The Tomorrow That Never Was: A Tribute To Gina Lopez
There is magic in a philosophy called stoicism but despite having a good grip of what stoicism is about, I still struggle to make sense of the most horrifying heartbreak I could ever handle…death.
Gina Lopez was and is a prominent name in the Philippines. She may be part of a clan that owns one of the biggest media companies in the Philippines, but she was unlike any other popular member of a rich family. She spent her life not wanting to be served but to be of service.
She was, as most of us know, unusual. She was the type who sang and professed her deep love for a tree. She was the one who, at the end of her video messages and public speeches, spontaneously sang “You” by the Carpenters and “I believe I can fly” by R Kelly. Who, among all public figures, has done that? She almost always ended her statements with “I love you.”
How can I not admire a classy woman like Gina Lopez? Now, no amount of wishing can make my dream of meeting her come true. Our paths may have never crossed but she’s surely one who I will never forget. What a delight it would have been had I met her.
I reached out to her when she was appointed DENR secretary. I was elated to see someone whose passion and values can bring forth the right kind of change in Philippine society. I shared the same sentiments as hers when it comes to protecting the environment and the quality of life of my fellowmen. So, without hesitation, I expressed my support and offered to volunteer my time in any of her future programs in DENR. That was in February and March of 2017. I never heard from her or her staff.
I followed her adventures on social media but soon enough, I knew less and less. Probably the algorithms of Facebook had something to do with it. I have had a few glimpses of her updates and was happy to see how well she was doing but I never insisted and I never tried reaching out again. And besides, I am not on social media most of the time.
When she died, I went through her video updates in her Facebook page and it was heartbreaking to realize that I totally MISSED all the important video updates and invitations which she uploaded on social media. One of these was a video message in September 2017 where she acknowledged the intention of the many people who wanted to follow her lead and become eco warriors. Not knowing about it, I did nothing. Another one was a video inviting people to join her in a wellness weekend in La Mesa Watershed. I didn’t see that either so I did nothing.
I rarely regret my own choices even when they have gone wrong especially when I am the only one affected, but not making enough effort to meet Gina is something I deeply regret.
Why does her death mean so much? The life that she lived was huge, that’s why. She embodied the ideals and principles and practiced the theories in development work which I studied in college. She inspired and touched so many lives and made herself a genuine example of love. I am sure that this same terrible loss is felt not just by those who met her but by people like me who admired her from a distance and who felt the impact of her sincere love for humanity.
2018 was a lost year for me when it comes to making it more meaningful and memorable. I lost my chance to give my time for the many wonderful causes that she spearheaded. Cancer cut short a life so beautiful. I thought she was going to be part of the future I see for myself. Sometimes later turns to never. I thought she had more time.
I didn’t follow her updates enough to be able to be aware that she actually responded to my request as she called for volunteers to sign up and join her. I didn’t even know she had cancer. I was under the impression that she was doing well and busy. She always seemed to be her usual “distinctive” self. A little frail but still funny, animated, sweet and passionate.
I couldn’t believe the news. How could she die so suddenly? I just saw her post a few months ago about her recent travels. The first thing that came to mind was that she died in an accident. I was in a state of shock. It didn’t sink in fast. I thought I was going to be okay. I was wrong. In the next few days, I started to feel heavy. I was, no doubt, grieving. I had to go through my own feelings of loss, guilt and regret. It never occurred to me that she was about to be gone too soon. She always seemed to possess vitality even in her last few months.
Gina Lopez was a woman to break my heart twice. The first was when I painfully watched her fight against big mining firms as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. It hurt to see her let go of the position and power that she surely could have used properly to push our county forward. And secondly and the most painful of all was to accept the fact that she’s gone.
Rain poured heavily and almost without a halt in August when she died. A meaningful way for Mother Earth to show that it was mourning the looming death of one of its fiercest and most dedicated warriors. Everything that lives must die…and so is the cycle of life. All returns to earth and become part of nature to nurture new life. Death approaches everyone. It’s just a matter of when.
Every heartbreak offers an opportunity to learn. As I went through the process of grieving, I realised how we all run out of time. Time is a precious and finite commodity that we need to spend with care. And when we have regrets for things undone, we need to process them well in order for us to be able to let them go. Our mistakes should keep us grounded but we should never let them keep us down.
It made me reflect on life and death and how important it is to give our limited time to the things that matter to us. Gina’s presence and leadership is something that could never be replaced. But we can continue to live the values that she stood up for. Doing little things for the environment the right way in our private spaces, volunteering our extra time for environmental projects, spreading awareness in social media or donating money to environmental causes are some of the things we can practice.
The colourful and meaningful life that she lived has become the force and legacy that continues even after she’s gone. Her legacy, which is love, lives. Her familiar jolly voice will never be heard live again though it will echo in all the lives that she has touched.
Thank you, Gina Lopez. Had we met, I could have easily uttered these words…We love you. I do.