Upside-down Umbrellas

The first thing I did was to let out one loud gasp. Followed by even louder gasps.

The sight of hundreds of white umbrellas hanging down the ceiling of this room of “Le Jardin de Gabriel” (the 23rd floor of Lita's building at The Fort), was breathtaking, to say the least. But then, again, Lita's interior designing ideas always are.

Lita has a book chronicling thirty years of inspired work. While putting this book together with her, I was blessed to see the depth of her passion for her career. She has been born and blessed with eyes to see what looks good—and in this case, gasp-inducing—for any structure's interior.

The huge room allows a beautiful view of the whole of Makati, Ortigas, and of course, The Fort. From the outside, the view of this room is even more beautiful, as though the world turned upside down to catch the grace that poured from the heavenlies.

On my way home after I saw that umbrella room, it rained heavily. Irony of ironies, I had no umbrella!



Going over my photos, which I just uploaded to my netbook, I found these two shots which make me, well, proud. They don't really show the magnificence of the actual scenes, as I saw them, but they are enough to remind me of what I actually felt.

Our eyes see more than our cameras; and what my eyes witnessed was the first full moon of the decade in all its shining grandeur, shortly after the clock chimed 12, midnight, January 1, 2010.

Then just a few hours later—while everyone was still snoring, after the revelry at Punta de Fabian, I clicked away at the first spectacular sunrise of the decade!

In both magical moments, I felt and saw the glint of grace.


Three Ooops

We are all dyers—Yay, Rose and I.

We dye our hair. Well, that's pretty commonplace, considering that practically everyone (the young especially) now dye his mop or mane.

But I think we are a pretty unusual (or usual, depending on which age group you belong) group of dyers because we dye our crown of glory for only one reason: to cover the gray.

Aside from this monthly ritual which we do individually, we have also started a ritual of occasionally meeting and exchanging funny anecdotes on the adventures of maturing (not aging) over coffee.

One particular afternoon, we leisurely chatted about what we have in common: the university where we all teach, how grace found us, how our faith is keeping us joyful despite life's occasional rainfall, and our free time to meet again.

Through the first whole hour, we were left alone by our cellphones. No calls, no text messages. The better to chat more and laugh more.

Then Rose decided to call her son who was to pick her up. Ooops, her phone was in silent mode and her son had a text message one hour earlier saying he was waiting at the parking lot.

Yay decided to check hers, and ooops, she had left it at home.

I checked mine and ooops, the battery was dead.

What came next was laughter, unrestrained laughter—profound joy in the company friends who share the same faith, and whose peaks and valleys speak of a God who never fails.

I thank Him for giving me dear friends I could laugh with, and with whom I could share stories of blessings through the years—many, many years.

“Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” Proverbs 16:31


The Day I Was Put on Hold

Clammy hands. Body drained of blood. Paralysis. Irregular heartbeat. Fuzzy brain. Malaise. Disorientation. Jelly knees.

Did I have a crush?

No, I did have a crash! 

A devastating, frustrating, heart-breaking crash. The hard disk of my trusty desktop (my lifeline) crashed on me, on my first working day of the year 2010! And it came without warning.

I reveled all I could over the holidays and visited my desktop only to check my emails and dawdle on Facebook. The first Monday of the year, January 5, would be my first writing day.

It was early in the morning and I was raring to add another ten pages, at least, to the book I am writing. And then it happened. The screen blinked and wham! I didn't know what hit me.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
My life stopped.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

It became a series of ellipses (a series of periods—more like it). I was able to reach the outside world only through my netbook, but my files and photos were gone.

JC came to the rescue when he arrived home from work that evening. Using my netbook as CPU, he connected cables here and there to my monitor. In what seemed like ten years, there they were, on my screen, my folders containing my drafts and research materials!

“Your other files will have to wait till I am less busy," he said.

“Can you recover them all?” I asked, turning blue from holding my breath.


I've never heard a sweeter “yes.”

But for the grace of God, I'd never have survived.

This will never happen again, I promised myself. 

