December 16, 2009

A Christmas Prayer

If, like me, you're feeling a little swept away by the tide of holiday preparations, time to pause awhile...

O Lord, time flies so fast. Imagine, it's already mid-December. Every year, the flurry of activities during the season leave me feeling flustered, drained out. There's also gladness and satisfaction, true. But the frenzy and the strain that ensue dilute it.

Lord, beginning this season, please, please help me change this. Take over completely -- as I shop for gifts and stuff; as I plan, prepare for and attend holiday activities; and as I go about fulfilling family and social commitments...

At all times, please make me mindful of what is truly important. Remind me always that the gifts and the gatherings are merely bonuses, trimmings that round off the gladness of the season -- but they are not essential.

WHAT TRULY MATTERS is what's inside, the LOVE that we celebrate and share with family & friends and the less fortunate -- and I ask that You never let me lose sight of that. You have so blessed me, Lord. Let gladness and gratitude fill my cup to overflowing, that I cannot help but reach out and share, not only at Christmas time but every single day of my life...

October 6, 2009

I Believe I Can Fly

Whenever I backslide and retreat to my comfort zone, I re-read this story-reflection and listen to the song that follows...


A man found an eagle's egg and put it in the nest of a backyard hen. The eaglet hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them.

All his life the eagle did what the backyard chickens did, thinking he was a backyard chicken. He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He clucked and cackled. And he would thrash his wings and fly a few feet into the air.

Years passed and the eagle grew very old. One day he saw a magnificent bird far above him in the cloudless sky. It glided in graceful majesty among the powerful wind currents, with scarcely a beat of its strong golden wings.

The old eagle looked up in awe. "Who's that?" he asked.

"That's the eagle, the king of the birds," said his neighbor. "He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth -- we're chickens."

So the eagle lived and died a chicken, for that's what he thought he was.

Anthony de Mello, SJ (1931-1987)

October 3, 2009

Life Lessons from Dogs

You wouldn't believe the extraordinarily profound lessons I've learned from the many dogs who have dug, trampled plants, chased cats, scampered and barked their way through my family's life.

First and foremost - and just about everyone who has ever had a dog knows this - you learn about Unconditional Love and Loyalty. My son's first pet, a Japanese spitz named Cookie, amply demonstrated these traits. Noel, then 10, was her master and she was extremely devoted to him. Noel could do no wrong, and even when he scolded her for making poo or pee where she wasn't supposed to, she was still loyal to him, following him around like a loyal page his prince. Once she had ascertained Noel's whereabouts, she would position herself close by and snuggle comfortably, content that her master was within sight. If Noel went to the bathroom, she'd stand by the door like the Sphinx until he went out.

At night, she would sleep in Noel's bedroom which adjoined ours. We would keep the door between our rooms open, so that his bedroom could also be cooled by the big aircon in our room. How loyal was she to Noel? In the middle of the night whenever she needs to pee outside, do you think she wakes up her master? She goes to our bedroom, stands on hind legs and with her paw, tugs at my sleeping husband, who of course wakes up and has no choice but stand up and let Cookie out of the room!

Another lesson you learn is about Perseverance. We used to keep two groups of mongrels in the adjacent lots. How they manage to sneak out of their respective barracks to get to freedom - and the joy of chasing cars - is truly a study in perseverance. The group at the side lot digs through and soil and hollow blocks under the gate; the ones at the back, especially the most persevering of them named Juday, through a high jump. Or could it be that she could almost "fly"? Imagine this scenario: I'm seated on the Lazy Boy in our living room, watching TV. The sliding door made of wood and glass (the lower-half portion being wood and the upper-half, glass) is closed. As I'm seated there, relaxing, I look at the glass portion of the door and see a dog suspended in mid-air! It's Juday making her leap to freedom over the fence!

Noel's second spitz Cupcake taught us about Compassion and Grief. She became sick with parbo. If you've know what it's like to love a pet you will know how it feels when you see her crouched under the bed, unable to eat and too weak to move, that you have to administer dextrose to her. And to see the look of utter helplessness and sadness in her eyes, as if beseeching you to do something to help her, can be quite gut-wrenching. Especially because you know - because the vet told you - that there's no more hope. All you can do is try to make her as comfortable as possible.

And then when the next time you find her all stiff, what's to keep you from crying? The thought that at least now she's at peace and gone to her Maker? I cried till my eyes dried out, but my son did more than that. He locked himself inside his room and wouldn't go out despite repeated knocks at the door. But I knew he must have been crying because his response was choked and barely audible. When he finally came out after a few hours, he had with him a beautiful sketch he had just made of Cupcake. It was his way of dealing with the loss.

Sometime ago, I had a sudden insight from observing Wowie, another dog who used to patrol the vacant lot at the back. He was all alone at that time, because his partner Juday - the one who could "fly" - was more relentless in pursuing freedom, and had made one last fatal escape and got run over by a car.

I was looking out through the grill gate at the backyard while eating breakfast. In between bites I observed how patiently Wowie lay there beside the gate. Sometimes through the cyclone wire he'd see people walking down the street and he'd bark at them. But they were just hollow perfunctory barks. He's expected to bark when he sees people, right? Sometimes, he'll run around, trampling on some heliconias in the process. I have no idea what he's running after. Maybe he's running after a frog or a mouse or a snake... who knows? Maybe he's just amusing himself. But most of the time, he's just there, standing watch, waiting. He'll really perk up when one of us opens the gate and goes out to where he is. Then he'll really be all over you - with his tail wagging vigorously he'll follow you around and nuzzle you until you almost trip over him and shoo him away.

That morning I suddenly found myself wondering what it would be like to live a life like that. An endless waiting for something - or someone - to come out and be with you - and the emptiness of nothing to do in between. Then I remembered something I'd read a long time ago. About one author's opinion of what purgatory might be like. He believed that purgatory is not so much a place but a void, a state of emptiness, of waiting until we are purified and deserving of being with God. I thought to myself, if purgatory is like that, then that's pretty much like what's going on out here. You'd be in a constant state of emptiness and an endless waiting for the gate to open, for God to finally let you in.

So you see what a remarkable experience it has been having pet dogs around... You begin with some very mundane learnings and may even end up with Glimpses of the Eternal!

Excuse me while I shoo away this puppy that's gnawing with such gusto at my slipper...


October 1, 2009


And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy.

Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931)

September 30, 2009

Huwag Kang Mangamba

I'm at a loss for words for our countrymen suffering from the devastation brought by tropical storm Ondoy. I can only offer the words of this song...

Based on Isaiah 43
Lyrics by Onofre Pagsanghan
Music by Manoling Francisco, SJ
Featuring Himig Heswita

September 25, 2009

Why the yellow ribbon

Maybe I'm just being sentimental, impractical and naive. 

But there's a tiny yellow ribbon tied to my everyday handbag and a bigger one tied to the antenna of our car. The ribbons have been there since Cory passed away in early August. Initially it was a sign of affection and respect for a truly great woman who made us proud to be Filipino. But even before Noynoy decided to seek higher office to continue Ninoy and Cory's legacy, I already made the decision to keep those yellow ribbons until next year's elections, if only to show that I wanted change. But more importantly, to show that I wanted a return to what I call "the yellow values." What are these "yellow values"? 

A genuine love for our country. He cast aside fear for his life, gave up a comfortable life in Boston, and returned to uncertainty -- and as it turned out, to certain death -- so he could help lead the country back to the path of democracy. She likewise cast aside whatever fears she might have had after her husband's tragic death, gave up her much-cherished privacy (and we would have understood if she had chosen to keep it as the grieving widow of a martyr), and led her countrymen in the fight for freedom against the dictator. 

The courage of one's convictions, integrity, an abiding faith in the Almighty, and the ability to live by values that are in consonance with such faith. He refused to bow to the will of the dictator during the dark days of the regime, choosing to suffer the hardships of imprisonment, and in the process rediscovering his faith, than compromise his principles. She had a deep faith, governed without being tainted by corruption, readily relinquished power and ensured a smooth transition, then continued to speak up and fight whenever our democracy was under threat, even if it meant going against the ruling power. 

Seemingly simple values. But a tall order given the society we have, and the times we live in. What are the times we live in? A simple illustration: an honest and hardworking public official who has not enriched himself in office is thought of as a fool! 

It will be an uphill climb because as a people, our values have been damaged, corrupted, by decades of greed, apathy and cynicism. On a personal level, many of us have been able to develop a remarkable ability to compartmentalize our lives and rationalize every kind of behaviour, that the bad becomes commonplace and acceptable. 

We cannot pin all our hopes for our country's salvation on the shoulders of one man. Our redemption as a people will have to come from our own will and determination to recover what we know in our hearts to be true: we are a people capable of greatness. Ninoy, Cory and many others have shown this to be so. 

But, we need to embrace one important truth -- any change for the better has to come from deep within each one of us. We need to be the change we want. We have to look within ourselves and realize that the reason things are the way they are in our country is that not enough of us who love it, were willing to do something even just a little bit more than what we've always done. 

Some of us will be more capable and have more resources to do bigger things. Some of us will not. But we can all do something in our own little way. It's up to each one of us to find out what that might be.

For me, it begins with tying a yellow ribbon.

September 19, 2009

I hope you dance!

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
...and when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance!

Sung by Ronan Keating
Written by Tia Sillers and Mark Sanders in September 1999.

The song was written during a particularly difficult time for Sillers, when she was in the midst of divorce proceedings.

"For ‘I Hope You Dance,’ I had written the opening line, 'I hope you never lose your sense of wonder,’" recalled Sillers. "I had just broken up with someone, going through a brutal divorce. I needed to get away, so I went to a beach on the Florida Gulf Coast. Sitting on the beach and reflecting about the break-up, I felt so small and inconsequential. But out of this difficult time came the inspiration to write ‘I Hope You Dance.’ As I was leaving the beach, I remember thinking that things weren’t really so bad, that I would get through it. That’s when I came up with the line, ‘I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean.’"


An Aha moment years ago and I'm still on the ferris wheel

I keep telling myself I'd get off the ferris wheel of busyness to make time for the things that matter. What am I doing here still going around in circles..?


Around the corner I have a friend
In this great city that has no end
Yet the days go by, and weeks rush on
And before I know it a year has gone.

And I never see my old friend's face
For life is a swift and terrible race.
He knows I like him just as well
As in the days when I rang his bell
And he rang mine. If, we were younger then,
And now we are busy, tired men.
Tired of playing a foolish game
Tired of trying to make a name.

Tomorrow, I say, I will call on Jim
Just to show I am thinking of him.
But tomorrow comes and tomorrow goes,
And the distance between us grows and grows.
Around the corner! - yet miles away,
Here's a telegram sir, Jim died today.

And that's what we get and deserve in the end.
Around the corner, a vanished friend.

By Henson Towne

Someone told me that a friend of hers had died suddenly from a stroke. She was feeling very regretful that they had not seen each other for nearly two years, although they had managed to keep touch during birthdays and Christmases by phone. Now her friend was gone and she was sorry for the times that could have been.

Her sad news had me feeling nostalgic again for friendships I have not been able to nurture these past many years. That's why this little poem "Around the Corner" strikes such a strong chord in my heart - it's the poem that nudges me from the complacency that friends whom I haven't seen in ages will always just be there around the corner. I always seem to think that I can call and resurrect them anytime.

I realize that all these years I've lumped "reconnecting with friends and family" along with the other activities that I will pursue when I finally have the time. It's there -- along with "paint the sunset; experience Florence; garden; write a book; learn to tango like J-Lo..."

You see, I've always been the type who likes to "save the best for last." I think: Well, there's still a million things I need to do, I'll just do the pleasant stuff afterwards when I'm through with the million things.

But guess what? Maybe the million things will never really get done because every time I finish one, another just comes in to take its place.

And maybe the tomorrows I was reserving the wonderful things for will never come.

Friendships and family are two of God's most precious gifts. And I want to enjoy them as He intended me to. So I guess this is truly an instance when I shouldn't save the best for last.

Instead, the best should be first -- so that they will last...