I am re-posting “Catching Fireflies,” an article I wrote nine summers ago. It was a time when my son had a fascination of capturing fireflies. He has outgrown that. After working in a summer camp as a “Nature Director,” he even now forbids us to keep our porch and driveway lights on through the night, saying that the bright lights will prevent the fireflies from finding their mates.Time have changed.
Fireflies. Also known as lightning bugs. There is something in these twinkling insects that fascinates us. And kids, or the kid in us, wants to catch them. Maybe we think that if we capture them, we will hold magic in our hands.
Catching fireflies has become a summer tradition for my children for the past few years. My son had his container with perforated lid for catching fireflies, prepared way back in February (late winter) this year. He even labeled his jar with a hand drawn picture of a firefly.
When June rolled by and there were still no fireflies, he became impatient. He asked me when will the fireflies come. I jokingly told him that maybe all the fireflies migrated out of Iowa, since they learned that there is this boy who wants to catch them.
When we came back from our California visit on July 4th (we flew back home on Independence Day), my son got very excited when he looked outside our window and saw glittering bugs hovering above our lawn. Fireflies! In fact, he was more excited to see the fireflies than the fireworks that were firing in the sky.
My son hurriedly took his jar and ran outside. I also went outside to enjoy the summer’s breeze, and shoot some hoops in our driveway basketball goal, while my son catches fireflies. Though there were other bugs, aside lightning bugs, that hovered and buzzed in our ears and feasted on our arms and legs. We did not catch those bugs -we swatted them.
While we were outside, our nearby neighbor had a “private” fireworks show in his yard. We did not need to go very far, just in our driveway, to watch the fireworks. Yes, it may pale from comparison to the fireworks show in New York, but I thought it was entertaining enough.
My daughter also came out, not to catch fireflies, but to watch our neighbor’s fireworks display. Perhaps she was past the fascination of catching fireflies.
My son proudly showed me his jar with a few fireflies that he caught. He placed some blades of grass inside the jar, and asked me if fireflies eat grass. I told him, I don’t know what fireflies eat that make them glow. Maybe fire? Or sulfur? Or kerosene? But I told him that even if we feed them, they will not last very long in his jar.
The stunning fireworks sparkle for few moment, but fade in the dark. The alluring fireflies flicker, and then grow dim. This beautiful summer will also soon disappear, as well as all the fireflies.
And that is true with everything in life.
I know not long from now my son’s childhood innocence will wane and he will be off to chasing other fancies. My kids will soon be going to college, and to their own lives, pursuing their own dreams, and we will be left with an “empty nest.” I also know that my life’s summer will soon (I hope not too soon!) fade into autumn, and my strength will decline, and I will not be able to shoot hoops anymore or chase fireflies.
But for one magical night, I soaked it all in, while it lasted. And now I hold them in my memory forever………. or at least until my memory fails me too.
As for the captured fireflies? My son set them free into the fleeting summer’s night.
Post Note: I still can shoot hoops in our driveway basketball goal.
(I was invited by my home church in the Philippines to give a message during their virtual church service through Zoom and this was viewed via Facebook live. Here’s what I shared, though it was in Tagalog.)
Good morning to all of you, though it’s night time here where I am. Thank you for inviting me to share the word of God today. It is strange that when there is a time of travel restriction and stay-at-home order, that’s the time I am able to go back to my home church. In fact I have been worshiping with you for more than 2 months now. We must remember that the church is not the building in Sampaloc. The church is us, the group of believers wherever we may be.
We are living in an unprecedented time. Never in our lifetime have we seen so many parts of the world placed in lockdown. For you people in Metro Manila you have been in community quarantine for more than three months now, and I know you are longing to get out.
Never before in my lifetime have I witnessed the police guarding stock of toilet paper. Who could have imagined that I would go to the bank teller asking for money and I was wearing a mask? We have problems right now that we never knew we would have. Like, can I trust my wife to give me a haircut? Or, how many type of dish can I make out of a can of sardines?
More seriously now, yes we have problems in this world currently that we don’t have an answer for, and we’re looking for someone who can help us solve them. As a worker in the medical field, I have witnessed first hand the deadly effects and devastation of this COVID 19, especially in the place I work – in the ICU.
I would like to review a story in the Bible, where people had a situation and they asked who could help them with their problem? I entitled our study today as “Who will roll away the stone?”
