Duck, Cover, and Hold!

I am no stranger to earthquakes. This country has had so many of them—small, medium, large—during my lifetime. By grace, the devastation doesn’t overstay.

But I am a stranger to earthquake drills!

So when I get this one-page “Job Responsibility” for the faculty one day this month, I read it over a dozen times.

I am to instruct my one dozen students to “duck, cover, and hold” once the bullhorn sounds (the start of the make-believe tremor). Then I herd them down from the 5th floor (top floor in our school) to safety—in the parking lot in two minutes, or less.

We are the last priority. We have to wait for all the students in the lower floors to go down before we do.

How did it go?

Well, the power shuts off on cue. But instead of cries of dread, I hear cries of delight. Not one cowers in fear; everyone swaggers with cheer. All, including me, defies the order to “take off your shoes!” High heels click in lazy cadence as though they are headed to a ball not to safety. Indeed, the world of make-believe is blind to fear and dread.

We make it to the open space in six minutes, triple the original intended time. If we had a real earthquake, we would have been buried in the rubble.

So everyone gets to the parking lot under the bright morning sun. The fair-skinned ones immediately get a tan, while brown-skinned moi rushes under the nearest tree.

It takes a while—a lot more laughing, chattering, and ribbing—before the building is “declared safe” and we file in, exactly the way we strolled out, my students and I tailing the boisterous pack.

Duck, cover and hold? It was more like shake, rattle, and roll!


Last Salute

From the General's daughters, his faithful driver while still in the service, and fellow generals, one last salute.

". . . even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved—" Ephesians 2:5 (ESV)


March on, General

Our well-loved cousin whom we simply called “The General” (aged 80) accepted his marching orders from our heavenly General (“The real General,” he used to say), a few days ago.

A man of God, he was interred today with full military honors at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery).

Survived by his four daughters and their families, he was a hero in combat as well as in peace. And he had medals of valor to prove it.

More than these decorations and distinctions, The General was a gift of grace to many people as I witnessed with my own two eyes in his three-day wake. Together with relatives and friends, burly soldiers wept openly and saluted crisply.

As JC (who looked up to him greatly)—and I guess all his comrades—would say, “Mission accomplished, sir.”


Alone Again and No More

I wrote about this lovebird sometime ago, about how it came rapping at our chamber door and refusing to leave. Tony went out of his way to buy this lonesome yellow chirper a partner and a complete supply of birdseed.

The pair became a source of shrieks of delight from our household. But after a few weeks, we found its partner dead, just like that. We didn’t know what happened and we went around with sad faces for two days.

So this yellow lovebird was once again alone.

Months passed by and one day, we found it also unmoving in its cage. It was gone as well.

A bird expert said our yellow pet was bound to die, it was too old.

Now we know why it never wanted to fly away when we saw it rapping at our chamber door. It had no energy to flap its wings anymore. And all along we thought the bird loved us so much it stayed.

I am back to watching the many brown birds that land and chirp on the plants and grass in our garden every day. They make me praise our Creator for making so many of them (of varied kinds) up in the sky.

They make me look up and thank Him for granting us grace even before we could ask.


The Theatre I Missed

Once upon a time, many lifetimes ago, I was into theatre. I feasted on Konstantin Stanislavski, Bertolt Brecht and Eugene Ionesco.

To graduate from the Goodman Theatre (Art Institute of Chicago), I had to direct several plays, one of which was Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” a play about waiting . . . and waiting, and hope.

Those who know me today would raise their eyebrows and say, “Really?” For there is no trace of the theater in me. Let me revise that statement: there is seemingly no trace of the theatre left in me.

The Lord had led me to a different path, a path where a young, wide-eyed girl will not starve or end up bewildered. He showed me the way to advertising where I trained to do what I do today, late in life though it may be—write.

But once in a rare while, the familiar burst of sunshine in my middle when we were rehearsing backstage, or stage managing a play by the theater wings, or hearing the audience’s audible sigh or laughter, springs back.

Mama Mia! did just that.

And then once more over the weekend when I watched two DVDs in a row: Passion (2004 Tony Award for Best Musical) with its original Broadway cast; and Being Julia, a movie about theater people which won for actor Annette Being tons of nominations and awards.

Two lines struck me from Passion and Being Julia.

"I didn’t choose to love you—love knows no reason."

And, "The stage is all there is; the outside world which people call reality does not exist.”

These are what theatre people feel. These are what make them stay there for life.

