October 25, 2007

The ABC of Life as I Silently Sing It

The following is not a children’s song but simple lessons I learned from life since kindergarten:

a.) You can’t force others to like you even if you were a bitter melon.
b.) Promises are made either to keep or… shut you up.
c.) Mother knows best… so you better listen. You don’t need though to follow all what she has to say.
d.) We don’t have to always agree. We may be looking at the same sky yet see different stars.
e.) Learn from the mistakes of others because you won’t be given the chance to commit all crimes. Otherwise, lucky you. And luckier you if you got away with all of your sins.
f.) There is nothing certain in life, except death and taxes.
g.) You don’t need earbuds to clean your ears, because your ear needs the wax. Did you hear me!?
h.) Don’t assume. It’s not your lucky day today.
i.) You have a purpose in life. Even if life is a wheel, never forget you are one of the cogs of that wheel!
j.) Not all that tastes sour is rich in Vitamin C. Take armpit for example.
k.) Love conquers all except toothache.
l.) Laugh often because it lowers levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. In addition, surround yourself with good people. Your body easily makes its own vitamin D once it is exposed to sunshine.
m.) Always take a book with you, especially when you’re going in a grocery store or LTO. Doing nothing while waiting, will drive you out of your mind.
n.) When making choices, weigh the consequences. My happiness or the world’s?
o.) Sometimes you need to lose everything for you to find out what matters most.
p.) Cream Brulee could never be Jell-O. And vice-versa.
q.) You can actually be in two places at one time. Sometimes.
r.) You can never revive the past because just like the words you uttered, it’s already dead. That’s why give importance to Now and Tomorrow before they become the Past.
s.) Once you love expect to experience joy and pain. They are a package - you don’t get the one without getting the other. As they say, love, like life, is a box of chocolates. You might get Cadbury or Tsoke-Tsoke.
t.) Stop bitching about your problems! Nobody really wants to listen.
u.) Take care of you family and friends for they last longer than lovers. Isn’t it there are moments when you miss them so much that you just want to pick them like flowers and hug them for real. But take note, no matter how close they had been there for us, the furthest they can go with us is up to our grave. Only.
v.) Let go of all your greed, anger, and hate. They are not compatible with your heart.
w.) Be honest. But you don’t need to tell them all.
x.) Learn how to swim. You’ll never know when the next Great Flood will be.
y.) Love like you’ve never loved before, even though someone you love already loves someone else. But if you can’t beat them… arrange to have them beaten. Figuratively, I mean.
z.) Don’t live as if you’ll never die, and die as though you had never lived.

Okay now… let’s sing the real ABC…

October 24, 2007

My Bilibid Days

This is the story of Bunso…

“I passed by an old man looking pensively at an old photo of a girl he loved all his life. Beside him, was a man looking so detached from this world. Nothing binds the three of us and the thousand more confined in this little space for an indefinite period of time, except for one thing we might have forever lost - freedom. How heartbreaking that my life will miserably end here. In the dead silence of the night, loneliness visits me. He has been my constant visitor for now. I suffer not so much because I’m caged within the four walls of this tiny grimy cell but because I’m separated from my loved ones. I’m a fallen bird who broke his wings in his most atrocious flight. All the cheerfulness flocked from my heart the moment I realized I could never fly that sky so blue and high. And all I could do now is gaze at it from the lowest point of my life. Living behind these bars is harsh and scary. My fellow inmates have troubles of their own enough to drive them mad. We are all brutalized by life filled with congestion, filth and vice. Life here is in the borders of a scorching hell and cold purgatory. So gloomy and dark has my world become that the slightest stirring of love, the faintest ray of light, awakens the hope I’m afraid is slowly dying within me. I wish I could still turn back the time. I’ve lost everything I loved and cared for. My only possessions left are two orange shirts, the lone letter my mother wrote to me before she died, and happy memories of innocence I safely locked in my mind. They have all forgotten me now. I am no better than a dust… forgotten and forever gone with the wind.”