Mark 16: 1-3: When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
It was Sunday morning, and the women, the two Marys and Salome, were on their way to Jesus’ tomb. The mood among Jesus’ followers were doom and gloom. Their Messiah died, and many of them went into hiding. They went into self imposed quarantine. I am not sure if these women were the only ones with quarantine pass so they went out, but the men were afraid to go out not because of a virus, but because they were afraid for their lives. These women’s hearts were broken, yet they would like to show their devotion to their fallen leader by anointing his dead body with fragrances.
It was the custom of the Jews to anoint the dead. The anointing of perfume was not to do mummification, but to put spice and fragrances to cancel the bad smell of decomposition. The most common spice used to anoint the dead is myrrh. Where else have you heard about myrrh? If you said that it was one of the wise men’s gifts given to Jesus when he was born, then you’re absolutely right. Do you see the theme here? Jesus was a baby destined to die.
We may ask, was Jesus’ body not given proper burial rights before being buried that the women have to do it again? Let’s read:
John 19: 38-40: After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury.
One hundred pounds of spices (some Bible version says 75 lbs; the original Bible manuscript in Greek says 100 litras). That’s a lot of spices! Twenty pounds of spices was the usual burial custom in those days. Forty pounds was for the rich. So 100 pounds was really extravagant. I read that it is estimated that the cost of 100 pounds of this mixture of myrrh and aloes would cost about $150,000 (7.5M pesos) in today’s market. Those men, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, gave Jesus a burial fit for a king.
Do we have that extravagant devotion? Do we give honor to God that is fit for the King of Kings? But even how extravagant our devotion to God is, one thing for sure, we cannot out love the Lord. Do you know what extravagant love is? This is extravagant love – when Jesus exchanged his divine and royal crown for a crown of thorns and gave His life for you and me.
Very Large Stone
So back to those women, why did they have to go? I don’t think these women thought that the anointing of Jesus’ body was not done right or not enough, but rather they only wanted to show honor and respect to their fallen Savior in their own little way.
So while the women were on their way, they asked: Who will roll away the stone? This implies that they alone cannot roll away this stone.
Archeologist have found many tombs around Palestine that they believe were first century tombs. Most of the time the opening of the tomb was blocked by a stone. It could be a large mill-like stone, though some experts say that it could also be a square rock that can slide. Though to me when the women said “roll” away, original Greek word apokylio, it must be circular that it can roll like a wheel.
The books of Mathew and Mark said that it was “very large.” If we say it should cover 4 to 5 feet of tomb entrance, then a disc stone would have a diameter of at least 6 feet. That rock could weigh 1.5 to 2 tons. That weight alone even though it can roll like a wheel, would be hard to move.
But there’s another factor that was found by archeological diggings: usually the groove where the stone rolls was in an incline or had a deep ditch where it would drop. Meaning, it may be much easier to close it, but a lot harder to open it, as you have to roll it against an incline or lift it out of a deep rut, and put a wedge to keep it open. In a conservative estimate, you need more than 10 strong men at the least, to roll away the stone.
One more factor, according to Matt 27:66, it was closed with a Roman seal and thus cannot be opened without the permission of the Roman authority. Besides, there were Roman soldiers guarding the tomb. A usual Roman guard unit is 4-16 men, most of the time 4 men stay on guard while the rest sleeps, and they change shifts every few hours, to keep them fresh.
We must give credit to these women, even though their faith was imperfect as they did not expect that Jesus would be alive as He told them He would, yet they went out anyway even if they knew there would be barriers in accomplishing their mission.
So they asked, “Who will roll away the stone?”
People have the same question today? Who will help us if we get sick of this virus? Who will provide us our daily provision? Who can stop this world pandemic? Who will release us from our quarantine? Who will roll away the stone?
Rolled Away For Us
But when they came to the site, what did they see? The stone was already rolled away! How? Let’s read:
Matthew 28: 2-4: There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
No need for ten strong men, one angel is enough. No need to put a wedge on the stone, for the angel sat on it. No need to contend with the Roman guards for they became like dead men. Heaven took care of their problem!
The women seeing that the stone was rolled away, came in to the tomb, and the angel told them that the Jesus they were looking for was not inside the tomb, for He is alive!
Yes my friends, we serve a risen Savior. Our God is alive! The tomb was empty! That stone blocking the entrance of a tomb was rolled away!
