Strength, dignity and grace | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Are you applying with the research section because you want to get out of proofreading?”

I was then working as proofreader for the Inquirer Lifestyle section. There was a job opening at research and, yes, I thought that was my ticket out.

It was an interview whose Q&A I had down pat, a conversation I had played in my head over and over with the supervisor of Inquirer’s research team. But that day, when I opened the door, I saw LJM.

So there she was, seated in the center of the room, waiting for my reply. There was neither sarcasm nor condescending cordiality in her voice. She was genuinely concerned, like a mother anxious about her child’s impulsive decision to play football instead of pursuing music lessons.

Suddenly, I was at a loss for words. I couldn’t lie, or give her my well-rehearsed speech. Not because she would certainly know—she already had a “gotcha” look on her face—but because this was someone who always made you feel like you’re special (even if you’re not).

Back then, when I was a journalist wannabe, LJM was the kind of boss who would go out of her way to give you a pat on the back, a nudge forward when you hesitated, and hugs and kisses and presents on Christmas Day.

Bridge of her nose

She slid her eyeglasses down the bridge of her nose, looked me in the eye, and said, “You belong to the Lifestyle section. You will thrive in a creative environment like that. You’ll get bored in research.”

It would be many years later, when I would sit down and have another long conversation with her. It was early evening. She had just returned to work after falling ill from pneumonia. I was on my way back to my desk on the third floor after feeding the pugs at home their dinner.

LJM was seated in the dark, all by herself, at the Inquirer’s second-floor lobby. I knew exactly what she was going through, as someone who also battled pneumonia, I knew she was resting, giving her lungs time to recover before taking the final set of stairs up to the editorial newsroom.

I sat next to her, and we shared our own experiences with the disease.

When she was ready, we stood up, I carried the stuff she had on her, and we slowly made our way up the stairs. But just before I opened the doors of the newsroom, LJM turned to me to retrieve her purse and documents.

Then I knew. I held the door open and allowed her to walk on her own toward her desk. I remember being in awe of her sheer strength.

That’s why when she passed on rather suddenly, on Christmas Eve, a day when she would, traditionally, give every single person in the newsroom a hug and a kiss, nobody wanted to believe it.

I didn’t. To me, LJM will always be that person who, despite her failing health, decided to walk into the newsroom with unflappable dignity, grace and confidence.

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