Why did I stay away? We’ve heard it all before: life is about choices and I have chosen other things. Maybe I was not as in love with the theater as I thought I was. But I shall always hold in deepest esteem theatre people in whose circle I no longer belong.

It was grace that allowed me to briefly embrace this consuming world of theater, so that I can relive the experience sometimes, and use it to power what I love doing today.


Painting on a White Board

Our Medical Transcription School has this huge white board which looks impressive if it faces you. But the minute you turn it around, the back part shows uneven wood that is so ugly it should always face the wall.

Unfortunately, this white board has to be moved around now and then and there is no way one can hide the back side.

So last Saturday, I decided to paint over the unsightly back expanse. I opted for one of God’s most beautiful creations, calla lily. But good intentions don’t always make good endings. This is the result of a four-hour painting session.

It isn’t finished, and it’s nowhere near a calla lily, but the white board looks infinitely better than how it was before I started slapping my paints over it.

Why am I so bold as to be posting an unfinished painting? Well, I guess I want to be affirmed that I still have the spirit (and the gall) to effect change; and more importantly, to be reminded that I have unfinished business, which I can finish only with the boost of grace.

I sometimes (okay, often) fall into the manana (tomorrow) habit. By having this not-yet-a-calla-lily here for all guests to see, I should be pressured into making it look like the way it was created—soon. And hopefully break my predisposition to procrastination.


"Teo's Cockatoo" Reviewed

My 10th book in the “Oh, Mateo!” series was recently reviewed by an 11-year-old reader, Alexia Bejasa, in the Junior Inquirer Magazine.

It was a peaceful Sunday morning—I was quietly reading the dailies—when I came upon her review. Without warning my heart went boing, boing, boing, and the silence was broken.

My pulse always goes berserk when I get feedback from readers. Aside from the euphoria I feel over unexpected grace, I am always amazed at the insight of children.

Alexia’s review:

"The remarkable storybook adventure is a fictional tale about a cockatoo with a lovely yellow crest that was caged and maltreated for a very long time. Its owners, Puto and Pako, were very mean and would always make fun of the cockatoo.

"Luckily, a day came when Puto accidentally left the cockatoo’s cage open. The bird flew to Teo, a kind little boy. Teo taught the bird how to say good things and how to be polite. Towards the end of the story, the smart cockatoo proved to be a big help for the whole barangay!

"Teo’s Cockatoo teaches a lot about caring for pets and treating them well. This story affirms that our pets reflect who we are.

"I enjoyed reading the book because of the descriptive style of the author. She characterized the two owners very well and gave a clear picture of how the poor cockatoo stayed still in his cage.

"Artist Beth Parrocha-Doctolero’s illustrations were creatively done, as she used all sorts of shapes and colors to enhance the scenes. My favorite drawings were of Teo and the cockatoo spending time together.

"Although the book may have some nasty words, I would still recommend it for children my age. Another good thing about the book is that it contained a Filipino translation of the story which would help readers appreciate and understand it."

There’s that noise in my heart again—boing, boing, boing!

Thank you, Alexia. 
(Published by Hiyas and illustrated by Beth Parrocha-Doctolero) 


My Mateo

Mateo, eight years old, has one surviving parent—his father, a poor farmer in the province of my youth, Pangasinan. But he has five energetic lolas who dote on him.

Despite his hard life and the early death of his mother, Mateo is a kind-hearted, happy boy. He is inquisitive and creative, traits which take him to many adventures and relationships children his age don’t even glimpse.

How does one meet Mateo?

He’s in 11 books of the “Oh, Mateo” series published by Hiyas, an imprint of OMF Literature.

I actually just made him up (exactly eight years ago) when I wrote the first book in the storybook series. Beth Parrocha Doctolero, a deeply imaginative artist, gave him a face—and both image and words brought Mateo to life!

Now Mateo’s one of the “25 Best-loved children’s book characters” as chosen by hundreds of Filipino school children! These 25 characters were exhibited, in sculptures bigger-than-life, at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the National Children’s Book Day in July.

The art exhibit, which lasted one week, was jointly mounted by the Illustrador ng Kabataan (INK), an organization of children’s book illustrators, and the Philippine Board of Book for theYouth.

Mateo has always been—to use a cliché—my pride and joy, and my continuing gift of grace. I join his many adventures and I get to enjoy the unusual friends he meets and keeps.

Mateo also makes me seek and hang on to the child in me. He will forever be my eight-year-old, and I am delighted to share him with the hundreds of children who already love him, and to the many more children (and children at heart) who still have to meet him.