Unfair Comparison

Our president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, is now in the US for a working visit, with an entourage of over 50 politicians and high-ranking government officials. Barely had she warmed her seat in that part of the globe when typhoon Frank battered and unleashed his fury on our helpless country.

One of the worst maritime tragedies happened with over 700 people perishing on a sunken ship engulfed by the tumultuous tides caused by the typhoon (as the search at sea continues, more bodies are found floating every day). Almost three million people have been rendered homeless and displaced by floods and winds. Newspapers place the damage at close to P6 billion pesos.

These are troubled times.

Many journalists have commented that Pres. Arroyo is like Emperor Nero. She played the fiddle while "Rome" was burning.

It seems an unfair comparison.

For one thing, fiddle wasn’t invented till the 15th century. For another, Nero hurried back to Rome from his seaside holiday home when the fire broke out. It is documented; he took charge of the firefighting efforts.

Our country is burning with troubles, yet if we are to believe reports, our president is in no hurry to come home till after the Manny Pacquiao/David Diaz boxing bout on the 29th of June.

Well, whatever.

We are assured in the Scriptures that during troubled times, grace comes rushing to bail us out.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” Psalm 46:1-3


No and Nothing

My doctor was more than one hour late. In the clinic’s receiving room, I sat with other patients waiting for their doctors as well. Two yayas (baby sitters) had each a kid about four to five years old who didn't know each other, but had started playing with what seemed like bugs.

Kid 1 (to kid 2): My father works very hard. He helps my mother with all her work at home. How about your dad, does he work?

Kid 2: No.

Kid 1: Your dad doesn’t work?!

Kid 2: No.

Kid 1: Is he looking for work?

Kid 2: No.

Kid 1: What does he do?

Kid 2: Nothing.

A man, dressed in coat and tie and carrying a leather brief case, arrives and hugs kid 2.

Man: Hi, son!

Kid 2: Hi, dad!

Man: Have you seen your doctor?

Kid 2: No.

Man: What have you been doing?

Kid 2: Nothing.

Man: (Sees me gawking; smiles.) My son has two favorite words these days—“no” and “nothing.”

Me: Oh, those are my favorite words today, too.

Earlier, I had in mind to leave and never come back. But no, I didn't. I was sent, just in time, grace to be patient. So what have I been doing while waiting? Nothing.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I got to enjoy listening to two kids talk about “no” and “nothing.”



I first saw this awesome bridge when I was watching Mr. Bean.

I wondered if it were real or if it were just the handiwork of computer graphics artists. I was suddenly interested in it more than I was in what was happening to Mr. Bean.

Viaduc de Millau is extraordinarily looooooooong and tall! It is is indeed an engineering marvel, currently the longest cable-stayed bridge in the world at 2,460 meters long!

Also tallest in the world and taller than the Eiffel Tower, Viaduc de Millau is slung across the valley of the river Tarn in Southern France. Designed by the structural engineer Michel Virlogeux and British architect Norman Foster, this viaduct certainly shortens a journey and decongests traffic—the two reasons why it was built.

The photo of this human feat becomes even more awesome as I look above and below it. Beneath and beyond the bridge is the wonder of God’s creation—the firmament where billions of stars hover about and the land where billions of living things abound.

Colossal monuments made by human hands such as this bridge, the pyramids of Giza, the great wall of China, and many more, are but a teeny-weeny facet of the greatness of the One who made us. The magnificence and majesty, grandeur and glory, splendor and spectacle of God’s creation is loooooonger than anything we have ever seen, or could imagine.

And the wonder of wonders is expressed in Psalm 8:4 and Hebrews 2:6: “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You care for him?”

The answer can be expressed in many wonderful words. One of them is: grace.


What Goes on in Faculty Meetings?

As a student, I had often wondered whether my teachers talked about me in faculty meetings.

Now as a teacher I know they actually did! Faculty meetings are all about students.

Teaching is serious business. Okay, I can never be a Plato to an Aristotle, who journeyed together as teacher/student for 20 years, but I see these men as my benchmarks.

Teachers have a roomful of Aristotles, malleable minds which need extra caring so they can take on different shapes, according to their individual calling. I am not talking about treating students with kid gloves, I speak of a teacher’s commitment to teach which, in my case, begs for daily grace.

And this is what I see as the purpose of such meetings. Our first agendum at the first faculty meet this school year was the mentoring program, which is what charms me, among others, about the university where I teach.

It was my misfortune not to have gone through a formal mentoring program in the schools I attended here and abroad. I would have had less academic and corporate mishaps, which I charged to experience in the absence of a mentor’s wisdom. This unique program is a venue for mentors and mentees to learn from each other and jointly raise the bar.

Other parts of the agenda usually include improving systems, discipline, teaching methodologies, standards of affiliate schools abroad, activities—all focused on the student, with the university vision/mission as guidepost.

Being serious, however, doesn’t mean the absence of fun. Teachers are, fortunately, humans too (perpetual students and children at heart) so we exchange stale jokes and laugh as though we’re hearing them for the first time.

While every teacher has her own teaching style (mine's very interactive), we are of one resolve: To equip each student with the ammo to take on the real world as he leaves the university.

A faculty meeting, in a nutshell, affirms our interdependence on one another.

It also validates a teacher’s independence in bringing his unique career-and-life blessings for the students to learn from—so student and teacher can journey together as Plato and Aristotle did, albeit in fewer years, and a lot of help from the internet!


Happy Endings

I write a regular column tagged Happy Endings for Moms and Kids Magazine. Let me share with you the first one. Since the fonts are too small to read, I am posting it in full.


I believe in happy endings.

This belief teeters on two sides of the spectrum.

On one end, by faith I believe that life does not end in earthly death.

On the other, by budget I refuse to pay good money to watch a movie that ends with the protagonist vanished or vanquished.

Friends laugh at the second one and call me an incurable romantic, or worse, a veritable escapist.

As I was scrounging around for a title for this column, I remembered the series of seven novels by Jan Karon, one of my favorite contemporary authors. In the small town of Mitford, where the stories take place, is a quaint bookstore called Happy Endings. I’d frequent that bookstore if I could and name mine the same—if I owned one.
Moms on one hand and Kids on the other—they belong to both sides of the spectrum. One couldn’t live without the other.

In arts and literature, mothers are the most glorified creatures that walk the earth. Much has been said about a mother’s love being closest to God’s love.

George Washington, the first president of the USA said, "My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her."
This creation called mom, although immortalized in reams of poetry and essays as a miracle worker, needs caring—maybe not as much as her kids do—but caring nevertheless.

To stay fit and healthy for her multi-textured tasks, she needs exercise. She may spin like a top and hop about all day, but exercise is a regimen she ought to find time for. My doctor’s words, not mine.
When I settled into the sedentary life of an author, after a long stint in the business world, my weight went through the roof. I started feeling all symptoms of every dread disease. My doctor prescribed one word: exercise.

“Walk briskly for one hour every day,” he said.

“For how long?” I asked, dreading routine.

“It’s all up to you,” he shrugged. Meaning, I should not quit till the excess weight is gone for good.
That first day—at five AM—was dreadful, boring. I considered running back home to do other things after the first five minutes. But a believer of happy endings, I took more steps. Within the hour, I discovered the magnificence of solitude. I inked this moment in my book “Gifts of Grace” (volume 1). “… I could hear nothing but my footsteps. In the silence, I sang an old hymn, ‘Count your blessings name them one by one. Count your blessings, know what the Lord has done.’”

Six months later, I was back to my ideal weight, and in all of seven years that I’ve been walking, I am still counting my blessings—with my occasional blood tests showing normal results.
Regular physical exercise, my doctor patiently explained, is an activity that develops or maintains physical fitness and overall health. Everyone should practice it to strengthen muscles and to keep the heart pumping regularly.

Exercise also boosts your immune system and improves mental health. It increases the blood and oxygen flow to your brain, making you more alert and sensitive.
I half listened to his treatise but stood in rapt attention when he said, “If you don’t exercise, I will put you on a low-salt, low-fat, low-carb, low-sugar diet.” Now, that would be killing me softly.

I’ve since discovered that there are many conflicting views on the kind of exercise one should have—aerobic, anaerobic, strength training, agility training, and a few more.

But I am focused; I walk. Although we have a small gym at home, which my husband and sons use regularly, I don’t go there, except to wipe the dust off the doodads.
My second son, an internist, insists I need not walk everyday (on rainy days I carry an umbrella) for as long as I make 10,000 steps a day. What does he know? My husband gave me a pedometer for Christmas so I could tie it around my neck while it counts my steps, proving that I make 10,000 steps a day even without my dawn regimen.

I wake up at five AM and walk.
Beginning to exercise is the most difficult part. Past that stage, it’s a piece of cake (reward yourself with a real one, not the no-sugar variety), easy as pie (choose peach, topped with cheese), and a walk in the park (literally).

You’ll see, it will all end happily ever after.


The Bird That Wouldn't Fly

This poem by Edgar Allan Poe came to mind when Ate Vi showed us the yellow bird over our chamber door (well, back door actually):

While I nodded, nearly napping,
suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping,
rapping at my chamber door.

The bird isn’t a raven, though. It’s a lovebird (scientific name, Agapornis).

We shooed it away so it could freely fly but it wouldn’t move. We had to put it in a cage (empty since I wrote a book on flighted pets) so we could feed it properly. Though we kept the cage door open, it seemed to chirp, “No, I am staying.”

Tony drove to the nearest pet shop and bought some seeds. Our collective worry was that it might die of loneliness without a partner (a myth, I just found out!). But three weeks passed by and it was as alive as ever. Tony didn’t believe in myths so he drove to the pet shop again and bought it a spouse.

With a pair of lovebirds in our hands, we are kept busy feeding and playing with them. They must like the cage so much they are still there, two months now. Now I can’t boast of having flighted pets.

Lovebirds are escape artists but these two are made from a different stock. They are happy where they are. And we are too.

Every morning as they chirp, they remind me of all the beautiful birds up the sky made especially for us by the generous Giver of grace.


The King and I

Each time I see JC or a skinhead on TV, I am reminded of the Broadway musicale: “The King and I.”
This dates me, I know. But there seems to be a mistaken notion among the young that being bald is a new thing. It isn’t.

Like his mother, JC has experimented with so many styles of haircut. Once upon a time he was very adventurous with his hair. But one day, he decided to go bald—and stuck with it.

If you think being bald is simple and hassle-free, think again. JC had to trek to the barber shop at least once a week and ran up a hefty tab every month.

I guess JC finally found wisdom in buying himself an electric shaver. He talked his dad into the task and today, week after week, father and son spend about half an hour in the terrace for this ritual.

In case you’ve read Robert Fulghum’s “Rituals of our Lives,” you’ll know that this simple shaving story has become one of my family’s own rituals.

It is both a “ceremony and a celebration” of grace.


The Queen and I

I have something in common with the Queen of England. I have not changed my hairdo—not in eight years.

She has not changed hers far longer than that—not since February 1952, when she ascended the throne.

That’s the downside of being The Queen. If you experiment with various hairdos, all stamps, coins, bank notes, and other country insignia will not look like you. The Queen's person is inviolable, like a logo. You can’t take liberties with it.

My reasons for not changing mine are different. They range from sloth to impatience which, I suspect, come with age.

This seems absurd from someone who used to change hairdos at a drop of a hat. Yup, I’ve tried ‘em all (bob, afro, page boy, pony tail, braids, bun, China doll, frizz, bouffant, etc.).

My one-hairdo life began when I found a hairdresser who talked me into the hairdo I wear today. It coincided with my decision to pursue writing full-time. My children said “You look like a boy,” but I believed my persuasive hairdresser so much that for two years he cut my hair exactly the same way till he upped and ran for other pursuits.

I headed to another beauty parlor where the hairdresser asked how I wanted my hair done. (My last hairdresser didn’t ask, he told!)

I couldn’t summon the energy to suggest a new look. I said, “Same!” and dozed off. Somehow “same” has not been the same. But only I know that.

When I meet friends I haven’t seen for sometime, they exclaim, “You have not changed!”

See, it makes for a simpler life.

I can concentrate on the two things I’d rather be doing—writing by grace and writing about grace (blogging falls under this category), and teaching once or twice a week to spice up the writing.