Our Hyphen

Among all the punctuation marks, the hyphen is what I leave for last in my English classes.

It is the hardest to understand because it is often confused with a dash, and therefore needs more teaching time. And especially because, in modern times, the hyphen is now being left to oblivion. To name a few, inter-action, hyper-ventilate, and de-emphasize have each lost their hyphen and have become one word. 

It is also because on our computer keyboard, we use the same key or symbol for both hyphen and dash.

But there is one use for the hyphen (okay, dash) that will never change: its role in obituaries or in biographies of the dead. 

William Shakespeare, 1564-1616

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1906-1945

Mother Teresa, 1910-1997 

Adolf Hitler, 1889-1945

Ferdinand Marcos, 1917-1989

That hyphen defined the way they lived their lives: between the time they were born and the time they left this earth. That same minuscule line, when the Lord calls me home, will define the way I shall have lived mine.

“. . . you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” James 4:14 (NKJV)

Our life is but a hyphen (or dash, or that tiny horizontal line on our keyboard).  Small and short. I pray we spend it walking on the path that leads to the narrow gate, open to us through God’s merciful grace.  


Never Again

Have we been remiss?

Have we not told our children enough about the evils of Martial law? Have we taken for granted that they will learn about it by themselves or by osmosis?

If some publications are to be believed, youth groups are leading the movement to elect the dictator’s heir, remorseless and unrepentant. These same groups are shamelessly proclaiming that the Martial Law years were the golden age of this country. They are courting its return.

Watching the sky turn yellow on TV once more, and staring at the re-enactment of the EDSA People Power this morning, I was overcome with vivid images and gut-wrenching memories of an event 30 years ago that changed the lives of those who suffered through the malevolence of dictatorship.
I shed tears, remembering those dark years all over again. 

We were there, we saw it all, we suffered it all, and we made possible the end of it all—the abuses, excesses, atrocities, injustice, and debauchery. With clenched fists and courageous defiance, we walked hand-in-hand to break free from the chains of coercion.

And we were successful.

As a nation, we made the dictator flee, shamed and fallen. 

At EDSA, we were one.

Can we be one again in passing on the anger and frustration to those who were still unborn or infants when it happened?

Will our youth, our children, clueless and coddled, value what we fought for?

Never again. Is it just a slogan now, 30 years later, for the old and the aging? Will I live to see the grace of EDSA be left unsullied and solid?

I pray we do not allow our heard-earned freedom be shackled: Never Again. 

Photo credit


Let the Day Begin

(I wrote this column five years ago for a magazine, but the incident almost happened again, so it feels like I just wrote it yesterday.)   

"What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?” asked a little kid in one of my book talks.

I gave him a few answers, but he said all of them were wrong. 

With wisdom belying his young eyes, he remarked (it seemed more like an admonition from an old professor to a truant student), “You should first pray and thank God for the new day.” 

Why, of course! How could have I missed that?

From that day on, I had to be conscious that before I rose from bed for my morning walk, I should first be grateful to the Lord for the grace of a new day.

My day begins just a few minutes before 5 A.M. By five, I am shod in my walking outfit, with a pedometer to measure my steps, a hat to protect me from the dawn draft, and a long stick to ward off street dogs.

On one of these mornings, I prayed upon waking up, donned my walking gear, then went for my one-hour exercise. It was unusually dark; I thought there must be a storm brewing. 

After ten minutes, I was ready to greet Mang Ramon, the newspaper man who delivered the dailies in the neighborhood and the first person I'd see on the street every day. No sign of his bike anywhere.  I thought he might be sick.

In another ten minutes, I expected to meet Aling Baby, the lady who attended mass at the same hour daily. No shadow of her either. I presumed she overslept.

I gingerly walked by the big house with the most rabid dog that gnarled when it heard my footsteps. Not even a yip. I thought it might have been on vacation somewhere. 

It was the eeriest morning—there were no stray cats and the school buses plying their route at that hour were nowhere to be found. I couldn't even hear the roosters usually crowing from somewhere. Alarmed, I asked myself, What is happening to this neighborhood?

Panicking (after I had already walked half an hour), I ran back home. Upon opening our front door, the clock stared at me. It was only 4:30 in the morning! I woke up one hour too early!

I laughed so hard my husband stirred from his deep sleep, “What's wrong?”

After I had told him the story, he didn't think it was funny, so he went back to bed. 

Good mornings begin with a prayer and a mix-up such as this!


Insignificant Sparrow

Ching’s lovely voice wafted inside the hushed church. As one of our Praise and Worship team leaders, she sometimes sings solo, with lyrics that dovetail with our Pastor’s message to drive home the grace of God’s Word.

That one Sunday, as she rendered “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” I blinked back tears. This hymn never fails to move me.

Growing up, I’d wonder why the adults in our church would wipe their eyes whenever this was sung. But eventually, I’d be wrapped in the same emotions whenever I reflect on the lyrics.

"Sparrow" (or Maya in this country) was how different species of common birds in the Bible were called—they were so numerous they gathered in noisy flocks and built untidy nests in the eaves of houses.

