One Correct Answer

"Where do you get your inspiration for your stories?" I am often asked in my book talks.

“From everything and anything,” I reply. The answer is incorrect —and a cop out. You see, book talks are hurried affairs and time isn’t a luxury. But in a post, well, time never slips by unnoticed; you keep clicking and it keeps coming back.

There are a thousand and one answers to that question. But let me give one now by telling a story.

Pearlie, my youngest niece, was in her mother's womb when her family migrated to Australia. Strictly speaking, there is nothing Filipino about Pearlie—now 17—except her blood. Aussie food, Aussie accent, Aussie school, Aussie nationality, and Aussie friends. Aussie Pearlie (pronounced Puh-lie in Aussieland)!

When Puh-lie was ten, her dad (my brother Earl) flew in his whole family back to the Philippines for a visit. That was my first time to meet her—she with a pair of big eyes that became even bigger when she saw things we locals consider inconsequential, if not boring.

Oooooh, coooool!” her Aussie tongue would drawl. And she would follow that melodic phrase with questions upon questions. I’d have to dig from a part inside of me, which I hardly visit, to explain. Pray tell, what’s so cool about “dirty” ice cream, jeepney, cow-drawn carts, rice fields, trees, and daing?!

But through her eyes, my own jaundiced pair saw things as though I held a magnifying glass over a 20-20 vision. I saw my country up close for the first time and what it has to offer all over again—from smoggy Manila to dusty Umingan, where her dad and I grew up.

For years I had not paid attention to the shady, stately trees that lined our highways and the vast rice fields dotted with scarecrows, teeming with white birds, and also black ones, as we traveled north of Manila. I had ignored the charm of the jeepney, painted in gay abandon with colorful folk art, curtained with little bells and tassels, and decked up front with hordes of silver horses.

And the sorbetero! The image that flashed in my mind as Puh-lie said “Cooool!” was that of a little girl excitedly waiting for the tinny ringing of the dirty-ice-cream-man.

Another image was that of the same little girl urging her dad to buy a small bamboo chair from the caravan of oxen pulling wood-and-rattan carriages overflowing with native arts and crafts. And on the little girl’s face I saw my own.

Being with Pearlie not only walked me down memory lane but down the path that led me home.

The impact of the Puh-lie experience touched and taught me so much that I decided to share it—two years later. The joys of and from the ordinary, I learned, should not be diminished nor clouded by new experiences and cynicism that comes with adulthood.

About this time I had already started a series called "Oh Mateo!" Its hero is an eight-year-old boy, Mateo, who has no mother, and is being raised almost single-handedly by his father, a farmer. I say ‘almost’ because Teo is doted on by the five old ladies (sisters) who own the farm and who love Teo like a real grandson. Although not through a family tree or bloodline, they're Teo's lolas, period.

Mateo’s small eyes are a perfect foil for Puh-lie’s big ones, I mused. A poor man’s son, who has never seen any place other than his little town, Teo’s life is irreversibly changed one day when Puh-lie arrives from abroad where she lives. She sees texture and shape (and beauty!) in every rural sight, from snorting pigs to a sputtering jeepney—looked down upon by many of us who have seen the world.

“She sees more things because she has big eyes!” Teo prematurely concludes. But soon he realizes that eyes, no matter what size, see the wonders of God’s grace. “Even if my eyes are small, I can see the same things her big eyes can see,” he ends the book. 

Here is a page from the book, "Big Eyes, Small Eyes" (illustrated by Beth Parrocha-Doctolero) showing Teo and Pearlie; and meet Puh-lie, my niece, the young girl who inspired it.

(More on Puh-lie in my next post)


The Most Expensive Letter

I’ve been pondering “k” a lot lately. Yes, this one.

This often-silent letter which, in the old days, had to be with other letters to mean anything: knock, kneel, knight; tack, rock, muck. One way for “k” to be good news was when it was used between other letters, “okay.”

Before the advent of cell phones, “k” was unlike all the other more popular letters in the English alphabet. “K” was in the same league as “q” and “x.” They had a very slim chance of being used, trailing way behind the vowels.

How times have changed. Today, “k” is king. It beats them all by a mile. It puts to shame even all the vowels combined, many times over. “K” has to be the most used—and abused—letter these days. You agree, don’t you?


Caught in traffic last week, I tried to keep myself occupied by poking my cell phone. I re-read all my incoming and sent messages. I was shocked to discover that 50% was “k”!