The next day, as soon as the mall opened, I bought myself an external drive. At the moment, these are my new life support systems.

In time, I should be able to save up for the best CPU money can buy.

Thank you to my friends on Facebook, whom I ran to for help, for their advice and sympathy.


"Crying Children" Reviewed

(Big, big thanks to Daniel M. Floresca, 11, for this incisive review of "Crying Children," published in the Manila Bulletin, Fun Page. Another grace in black and white.)

"Do you cry when you hurt yourself or when your big brothers pick on you because you are too small? Well, that happens to me sometimes because I’m the youngest in the family. When I was still small, I would always go to my mom so I can feel better.

"Now, I have little cousins named Belle, who is three years old, and Isys, who is nine months old. I like playing big brother to them when we are together. Sometimes, one of them would cry when my aunts ask me to stay with them for a while. I would always try to calm them down by making funny faces and sounds but those do not always work.

"When I read the story of Mateo in Grace Chong’s book, Crying Children, I could not help but smile because I know what he went through!

"This story is about a little boy named Mateo who was playing with his friend Gadong. They saw from the window that there was a fire in the village where Madam Lita lives. The two friends ran to the daycare center to warn Madam Lita, who was taking care of little children.

"Mateo and Gadong volunteered to look after the children while she went to her house. Teo thought is was the easiest job in the world until one of the little kids started crying. And then another one followed, and another, and another, until all 12 kids were crying.

"Teo and Gadong did a lot of things to entertain them. They did cartwheels and made funny faces with matching funny sounds. None of those worked.

"Soon, even the two big boys were ready to cry too. Teo said a short prayer and came up with a new idea. He sang the lullaby that his mother used to sing to him when he was small. Gadong played the harmonica. One by one, the little children became quiet and rested their arms and heads on the table.

"When Madam Lita came back, the three of them sang the song again and found 12 crying moms at the door. They asked Teo and Madam Lita to teach them the song so they can also sing it to their children at home.

"This is a very nice story because it showed that older kids can also help out in taking care of little children. I also like helping my aunts look after my cousins. The next time I do, maybe I’ll try singing to Belle and Isys too.

"Features that I like:

- The story has a happy ending
- There are Tagalog and English versions of the story in one book
- The illustrations were really nice
- I got to meet the author of the book!" 


O, Daet!

"O" is for overwhelmed. And "Daet" (Camarines Norte) is the place where I saw, front row, genuine caring and nurturing.

“A regional book launching plus a musicale,” the invitation read. The book is “Flying on Broken Wings” (New Day Publishers), and the musicale was performed by about 120 children with disability—deaf, blind, victims of cerebral palsy, polio, and other orthopedic handicaps; those with down syndrome, autism, learning disabilities; and one with a rare, congenital muscle disease.

And did they perform! As the program progressed, their teachers egged them on in the sidelines, giving hand cues and steps, with proud smiles on their faces. Many of them missed their cues, some just stood there clapping their hands, and some danced to a different drummer. All was perfect!

Then Vhon, aged seven, who is as small as an infant in a stroller—his muscles soft as jelly—sang, with lung power that belied his condition, two haunting Filipino songs. Princess, sightless from birth, sang ballads like a Broadway star, in perfect pitch, accompanying herself on the keyboard.

I closed my eyes and begged God to open the gates of heaven and pour upon these special angels on earth the abundance of His grace. I prayed for their parents and teachers, that they may never, ever, tire to care for and nurture these children so that they will reach their full potentials.

They are all flying beautifully on broken wings, and I promised myself never to whine again about my tummy ache, muscle spasm, and eye floaters.

Professor Rex Bernardo, organizer of the event, is one of the featured PWD in this book. Wheelchair bound, he has shown the world that the only human bondage is one’s mind. He holds three master’s degrees (one from AIM and one from Australia), a TOYM awardee, and recently voted one of Ten Most Outstanding Persons in the World by JCI (the only one from Asia Pacific). A leader all his life, he was born in Daet; and to Daet he returned despite all his laurels from the outside world.