I worked for some time with the Jesuit Prison Service in Bilibid - the most notorious of the seven national prisons in the country confining more than 17,000 convicts who committed grave offenses such as murder, homicide and rape. Working inside the prison may be unsafe yet fulfilling. Though fully aware that there are still inmates with antisocial behavior, there are those who have repented and changed for the better. I can’t help but feel concerned when I hear some of them dejectedly complain they haven’t had a visit for quite a while. I admire their honesty and courage for recounting to me the gruesome crimes they have committed. Somehow, I commiserated with them for the different problems they have to face everyday – lack of water, inadequate food supply, overcrowding, bribery, physical and emotional abuse, gang wars, discrimination, depression, degradation, longing, hunger for human touch, and the most dreaded moment that maybe someday they might be reintegrated into the free society. Their stories have imparted in me something – that they too are also victims… victims of poverty, illiteracy, broken home and chance. Though I condemn their sins, I couldn’t help but broaden my understanding why they have committed such crimes. When I was at the Death Row, I appreciated death convicts approaching me, shaking my hand and telling me “thank you for being here.” Though I have not uncovered all the secrets and mysteries behind bars, my volunteer service transported me to a world I had only glimpsed in Robin Padilla movies (it was claimed he was the most celebrated of all the housemates Bilibid has ever had, the crown now being passed on to Jalosjos). A world resembling a miniature of city of Manila – complete with dilapidated old buildings, churches, mosque, plaza, wet market, restaurants, sari-sari stores, hospital, rehabilitation center, furniture and industrial factories, school, museum, post office, plaza, tennis court, basketball court, beautiful garden and bartolina with swarming tambays in every corner of the place.

I have met a new family through the PJPS staff, especially Father Will. They served as my bridge to reach out to lost souls trapped in the living underworld. Funny, I could still remember the first time I entered the gates of prison… I was sweating profusely… a little terrified that I might get stabbed or lynched. Nothing of that sort happened of course. What an extra-challenge achievement for a na├»ve boy who doesn’t even want to hang out with friends in bars and instead spent his weekends drinking with rapists and murderers (that was drinking orange juice, by the way… trust me you’ll need extra vitamin C in dealing with them). And before I forget, Bunso is one of my three buddies in Camp Sampaguita (Bilibid is divided by security level into three camps – Maximum, Minimum/Camp Sampaguita, and Minimum/Camp Bukang-Liwayway). He was my tour guide (teaching me some useful Bilibid slang like puga, buryong and tarima) all the time I was bonding with ka-kosas. I don’t know if he would agree with Gandhi who said “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.” He won’t I bet. We are just of the same age.

October 23, 2007

In Memory of Ron

Ronald Lay
One friendJune 1980 – June 2006

I never properly said goodbye to Ron. He told me once while he was hospitalized “The doctor said I might die anytime.” I said “Don’t kid me. You’ll get well.” It was my way of evading the discussion on facing mortality. Like the way we had snubbed each other the first time we met. We never really were in good terms because he snapped at me once for laughing with Manny while he was lecturing on computer programs.

And so every time we passed each other, our nostrils and eyebrows start to get bellicose. How the elevator seem to get smaller and deafeningly silent when we were riding in it together. To put everything in three words - we don’t talk. Yeah, we don’t really like each other that much. And heaven knows if we will ever be friends. Until one fine day. After he recovered from his pulmonary illness, I got the chance to talk with him. I said “You would recuperate faster if you take a long-month vacation. Go to Banaue and enjoy its beautiful scenery.” So it just started there. And every time I visited the MIS Office, he would jocosely say “You’re messing and disturbing us again!” or “Why do you miss us that much!”

In one of our office testimonial sharing, he told us to take care of our health because “it’s precious”. He had difficulty breathing then. He was hospitalized several times and was diagnosed with complications in his blood and brain. I felt sorry now that I had only visited him once for the many times he had been to different hospitals around the Metro. I was in Cabugao watching sunset, when I got a text message from Cheng “We’re here at the hospital, about to donate blood for Ron.” A week later he called and I immediately said “Sorry I wasn’t able to visit you and donate some blood.” He said “Ows you would do that for me?” I said laughing “Even though I am afraid of needles, I would gladly do it for you. I heard it makes you healthy and look good. You know I would do anything to look good no matter what it takes!”

It was the last time I heard him laugh. When he was still alive, he often complains. He told me “There was a point in my life, that I blamed almost everybody for what happened to me.” It was at this moment that I empathized with him. He was young. Athletic. Conservative. Computer genius. Without vice. Good son. And he had cats he loved more than anything inhuman-like in this world. He had dreams he will now never fulfill. How can you do everything you wanted in this life when you can barely stand up, face the world and start to lose the one thread that keeps you going - hope?

During our office’s 26th anniversary, he called really upset that he was not permitted by his mom to go to the party. A week later, he celebrated his 26th birthday with us. I swear I almost balked out of the room when I saw him. He was in a wheelchair and was twice as lanky as I am. I could see his body slowly shrinking. His family was with him and everybody was in a festive mood or trying to be, well maybe except for Ron who later complained to his Mom that we were all so annoyingly noisy. When I asked him “What’s your favorite song? We’ll sing it for you.” His head just turned left and right. I could feel he was really tired, unhappy. And If I had known that this would be the last birthday he’s going to celebrate with us, then I wish I had personally thanked him for being my friend. Even in his deathbed, we weren’t able to bid Ron farewell. When we arrived at the hospital, the doctors were hopelessly reviving him. His heart was no longer beating. Everybody was crying. His mom kept saying “God just another month please. Don’t take him away yet.”

I shed a tear that day. Despite the loss, I thanked God he took away all of Ron’s suffering. Ron was cremated, just as he wished. We got to see his baby pictures during his wake. He was really a clown. And though he’s on the other side now, I still hold on to things he left me - a cute blue shirt (which I asked during our last Christmas party) and two must-do’s in this lifetime (important things he wished he had done while he still had the chance): buy a piece of land and do everything good you want.

I know the bitterest tears shed over graves are for regrets brought about by letting go without having the chance to tell everything to someone. Farewell my friend. I am sorry. Thank you.

