There are very few afternoons like this.
My bi-monthly luncheon friends and I had just wolfed down a tableful of unlimited dimsum at the Chinese restaurant in Shangri-la Hotel; the rest of the afternoon loomed large before us (translation: what now?). So one suggested going to the coffee shop to allow our digestive system to properly work on what we pigged on.
Some coffee, some tea, some mineral water. At exactly 3:00 PM, like a surprise dream while catnapping, a pianist in tuxedo played a hauntingly beautiful kundiman on the keyboard. We all suddenly swooned in chorus and discreetly sang the lyrics, which our generation knows by heart. “Ikaw lamang ang aking iibigin . . .” (Loose translation: You alone will I love . . .)
Then from different directions materialized lovely ladies in gown, more than a dozen of them, playing the same kundiman on their violins and flutes, and walking elegantly to swarm, like a host of angels, the stage where the pianist continued to play, now with a cellist, also in tux. The music went on and segued to another tune . . . then another. . . then another . . .
The musical ensemble on a quiet afternoon reminded me of the days of yore when men were genteel and women were proper—a time of the tasteful life.
That refined era is gone now, but one afternoon it came back for an hour or so to remind and regale us, like a cool breeze of refreshing grace.
Postscript: (posted October 31, 10:36 PM)
I didn't think this special afternoon would happen again anytime soon. But it did.
This time, a new friend introduced by two BFFs, whose passion revolves around publishing Christian books, treated all three of us to lunch—in the same hotel and at the same restaurant. Our conversation naturally centered on our common faith, the fullness of grace, and my favorite pursuit: writing.
On our way out, we passed through the coffee shop where the same musical ensemble was playing nostalgic tunes. Will there be another afternoon like this?
Well, grace always surprises.
The eternal challenge (and joy) in writing for children is painting with words.
Authors like kids to actually see and feel the excitement, the characters and where they are in the story. I grew up on books like those: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island, The Secret Garden, Heidi, etc. and tons of fairy tales.
But from the beginning of my writing life, I've said over and over again, “Any book—be it fantasy or adventure that I write has to have a value/s in it, or I don't write at all.” Values . . . that's where the difficulty lies.
Some values are not very visual. One of them is nationalism. I've struggled with the brushes in my mind to try and paint it in various ways, yet I am never content.
Nationalism is commonly defined as love for one's country.
Historically, however, nationalism takes on a far greater meaning. Over the years, large groups of people who share a cultural identity (language, customs, history) have felt the pulling power of nationalistic spirit—something like the belief that one's country is better off as an autonomous state, one that can stand on its own and ward off foreign dominion.
Now, how can that translate to images that children can see and feel? Are they even ready for the concept?
Some of the pictures that appear in my mind on nationalism are children with their right hand on their chest while singing the national anthem, reciting the “Panatang Makabayan,” enjoying our native foods instead of imported ones, and proudly wearing a shirt with the Philippine map on it.
I made an attempt in “A Flood of Kindness,” the #14 “Oh, Mateo!” book, where I dramatized love for one's place of birth. But what came through was the value of kindness instead. Nationalism played second fiddle.
I was given a second chance in “Quiet time with Mateo,” 52 weekly devotions for children. For the 11th month, in the chapter entitled “Love of Country,” I wrote four devotions: 1) Pride in One's Country; 2) Caring for Fellowmen; 3) Supporting Local Products; 4) Appreciating Your roots.
My thoughts: I barely scratched the surface; nationalism is such a multi-layered value that needs a series of stories, not just one; it can only be a subliminal theme in a story, not the main one; it shouldn't be belabored to be understood; it can't be forced on anyone, just suggested; it creeps in as one grows up and not learned in childhood.
Meanwhile, let me go paint other values while my brushes on nationalism stand by and one day, a stroke of grace will illumine my mind on how to use those brushes for the words that create images in a story.
“Is that you, Grace?!” she asked, gaping as though she just saw a specter from under the ground.
“Is that you, Irma?!” I asked, duplicating her reaction.
My friend Irma and I had not seen each other in years! So we retreated to the nearest coffee shop and gabbed away the hours. A re-connection now made, we agreed to meet again the next week before her trip back abroad.
On my way to our meeting place, I wondered whether Irma would be there on time. Long ago, she never was. She always had the most imaginative excuses. I never took her tardiness against her, but I never got used to it either.
Every single time, I would be on time and she would be late. A few times I asked her why she never made it to any event on time.
Her answer was a template, “Believe me, I don't want to be late! I always give myself enough time to get ready, but the time flies so fast. Before I know it, the allowance I gave myself is not enough.”
“Then give yourself more time,” I would reply, wondering whether her watch or clocks at home had hands.