In Jesus’ time, sparrows were cheap. The poor who could not afford to sacrifice a sheep or a goat would bring a sparrow to the temple. So insignificant were the sparrows that they were always on sale—if you bought four or five, the seller would throw in an extra for free. It was this free sparrow which Jesus spoke of, “and not one of them is forgotten before God.” (Luke 12:4-7)

If God is concerned about the sparrow, how much greater must His concern be for you and me, more valuable than a mere sparrow! Jesus chose the most common of all birds to assure us: in God's eyes, no one is insignificant.

The story behind the writing of this hymn by Civilla Martin is just as gripping as the lyrics:

In 1905, Civilla and her husband met a couple named Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle. Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for nearly twenty years. Her husband was a cripple and wheelchair bound. Despite their afflictions, however, they lived happy Christian lives, inspiring everyone in their circle.

Civilla asked why they had such a happy disposition; Mrs. Doolittle replied, "His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me."

Let’s sing the hymn together and be comforted.

Why should I feel discouraged
Why should the shadows come
Why should my heart feel lonely
And long for heaven and home

When Jesus is my portion
A constant friend is he
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches over me
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches me

I sing because I'm happy
I sing because I'm free
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches me


The Greatest Love of All

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Can grace be more eloquently and profoundly defined?

There are many people in history who died or "took a bullet" for country, for a loved one, to protect others, or to save someone's life in the name of love, but none had stripped himself of all riches and power to suffer and die for mindless, stubborn, and worthless mankind.

Only Jesus. Not one could ever come close.

Today, February 14, let’s celebrate the greatest love of all!


The Day I Turn into a Pig

It happened again. I turned into a pig on Chinese New Year’s eve.

There were endless choices of food in possibly the biggest buffet array in this country that even a perpetual dieter like me can cave in with a one-sentence excuse, “It’s only once a year.”

Tony’s side of the family usually celebrates the Lunar New Year in a place where one hotel floor has nothing but food and one special room is reserved for cheeses and tapas. That room alone can make one forget food resolves and doctors’ admonitions. So I snort.

“Skip the Chinese dishes,” advised third son, JR. “Or you won’t have enough space for the rarities.”

The rarities were foie gras, lobsters, fresh oysters, abalones, and sea treasures one hardly gets to see on her own dining table.

Even with zero Chinese food on Chinese New year, however, my plate was overly full many times over.

These calorie overloads were polished off over sporadic conversations with relatives who speak more Chinese than languages familiar to my ears; elaborate dragons in various colors weaving in and out of our room; red lanterns; red beverages; and a fortune cookie that read: 
A pig I might have turned into, but my human mind had been able to ponder that statement. It revised it to:

“The first step to better times is grace.”  

Despite the glorious food and loving relatives on New Year’s eve, no imagination can conjure better or bad times. We can imagine all we want, but it is His will that prevails. And to those who believe, better times beyond this life await them.

 On that note, I concentrated on pigging out.

“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” 2 Corinthians 5:17


Keep Writing

What were the most encouraging words someone ever said that pushed you into doing what you love doing now?

The words that keep ringing in my ears right now are: 

Yet, they were not even said to me directly. They were scrawled by my professor on the title page of my typewritten script for our playwriting class.

These two words were more than medals or plaques of merit. For me, they meant I had something going there and that I should pursue it.

I did not pursue writing right away—not in the way I have been relentlessly at it in the last 16 years. But I remember those words each time a reader sends me an encouraging message or a note with words so close to "Keep writing!"

Today, these have evolved into a nagging reminder for me to read and hear to stoke the writing ember that can die with the onslaught of modern concerns.

This has been a killer week. I had not had enough time to write everything I have in my head for a book that's due in March.

My blog rhythm has been compromised (16 hours late), too. Just as I get ready to write, something pops up. Or just when I am immersed in a paragraph, something tumbles down my lap.

"Keep writing!"

I should, I really should. Ooops, my phone's ringing.


Memories of Campus Journalism

Yesterday, the first day of the so-called love month, I did nothing but teach my college editorial staff how to do interesting newsletter layout.

As the adviser of our university paper, the look and the content—and attitude—of the publication fall on my lap.

It is an exciting assignment, something I took on with no question asked. But with this job come coaching and mentoring, tasks that require gargantuan patience. Also, I need to remember how it is done by going years back; I need to pluck from my college memoir of campus journalism what can be taught to hard-core millennials today. 

Aside from their writing talents, my chosen editors (who had to pass a rigorous test), have zero knowledge of newspaper writing. 

Words like headline, subhead, ears, nose for news, news angle, column inches, page jump, tombstone, etc. are as foreign to them as a typewriter.   

What to do?

I guess that's why there is a love month. It's when you painstakingly teach the ABC's of a job you used to love in college so they, too, will love it.

As one of only a dozen, chosen from among thousands to write for our prestigious campus newspaper, and one who will always look to those wonder semesters as part of her life's peak moments, I received grace in many unmeasured column inches. I was smitten by campus journalism.  

Journalism would also become the venue for meeting my future husband (maybe I should blog about that, too, one day soon). 

Memories of a job so loved then, should be shared—and passed on.  

So, I now move from a header of hope . . .

to a header of love: