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The Lady at Lily Hill

Peace is not entirely what you would look for when you’re lost; moreover, it’s something you wouldn’t expect to find. 

But a few weeks back, before the province went on lockdown again, I found myself lost in Clark while going to Angeles City (there’s this shortcut along the friendship highway.) I had a turn too early and got myself traversing what seemed to be a dead-end, making things worse- I was running out of gas. 

“Just my luck!” I said sarcastically. I was already late for a meeting with a client offering commissioned work; the next gas station is probably a mile away, my phone can’t get any signal, and I don’t even know where I am- getting lost is one thing, but being deprived of ways to get out is a concoction of hopelessness. 

I wasn’t just having a bad day; I was having a bad month. I wasn’t lost just for that day; I’ve been going astray the past weeks, not knowing what to do and where to go with problems piling up, not to mention the hassle of this pandemic. You can imagine how bad my temper was. I parked on the roadside and decided to look for help, tracing my way back to the main road. 

A few minutes later, like a spectral ghost hidden among the dense trees, there’s this white-gray figure of a lady. Recalling all those tales about ghost encounters in Clark, I stopped on my track thinking: “wait, was I seeing things?” but out of curiosity, I walked closer with shaking legs only to find a vacant lot bordered with what seemed to be fences adorned with Japanese flags and paper lanterns. Right in the side-corner, on a Buddhist shrine, there she stood–

— the goddess of peace. 

She stood there like a sentinel since 1998 along the slope of Clark’s Lily Hill, made of 5-ton granite; her name is Kannon. 

A deity of Japanese Bodhisattva, Kannon is known as the goddess of mercy and compassion. But her shrine is labeled as that of the “goddess of peace.” If you’re a daily passer-by along Gil Puyat Avenue in Clark, you might recognize her signage. 

But what is a Buddhist shrine doing here in a rooted American place like Clark? 

I later learned that the statue was commissioned by Ekan Ikeguchi, abbot of the Saifukuji Temple in Kagoshima, Japan. It was molded in China and shipped to the Philippines. Yearly, ceremonies are held at the shrine by Shingon Buddhist priests who pray not only for the souls of fallen soldiers (Japanese, Filipino and American) during World War II and for peace to prevail in the world continuously. 

Pilgrims go to the place to pray for the cessation of violence and conflict– a part of the Japanese renewed vows for peace. 

Still, why of all places there? Hidden and unnoticeable from travelers. 

While trying to check for phone signals, I noticed several workers were taking a break nearby under the shade of trees and went up to borrow their phone so I could call for help; after my SOS call, I asked for directions and my location.  

“Lily Hill,” they answered. 

I took a glance at the place, and I couldn’t find any single lily or water lily, just trees. 

One worker, seeing my confounded expression, explained. The hill wasn’t named after the flower; it was an ambiguation of the Kapampangan word “lili” which means “lost” as in “malili”- to get lost or “maligaw” in Tagalog, it was named by early Aeta settlers, which Americans respelled to “Lily.” 

What a coincidence- there I was looking for directions, in a place called “lost.” 

While waiting for a friend to rescue me, I decided to pass the time and sat near the shrine; then, another question tickled my mind. Would one find peace when you feel like there’s no sense of direction? 

I’d feel more anxious and perhaps even afraid when suddenly I’ve gone astray with no assurance of getting to my destination. 

Just before the new year came, I was thinking of continuing my master studies since classes are online, and I was venturing on finally getting my own place in a perfect location where I’ll get a beautiful view of Mt. Arayat. I prepared everything. But just as fast I planned them out, some dire circumstances got in the way, forcing me to change priorities. I felt lost, not even back to square one, and I was left in the middle, not knowing what the next move is. 

The spot was said to separate the calm, quiet creeks and mountains from the bustling Clark metro, an epicenter of peace between two Clark zone faces: the peaceful mountainsides and the busy-turmoiled freeport. 

I realized how sometimes, circumstances with directions and planned things do not usually bring along with it the sense of peace. We are often haunted by the “what if it’s wrong?” or “what if the plan doesn’t go the way I want it to happen?” and somehow going away from the predetermined path and getting lost allows us to find a different look on the picture, a different perspective. 

Looking at how calm my surroundings was; the blue sky, birds on the trees, and even the smell of fresh air. It was the most peaceful I’ve ever felt in months. There, at the lady of lily hill’s altar, I realized we couldn’t discover beautiful paths without getting lost.

Gerone Baladhay
Gerone Baladhay
Gerone is a freelance writer, editor and writing coach. He is a spoken word artist and author of a chapbook called "Burarul". He loves traveling with his second-hand Toyota 2013 vioz. A fan of pizza, anime, all that is Kapampangan, the beach, mountains, BL series, and the oxford comma.
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