I believe that the stone at the entrance of the tomb was not rolled away so Jesus can come out. What? Before you accuse me of teaching heresy and false doctrines, just hear me out first.
Remember when He appeared to the disciples when they were inside a house with closed door? Let’s read:
John 20:19: On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
The disciples were staying at home and in lockdown. Doors were closed and locks were securely fastened, yet suddenly Jesus stood among them. How? He came through the walls! I believe Jesus when He was resurrected, can verily come out of the tomb even with the stone locked in!
But why was the stone rolled away? It was not that Jesus can come out. It was for the women and His disciples to come in inside the grave, and see that the tomb was empty. The stone was not rolled away for Jesus. It was rolled away for us, so we can believe.
Are we still asking who will roll away the stone? The stone of this pandemic. The stone of our failing health. The stone of our unemployment. The stone of our financial difficulties. The stone of our broken relationships. The stone of our addiction. The stone of our day-to-day struggles in life. The stone of our unbelief.
If we are asking the question “Who will roll away the stone?” then we are asking the wrong question. The answer is already clear.
The question for us is: “Do we have faith to believe that God can roll away our stone?”
David wrote a psalm during the time that he was running away from King Saul. Or maybe he was just doing social distancing from the king and his soldiers. During that time he was hiding from one mountain to another, staying in one cave to another. And he wrote:
I lift up my eyes to the mountains, where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. Psalms 121:1-2
Faith Moves Mountains
Few years ago, we were blessed to visit Israel. During one of our trips our bus was traveling to Bethlehem, 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.
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 regime. It was a common knowledge of that time how Herod moved a mountain.
Jesus told his disciples: “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.” (Matthew 17:20)
What Jesus was telling his disciples is that faith, is much powerful than what Herod can do. With faith they can be greater than Herod the Great. 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 we can do that too. And if God can move our mountains, we should never be asking anymore, “Who will roll away the stone.”
Sabi ng aking misis ay nagiging masungit at bugnutin daw ako habang ako ay tumatanda. Siguro dahil na rin sa stress sa trabaho, lalo na at napaka-busy pa rin ng aming ICU at sunod-sunod ang aking duty, at marami pa rin kaming kaso ng COVID-19. O marahil talagang gusto ko lang maging “grumpy old man.”
Pero may nahukay ako sa aking baul na magpapatunay na hindi ako tumatandang masungit at bugnutin. Ang aking ebidensiya? Bata pa lang ako ay bugnutin at salubong na ang kilay ko!
Halos tatlong buwan na po ang quarantine sa Pilipinas. Nabubuwang na ba kayo? Sige ituloy-tuloy na natin ang magpakabuwang. Heto po ang mga hugot lines sa quarantine:
Ang tagal na nitong quarantine, sana matapos na. Para makalabas na ako at magkita na ulit tayo. Pero ang masakit kahit wala ng quarantine, hindi ka pa rin akin, at wala pa ring tayo.
Dahil po sa COVID-19 ay panatilihin lang nating dumistansiya. Lalo na kung hindi naman ikaw ang kanyang mahal.
Ang tagal ko rin naghintay ng ayuda at ng mga relief goods. Pero buti pa ang ayuda, dumating kahit na nade-delay. Ang hinihintay kong pag-ibig, wala pa rin. Hanggang sa dulo na lang ng walang hanggan ako maghihintay.
Sabi nila para makaiwas sa pagkalat ng corona virus ay magsuot ng mask kapag lalabas. Pero naiinggit ako sa mask mo, laging nakalapat sa iyong mga pisngi at nakadampi sa iyong mga labi. Sana ako na lang ang iyong mask.
Payo nila lagi raw maghugas ng kamay o kaya ay magpahid ng alkohol. Diyan magaling yung mahal ko. Siya na nga ang may ginawang mali, naghuhugas kamay pa rin. Lagi na lang nagmamalinis.
Ang tagal nang walang pasok. Miss na miss ko na ang classroom. Sa classroom may batas. Bawal lumabas, oh, bawal lumabas. Pero pag nag-comply ka……….teka, teka, iba na yata ‘yon. Sorry po.
Ang tagal nang walang pasok. Kailan kaya ulit magkakapasok? Pero hindi na bale, lagi ka namang pumapasok sa aking alaala. Ako kaya, pumapasok din ba sa iyong isipan?
Wala naman akong ubo. Wala rin akong lagnat. Wala naman akong virus at hindi rin naman siguro ako mukhang virus. Pero bakit lagi ka na lang umiiwas? Dinadahilan mo na lang lagi ang quarantine.
Buti pa ang mga komunidad naka-lock down. Bakit ‘yung mahal ko, kami na nga pero hindi ko pa rin siya ma-lock down? Labas pa rin ng labas at panay pa rin ang papansin niya sa iba.
Tulad ng champagne na ito, “Daming Hugot” pa. Hanggang sa susunod na lang ulit at sana makalaya na tayo sa hugot…..este, sa quarantine.
About this time every year, our yard bursts with colors with these big fragrant blooms. These are peonies, and their flowers only last for only two weeks at the most.
Even though it’s not officially summer yet, we are having a “heat wave” for the next several days as Iowa weather is fickly. These flowers wilt fast and they don’t like the heat so we decided to harvest them early. This also provided a photo op.
My wife agreed to be my model for this photoshoot.
We will definitely appreciate their beauty, even for just a few days. I mean the flowers. The model, that’s timeless.
Bonus: While we were harvesting the peonies and doing the photoshoot, someone else, uninvitedly though definitely welcomed, came in to the scene. Here’s the video:
I like to sleep with the windows open, especially during this time of year that it’s not extremely cold nor extremely hot outside. Besides the fresh air that comes in, I also would like to hear the sounds around us, especially in the morning when I wake up. Unlike in Manila, it’s not the sound of the speeding tricycles and jeepneys that I now hear. Though I miss the call of the taho vendor.
Here’s the sound of daybreak in our home here in Iowa (you may need to dial up the volume to hear it):
PS: My wife hates it though as those noisy birds disturbs her sleep. Obviously she’s not a morning person. Good thing we don’t have a rooster!
Today is a nice day to be out, and I am off on this weekend too. But after two weeks of being in-charge of the ICU and with all the craziness at work we have been dealing with, I’m just too lazy to do anything, except to sit and stare outside. I also would like to write something noteworthy on my blog, but again my mind is too exhausted to be creative.
So instead, I just took a photo of what I am staring at. And just like the book in the photo, it’s mere “Great Expectations.”
(*Great Expectations is a classic novel by Charles Dickens)
I have been going to work now with a mask and a shield. No, I did not become Captain America, nor did I become an Avenger. What I meant is I’m going to work with a medical face mask and a face shield. This has become the new normal for me.
If I am going to do a procedure that is at risk of aerosolizing the virus, like putting an endotracheal tube or doing a bronchoscopy on a known or suspected COVID-19 patient, then I even use my “powered suit.” Not a powered suit like that of Iron Man, but it is a battery powered air-purifying respirator or also known as PAPR.
I rarely take my temperature before. Now, it is taken at least once a day and sometimes more. This daily temperature probe is not to determine if I’m ovulating or not, for the last time I checked I am a male. For your information, the “temperature method” is a family planning method that takes the woman’s daily basal temperature to determine if she is in her fertile or infertile periods of the menstrual cycle.
I am having my temperature taken whenever I enter the hospital, with additional screening questions of “Do you have fever, cough or shortness of breath?” If from the hospital I would go to the outpatient clinic building, I would get my temperature checked again and have the same screening questions, with an additional inquiry of “Were you exposed to a person with known COVID-19?” The last question is tricky to answer, for if I say yes, then they might not let me enter the building. But how else could I answer that question if I have just seen patients with confirmed corona virus in the hospital? Lie, if we must.
I don’t know if we have flattened the curve in our community. I am not talking about the bulge around the waist, for that has definitely ballooned more in many people with the stay-at-home order and the uncontrolled eating, plus with the gyms being closed. I guess a mask can help with this, as it is impossible to eat when you’re wearing a mask. But I digress.
We still have lots of COVID-19 patients in the hospital, though it maybe less compared to two weeks ago. Yet I still saw 15 COVID patients in the ICU this weekend, and many of them were on ventilators. I say it’s less, for at one point we had more than 20 COVID patients in the ICU and had a steady admission of 1 to 3 more a day. Good thing was many recovered fast, although some also died. There was also a time that we registered close to 50 admitted COVID patients in our hospital, both in the ICU and wards. So are we really flattening the curve?
