the many people that make your existence possible and the burden lighter. The people in your neighborhood become family because your family exists over a border and across an ocean. You build new ways to recognize that.

Filipinos have honorifics for people in their life based on familial ties. And when you hit a particular generation, everyone’s that particular honorific. For example, I said my grandfather was my Lolo. Well, all of his brothers would be my Lolo, too. All of my aunts would be *titas*. All of my uncles would be *titos*. You get the picture.

In America, we had a lot of *titas* and *titos* who weren’t blood relatives, but who filled that role in our lives. Three weeks ago, I lost one of those titas, my Tita Dina. She was the mother of my sister’s grade school friend. One of the few Filipino families living in the area, her friendship was invaluable to us and to my mother, who formed fast bonds with her.

Tita Dina would sometimes care for us when my mom was at work. When my father became impossible to stay with, she gave me, my mother, and my siblings a safe place to stay.

The Tita Dinas of the world are important to us because they are a port in this wild storm. A place that is sometimes hostile of our presence and doesn’t offer much in the way of empathy, you cannot make it in new places without someone like her. I think I’ll miss her forever, too.

The thing about immigrants in America is that because of the losses and because of the distance and because this place really isn’t always that welcoming, we need each other to form community and to pushback. We are often tasked with being the impetus for change.

I first met Aidé two years ago when she’d began working for an immigrant rights organization that interacts often with me and my work. She is kind and warm and as someone who holds a lot of anxiety over my abilities to serve the people well or whether or not I can accurately do so without overstepping my bounds of privilege given my nationality, Aidé’s openness was a source of peace for me.

It’s no wonder that she was so good at what she did - development - given how easily she seemed to find the good in people and manage to foster those gifts. I am still amazed, in my quiet moments, that she saw anything in me to nominate me for a lead role for a committee that I sit on.

One of my last memories of her was seeing her power through at the end of a 24 hour shift. It was a crisis point for our region - the government had begun, without warning, dropping off asylum seekers in our downtown area with no resources in the way of food or translation or even money for a phone call to connect with their sponsors in America. Aidé was a microcosm of the way this work affected us personally; we were all called to rush into the breach. But the weight of it all was palpable on everyone.

Still, she worked and gave all that she had for her people during that time. And it was well and truly indicative of the way I remember her in our interactions.

Two and a half weeks ago, we received word that she was battling a serious illness and needed some help financially. A week later, I was sitting in a movie theater, watching an advanced screening of a film as part of a work retreat, when a text came in indicating that her health had taken a steep turn for the worse. They would need a priest and they were hoping I might find one.

By the time I’d managed to get a hold of the person who reached out, to ask for more detailed information, she’d passed.

The community turned out for her at the viewing and in services since. A small measure, I think, of the way her life’s work had taken root by the large wake of people who’d come to testify to her goodness. We will miss her forever, too.

Liverpool haven’t had many losses to pore over in the past 12 months. At least, none that have mattered yet.

And as we all remain hopeful for what’s to come, I think it’s a good time to also appreciate what that really means; to not have had to think of loss as a Liverpool fan. What a gift that truly is. How lovely to not live in the state of angst and anxiety of other fandoms.

How wonderful to root for a team that makes it easy to root for them. Where the qualifications don’t exist - that at least they’re successful or at least they’re fun to watch or at least they seem a generally decent bunch. All of these things are true.

I suppose, that gets to the heart of it all: that I’m grateful for good people. The good people who’ve managed to build a team without any losses. And the people whose loss will be felt because of all the good they poured out of their lives.

Happy Thanksgiving, Reds.

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