That got me computing frantically. If I received 50 messages per day and sent just as many, and if 50% was “k,” then that would be 50 "k’s," or the equivalent of P40! Multiply that by 30 days a month then 365 days a year! I, me, myself spend P16,200 on “k”?!

Now, how about the text messaging community? P85 million is spent on text messages every month. Quick, compute how much “k” is costing all of us! Collectively, we could build a church or a school, or fill a public library with books!

The money which people throw away for this miserable letter is not what’s sad really. It’s what happened to all the words “k” simply wiped away in one fell swoop. How could these words and phrases morph into one single "k"?!

I get it.
Of course.
I read you.
You’re on.
All right.
I agree.
I think so.
You said it.
Message received.
Your call.

All these explicit, exquisite words are now reduced to this once-insignificant single "k"?!

Test messaging has irrevocably altered our perception of words. And “k” symbolizes this change big time. We now brazenly misspell words for the sake of brevity. And we've said good-bye to punctuation marks and capitalization that make syntax elegant, not to mention correct.

"K" indeed has come a long way. It crept into our lives just when words have abruptly appeared with new, added meanings. Who would have thought that "windows" would now mean software other than that part of our homes where the wind comes through? “Virus” is no longer just what ails our physical bodies. “Scroll” has ceased to be the material upon which the original scriptures were written.

When I write, pondering words comes parallel with pondering life, and words are not what they used to be. Of course, language is a breathing, growing organism that changes and morphs with time. And so is life.

In this speedy electronic world, then, where messages are as quick to send as our fingers can fiddle with our cell phones, there is a new urgent need: intensive grace—to clearly see and understand the Word as it was written in the original scrolls.

For me, no matter how layered life has become, the solutions are always spelled out in God's Word. It does not change, neither should it be reduced for brevity or convenience; or given a new, added meaning to suit our changing lifestyles.


My One and Only Fan

I was on TV! Yes, on camera,  not behind it.

In my first act (imagery for a career completed and gone), I must have shot over 2,000 TV ads and never appeared on any of them. This time, while facing the glare of lights on Talim Island, I felt like a movie star, imagining a legion of fans from Aparri to Jolo who'll be watching me on the show with goggle eyes.

"This segment of 'At Your Service' will be aired on QTV, Sunday, Chinese New Year," the producer informed me.

I made a mental note to alter my Sunday schedule: go home immediately after the morning service instead of joining the family for lunch. Or maybe my boys (husband and two sons) would forgo the lunch out and watch the show with me.

As soon as I got home, after the taping of the show on an island I never knew was inhabited, my househelp of an aggregate of 27 years couldn't get enough of the highlights of my day of fame and glory.

Her name is Ate Vi, and she is a Noranian from the tip of her graying hair to the tip of her arthritic toes.  

She became a part of our family when I was pregnant with my first son, JC. After all three sons had been born and big enough to be turned over to younger apprentices, she left for a few years to tend to her farm which she bought with her savings.

She came back as promised and has no plans of leaving again, or at all.

Since she is at home 24/7, my children consult her more than they consult their own mother. Ah, but I digress. Let me continue . . .

"Yes, Ate Vi, Paul Salas and I are together in one episode," I replied for the nth time. She knows the eight-year-old child star very well; she knows every TV star very well.

"Yes, Ate Vi, I met him at GMA 7 at dawn. Then together we rode a van for three hours to Binangonan, Rizal, then another hour on a motor boat to Talim Island. We came back together on the same boat and the same van.”

"Yes, Ate Vi, the whole place came to a halt and watched the taping and followed Paul Salas around."

"Yes, Ate Vi, Paul Salas is the host of the show and for my segment, we both shot scenes in a Day Care Center. My publisher OMF donated . . ."

At this point her eyes turned shifty and she tuned me off, but the essence of my one brief, shining moment had to be told. "OMF donated books to the Day Care Center and I was invited to read my book 'No lipstick for Mother' to the children. I was also interviewed about how I felt traveling long hours to this far-flung place sharing my books . . ."

"Wow, you were really with Paul Salas?! How does he look like in person? As gwapo as on TV, I'm sure! Can't wait to watch the show!"

Later, I told my boys, all Filipiniana enthusiasts, the same story.

"Paul . . .?"

They quickly jumped to discussing the history of Binangonan and the life at Talim Island.

"Chinese New Year, QTV, 12 noon to 1 PM," I reminded them.

Chinese New Year, Sunday, dawned brightly. We went to church, pondered the Word, worshiped and prayed with fellow believers. After which I joined the boys for lunch and for grocery shopping, and  finally made it home at 3 PM.