Even though it is terrifying, we as physicians, have gained lots of knowledge and experience taking care of the critically ill COVID-19 patients. One thing we learned is that not all COVID patients with severe hypoxia needed to be on ventilators. Placing them on humidified high flow (pressurized) oxygen via nasal cannula can prevent intubation, and in fact they have faster recovery and less complications with this. Of course there are still patients that would require ventilator as a last resort, but we probably avoided more than half of our COVID patients from getting on a machine. Our experience in our hospital was extremely good that it was even featured in the local news. We might be publishing a paper on a medical journal about this experience in the near future.
Our hospital has also gained so much experience in placing patients on prone position if their oxygenation is failing. Never have I seen so many ICU patients on their belly. If the patient is awake and not on mechanical ventilator, we instruct them to lay not on their back if able. If they are sedated and on ventilator, we avail a team to flip them on their belly. And based on our experience, this really improves their respiratory status – belly down prevents them from going “belly-up.”
There are also interventions that have rapidly fallen out of favor, at least from our experience. Like giving hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malaria medicine, which we initially give to all our infected patients at the onset of the pandemic, but stop doing so. I don’t want to be political, but there is currently no robust data supporting it. We are also part of the on-going study of giving convalescent plasma to our patients, that is transfusing blood from a person that has recovered from COVID-19 and thus has presumed antibodies. We are also giving other drugs like Remdesivir and Tocilizumab, agents that are still under investigation. We are even conducting our own small trials using other novel drugs. At this time, no one really knows which medicine works. It might turn out that all of these medications are worthless.
As we open our communities more and more, I am anxious that we would see a second wave of infection. Yet I have to accept the fact that we cannot keep the world close indefinitely, for that is not considered living either. We just need to embrace the new reality.
For simple recommendations, first, we need to keep a distance from each other. At least 6 feet they said. But is that distance scientifically sound when we know that a sneeze or a cough particle can travel much farther than that? That is why wearing mask is helpful, for it protects us from each other if we cannot keep a safe distance.
So another new normal is that we need to wear a mask when going out. I know it is a barrier for communication as we cannot see the facial expressions when we talk to people. It is really bad for the deaf or for those who read lips. Probably good for people with bad breath, for they can be accepted back to the society. And perhaps sad for many, as we cannot see anymore each other’s beautiful smile.
Lastly, no more handshakes. This act of shaking hands evolved from an era when nobody was trusting anyone, that people have to approach each other with an open hand to show that they were not holding a dagger as they meet. This developed into the custom of a handshake. Maybe now we need to greet each other with a bow, like some Asian cultures do. Or maybe a curtsy. That would be cute. Or perhaps some kind of a salute. Just not the “Italian salute.”
I know many parts of the world still have travel restrictions currently and some areas are just coming out of lockdown from this COVID-19 pandemic. We don’t know if world travel would ever be the same again, however I just wanted to feature a long overdue post about a trip that we made some time ago. In fact, we made this trip exactly a year past already, in May of 2019.
We rode the Bernina Express. This is touted as one of the most scenic train rides in the world and it runs on the highest railway accross the Alps. We boarded the train at Tirano, Italy and traveled to St. Moritz, Switzerland.
By the way, in this time of pandemic and limited travel, I saw that there are virtual train rides around the world that you can experience (see this link) right now. Bernina Express is one of them.
The Bernina Express travels through the UNESCO World Heritage site via the Rhaetian Railway. When we say World Heritage Site, it is a landmark or area, that is selected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for having cultural, historical, scientific or other form of significance, and that it is legally protected by international treaties.
And off we go….
The train has comfortable seats and is roomy inside. The glass windows are huge and are up to the ceiling, offering uninterrupted views of the breath-taking landscapes.
We passed through bridges and tunnels, mountains and valleys, towns and even lakes. No underwater tunnel though.
Photo below is the Lago di Poschiavo, a naturallake in the Poschiavo valley near Miralago, Switzerland.
The landscape gradually changed as we went higher and higher in altitude. Not too long from then we were coursing through the Alps. We were on top of the world!
After a little more than 2 hours, we finally arrived at St. Moritz, Switzerland where we boarded off the train. We spent only a shortwhile there, perhaps only to take some photos, and then we headed back to Italy.
This is an instance that the journey is as good, maybe even better, than the destination. A wonderful ride indeed.
Here’s a short video clip of the train ride as we were navigating through the snow and glaziers that it was like the Polar Express: