Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Weddings

How do you feel about weddings?

I attended two weddings this month and I realized that weddings in the Philippines are always big celebrations. Everyone looks forward to the most anticipated bridal march, to the heartfelt vows of the couple, to the merry making during the reception. People are naturally happy. There’s a lot of hype about the entourage, the pretty bridesmaids’ dresses, the couple’s pre-nuptial photo shoots and the beautiful flowers that adorn practically every door, table and chair in the church and the reception area.     

Yes, most weddings share these same elements. But it’s interesting how all these are so different from what marriage is really all about.

Photo credit: www.cnn.com

First, wedding guests are usually curious as to who is included in the couple’s entourage. These are the people who helped shape the lives of the bride and groom and ensure that the different aspects of the wedding go smoothly. In the marriage however, while friends and family remain, it is the couple who shape their life together by the choices they make each day; whether it’s as simple as overlooking the fact that he didn’t put the cap back on the toothpaste or consciously deciding to smile more often because this small act makes him happy.   

Next, the pretty bridesmaids’ dresses create a sweet and lively ambience to the whole affair. Bridesmaids are like the modern-day ladies-in-waiting who attend to every whim and fancy of the bride. But these really are for fairy tales only. Marriage doesn’t work at a single wave of a magic wand. Marriage isn’t always sweet, lively and happy. Marriage is for real and it works with a lot of hard work and a thousand small kind acts.

Then, wedding guests are usually eager to watch the couple’s pre-nuptial photo shoots. Who wouldn’t be? I know I am each time I attend a wedding. Photo shoots are beautiful, manicured, polished to perfection. Marriage however is anything but that. As couples live through their married life, there is no camera that deletes and shoots again the words and actions they say and do to each other. Husbands inevitably realize that words left unsaid can be just as hurtful as the words uttered without much thought. Wives, on the other hand, learn to fully grasp that a man’s need for respect may be more important than his need for love.  

Finally, the wide variety of flowers that adorn the wedding area transforms it into a wonderland of sorts. In marriage though, things are not always as appealing. I remember someone telling me that the thrifty nature of her husband which attracted her in the beginning became insufferably cheap for her after years of marriage. Yes, flowers are pretty. But in time, they wilt, droop and dry. Who said people are different?

I attended two weddings this month and on both occasions, the sense of curious wonder and excited anticipation for a life of togetherness was very much in the air. Though these may eventually subside or be lost after some time, I think a wedding is always a promise of something new.

Maybe this is why I love weddings. I love the idea of pursuing a dream, of starting on a clean slate, of beginning a new journey.

What about you? How do you feel about weddings?

Oh, and by the way, a short story I wrote some months back was recently published on Short Fiction Break. Like weddings, it's also a step towards pursuing a dream. Hope you can stop by here and give it a read.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Good Days and Bad Days

She got on the bus and looked around for an empty seat. She spotted one with an elderly lady sitting by the window. Keeping her handbag and two shopping bags on her left and right shoulder secure, she made her way through the aisle and plopped down on the empty seat. She was young, pretty, probably in her early twenties. A couple of blocks later, the elderly lady stood up for her stop and asked the pretty young woman to let her pass. The woman looked up from her iPhone, annoyed at the intrusion and didn’t bother to move her shopping bags out of the way.  Without much choice, the lady squeezed her way out, knocked off one of the woman’s shopping bags, spilling out half of its contents.  “Damn!” the young woman screamed to which the lady could only offer a hushed apology.

One late Friday afternoon, traffic was at a standstill. The rain lashed out on commuters and private car owners alike. Nature’s a great equalizer; no one is excused from its wrath. It doesn’t really care on whom it shines or pours. Amidst a sea of cars that crawled the highway as if trailing a funeral march, the engine of an SUV coughed, then let out a loud tapping noise, and seconds after, knocked out the engine dead with a low rumble. The driver stepped out and manoeuvred the wheel to push the car to one side of the road. The rain didn’t let up and the SUV hardly moved despite the driver’s desperate attempt to turn the wheel and push the car at the same time. One car after another moved along though driver and passengers alike ogled for a second or two at the poor man, drenched as he was in the pouring rain. And just when loud thunderstorms crashed out of the darkened sky, a couple of university students came to help and push the car. The Armani watch on one boy’s wrist and a Diesel on the other gleamed in the rain, as they stuck out their arms to push the dead SUV out of everyone’s way. Was it their designer watches and signature shirts or their kind and neighbourly act that caught people’s attention?

Instances like these have made my daily trips to work far more interesting than I would have thought possible. Again and again, they showed me how attitude drives our day.

That young woman happily listened to music on her iPhone but decided it was a bad day because someone knocked over her shopping bags. For the SUV driver, on the other hand, the bad weather gave him a wonderful opportunity to realize how people, even those who appear snobbish, elitist or snooty, can make our day into a good one.  

So what am I driving at? There really aren’t good days or bad days.


Every day, we have 24 hours to live it the way we want. And what drives the day is our attitude towards the events that come our way.

Regardless of the clothes we have, the gadgets we use, the car we drive or even the house we live in, the kind of person we are shines through by the attitude we wear each day.

I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve been blind-sided on a number of occasions and behaved quite badly. Even so, I continue to struggle each day hoping that my attitude looks better than any of the stuff I wear or keep in my purse.

What about you? What do you wear each day?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Beautiful Old Goat

For this week, I'm back to short story writing. I'm taking the WEP Challenge of Denise over at Write...Edit...Publish. This month's topic is Changing Faces. Hope you enjoy it.


The alarm clock shrieked and a gray-haired woman tumbled out of bed like a soldier answering the bugle call. The moonlight still glistened from the window and already, she moved with precise crisp movements. Like a soldier at camp, she pulled the bed sheets, fluffed the pillows, and covered the bed with a light blue duvet that mirrored the color of her eyes. Her movements, with staccato alertness, amused the man on the other side of the room. Dressed in his favourite blue suit, he watched her, his wife for twenty five years, and smiled at how looking at her still took his breath away. Her dark brown hair, now filled with what she called gray highlights, outlined her face the way a frame hugs its subject into a close and deep intimacy.

“Good morning” Helen said, as she went over to sit on his lap and hugged him close.

She looked at himHe looked just as good as the day she first met him. She noticed that his arms were buff as she eased their weight on her shoulders. He leaned over and briefly touched her lips with a wisp of a kiss.

“It’s a busy day today. I have to leave early,” he said.

 She wrinkled her nose as he stood up and set her down on a chair like a child. The soft cushion of the chair somehow felt more welcoming than her husband’s lap.

“Stupid old goat!” Helen thought. “What did you think he’d do this early in the morning? Would you look at yourself?”

Photo credit: www.tripadvisor.com

Her eyes darted to the mirror by the dressing table and a strange woman looked back at her. There were wrinkles under her eyes and shots of grey hair stuck out from her head. As she brushed a strand of hair away from her eyes, she caught a glance of the woman’s feather-like hand, all wrinkled with veins as long as her dark brown hair, screaming out of her skin. Then the woman in the mirror shifted to the right, just like she did. The dressing gown she wore looked vaguely familiar though the color was faded and its soft woollen material was thin and looked tattered with age.

“Oh no!” Helen said. Her hand clasped her mouth, “that’s not me, is it?”

“Honey, a little help down here,” a booming voice called.

Helen stood up and called out, “Be right down, dear!”

Again, she glanced at the mirror. Yes, there was no way she could deny it. The old and gray-haired woman was no one else but herself.

“When did I grow so old?” she asked.

In the kitchen, the coffee machine made gurgling sounds as it spat out drops of coffee on the counter. As Helen stretched out her hand for the towel that hung by the window sill, the warm glow of the morning sun touched her soft sagging cheeks.

“Oh look, my daffodils have bloomed!” she said.

“Do you remember the time when we first got the house?” she asked. “The garden outside was the first thing you checked out. You said you wanted many golden daffodils to smile up at me every time I worked in the kitchen.”

“You still remember that? That was ages ago!” her husband replied.

Helen looked back at him. He was smiling. It was the same smile that made her knees weak and her cheeks glow into a blushing pink when they started to go out together. She turned away embarrassed.

“You were good with your hands. Remember how I teased you and said you’d be a farmer when you’re   old and gray?”

“You did, didn’t you?” he said, “Maybe I will... someday.”

Helen turned and looked at her husband. He was busy reading the morning papers and the sun cascaded a light shadow on one side of his face. One eyebrow was slightly raised and his eyes were slanted at an angle.  Helen knew this look. He did this every time he found something interesting.

Unlike her, he hardly changed, she thought. He was still good looking despite his age. His running regimen every day after work kept him fit. She’s been told that women half her age would find him very attractive.

Helen clutched her robe and remembered the gray-haired woman that looked back at her in the mirror upstairs. With a worried look, she glanced at her husband again. Why would he still want me, she wondered.

“Do you remember when the kids were growing up and you built that bird house on that tree up there? You painted it blue because you said it matched the color of my eyes even if Lucy wanted it pink.”

“I remember,” he said. He stood up and on impulse, put his hands around her waist, “Are you all right? What’s up with the sudden recollections?”

“I’m fine! I just remembered how things were before, you know, back in the days when we were both young and free and...”

“Well, you seem to be remembering a lot of things except that... I really need to go to work now.”

“Oh, I’m sorry! Stupid me, I haven’t even made breakfast yet.”

“That’s alright. I can get something at the office.” He gathered his things and planted a light kiss on her mouth.

“Don’t let the mirror fool you, my sweet. You are beautiful... old, gray, or whatever else comes in the years to come.”

As she closed the door behind him, she passed the mirror in the hall and the same old woman stared back at her. For a long time, Helen just looked at herself. She held out her hand and touched the lines that left puddles under her eyes, beside her mouth, and around her neck.

“You know he’s right,” she said to the woman who looked back at her.  “You’re not a stupid old goat! You’re a beautiful old goat!”

And she walked back into the kitchen, her tattered robe falling loosely behind her jaunty trot.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

It's storm season once again

“I don’t like the weather in the Philippines,” a foreign student of mine blurted out one day. When I asked why, she replied, “It’s scorching hot in the morning, becomes windy at noon, and rains like mad in the afternoon.”

I could only nod in reply. We only have two seasons in the Philippines, dry and wet, and yet, we’ve had too much of both in recent years.  

Weather reports of floods in some parts of India last week reminded me of the many times we also experienced the wrath of nature. Most recent was typhoon Yolanda (International name Haiyan) last year which ravaged many parts of the country. The damage to both life and property were so bad it made it to CNN news.

Photo credit: newsinfo.inquirer.net

Today, we are bracing for another storm. Though it doesn’t look as bad as Yolanda last year, I’ve already seen some facebook posts reminding everyone to stay safe and pray that the storm path changes so that we may be spared of its angry fury.

I have no qualms with prayer. But to pray for the storm path to change does not seem right to me.  What happens if our prayers are heeded, where will the storm go then - to another town, another city, another country? Is it right to pray for one’s safety at the cost of another’s?

As I watch the rain pour endlessly from my window, I am grateful that I have a roof over my head, that the place where I live has never been flooded despite the many strong typhoons our country has faced, and that I have never lacked food or warm shelter during these moments of great unpredictability. Does that have anything to do with my position on praying for a miracle in times like these? Perhaps, but I also think that the more we try to avoid something, the harder it becomes for us to resolve it.

I remember the many conversations I had with a student before who complained about everything that happened to her. On one of our last conversations before she graduated, I asked her, “Don’t you see a pattern in everything that’s happening to you?” Surprised, she looked at me and said, “That’s exactly what I thought! I feel like a mouse trapped in a maze and I can’t seem to find the way out.” It didn’t take very long after that for her to realize that skirting her issues was the actual problem, and that by avoiding these issues, she never learned the lesson that would help her resolve them.

Things happen, sometimes, for a reason; other times, for no reason at all. But whatever the case, they happen to tell us something.

Storms are no different, I feel, whether they are the forces of nature that ruin our homes or the unfortunate events we experience in life. In both cases, I don’t think it is right to pray for the events to change. That only helps us avoid it. What happens when the next storm comes? Do we pray again that it changes course? And do we keep doing the same thing for the next storm and the storm after that?

I pray because I have faith. But this faith does not fool me into thinking that I can control what happens to me, or that I can get rid of that cancer that ails my sister, or that I can prevent the death of a friend, or that I can stop the storm from putting so many lives in danger.

No. My prayer rather is that I may have the strength to endure what happens and the courage to live it through. 

A priest friend of my husband says it well...“The Spirit doesn’t change life or make everything in it a source of happiness. Rather, the Spirit enables us to see beyond the present sorrow or pain or disturbance and to anticipate the peace and the joy that await us beyond.”

Rainbows, people say, come after the rain. Surely there’s one that awaits us after this...

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Family Reunions

I was in a family reunion of sorts this weekend and an old aunt whom my siblings and I haven't seen in ages was there. We went down memory lane as she recounted story after story after story of how things were before, how she lived in the Ivory Coast for two years to take care of her grandchildren, how despite her humble beginnings, she managed to give her children a decent education and a more promising future, her recollections of my aunts and uncles and their peculiar characters and lots of other stories that kept us laughing in stitches till the end.

As we said our goodbyes, I couldn't help but look at her with much admiration. While some people age counting their many regrets in life and a few others grumble all the way to their grave, this old aunt of mine was a picture of peace and contentment. I whispered a prayer that I age just as gracefully, perhaps with regrets, but grateful for the life I've lived and happy at the little offering my life has been.

Family reunions like these remind me that though life is short, each of us is given a chance to fill it with our own special mark. It doesn't matter how much we have in possession or how far reaching our impact is or even if we are someone to the world. Today, I learned just how much more important it is to be the world to someone. And in a way, that is what really matters. 


And to Malou, a friend of mine who is now struggling with her own battle, we can be a part of her world by doing whatever way we can to help. 

Please help me spread the word. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Picture Perfect

My husband gifted me with an oven on our last anniversary. Unlike some women, I never took cooking or baking lessons when I was younger. So getting an oven for a gift was either a gentle request to cook something new or a light reminder of one of my New Years’ resolutions.

For some weeks now, I’ve been trying various kinds of recipes; pizza, brownies, baked salmon, cream dory in white sauce... Most times, it’s a hit or miss but that’s okay, my husband says, nobody gets it perfect at the first try anyway.

Today, I thought I’d prepare lasagne for lunch with some fresh vegetable salad on the side. I’m not exactly an expert in the kitchen but I try.

After two hours of mixing, stirring, boiling, baking; but mostly watching through the glass door of the oven at my handiwork, I pulled out the dish that just about held my attention the whole morning...

Well, it looked like lasagne. But more importantly, it tasted like lasagne!

I snapped a photo of the dish before we dived in to a hearty lunch.  Not exactly picture perfect, I thought.


Then again, nothing in life is picture perfect. We just do our best, the best way we can and hopefully, there’s time to try again. 

I know I’ll be trying...

Monday, August 25, 2014

I'm Back!

Surprise, surprise! I'm back!

It's been ten months since I last posted here. There were times when I asked myself whether I should take down my blog since I wasn't posting anything anyway. But somehow, I knew in my heart that I'd want to go back to it at some point. I just didn't know exactly when. The bigger and perhaps more important reason, however, was that it was just too painful to take it down. The blog contained reflections, short stories and poems I'd written during a quiet yet tumultuous period in my life. Had I taken it down, I would have felt stripped of something important, almost like stealing candy from a child.

Many things happened since October last year (that was when I last posted) that took me away from here - work, responsibilities, relationships, and so on. Like some people say, life happened. But mostly because, I felt there wasn't anything worthy to write about. To put it simply, I lost the passion to write.

What changed now?

Me.

I changed.

I'll talk about that some other time. For now, it's nice to be home. I'm happy to be back and be able to write again.


I apologize for my absence, dear readers. Hope you'll give me another chance. 

Are you still all on board?

Friday, October 04, 2013

Not just another history lesson

A visit to the 9/11 museum three years ago aroused my professional curiosity. While I empathized with those who lost loved ones on that fateful day, my feelings were divorced from any human anguish. This is not to say I didn’t feel for people’s loss. It just means that no matter how hard I try, there is no way I could imagine or even fully understand their pain.

I went around the museum three years ago, browsing through the varied memorabilia like I read World War 2 accounts in history books. To me, it was all part of history and as a history teacher, I felt it was my responsibility to use these materials to give life to my lessons. I needed to make these people real to my students - as real as they were to those who loved them.

Fast forward to 2013, I had another chance to visit New York City. Needless to say, a visit to the One World Trade Center (also known as Freedom Tower) was at the top of my list. Again, I had to feed the same curiosity I had three years ago.


Getting off the subway at Chambers Street, the building made of glass, steel, and stone loomed in the distance. The sun shone brightly that day illuminating the majestic height of the tower even more. 

Entering the memorial, the mood was sombre. There was a hushed silence despite the number of people that crowded both north and south pools. Set in the footprints of the original Twin Towers; the pools, from where a thirty-foot waterfall cascaded into a center void, had a low protective wall or railing where the names of the victims were inscribed.  


As I clicked away at my camera, I couldn’t help but notice lone figures here and there with their bowed heads in quiet reflection, or a couple or two with their hands stretched out on the bronze stone, as if softly caressing the person whose  name was etched on it for all eternity. Many times, in between clicks of my camera, I whispered a prayer, and asked for peace for those whose lives were indiscriminately cut off and comfort for those who still mourned for them.


Three years ago, my visit to the 9/11 museum was greatly motivated by my desire to make my history lessons as inspiring as I could. This time, I hated to admit even to myself, that I simply wanted to earn some bragging rights for getting to visit a place that held much significance. Shortly after though, the realization left a bad taste in my mouth. I felt I desperately needed something to save me from such selfish motives.

And someone did. From underneath the cascading waters that flowed into the void of nothingness, he came to my rescue.

He was Ronald L. Gamboa. Born on April 30, 1968 in the Philippines, he had since lived in Los Angeles, California. He was a passenger of Flight 175. Like many others, he too died on that fateful day.


I never knew or ever met Mr. Gamboa. But he was from the Philippines as I am. We spoke the same language, lived and breathe the same culture, probably even shopped or visited the same places in Manila at one point or another. Looking at his smiling face on the Name Finder that was made available for visitors at the memorial, I suddenly knew my visit wasn't just another history lesson. It certainly did not earn me bragging rights.

9/11, twelve years later and three years since my first visit, was not just real. It had become painful too.

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