Throwback Movie

As the Beatles song goes, “There are places I’ll remember, all my life….”

For nostalgia, here’s a video I made 10 years ago about places where we used to live before and hospitals where I did my training, more than 20 years ago.

(*photos were taken during our visit to New York/New Jersey area in October 2010)

Imposing Landmark

For about 10 years of my life I was looking at this imposing mountain everyday as a source of motivation. Except that this landmark was on a poster, plastered with a clear tape at the cement wall of my room in Sampaloc, Manila. But that was many many years ago. Today, I am staring at it from its bottom, and it is surreal.

When I was in high school and was still living in the Philippines, I placed posters in my room, not much for decoration but more for inspiration. They are not pictures of famous movie stars or sports personalities. Instead, my posters are photos of beautiful nature landscapes with motivational messages in them.

One poster is a photo of a hang glider sailing in the vastness of the Grand Canyon. In that poster are these words: “You are only limited by the boundaries of your mind.” I had the chance to visit the Grand Canyon a few years ago, which in itself was a fulfillment of a dream (see previous post/link here).

Now, I am standing underneath another monumental landmark that was also in one of my posters. It took me all these years to finally visit it close and personal. What I am referring to is the Devils Tower.

This elevation is a butte, composed of igneous rock, that towers over the plain in Crook County Wyoming. It rises 1267 feet above the surrounding grassland. One of its most striking feature is that it has columnar striations, as if a giant bear clawed on it. This site is considered sacred to some tribes of Native Americans.

The name Devil’s Tower originated in 1875 during an expedition led by Colonel Richard Irving Dodge, when his interpreter reportedly misinterpreted a native name to mean “Bad God’s Tower.” When registering the name, the apostrophe was dropped from the “Devil’s,” so it became officially known as the “Devils Tower.”

On my poster, written underneath this rock mountain are these words: “Faith moves mountains.”

During the times of my life when my dreams seems to be getting out of my reach, this landmark with it’s message kept my hope and faith alive. For faith really moves mountains.

I was only entering medical school when my father died. He was barely 50 years old. He was the sole bread winner of our family and I thought I had to stop my studies for there was no way we could afford it then. Not too long after that our family experienced another big blow. We lost whatever little we have, including our good name. The problem was too sensitive, that I am not going to divulge it here. Yet, I kept my sight on my ambitions and clung to my faith in God, for there is no mountain big enough that the devil can throw in our path that our God cannot move.

The rest is now history, and I have gone farther than what I could even dream of.

Today is cold and blustery. The gusting winds are strong enough to blow away my thoughts. Perhaps not a perfect day to tour this national natural landmark. But still a perfect time, which is about 30 years in the making to finally see this geologic wonder. It was actually my wife who urged us to take a long drive to visit it after she heard my inspirational message that I recently gave to my aunt’s virtual church service in California (see previous post/link here). As I have not been to this place in real life, so the time has come to see it.

And as the wind is blowing wildly, I’m waiting here for this mountain to move.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Canyon Drive

I had a few days off. So just to have a breather from dealing with this daily hysteria from COVID-19 at the hospital, my wife and I went for a long drive. Our plans were hastily devised, as we only decided where to go a couple of days before the trip, and we booked our accommodations just a day before we ventured out. Of course with some places having travel restrictions and with somes states requiring mandatory quarantines when you arrive there, so that limit the places we can visit.

The trip was a butt-hurting 10-hour drive. But it was well worth it, and we were pleasantly surprised at the place we stayed in. Actually we were going to visit a national natural landmark (I’ll write a separate post on this) and we just searched for a housing that may be close to it.

The lodge is nestled inside a canyon, deep in the heart of the Black Hills National Forest. Near the lodge is a flowing stream, and if you follow it upstream and hike for about a mile, you would end up on this waterfall (photos below).

Inside the lodge was warm and cozy. If you look closely at the photos below, that was snow falling outside the window, for it rained and it snowed during our brief stay there, making our visit more interesting.

But the best part of this place was the drive going to this lodge. As there is a saying that goes – it’s the journey, not the destination.

Below is a short clip of our drive on this scenic canyon road.

(*photos and video taken with an iPhone at Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota)

Fall Run

The title may be misleading. I did not mean that I had a fall when I was running. What I meant is that I ran and it is fall or autumn season.

Usually the fall foliage in our area is not as spectacular or brilliant as in the northeast, like New Hampshire or Vermont. However there is enough colors of red, orange and yellow to appreciate that it is fall.

Here are the photos I took this morning when I went out for my 5-mile run around our neighborhood.

You might have noticed that the grass is still very green in our area. Usually by this time the grass are already turning brown. However we have lots of rain this summer and fall, and the temperature especially in the past week was seasonably warm. In fact we were in the 80’s Fahrenheit yesterday, and this morning when I went out, it was a balmy 62 degrees Fahrenheit, instead of the usual 40-50’s. But I am not complaining at all.

By the end of this week the forecast calls for a more cooler temperature, and we will be hitting the freezing point. For now, I will enjoy this beautiful weather while it last.

Have a nice week everyone.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Mountains of Challenges

(I was asked by my aunt in California to give an inspirational message for their virtual church. Here is what I shared.)

It is October. In only a couple of months, this year will end. And what a difficult time it has been this year 2020 to many of us, if not to all of us. I know many of us would rather forget this year and just want it to go away. The funny thing is, this year could not even claim the notoriety it will be known for, as COVID is named COVID-19 and not COVID-20.

The past several months was a constant struggle. It was a like an unending mountain climb. It was one challenge after another. However, these mountains of challenges can strengthen us and can fortify our commitment.

In 1923 when a reporter from New York Times ask George Mallory, an English mountaineer, why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, his answer was simple. He said, “Because it’s there.” What he’s saying is, it was there waiting to be conquered.

Mount Everest

Mallory’s first 2 attempts to climb Mount Everest end up in failures. But he did not give up. On his 3rd expedition to climb Everest, he never came back. He and his companion was last spotted in an upper ridge about 250 meters below the summit. Did he finally make it to the summit? We don’t know, for he did not survive to tell us the story. One thing for sure, he is committed to his cause.

There are some stories in the Bible of people who went up the mountains. One of them is David. But David did not climb the mountain for mountaineering nor for physical recreation. He ran to the mountain to escape and to save his life. This was during the time when he was running away from King Saul who wants to kill him. We can say that David was going through a difficult time in his life. One of the places he stayed is the wilderness of Ein Gedi, where there are rugged hills and stony cliffs.

Ein Gedi

During that time that he was running from one mountain to another, and was hiding from one cave to another cave, that he was inspired to write this:

I look up toward the mountains.
    Where can I find help?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the maker of heaven and earth. Psalms 121:1-2

For us Christians we should view these mountains of challenges in a different perspective. These difficult trials provides us the chance to realize that God never leaves us and it gives us the opportunity to witness how powerful our God is.

When I was growing up in Sampaloc Manila, I have posters on the walls of my tiny room. I could have a poster of my favorite basketball player Robert Jaworski. I don’t know if any of you even knew him. Or I could have a picture of a famous movie star. My favorite during my high school days was Phoebe Cates, but I didn’t have a poster of her either. Instead, my posters are photos of beautiful landscapes with inspirational message in them.

The poster beside my bed was a photo of a huge rock mountain. It is actually a butte that towers over a plain. I did not know at that time what mountain it was and where it was until I came to the US a decade and a half later. I found out that the rock mountain on my poster was aptly named the Devils Tower, and it is located in Crook County, Wyoming. On my poster, underneath the photo of this rock mountain are this words: Faith moves mountains.

Yes, my brothers and sisters, there are no mountains high enough that the devil can throw in front of us that our God cannot move.

Devils Tower

Matthew 17:20 – “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Few years ago, we were blessed to visit Israel. During one of our trips our bus was traveling to Bethlehem, and I saw that Bethlehem was a hilly region. I could only imagine that in one of those hills are where the shepherds were when the angels appeared to them. But the tour guide asked us to look beyond Bethlehem hills and direct our sight to a strange-looking mountain in the distance. It was truncated and cone-shaped.

It was a strange-looking mountain because it was man-made. The mountain was named Herodium, a fortress that Herod the Great constructed, about 5 kilometers southeast of Bethlehem. This was the same King Herod that tried to kill Jesus by slaughtering all the male infants in the region.

As history recorded it, when Herod the Great, was searching for a place to build his home and fortress, there was not a mountain high enough for him to build this structure. Instead there were two hills near each other at the site where he wanted it.

So what did Herod do? He cut down one hill and with an army of laborers he placed the pared hill on top of the other hill to make it higher, one bucket of dirt and rocks at a time. He literally moved a mountain.

Herodium

When Jesus and his disciples were having discussion about faith, they were probably looking at this Herod’s mountain, which was hard to miss in the Judaean desert. Its dominating presence was a constant reminder of an oppressive yet very powerful regime. It was a common knowledge of that time how Herod moved a mountain.

So when Jesus told his disciples that if they have faith as small as a mustard seed, they can tell a mountain to move and it will move, He was telling them that they don’t need an army of laborers to move a mountain like what King Herod did. That if they have faith they can be greater than King Herod the Great. With faith they can be more powerful than the most powerful king of their land. With faith they can be mightier than the mightiest ruler of their time.

Yes, our God is powerful and He can move mountains. And if we have faith in Him there should not be any mountain of challenges that we cannot conquer.

May God bless us all.

(*photos from the web)

In Memoriam: Ang Tandang at si Uncle Tom

I am re-posting an entry I wrote not too long ago, in memory of my American uncle who passed away yesterday.

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Ako ay may tiyuhin na Amerikano. Siya si Uncle Tom.

Tatlong dekada na ang nakalipas nang isa sa aking mga tiyahin ay nagka-penpal ng isang Amerikano. Uso pa noon ang ballpen, magsulat sa papel, at maghulog ng sulat. Matagal-tagal din silang nagkasulatan, at dumating sa yugto na gusto nilang magkita. Wala pang Facebook at FaceTime noon, kaya’t nag-planong lumipad papuntang Pilipinas ang Amerikanong penpal ng aking tiyahin.

Dahil kami ay may bahay naman sa Maynila, at para na rin tuluyang makaliskisan, este makilatis pala ang ibig kong sabihin, ang kanyang penpal, kaya pinakiusap ng aking tita na sa bahay na namin tumuloy ang Amerikano.

Itanggi man natin o hindi, marami pa rin sa atin ang nagnanais na makakilala ng isang banyaga, at mapangasawa ito. Dahil sa isip natin ito ang ating magiging pasaporte para lumisan ng bansa. At kung tayo ay medyo tag-hirap, ito ang ating pagkakataong umunlad at makaahon sa buhay. Darating kaya ang panahon na ang mga Pilipino ay hindi na mangangarap na umalis ng bansa?

Kaya nang dadalaw na ang Amerikano, hindi kami magkandaugaga sa aming paghahanda sa kanyang pagdating. Para kaming naghanda sa isang official state visit, gaya nang dumalaw si President Trump sa Pilipinas. Kulang na lang ay umarkila kami ng banda ng mga musikero at magpa-piyesta sa aming kalye sa pagsalubong sa kanya.

Lumuwas pa ng Maynila ang aming lola mula sa probinsiya at nagdala ito ng mga buhay na manok, para raw ipanghanda sa Amerikano naming bisita. Siyempre, mas masarap pa rin daw ang lasa ng native at free-range na manok. Organic pa at siguradong hindi sinaksakan ng growth hormone at antibiotic.

Isa naman sa aking tiyuhin ang sumundo mula sa airport. Hindi na ako sumama dahil puno na ang sasakyan at baka wala pang maupuan ang aming bisita. Pagkasundo sa airport, ay sa bahay na namin sa Sampaloc Manila tumuloy ang Amerikano.

Sa aking silid pinatulog ang bisita. Malaking tao pala itong Amerikano. Hindi ko alam kung paano siya nagkasya o kung naging kumportable siya sa aking munting katre. Aaminin ko medyo masikip ang aking silid, pang-Petite (Palito?) size lang ito at hindi pang-Jumbo size. Hindi ko rin alam kung naglagkit sa init ang aming bisita, dahil wala naman kaming air conditioner. Pero may bintana naman at bentilador ang aking kuwarto.

Kahit payak ang aming bahay at masikip ang aking kuwarto, ay siguro naman ay lumutang pa rin ang aming pagiging hospitable sa aming panauhin. Kung tutuusin hindi lang ang Amerikanong penpal ng tiyahin ko ang banyagang natulog sa aking munting silid. Minsan ay nagkabisita kami ng galing Papua New Guinea na tumuloy din sa aking kuwarto. Marami ring kaming mga bisitang lokal ang nanuluyan dito. Kaya puti, itim, o kayumanggi – walang kinikilingan ang aking silid.

Balikan natin ang mga manok na dala ng aking lola. Isa dito ay puting tandang, pero hindi ito pang-sabong. Dahil hindi lahat ng manok ay ihahain kaagad, kaya’t ang iba ay hinayaan munang buhay. Kasama dito ang tandang na itinali sa veranda ng aming bahay.

Unang gabi ng aming bisita, maaring pagod na pagod sa biyahe ang Amerikano, at may jet-lag pa, kaya hahayaan lang sana namin siyang matulog kahit tanghaliin pa siya ng gising. Subalit may ibang balak ang puting tandang.

Photo by Leonardo Jarro on Pexels.com

Bago pa magbukang liwayway o maaninag ang liwanag ng umaga, at bago pa magsipag-byahe ang mga traysikel ay simula nang tumilaok ang puting tandang. Walang patid at masigabo sa pagtilaok ang pesteng manok. Pumwesto pa ito malapit sa bintana ng aking kuwarto.

Hindi nagtagal ay nagising ang aming bisitang Amerikano. Galit at mainit ang ulo nito. Masama ang pagkakagising. Sino nga bang hindi mauunsiyame kung mabulabog ka sa iyong mahimbing na pagkakatulog.

Paglabas niya sa kuwarto, ay ako ang kanyang nasalubong. Sabi niya sa akin: “Where is that #&*@^! rooster, I’ll wring it’s neck!”

Sa halip na sa ilang araw pa sana kakatayin ang pobreng tandang, noong araw rin na iyon, naging tangahalian na namin ito. Nahimasmasan naman ang init ng ulo at natuwa pa ang aming panauhing pandangal, nang matikman niya ang masarap na luto na inihain namin sa kanya. Tinolang manok!

Nang malaon na ay nagkaigihan naman ang aking tita at ang kanyang penpal. Sila ay nagkataluyang magpakasal, at siya ay naging aking Uncle Tom. Hindi na nagtagal pa ay nakalipad na rin ang aking tita papuntang Amerika.

Maaring sabihin na dahil kay Uncle Tom, ay naging masuwerte ang aking tiyahin dahil siya’y nakarating ng Estados Unidos. Kahit man ako ay nabiyayaan din, dahil ang tiyahin kong ito ang isa sa tumulong sa akin sa pinansiyal nang ako’y nag-a-apply na papuntang Amerika para sa aking Medical Residency Training. Dahil sa ako’y natanggap sa isang academic hospital para mag-training, ito naman ang naging daan para ako’y makapangibang-bayan.

Noong nakaraang Pasko, maliban sa aking pagtawag sa mga kamag-anak sa Pilipinas, ay tinawagan ko rin ang aking tiyahing ito na naninirahan na sa California. Siya ang pinakamalapit kong kamag-anak dito sa Amerika. Ang California ay mahigit na tatlong oras na biyahe sa eroplano o dalawang araw na drive mula sa amin dito sa Iowa.

Sa pag-uusap namin ng aking tita ay nabanggit niya na medyo lumulubha na raw ang kalagayan ni Uncle Tom at nagiging makakalimutin na rin ito. Sa katunayan, may mga ilang taon nang may sakit si Uncle Tom. Salamat na lang kay tita na tunay na nagmamahal sa kanya, at hindi niya ito pinababayaan. Isa pa, dahil nurse ang aking tiyahin, naaalagaang lubos si Uncle Tom.

Sa aking tingin at palagay, kung naging masuwerte ang aking tiyahin, mas naging masuwerte si Uncle Tom dahil nakilala niya ang aking tita at ang aming pamilya. At hindi lang ito dahil sa nakakain siya ng tinolang manok.

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Post Note: Huwag naman sana niyang pagdisketahan ang tandang ni San Pedro. Good night Uncle Tom, see you in the glorious morning.

Field of Dreams

A couple of nights ago I watched a rerun of the 1989 film “Field of Dreams” on television. My daughter watched it with me too. It’s been quite a while since I saw that movie. In fact the last time I watched it was when I was still in the Philippines. I had no clue at that time that one day this film would parallel my life story.

As you all probably know it, that movie was filmed in Iowa. It’s about a farmer who turned part of his cornfields plot into a baseball field. Many of his friends and family thought he was going insane converting a profitable agricultural land into a playing field that nobody would come to as it was in the middle of nowhere. Then to his surprise, famous dead baseball players came to play on his field.

MLB Confirms Field of Dreams Game Pushed to 2021 – KCHA News
scene from the movie Field of Dreams

The site where it was filmed which is in Dyersville, Iowa, was preserved just like it was in that movie and it remains a popular tourist attraction to this day.

The film starred Kevin Costner, Earl James Jones, Ray Liotta, and Burt Lancaster in his final film role. It was interesting that both then-teenagers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, were extras in one of the scene at Fenway baseball stadium.

The movie featured Iowa cornfields and baseball but I believe it is more than that. Honestly, when I first watched it years ago when I was still a smog-inhaling, jeepney-riding inhabitant of Manila, I did not really dig it. However, after living in the US for more than 25 years now and understanding more the American way of living including baseball which is ingrained to this culture, I have a better appreciation of the film.

The movie though has a lot of symbolism that went beyond baseball. I believe one of the takeaway from the film is about pursuing your passion and your dreams even though how unreasonable it may seems to other people that they might think you are losing your mind. And this to me, took a somewhat personal connection.

One of the iconic scenes of the movie is when Ray, the main character who built the baseball field, and who had regrets that he did not spend much time playing baseball with his father who played for the Minor League, saw a younger version of his departed father, John, who came to play baseball on his field. The scene had these lines:

John Kinsella: “Is this heaven?”

Ray Kinsella: “It’s Iowa.”

John Kinsella: “Iowa? I could have sworn this is heaven.”

Ray Kinsella: “Is there a heaven?”

John Kinsella: “Oh yeah. It’s a place where dreams come true.”

Ray looked around at his field and at his home nearby where he saw his wife and his daughter happily playing at the porch, finally answered back:

Ray Kinsella: “Maybe this is heaven.”

When we moved here to Iowa, after residing in America for 10 years, and living in New Jersey, New York City, California and Florida, some thought we were making a wrong decision. Why move to an “obscure” land of cornfields? We were asked questions that went like this:

Iowa? Where is Iowa? Why Iowa? Are you thinking right?

But after living here for 16 years and counting, and having my dreams come into fruition here, maybe this is really heaven.

photo taken at Selfie Museum in Des Moines, Iowa

Dearly Departed

I was standing in a small countryside cemetery. With me were seven other people, and we were hovering around a newly covered grave. It did not even have a tombstone or a headstone yet, just a temporary marker placed on its foot end.

It was a beautiful, warm summer day. Nice day to be out, though I’m not sure if there’s really a good day to visit a grave site. Near the cemetery was a small country church. Surrounding the graveyard which was on top of a small hill were endless fields of corn whose stalks were swaying gently with the breeze. Once in a while a car or a truck would whiz by the country road where the cemetery was located.

IMG_3674

Buried in the grave we were visiting was a work partner of mine. He was a little past the traditional retirement age but chose to continue working, although in a slower pace. Yes, he was working until the time of his sudden death.

Due to this age of COVID pandemic and physical distancing, we were not able to attend his wake nor his funeral, as his funeral was a family-only affair. Visiting his grave was the closest way to say goodbye to him formally.

I know he chose this small country cemetery which was off the beaten path because not too far from here was a farm that he bought. But instead of making it into an agricultural farm he planted trees and turned it into a little forest. He even had his colonies of honey bees in that patch of land. This is were he escaped to, which was about 45 minutes drive from the city, when he was not doing doctor duties.

He had a brilliant mind, and he delved into different interests. Besides being an arboculturist (forestry expert) and a bee keeper, he was also a certified scuba diver. These were among other endeavors that he had dabbled into. But most of all, he was a diligent and dedicated physician. His patients vouched for his passionate work and many of them claimed that they were literally “saved” by him when their lives were on the line. He was a great teacher too. He encouraged me to pursue my certification in Sleep Medicine.

He and I were the only Board-certified sleep experts in our group of 10 Pulmonary and Critical Care doctors. Perhaps we just love to sleep so we were both fascinated with the science of it. Now I am left to carry on.

We are missing him not just because we have become more busy and we’re down one body. It does not help that this COVID-19 is still running amok. In fact a week ago we were in the news as Iowa was the number one hotspot in the whole USA with the highest infection rate. We are missing him for his wisdom and advices from years of experience which we could use in this difficult time.

As I stood in that cemetery, I was thinking of my own mortality. What do I want to be remembered when I am gone? A bungling pianist? A slow but persistent runner? An amateurish writer? Or an OK (just OK) physician? Maybe a good father, I hope? Or a loving husband? Or a trust-worthy friend? How much time do I have to direct this narrative?

When I moved to Iowa and joined this group 16 years ago, I remember my first day at work. I was in the office and I finished early as I don’t have any established patients yet to see. I hang around in the clinic as in the last group I was a part of in Florida, they frown upon and make you feel guilty if you leave early, especially if the senior partner still have patients to see. So most of the time I would not go home until after 6 PM or even later.

But it was different in this new group that I joined. It was only about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, but I have nothing else to do on my first day. That’s when this partner found me still hanging around. He asked me if there’s any other patients I need to see. When I said no, he told me to go home and rest, and that I should spend time with my family.

My departed partner, it is my turn now to tell you that you can go home. Rest, and have a peaceful long night sleep.

(*photo is of a nearby cemetery where I live, not the site where my departed partner was buried)