October 21, 2007

101 Things About Me

1. I was born midnight of August 23rd in 1981.
2. So it’s safe to assume that on that day, on that very particular day, I was the first to come out in the world. Unless someone had overtook me by a nanosecond.
3. When asked what I wanted to be when I grow up, I answered “Doctor.”
4. “Or lawyer.”
5. I became neither.
6. I am not that good in photography as people claim.
7. I am super good.
8. Haha! Kidding!
9. I can play the violin.
10. I won first place in a regional proofreading and copywriting contest when I was 15.
11. My classmates pulled my hair in frenzied joy when my name was being called so I was a little groggy when I accepted the award.
12. I often won in “the most fragrant hair” competition versus my best friend Kuri. We compete every morning during our senior year in high school.
13. But I often cheated by putting perfume on my hair before judgment.
14. She gave me a simple personalized mug on our graduation day. It is the most wonderful present I have received. So far.
15. My all-time favorite fictional character is Holden Caulfield.
16. One of my teachers commented that I have a beautiful handwriting.
17. I can drive a motorcycle.
18. But not a car.
19. I have seen all the Presidents from Cory to Gloria, in person.
20. And Marcos too. As corpse. In Batac.
21. I have first been to Boracay when I was 8.
22. I don’t like riding in airplanes, taxis, FX, air con buses, elevators, or any closed automobiles. I easily get drowsy.
23. I used to collect Marvel super heroes cards.
24. I had a yaya named Marilyn until I was 5.
25. I had a suking barbero when I was still a child.
26. I also had a suking magxe-xerox in Public Ad.
27. The three reminds me that change is the only constant thing in the world. Excluding stupidity.
28. I have already seen the largest fish underwater.
29. I was a member of the Super Kids Club.
30. I have seen a falling star… fall right in front of me.
31. I don’t drink coffee anymore. I won’t drink coffee anymore.
32. Unless its coffee Alamid.
33. I love dining al fresco. But please not in turo-turo.
34. The first mountain I conquered was Mt. Makiling.
35. My first real job was being a coder of human ailment and diseases.
36. I’m not fond of my surname.
37. It was always the butt of jokes.
38. And don’t try to crack any jokes about it because I’ve heard all of them.
39. I worked as a student volunteer in the Foreign Affairs and Bilibid.
40. I had my first accident when I was 8.
41. I was hit by a motorcycle.
42. I had asthma when I was still a baby.
43. I don’t have it now.
44. But I still am lanky.
45. My favorite games when I was still a child were patintero, taguan and syato.
46. When she was still alive, my grandmother used to take me to the beach.
47. I used to steal money from mom.
48. But not that much.
49. Only enough to buy me books. Lots of books.
50. I have a collection of books and toys. Under lock and key.
51. I was a CAT officer.
52. I almost didn’t graduate because of ROTC.
53. I used to have a skateboard.
54. I’m 5’8 tall.
55. I can swim.
56. I can sing.
57. But not that good.
58. I don’t smoke.
59. I don’t drink.
60. I don’t wear any accessory.
61. You got the picture - pretty bland and boring.
62. I’m a registered voter.
63. But I never voted since I registered.
64. I am the eldest.
65. I usually eat the dessert before the main dish.
66. I had my first operation when I was 12.
67. It wasn’t fatal.
68. All boys willing to be man undergo it.
69. I ran for vice president in my last year in high school.
70. I didn’t win.
71. I wish I haven’t collected Sidney Sheldon books.
72. It was a little too late I realized they’re full of craps.
73. My first story was published in Funny Komiks.
74. I have visited the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Philippines except the Subterranean River and Tubbataha.
75. I love crabs and shrimps. My siblings don’t.
76. I don’t like dinuguan or any dish with atay or balun-balunan. My siblings do.
77. I never liked dogs.
78. I was bitten once.
79. But I didn’t get rabies.
80. I have milked a cow.
81. I get claustrophobic when I’m wearing goggles.
82. I don’t look at the clock after 11 pm.
83. I got exempted from taking the civil service exam.
84. But I took it anyway.
85. And got 89%. I was second placer in our batch.
86. I can speak Tagalog, Aklanon, Ilonggo and a little bit (little bit here means very basic words like hello and goodbye) of Spanish, French and Bahasa.
87. I passed the qualifying exam for German class at FSI.
88. But I didn’t pursue it.
89. Because I got accepted in my Masters.
90. I used to fly kites, cross the river and wander in the forest with my childhood friends.
91. The only thing my sister and I say to shut my brother up amidst a fight when we were still young was “You are adopted!”
92. But of course, he isn't. I could still remember the day he was born.
93. I love spelunking.
94. I went to Corregidor all by myself on my 22nd birthday.
95. I was almost incarcerated in a prison bus for jaywalking in Cubao exactly a year after.
96. I have already appeared in a Japanese cable TV show.
97. It’s not porno.
98. I thought I would never finish this list.
99. But I did.
100. I might write a sequel to this titled “102 More Things About Me.”
101. Or maybe not.

Finding Meaning

Life is always going somewhere. Man as a uniquely designed part of the universe, has been endowed with neural networks which give him capacities of thinking, dreaming and doing which transcend even his own imagination. The meaning of life differs from man to man and from moment to moment based on his individuality and uniqueness.

