Winning a Palanca
Very, very vividly, as though it happened only yesterday instead of years ago, I remember the first time I won a Palanca (Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, a much-coveted prize among the literati).
Together with around 30 of my bosom buddies at Dentsu, Young & Rubicam-Alcantara, I was at Lucy's home (20 miles away from my own)—having a raucous time in her terrace, eating and bantering and wishing Lucy good wishes for a safe trip to the US in a few days.
Her house helper called from the sala and said I had a call from JR. My heart went lub-dub, lub-dub. My family calls only when there is an emergency.
"Mom, we received a notification. I won a Palanca," JR announced.
My lungs went on overdrive and my scream reached the next city.
"Mom, first prize!" he added.
My next scream reached the heavens.
"Mom, you won a Palanca, too!"
Now my scream must have broken a million eardrums.
One last scream and my lungs, throat, larynx and other body parts snapped.
Everyone came in from the terrace, "What's wrong, Grace? Are you okay?"
"I'm okay, very okay, absolutely okay," I said, now totally dysfunctional with a hoarse voice not louder than a whisper.
That was a life-changing moment; grace found me in August, on Friday the 13th . That was when I finally made the decision (see-sawing in my mind for over a year) to quit advertising and take up creative writing.
Just two days ago, I went through the same lub-dub, lub-dub experience for the 5th time. I was solving a crossword puzzle after a long day in school when Ate Vi entered my bedroom.
"Did you join the Palanca again?!" she said, brandishing the familiar yellow plastic courier envelope containing the congratulatory letter and formal invitation to the awards night.
My throat and other body parts are no longer as spry as they were that first time. But I screamed anyway—silently—and wiped a tear that flowed down unbidden.
Winning a Palanca, for me, is always a moment of surprise. At that precise, precious second when grace finds me, I ponder my nothingness.
"I wonder why You care, God—
why do You bother with us at all?
All we are is a puff of air;
we're like shadows in a campfire."
Psalm 144:3-4 (The Message)