It was a sunny Easter Sunday in LA.
Four of Tony’s old friends welcomed him with a sumptuous lunch and raucous reminiscences of shared young-and-foolish years.
That lively and vibrant day set the tone for the reunion of pals who live on opposite ends of the world but found time to re-connect. The song in my mind then was Barbara Streisand’s “On a clear day you can see forever.”
But forever was not to be.
Just ten days later, while Tony and I continued with our travels, this time traipsing all over New York, we received word that one of those four friends, Art, had a heart attack and passed away.
No hints. No warnings. No good-byes.
It was a heartbreaking, shocking news, like a thunderbolt on a clear day. It can’t be, we cried. Those frightening thunderbolts happen only on a stormy day, not when the sky is blue. But this time, it did.
Because such is life.
Those whom we hold dear today may be gone tomorrow. Which is why we can’t, and shouldn't, postpone re-connecting, in whatever way we can, while we still have time. It is a small comfort that Tony and friends were with Art for one short day, one last time.
We grieve with Art’s family and loved ones. But we also thank God for the life He gave Art to share with kith and kin. He will be painfully missed, but never, ever, be forgotten.
Because such is grace.
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” Revelation 21:4 (NIV)
It was definitely going to be a beautiful day in New York, never mind the weather forecast of an unbearably cold 30 degrees and rain showers.
My two cousins, L and M, were going to take Tony and me to the Broadway play, “Beautiful: The Carole King Musicale” at the Stephen Sondheim theater.
With umbrellas in tow, we headed to Manhattan all bundled up—Tony and I in borrowed winter clothes, complete with hats and gloves.
But first, they hauled us to the Rockefeller Center. On our way there, we passed by familiar landmarks of yore: a building that housed past clients, with whom I had a meeting years ago; Empire State Building; Waldorf Astoria; Saks Fifth Avenue; and sidewalk hotdog stands.
At the Top of the Rock, we saw all the other areas of NY we couldn’t visit otherwise, not with our limited time of only four days. Click, click, click, we turned into tourists.
Tony struggled, step by step, from 36th to 43rd St. where the theater was.
After the curtain call, hailing a cab in the “city that never sleeps” was like finding a needle in a haystack. My teeth chattered and Tony’s knee quivered. But seconds before we could succumb to frostbite, grace braked right before us and into the cab we clambered.
It was a beautiful day!
A slow writer and a slow reader—that’s how I’d describe me. When I write, I agonize over every word. When I read, I romance every sentence.
I have to put this slow habit (or luxury) aside in America where our vacation has a deadline: one month.
So we visit a library in Stockton that has all the books I’d have wanted to read but couldn’t find in the Philippines (buying them online, in dollars, is prohibitive). Now here they all are in one library—where you could borrow up to 25 books in four weeks.
I am overwhelmed, but will take on the challenge. With only fourteen days left before we fly back home, I could only take in two books, and only on speed reading. So I choose the two books of Jan Karon that I haven’t yet read.
As I continue to write about grace, however, I am happy, content, that the only paradise we will ever need is somewhere up there, where Jesus lives, waiting for anyone who believes—whether he or she is from America or elsewhere.
In that unimaginable wonderland, nothing will ever be hurried, because everything is forever.
(Note: this post was written two weeks ago. Now back home, I was not able to read the books—not from cover to cover—as I had wished. Just the beginnings and endings, but both were a heavenly read just the same.)
My friend Lucy facetiously says that Tony and I are on the run.
In a way we are: Four major US cities in one month, not including the other lesser known cities we visit along the way.
How glorious, how precious, what grace, to see Lucy again after many years—on Easter Sunday! We agreed to meet at a Krispy Kreme in the outskirts of LA after lunch. It was a 15-minute drive for me, one hour for Lucy.
She had instructed Jess to take a photo of the precise moment when she and I met again. Naturally, Jess—very much like Tony—always takes instructions as suggestions. When we saw each other, Lucy and I shrieked, hugged, and giggled, but no photo.
The photo would come later, after we have wolfed down our dessert and ready to say our good-byes and run.
It was a three-and-a-half hour chat, too short to catch up on everything, but we are on the run, remember? Our hosts planned on taking us out to a barbecue dinner with the members of their clan.