Camus’ Le Mythe de Sisyphe has been the first major step in search for positive values that could justify man’s existence in a world rendered meaningless by the “death of God.” He takes away the little painted screen which the priest holds before the eyes of the condemned man so that the consciousness of death and of the finite length of his lifetime will render the victim aware of the only real value he can know with any certainty – his life.

Being-in-the-world does not imply being-in-the-midst-of-the-world. Heidegger believed that being makes or causes the world to be and which at the same time illuminates or makes appear to man the world which it also causes to be.

Purposes in life are individuals’ choosing in creating their own life and destiny. Sartre supposed that a meaningful life involves political commitment while Nietzsche an attempt to become a powerful creative personality he coined “superman.”

The truth according to Frankl is that love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Man’s salvation is through love and in love. It goes very far beyond the corporeal. It touches man’s spiritual being – his inner self. A love so honest and true fulfills the “nothingness” in one’s being. It is the only way to grasp the innermost core of another being’s existence. When he loves, he sees a potential in him which is not yet actualized but ought to be. That potential might be the meaning to his existence.

To live is to suffer; to survive is to find meaning in the suffering. If there is a purpose in life at all, there must be some in agony. Even in man’s suffering, he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. He who has a “why” to live for can bear almost any “how.”

Death deprives man of further satisfying his possibilities. The thought of death as an imminent possibility might serve to make life more meaningful. Learning to die is man’s last chance to realize his own value and time… his last chance to escape from the banality of everyday existence by recognizing his finitude before courageously facing up death’s lovely face.

Every being comes into the world with a God-given soul and essence which determine his very action; and from a knowledge of which his entire life history might be predicted. Man, by believing there’s an afterlife, affirms that everything he does in his lifetime of physical existence is not futile.

It is impossible to define the meaning of life in a universal way. The search for meaning is an exploration of the possible capacities of the mind and ideas which can most effectively be realized through right actions, behaviors and attitudes. Human life under any circumstances never ceases to have meaning. This meaning fills man’s “existential vacuum.” Significantly, man will give meaning to his life based on his own conscious existence and freedom inherent to his being as evidenced by the choices he has made and will make in the entire course of his life. The road may be long but surely it will end. And that meaning he searches for all his life may be just somewhere along the way…

I found this essay I wrote way way back in college, one Sunday morning. My nose is bleeding.

October 18, 2007

My Life Story

Dad grew up in the mountains while mom spent her childhood by the sea. They met in the city, fell in love and had me, unfortunately, during this supposed-to-be not so romantic process. “You were raised quite differently from us,” they would often tell me. Well, what my dad really wanted to say was “Dud you’re lucky you didn’t have to walk five kilometers just to get to school, and only have a coconut for lunch.” Anyhow, I turned out quite very independent… had horns until I turned eight but retained a skull as hard as my surname until now. No doubt my brother would then call me “Pontius Pilate” whenever we entangle in a brawl.

When I was in high school, I remember mom ordering my sister to pray for the salvation of my soul because they couldn’t yank me to go with them to the church. I got a sermon when she found out in PTA meeting that I will be graduating on top of my class “Every parent in the meeting knew their child’s academic ranking except me.” I thought she was really going to shake me by my collar for intentionally hiding the notice.

Even on my college graduation, they didn’t have an inkling that I’ll be graduating cum laude. They only found out minutes before the grand march. “You should accompany me when I get my diploma,” I said. “Why? We though only parents of students graduating with honors can…” and dat dat dat. Reading from their reactions, I’m not sure if they’re going to:
a.) congratulate or hug while congratulating me.
b.) give me another long killing-me-softly sermon despite the crowd.
c.) drag me by my ear or both my ears, or worse by my brand new barong to the nearest corner and have a friendly “What is this again?” chit chat.

And so before I could find out, I hurried off to my seat. Medal means less to me. I’m not as brilliant as Einstein or Dexter. I’m content as long as I can make someone smile, and knowing that even for once, yah just for even a moment in this lifetime, my parents really, truly, obligingly loved me, unconditionally.