My Quintessential Life, Memoirs by Bei Zonaga

My Quintessential Life is a very interesting, engaging and truly fascinating memoirs!  I couldn’t put it down and could have finished reading it in one sitting but decided to do it slowly relishing every story from the beginning to the end.  The author claims that she’s not an extraordinary person, nor a famous personality. Yet, in her own words she says, “But I believe we are all special in our own ways, and so our lives typical as they may seem.” She details her story to unravel her genealogy in clear-cut prose, leading up to her retirement in 2019.  And the book is dotted with beautiful black and white as well as coloured photographs.  The result is a charming, poignant and tender journey into an unexpected lens of a daughter, sister, friend, wife, mother, and career woman rolled into a rather unique and really ‘Quintessential Life!’

In many ways it’s like reading a social history of the Philippines from the time she was born to the present.  Cultural aspect aside, she’s just trying to tell her story, but reading it also gives me a sort of cultural identity.  Indeed it’s a privilege to enter into her world, to look at her life, from her mirror.  It’s worth mentioning that I’ve never heard of Banaba Compound, a residential community that Caltex established in Bauan for their employees in the 50s, (I worked with Hitachi in Makati Office in the mid-90s, and the manufacturing plant was in Bauan, and although I’ve made many trips to Bauan, and to this day I have former colleagues and friends who live there, no one has ever mentioned about this place).  Banaba seemed like, from Tita Bei’s tale, a typical American ‘midwest small town’ neighbourhood.  (In fact, I was transported back to my mother-in law’s hometown in Arkansas where no one locks the door and people leave their car keys outside, and we used to visit there every Thanksgiving.)  Banaba was an idyllic place to grow up in the 50s-60s where she was surrounded by a loving parents and family friends that enabled her to forge long lasting friendships. No doubt her upbringing has contributed a lot to her confident demeanour and sophisticated personality.

Remarkably, her journey is not marked by so much pain as it is for me but rather a surreal, relatively unimaginable ease (can’t help but immerse myself in her world as I was reading her story). The memory of a single event she had in high school when her Dad was diagnosed with cancer made me teary eyed. I lost my own father to cancer at a young age, and Tita Bei’s words drew me in and resonated with me.  Deep thoughts and emotions from a similar experience resurfaced, and I thought, “Oh, no! I sure do hope her Daddy didn’t die when she was in high school!” I dropped the book and decided to continue reading the next day.

There were many instances when I had to pause after reading something that resonates with me. For instance, leaving her comfort zone to study in Manila; her college years at UP Diliman; studying abroad, getting married at 31, etc. “What a coincidence! I’ve experienced all of that, and I also got married at the exact same age as she did!” I silently told myself. 

More spectacularly, through her Dad’s high-flying career, the family lived in the US and Australia, and she managed to get a rare admission at the then newly established Philippine Science High School, and she also earned her college and post-graduate degree from UP Diliman, an achievement that many young Filipinos can only dream of.  Told Jared that I feel like I do share a special bond with Tita Bei, and really got to know her a little bit better after reading her memoir. There’s some lessons that I learned from her life story.  It truly inspires me to follow her example of hard work, courage and determination to overcome whatever trials and difficulties God brings into my life.  

Ultimately, it’s amazing to discover God’s unique plan and purpose in her life, and He continues to unfold them day by day as long as she’s on earth. And I can’t wait to read her next book!

Let me share this scripture verse that she shared at the closing of her memoirs because it’s also one of my favourite verses.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing.In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”