“I do, but . . .”
Then she'd be late again.
“I hope you won't be late for your wedding,” I would tease her.
She was. Twice.
I try not to give up on any friend, especially not on Irma. So I went to our appointment on time, banking on the Rolex watch she was wearing when I bumped into her.
But Rolexes (no matter how precisely engineered) are no guarantee for promptness. After all the intervening years (most of them spent in the USA where people are punctual), two husbands and three kids, Irma was late for—I should have predicted that quite easily—30 minutes, her old record. By the time she joined me, I had downed a doughnut and a cup of tea.
“I haven't changed, have I?” she said, her demeanor very contrite.
“And neither have I,” I said.
“You never got used to my sense of time,” she pouted.
“Should I?” I asked, glancing at her Rolex.
“No! Don't, or you'll imbibe my bad habit!”
I wanted to ask, You know it's a bad habit, why keep doing it? But instead I asked, “What are you having?”
“Fun. Friendship. Memories. Grace,” she said. By grace, she didn't mean me. Irma is a fellow follower of Jesus.
“Fun, friendship, and memories coming up!” I said. “Grace would have to come from above.”
“Amen!” she said, breaking into her signature smile.
Eia is not really a blood niece, but I call the children of my close friends my nieces and nephews because they are gifts of grace. When my close friends and I meet, these kids hover around and treat me like the aunt who comes from a branch of their own family tree.
Back to the photo of papaya from the kitchen of Eia.
For three months in a row before that picture was posted, I had been eating huge slices of ripe papaya for breakfast, and sometimes for lunch and dinner, too. Yummy yellow!
They led to my ruin. When I went for my regular blood tests, my doctor was appalled. My sugar level broke all my previous records.
Her furrowed brows showed what she didn't need to ask, Why?
I was quick to defend myself, “I haven't been eating too much rice, nor chocolates, as you advised.”
“Tell me what you've been having for breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” she intoned.
When she heard papaya, papaya, papaya, she tut-tutted so loud I thought I'd be guillotined.
“From today,” she said, “you eat only this much papaya in one day,” she gestured with her hands, demonstrating a size too teeny to see or even describe. “Then have another blood test after a month.”
I lost my tongue and came home ready to drown my disappointment on FB.
Irony of ironies, in full color, in all its luscious, scrumptious best, this papaya photo on Eia's Timeline jumped at me!
I've always been prepared for life's surprises, but never for life's papayas.
But like a good patient, with every effort I could muster, albeit reluctantly, I have stayed away from papaya since. I haven't gone back to see my doctor as she ordered, though. I am afraid she'll say, “I told you so!” about the papaya.
When I finally convince myself to make that still-to-happen clinic visit, I am sure my doctor will make an edict: no more papaya.
Now my thoughts are running along this line: the fruit used by the snake to tempt Eve might have been papaya. And because papaya is the forbidden fruit, all I'd be left doing would be going back to Eia's photo, staring at it and blogging about it.
One of my friends shared the link of my blog, “How Old Are You?” on his FB wall. That post is an abridged version of my talk on how it is to be a writer at retirement age. Immediately one of his friends posted a message, “Seems to be a Socio-Emotional Selectivity Theory at work here . . .”
Don't let those big words throw you off. Big words are a part of our world; they explain certain facts or phenomena.
They are usually uttered and bandied about by hot shots in academe or people with a string of degrees to their names. (Sometimes I feel I am a misfit in the academe; I have no theories, nor use big words. An adjective that will never be used to describe my writings is, scholarly.)
But I happen to know those big words well. We made use of the theory in advertising to understand, communicate, and sell to the mature market. However, we had a surrogate label for it, a much simpler one: reformer mindset.
It simply means—older people mellow.
Their thoughts are on a different plane: fewer, but more meaningful relationships; altruism; spirituality, with less negative emotions.
Let me simplify that further: grace seeker.
It's a term as old as the hills. People of faith, then and now, are all on a pilgrimage to seek grace. As we get closer to our destination, we are more . . . selective, as the Socio-Emotional Selectivity Theory postulates. We choose only what counts to deepen our relationship with our Maker, who waits to welcome us home across the earthly finish line.
Over coffee and croissants, my balikbayan friend shared with me her recent problem with her adult son.
His 15-year marriage was on the rocks, and he jumped into a relationship with another woman—also very married with two children.
"I was distraught so I talked to him about it," P said. "Son, I know this is your business and I should not interfere. But please consider it as parental counsel."
Her son cut in, "Leave me alone, Mom! I know exactly what you're going to say!"
"I'll say it anyway," P replied. "Fix your own marriage first before you ruin another one."
Her son marched out angrily, but not before P could say, "Only you can do something about this madness. But I can pray that the Lord may give you the proper perspective to decide what is right.”
“O, did I pray!" P said, slapping my hand. "I got down on my knees every day and asked God to please open the eyes of my son."
Months later, P's son came crying (literally) to her. “You prayers are certainly powerful, Mom! My girlfriend and I just broke up!”
P replied, "Oh, no, dear, my prayers have no power—none whatsoever. Only God has the power to do or change things.”
Like P's son, I am sometimes deluded by the thought that my prayers are powerful (especially when hordes of my friends are helping me pray for the same thing all at the same time) and can goad God to action and do my bidding.
True, in the Bible, God might have changed the course of some events as a result of someone's prayers, but in the end, it is He alone who makes the decision based on what He wants for us. Whether he gives us exactly what we want done, it is His will alone, not ours.
King Hezekiah was very sick, almost dying, and prayed for healing,
“. . . say to Hezekiah the leader of my people, Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you.” 2 Kings 20:5
Our assurance: “. . . if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” 1 John 5:14-15
The power is God's alone, and grace comes from Him.
"Teachers… ultimately determine our collective ability to innovate, to invent, to find solutions for tomorrow. Nothing will ever replace a good teacher. Nothing is more important than supporting them.” Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General
World Teachers’ Day is held on October 5 every year to celebrate the role of teachers in providing quality education at all levels. From the UNESCO website, “. . . it also commemorates the anniversary of the 1966 signature of the UNESCO/ILO Recommendation Concerning the Status of Teachers.”
How nice that this day does not discriminate between full-time educators and teachers who, like me, teach part-time—twice a weekday and once on Sabbath (Sunday School)! It was as much my day, too.
Flashed on the big screen in my classroom was this UNESCO poster:
Then during my break time I got this:
So up to the president's office I went and got treated to coffee and cake:
Getting back to the classroom, I received a cupcake (which I shot with my low-tech phone, and can't download or upload because of my low-tech brain) with warm greetings from some of my students:
And when I got home, on my FB wall were more greetings from more students!
O for overwhelming grace for one teacher's day at work.
To my cyber friends reading this post, please take a stand for teachers. At least once in the life of anyone, he or she has been inordinately blessed through a teacher.
Counting out our common love for food, my family and I have disparate likes—especially in TV shows and books. When Tony watches TV, I sleep. When I watch TV, he reads.
My three sons? We gave them very limited TV viewing time when they were growing up, so they got hooked on books instead.
We only have two TV sets at home—one in our master's bedroom and one in the dining room (but this second set is for the exclusive use of Ate Vi and her adjutant). So when the boys want to watch TV, which isn't often, they come to our room. That's when I read or solve crossword puzzles.
We hardly ever go to the movies together anymore, except to Cinemalaya, but that's for a nobler reason: support the local movie industry.
There is one TV fare, however, which everybody loves: Everybody Loves Raymond. I always laugh the loudest; and nobody goes out of the viewing room when the show is on.
This US sitcom ran for nine long years, from September 13, 1996-May 16, 2005. We had not watched all the episodes, so when they went on DVDs, we ordered nine (one for each season from Amazon), one at a time, as a birthday gift to Tony—even if we knew he knew that we didn't buy it exclusively for him.
The Barone family in the sitcom is often described as odd and dysfunctional. But for me and my house, it is, quite simply, entertainment. The episodes are also often hilariously real, reminiscent of many Filipino families, including ours.
JR had come home from a rigorous bar exam in the US; I was on a rare break after the back-to-back closing of the school term and book fair. So we decided on a marathon viewing of the DVDs once again—with Tony and JC joining in after a hard day's work.
Some critics insist that the show is shallow and petty, and possesses no meaningful contribution to society. One wrote, “You don't even know whether they are Republicans or Democrats, what they believe in, or their stand on any issues.”
This neuron-defying critical pedantry does not come to our minds at all when we watch the show. I personally think of the sitcom as nothing but heart and humor, like a sudden R&R after a punishing year of hard labor. It requires no brain surgery.
I've always believed that life can't always be an intellectual discourse, or a deep colloquy, or a cerebral treatise, or a theoretical pedagogy. Our minds and bodies need a respite from the coil of human complexities.
In our home, everybody loves Everybody Loves Raymond not for what it preaches (it doesn't) or espouses (it has none), but for what it is—a family that isn't very affectionate, bickers often and whines sometimes, but stays together, and loves each other, despite frailties and differences.
That's what charms me about this show—my boys and I are given the chance to enjoy the grace of laughter together, amidst our disparate schedules, personalities, opinions, and tastes.