Yes, he continues to live there with his wife and son, with nothing in mind but the progress of Daet and its people.

O, Daet! How blessed you are for having a Rex, a compassionate mayor in Tito Sarion (he was in the audience), and all the PWD whom you are privileged to care for and nurture.


Nine in '09: 65th Reunion

Our 65th annual clan reunion, passionately chaired by my cousin Faith—held from Dec. 30 to Jan. 1—threatened to be our last.

It was grand and luxurious, prepared to be a fitting end to a 65-year-old beautiful tradition (with over 300 clan members scattered all over the world), which has bridged ages, places, and spaces.

We've been feeling the pinch for years. The spiraling cost to mount it (300+ members) was taking its toll on all of us. So on our 64th, we forced the issue, so to speak, and openly asked whether the yearly gathering can still go on.

It was a hard decision. We had to put in place a system through which everyone could voice his opinion, where in the end, we could have a consensus. We held our breath for one year and waited anxiously for the result—analyzed and quantified by an adhoc committee represented by each sub-clan.

Contrary to our dread and fear, it was unanimous: The reunion will continue! Still to be held at the end and beginning of each year, management will be by an Executive Committee.

Our 65th was dubbed "Nine in 09," honoring the nine siblings we call “originals” (which include my mother). Nine adjectives were heaped upon the hosts for this reunion during the evaluation—nostalgic, beautiful, classy, comfortable, luxurious, fun, expensive, unforgettable, and excellent. A special website for nine months teased and updated us.

I have only one word to sum up all nine: grace.

God, who is our collective Center, made it possible for one huge clan to come together in person and in cyberspace (via live feed): to chat again, reminisce again, love again, laugh again, dream again, play again, cry again, honor each other again, hug again, vow to meet again, and worship the God Whom we serve as a clan, again.

Punta de Fabian in Baras, Rizal is a posh resort on top of a mountain. Scenic all around. The sun and moon (blue moon on January 1!), were visible at all angles.

My sub-clan; 13 were out of the country:


Happy New Decade!

(My head is bursting with so many things to blog about. But my body is still lethargic from all the New Year revelry and for some reason, I am nodding off. So I’ll do the next best thing. I am uploading excerpts from my column "Big Little People" today in the Kids' Section of The Freeman, a major daily in Cebu City.)

"I am excited to announce to you that I fulfilled my one and only New Year’s resolution last year! I resolved in 2009 to read my chronological Bible from cover to cover.

"Well, I have read the last page, the last sentence, the last word.

"Finished. Done.

"Since it was dated like a diary, I was able to read the day’s passages every day. Sometimes I would read more than the day’s chapters to make up for those busy, busy days when I missed my reading schedule.

"By the end of last year (total of 365 days), success! I patted myself on the back when nobody was looking.

"It feels good to have been able to fulfill a New Year’s resolution. And it was a wonderful experience, too. Imagine reading about the beginning of time when God created the world to the time Jesus came to us on that first Christmas, died, and came back to life on Easter!

"It was better than reading a novel where there is a beginning, middle and ending. The Bible told me that there indeed was a beginning for man, a middle—but absolutely no ending.

"God’s people will live forever and ever (after they die), in a place called heaven.

"On New Year’s Eve, two houses in our neighborhood seemed like they were on fire. All the lights—inside and outside—were turned on, turned off only at sunrise.

"They claim that, 'A bright house on the first day of the year will be prosperous the rest of the year.'

"But from what I read in my chronological Bible, there is only One who can give us the riches we want—and that is Christ, whose birthday we celebrated on Christmas. Lights cannot give us gifts, but the one true Light can.

"Everything comes from Him. Only He can shower us with blessings, or withhold it.

"Let me quote what Jesus said to the religious teachers and leaders during His time: John 8:12—'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'

"May the Light of the world shine upon you in this new decade!"

(Photos: Last sunset of the decade taken by Tony from the balcony of our room at Punta de Fabian where we welcomed the New year with the Vergara clan.)