While unloading the groceries, Ate Vi announced, “Paul Salas was very gwapo as usual on TV!”

“Paul Salas . . . Paul Salas . . ."  the name sounded familiar. “Oh, no! My TV show!” I yelled. I missed it. We all missed it. “What about me? How did I look?”

“Fat,” she replied.

“Fat?!” I repeated, wishing I got it wrong the first time.

“Fat. Especially when you were reading your book. Your face almost didn’t fit the screen,” she added.

I heard a chorus of male laughter.

QTV is an excellent channel,” said she, a passionate GMA 7 advocate and an avid celebrity watcher. They help poor people. This time they gave the Day Care Center a DVD player, a TV set, and books.”

“My books . . .”

“You should have seen the face of the volunteer teacher, Ma’am Litavery, very happy! The children were so cute. Paul Salas was . . .” she went on and on.

“And I am fat?!” I called out as she stowed the groceries in the pantry.

My imagination did me in as usual. There was no legion of fans from Aparri to Jolo. Just Ate Vi. And that ended my TV career before it could start.

For months now I’ve been trying to finish a storybook set in a Day Care Center. It's gathering dust. Although Ate Vi has been filling me in on the detailshow the Day Care Center in her own place is being run by a volunteer teacherI am not very confident about her data.

How uncanny that her description is the exact, same description I have of the Day Care Center on Talim Island. Ate Vi has done it again. She's always been a most important resource for my “Oh Mateo!” books set in rural Umingan, my hometown and hers.

“Of course eight-year-old children in the province can cook! Of course mothers leave their toddlers in a Day Care Center! They have to help their husbands in the rice field!” she would stress, accurate to the last detail.

Thanks to Talim Island and QTV, now at last, I can finish my story. But . . . “fat?!”

Well, ‘fat’ is not the only word in Ate Vi’s treasury of wisdom. There had been others:

"When people say, you look so young, you don't."

"When people say you haven't changed, you have."

I asked her, "You mean people lie about these things?”

"No. They just don't know what they're saying," she said, with malice towards none.

God's infinite grace includes a divine sense of humor. Just when my ego begins to swell, He allows Ate Vi to speak.


Robbie, Say "Cheese"

Try scrolling this page down to the bottom and you'll see photos shot at the launching of my book, “What’s for Breakfast?” Volume 2. These were taken by Robbie David, a former colleague in the advertising industry and a dear friend.

I suspect he loves photography because he finds joy in capturing smiles that become memories of life’s wondrous peaks.

But with or without his camera, Robbie’s infectious sense of humor and zest always manage to make us smile.

At this hour, however, Robbie is battling pneumonia at the Makati Medical Center. He is also undergoing treatments for his renal condition. His wife, Reggie, sent a text message to his friends asking for prayers – lots and lots of it.

To all my silent readers out there and friends whom I can’t reach through mobile phone or e-mail, please heed Reggie’s request. Collectively, as one, let’s ask for God’s grace to give Reggie in her own words, “the strength and wisdom to understand this sudden crisis.”

Robbie, may you soon get up from your sick bed and say “cheese” the way people do when you crack a joke or aim your camera and click away.


Short Nothings

One of the fringe benefits of teaching is what I call my short nothings. These are the snippets of conversations in the hallway, stairs, and vacant rooms, or the “Zion” (a cozy diner-cum-coffee shop manned by the our International Hotel School) with my students.

The topics range from a vacation in some island, the parking lot squeeze, the latest movie or digicam, blogs, to some angst, and today, the oncoming Valentine’s Day—the day I dread: the day they celebrate. I often forget that the youth view things differently.

My short nothings are my reality check. In those little moments, I try to see things from their perspective. (Mine has been narrowed by battle scars, age, and spurts of unwanted cynicism.)

“Miss, I still don’t have a date,” said one.

“You will,” I replied, “but not necessarily on Valentine’s Day. Any day is as good as any other to have a date.”

“Oh?” asked with a slight raise of one eyebrow.

“Oh, yes. Don't forget, we only invented Valentine’s Day,” I said, remembering myself as a marketer who would create romantic promotions and events to excite the young on this day.

“Yeah,” said with an endearing smile. But I could read his thought balloon, “Oh, sure.”

I know that expression. I see it all the time on my sons' faces when they don’t really agree, but obey anyway because I said so. It makes a mother feel like she’s received a dozen roses or a box of chocolates.

In my short nothings, my students teach me more than I teach them. Indeed, even the hallway, stairs, vacant rooms, and the “Zion” are places of grace.


Is Your Heart Heart-shaped?

That’s the title of my latest newspaper column for children. It makes me smile. I always smile when I finish writing about a topic adults consider mundane or take for granted.  

Most children grow up thinking that their heart is shaped like the red ones being peddled on Valentine’s Day. It is the shape they (or anyone for that matter) draw when they refer to their heart. Not too many of these little ones realize that real human heart is shaped like a—pear!

It’s almost Valentine’s Day; all the signs are there. Marketers (as I was in the workplace) are once more obsessed with milking the occasion to cash in on various merchandise at double or triple the regular price—flowers, food, parking lots, hotels, gift items, media space, and more.

According to the Greeting Card Association, about one billion valentines were sent worldwide on February 14 last year! And the number grows every year. Valentine’s Day is the second largest card-sending holiday of the year—next to Christmas.

I can never forget that one Valentine’s Day years ago when my husband and young sons attempted to go to our favorite restaurant. The traffic stalled us and the waiters starved us. The whole exercise took about four hours and we ended up with three little boys wailing, “I am hungry!” From that day forward, we vowed to stay safely home on February 14.

Can’t I say anything good about the Day of Hearts? I can. I did—right after the wedding of my two good friends, Brando and Irene, sometime ago. Let me upload it now for heart’s sake.

One Magic Moment

From my painted eyes, tears threaten to escape. I position my hanky to avert the impending ruin of my
mascara. Then I hear snivels. But the sound comes from the equally dolled up ladies to my left and right. They are offering each other Kleenex and hastily dabbing their eyes as well.

It may be the music
—Ngayon at Kailanman (Now and Forever); or the nervous groom, being nudged by his groomsmen; or the radiant bride, marching down the aisle; or the Greenhills Christian Fellowship's solemn ambiance.

Whatever. Together with my fellow principal sponsors, the bridal entourage, the couple's family and friends, I turn my damp eyes to Brando as he takes Irene to the altar. Fascinated by the age-old ritual of marriage, I feel . . . Well, you know about life's magic moments: time stops, everything is right and in place, and you feel wonderful.

"I always cry at weddings," the matron beside me says, her voice muffled by a wad of tissue. "I don't kno
w why."

"Love," the minister's voice breaks the sound of sobs. "Love is what a wedding is all about . . . we are only capable of loving because God loved us first. Jesus showed us what love is at every chance He had while on earth." Then he looks at the couple squarely, "The closer you are to God, the closer you are to each other."

I chew the words over. Weddings are not about two people in love becoming one. They're about two people being joined together in love by, with, and for God. And by His grace, they receive a magic moment that is planted in their hearts like a seed that promises to grow and blossom.

The minister reminds us, "Weddings are a celebration of family life—for married couples to remember what it was like when they exchanged marriage vows."

I call to mind my own vows of three decades. Like me, the people in the wedding party feel the magic because we are all reminded of how God’s only Son so loved us He suffered and died to prove it.

The intense silence shouts of spouses falling in love again, of singles wishing they too could find true love, and of every guest seated on the pews searing from the heat of collective emotion.

Like placid water rippled by a pebble, my magic moment is rippled by intrusive thoughts: An uncle and an aunt, married for fifty-two years, recently deciding to live apart despite their family's plea for them to reconsider; close friends (so in love in the beginning) having their marriage annulled, leaving their children more desolate and broken than orphans; beautiful celebrities with grand weddings now living with different partners; and children of these broken homes no longer believing in magic moments.

Where love was planted, weeds have grown—impatience, hatred, and anger. All antonyms of what we find in 1 Corinthians 13:4-5,
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs . . ."

So how can two people, who profess and affirm love at the altar, create a long record of wrongs?

In the ordinariness or complexities of daily living, we allow other concerns to live in our hearts, crowding out the magic moment until it is lost to us and totally forgotten.

As the world celebrates Valentine's Day with red cupids and flowers, cards and love songs, dinner and wine, may we remember—and allow His grace to take us beyond remembering—so that we may feel one magic moment again . . . and again.



A Reminder to JB, Ali, and Me

The photo below shows JB (right), my second son, and Ali, my niece. They are now both resident doctors in the US.

In my February 1 entry, I wrote about instant doctors and the warm caring they give spontaneously. One reader quickly affirmed this and mentioned her own instant doctorscircles of precious friends who heal, not often physically but always emotionally, making a hurting someone feel a whole lot better.