Lucy summed up our meeting on her FB page hours later, “Grace and I talked our heads off—our husbands mere garnishing.”
Years ago, travelling for me was visiting tourist spots and shopping. Not this time around. Tourist spots could easily be found on the Net and shopping could be done when we get home.
“Are you on tour?” asks a lady, who must have noticed we are not locals.
“We’re on people tour,” I reply.
She wrinkles her nose.
And so we are on the run—to the next city and the next—each stop to meet those from whom we were separated by time, space, and life’s choices.
Our drive to the Sacramento airport (with daughter-in-law G on the wheel and grandson Adrian on a kiddie car seat), the check-in and security processes, plus the long walk and train ride to the departure area, is longer than our flight to LA.
I catnap as soon as I put my seat belt on. When I wake up, we are taxiing on the runway.
Compared to Stockton, LA is a beehive. There is a super long queue to the Avis rent-a-car that lasts two hours. Famished from all the waiting, we drop by Panera, one of Adrian’s favorite eating places, to grab some salad and sandwiches before another hour drive to our destination: Tony’s side of the family.
I have forgotten that everything about the US is expansive, with all the synonyms of big—roads, parking lots, food servings, even sidewalks. No wonder second son always comments when he comes home to the Philippines for a visit, “This house seems much smaller than I remember.”
The rambling house of Tony’s cousin, L, sits on a half-acre lot, with two huge living rooms, one with a fountain and a pond filled with colorful Koi, and lots of spare bedrooms. Tony and I are assigned one, G and Adrian (joined by second son a few hours later) are assigned another, all complete with amenities not often offered in hotels or inns.
Tony and L were playmates in childhood, but they have not seen each other since they-both-can’t-remember. Therefore, everything—both physical and emotional—is super large and overflows.
From my side of the family, a nephew organizes a mini reunion. Fifteen of them— nieces who were babies when they left the Philippines, new in-laws, etc.— come from all areas of LA. The joy of hugging kin one sees only on FB over the years go beyond words. I try to document everything with my trusty old camera and hope that my battery, with a charger that doesn’t fit in any socket here, won't conk out on me.
Tony’s aching right knee is eased with Tylenol and with the cane he brought with him from home. I take my anti-allergy pills to lull me to sleep so my resistance can hold with our youthful schedule.
In Los Angeles, grace has been abundant.
It flew us here on a short hop to reunite with people dear to our hearts. We leave for another place in three days, but already the airplane in my mind is packed to maximum with memories.
All too soon, our four-day stay in Cupertino ended with a three-hour drive (the GPS estimated it to be one hour and five minutes only) to Stockton, our US of A home base—where our second son, daughter-in-law G and grandson Adrian live.
My Manong Ped (with his wife, Manang C) drove us through a freeway that had a monumental traffic jam reminiscent of Manila’s. Tony slept through it all while I had to stay awake to keep the driver’s mind alert.
Our home base is off-white outside, girded with a wide patch of green, and pristine-white inside, including the carpet and cabinets. It is a home out of the pages of an architectural magazine. A dinner spread of American and Greek cuisine was laid out for us and a few other guests who jointly welcomed us.
Just next to Adrian’s bedroom is ours, which has a full view of the gated village. This is where we would be coming back to from all our hops to other cities meeting up with long-time friends and kin.
Second day in Stockton was spent with only G since second son had full clinic hours and Adrian had full school hours. But G drove us to second son’s clinic and toured us in Adrian’s school as highlights of our leisurely, touristy day . . .
A drive along acres and acres of farms and orchards; a wellness massage in a nature spa; a light lunch of American burgers and BLT in a quaint town called Lodi; a slow walk through a book store that carried both pre-owned and new books and where Tony grabbed two volumes of the American Revolution without looking at the price tag (which G insisted on paying for).
We don’t have a daughter, but in Stockton we found in G everything we could ever have wished for. She prepares our meals, around which Adrian regales us with his wit and antics. She more than makes up for the absence of her extremely busy husband by patiently driving us around and documenting our stay with photos.
|Left: Adrian picked "patience" for me and "strength" for Tony. Right: Adrian's version of pancake sandwich.|
Most important, in Stockton, infamous for guns and goons, grace followed us to wherever we went.
That made Tony remark, “It is my kind of town.”
Making decisions in America is a mind-boggling, brain-twisting, and synapse-altering experience.
We go into a burger shop and reading the menu alone makes me go insane. There are just too many variations and permutations. So I order a simple cheeseburger meal that comes with a side order and drink to simplify the process.
“What kind of cheese?” asks the waitress and rattles off, "American, cheddar, stilton, brie, roasted gouda, Monterey jack, yada, yada.”
“That one,” I say, my impaired hearing unable to make out her oral menu of choices.
“Which one?” she pushes.
“The first one,” I reply, crossing my fingers it is an edible choice.
She asks again, “How would you like your burger? Rare? Medium rare? Well done? Yada, yada, yada."
“The first one,” I cut her short.
She asks some more, “And dressing for your side salad? Vinaigrette? Caesar? Greek? Yada, yada, yada.”
“The first one,” I repeat like a looped recording.
“And drink? Coffee? How’d you like it brewed? Dark? Medium? Light? Yada, yada, yada. With cream? What kind? Sugar? Honey? Yada, yada, yada.”
To make a very complicated story short, I finally come face-to-face with my cheeseburger meal, after making millions of non-life-changing decisions that have caused my dormant acid reflux to erupt anew, with a vengeance.
Life in America became so complicated when I wasn't looking. Well, life in general has become so maddeningly complex.
But in God's infinite mercy, we only have two choices: to follow Him or not. That for me was the easiest decision of all. I pray that others will make that same choice, if not now, soon.
Before I dig in, I say grace for my cheeseburger meal, and spend a little more time asking for God’s grace of sanity.
“Cupertino? Where is that?” people asked when I told them I’d be going there to visit my older brother.
Even if it is a big chunk of the famous Silicon Valley, Cupertino is still an obscure city, not very well-known, not in the same league as San Jose or Palo Alto. But after staying there for four days this month, I am sure that pretty soon, people would instead be asking, in shock and awe, “You were at Cupertino?!”
The development in that area is amazing and going on in a frenzied pace. Apple’s super huge Campus 2 is rising very quickly.
Real estate prices have quadrupled and the excitement is palpable.
My Manong’s wife, C, said, “When you and Tony come back sometime in the future, Cupertino will be the new landmark in California.”
In my book, Cupertino has always been a landmark. That’s where she, my Manong Ped, and their well-knit family, which now includes a six-year-old grandson, live. Grace always found me there. Or should I say, I always found grace there.
“Coming back sometime in the future,” though, may no longer be an option.
It took about three years before I finally mustered enough courage to travel to the US again. Our second son, who lives here with his family, had been inviting (okay, urging) Tony and me to come and visit.
This was where Tony and I met (in his words: where it all began), and my past advertising job required me to travel endlessly to many parts of the world and the US. Traveling had been exciting then—new people, places, and feelings.
But since I took up writing after retirement, the body has picked up enough physical maladies that make one retreat to the comforts of home—particularly my spot in the computer room which is my daily window to all the new places and new inventions that invade our digitally-wired planet; particularly a home church brimming with praying friends.
Tony, however, loves traveling, despite some serious health problems last year (including a bad right knee that suddenly assaulted him two weeks before our scheduled flight). So I caved in and agreed to a month of travel that spans the west and east.
It happens to be spring in America!
Like a new beginning, it’s the season for new leaves sprouting after a long, cold winter (but not of discontent) of our lives.
We are actually seeing old things in new ways. And new things in newer ways.
We are re-learning that children of Filipinos are different from their American counterparts. They still possess our beautiful values, despite growing up or being born here.
We are re-learning that there is a great chasm between the rich and not-so-rich (Republicans vs Democrats), and how they view welfare and the Obama care.
We are re-learning that among our circle of friends and relatives, there is as much love that goes around as what we find at home.
We are re-learning that America is a land of plenty (in everything that money can buy) and opportunity, and that our homeland has many more years, way beyond my lifetime, to be in the same league.
We are re-learning that citizenship in a country, other than your own, is not a guarantee that you love that adopted country more.
We are re-learning that Tony and I both so love our country, warts and all, because that is where God put us.
We’ve sprouted new leaves—worth more than the aching knee and scaly skin brought about by an almost-forgotten weather and an almost-alien landscape.
Spring has given us new grace. How much more bounty can traveling give?