Won’t it be wonderful if these instant doctors were real, licensed doctors? You see, some of the real doctors we consultnot by choice but by reasons of our HMO or their availabilitydon’t come close.

One real doctor caused me pain and I hurt within a hundred steps from her clinic.

There, I got that off my chest.

Twenty four hours earlier, I was humped over my computer, shut off from the world outside. Suddenly I saw a mosquito on the right side of my face, about three to four inches away. I tried to clap it dead or wave it off but it wouldn't go away. Wherever I looked, it circled my right eye. It didn't take long before I realized it was not a mosquito but a shadow that looked and flitted like a mosquito.

What's wrong with my eye? Am I going blind? Or is it my brain? Am I seeing things?

One of my instant doctors, youngest son JR, said, "Turn off the computer, Mom, and close your eyes."

My husband, another instant doctor, added his prescription. "Sleep it off; it will be gone in the morning. It’s just computer strain."

I jumped into bed and slept 12 straight hours. When I woke up for my five AM walk, everything was still in shadows. But there it was, the mosquito! It came with me in my walk, at breakfast, in the bathroomall over.

I called Casa Medica at SM Southmall and was told that an ophthalmologist, accredited by my HMO, has consultation hours late in the afternoon. So all day I had to live with my questions, mutating every second.

Will I still be able to write? Or will I simply dictate my thoughts to someone? Will I finish my books before I lose my eyesight? How can I live without reading or watching American Idol? What will happen to my paints? And my blog?! Plus a million more questions.

Still swimming in the deep end of worry, I heard the ophthalmologist arrive, two hours late. As soon as my turn came, I rushed into her clinic and forgot to close the door.

"Shut the door," she said, writing on her pad and not looking at me.

Uh, oh, she's had a long day, I thought.

"Sit down," she said, a bit curt for my fragile nerves. "Not there, here," she added.

I looked around and bigger-than-life eye illustrations stared at me. I looked at her face and her colder-than-ice mien bored through me. Smile isn’t part of her regimen, I noted.

"What's your problem?" she asked.

I’d have retorted, "What's yours?" but dry humor isn’t part of my own regimen. "There is this pesky mosquito hovering over my right eye."

"Floater," she burst and grabbed a leaflet showing a big eye and all its veins in full color. The word sounded like a dread disease and her movement seemed like emergency.

"Oh, my God!" escaped from my ashen mouth.

"Don't say, 'Oh, my God!'" she snapped, as though I had uttered a four-letter epithet. "I will explain."

I thought she meant I should stop using the Lord's name in vain so I silently said a quick prayer for forgiveness.

But she meant no such thing. She was saying, or it sounded like she was saying, "Stop breathing while I talk." Her mouth was taut and her eyes were sharp; her every word sounded like a pellet from a shotgun. "Don't say, ‘Oh, my God’,’" she popped again, as though I had committed a crime punishable by execution.

"You will not go blind, okay, okay? Your eye is made up of gelatin bound tightly. When a shred of it loosens, it floats,” she said while her pen heavily pointed to the vein-like structures on the eye illustration. “That's why it's called a floater. When it floats across the range of your pupil, you see a tiny shadow."

I locked my mouth so no word, or sound, will come past it. What she said was all great news but the way she said it sounded like disaster of tsunamic proportions.

"That floater doesn't go away very quickly. You’re lucky you only have one. Buy this solution," she said, scribbling on her prescription pad. “One drop twice a day to hasten the healing.”

I wanted to ask, “Should I stay away from my computer for a while? Should I go easy on my reading?” But the way she flicked the prescription sheet made me stand up quickly. She didn’t say, "Now, out of my clinic!" neither did she utter anything out of turn but she invited silence.

I mumbled, thank you, which is an important part of my regimen, but not too loudlycareful not to attract more pellets in my direction.

Despite the wonderful news, for which I silently said a prayer of thanksgiving, I felt no better when I went out than when I came in.

You’re making too much of it, I admonished myself. I’ve heard similar real doctor stories from friends in the past but I laughed them off, saying, “You’re making too much of it.”

What could have worked me up?

Job description. With every job come responsibilities. Whether you are a bank teller, a messenger, a lawyer, a plumber, or a creative writer, your calling requires the best that you can do: excellence.

How about a doctor? She helps heal (total healing is the sole choice of our Creator) and care for the sick. Failing or passing that, she makes a patient feel better. That might be too simplistic, but each of my doctors, except this new one, made me feel better just by his presence, even without detailed explanation of what was wrong; or even when I was told, “You need immediate surgery for your gall stones.” I hold them with deep affection.

On top of a job description, doctors take the Hippocratic Oath (now in various versions, but with the same essence). Let me quote parts of it:

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant: . . . I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug . . . I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person's family . . . If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.

Why do I know about the Hippocratic oath? JB and Ali, new graduates of Medicine, both took the sacred oath, an invaluable moral guide. For me, no other profession has as much emphasis on humanity; doctors are God’s hands on earth to help heal and care for the ailing.

Due to busyness, whining patients, failed diagnosis, non-paying HMO (or for whatever reasonable reason), have some doctors made this oath a meaningless relic?

After a deep, deep breath a hundred steps away from the ophthalmologist’s clinic, I decided I’m helpless to do anything about which I cannot change, except to come to terms with itand not allow such encounters to rile me any more than it did.

Then, in His own perfect timing, God’s grace turned on my light bulb, and I found what I can do with those who are within the circle of my influencepeople who are an email or phone call away: JB and Ali, young doctors brought up to have a good heart.

I will remind them to never, ever, lose the joy of healing the people who seek their help. I’ll tell them (as I tell myself) to etch in their hearts the ultimate job description for those who believe in and serve the great Healer Himself. It is found in Philippians 4:8 (ESV), “. . . whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” 


Instant Doctors

The compulsion to counsel happens so often it can be very trying on one's nerves. I used to shut both my ears when it occurred. Oh, no! Here we go again . . .

It begins when someone complains, "I have trouble sleeping sometimes."

Then it comesan avalanche of advice from instant doctors. If there were four other people in the group, all four would have a fix-it or cure, spoken with authority: "A glass of warm milk will solve it." "Put a pillow under your knees." "Breathe deeply in and out." "Count sheep!"

For years, I've had this chronic ache (I can't recall exactly when it startedokay, roughly after my 40th birthday, when life begun) that won't get off my back. The ache is below the nape and travels around the shoulder blades. It's like a heavy backpack I don't want to carry. On bad days, it makes me a crab; on good days, it makes me less of a crab. Although it bothers me, I never found it alarming enough to warrant seeing a doctora real one who went to medical school and passed the doctors' licensure exam.

One day I made the mistake of whining aloud. The onslaught of options from the people around almost buried me.

"Don't eat too much monggo, peanuts, eggplant and chicharon bulaklak." Uric Acid?

"Try a blind masseur . . . hilot . . . reflexologist." Stress?

"Always have a pillow behind your back when you sit." Bad posture?

"I'll give you the Chinese liniment my husband brought from Taiwan . . ." Arthritis?

"Adjust your aircon vent away from your back." Muscle spasm?

"Eat papaya, drink eight glasses of water a day." Constipation?

In contrast, true-blue physicians don't volunteer any opinion. They instead ask questions, but only when consulted or pushed.

"My upper back aches," I say while having dinner with my second son, a newly licensed physician. On cue, he gobbles a forkful of rolled pasta.

I push, "What can I take for my backache?"

"What kind of ache? Throbbing? Dull? Shooting? Unbearable?"

"Somewhere in between..."

"What else do you feel?"

"Just achejust somewhere-in-between ache."

"How old are you, mom?"

If he were not five-foot-eleven I'd put him on my lap and thwack him good.

Finally, good sense and hypochondria made me consult an internist (ortho something) to whom I graphically dramatized my misery.

"How old are you?" she began by asking the horrific question. After more queries, she prescribed an analgesic, "Only when the pain gets unbearable."

By God's merciful grace it isn't life threatening.

Now that I know why this kind of ache has made my back its dwelling place, I stopped dwelling on self pity. I have also opened my ears. Proverbs 19:20: "Listen to counsel and accept discipline that you may be wise the rest of your days."

I try my instant doctors' advice one at a time. I do get relieftemporarily. But a series of momentary relief adds up to a number of good days.

Today, here I amalso compelled to give unsolicited advice to anyone who shows signs of carrying a similar invisible backpack. I have joined the roster of instant doctors. It's because I know exactly how heavy the load can be and I don't wish it on them. Maybe real doctors are trained to cure, but instant doctors are born to care.

Compulsive health counselors are as many as there are friends and caring others. I believe they are the Lord's vessels of grace to help ease our pain. They don't unnerve me anymore, they rev me up. Once in a while, I even whine aloud on purpose just to fish for new relief ideas.

And there are!

If you don't believe me, try whining aloud sometime.

copyright © 2002 by Grace D. Chong