For Fathers Who Aren’t In Heaven

Sad stories are life’s reality. Several weeks ago I heard one sad story. It was told by a young man, but he did not even relayed it to me. I just overheard it.

We were in a youth camporee, and I went there as a supervising adult (see previous post). There were more than 300 boys and girls from several youth clubs that came to that camping.

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evening worship at the camp

One morning in the boy’s public bathroom, I was in one of the toilet stalls minding my own business. There was no phone signal in the camp, so I cannot surf the web on my smart phone to keep me entertained. I was just watching a small spider spinning his web at one corner of the stall.

(Sorry, this is my second post in a row that discuss something about restrooms. It is not my intention to turn this blog into a toilet talk, but just bear with me, for there’s a good point I want to make here, I promise.)

Then I heard people came to the restroom. I believe there were at least two boys who came in. While brushing their teeth and perhaps washing their faces at the lavatories, they started a conversation.

After some small talk and introducing themselves to each other, like their name and what youth club or place they came from, one boy opened up with a very personal information. I was not being nosy nor eavesdropping, but as the wash basins were just a few feet from the toilet stall I was in, I heard all their conversation.

“I never knew who my father is, for I never met him,” one boy confessed.

He added that he met his real mother when he was eleven years old, but her mother never told him who his real dad is. Then he said that his mother told him that she gave him away for adoption for he was a “blue baby” when he was born. “I was blue as a Smurf,” he quipped. Her mother thought that she cannot take care of him due to his condition, so she gave him away.

As a medical doctor, I know that “blue babies” have an anomaly in their heart or in their circulation causing poorly oxygenated blood to course into their arteries giving the bluish discoloration of their skin. Unless a life saving procedure or surgery is done immediately, they will not survive. Most likely this boy underwent such surgery.

I know this boy is a survivor. Yet he might had the corrective surgery to close a hole in his heart, but the void and longing in his heart for love, especially from a father he never knew, was never filled.

Like a priest inside a confession box, except that I was in a toilet stall, I heard all this heart-breaking confession of a young man without him seeing me. Most likely he didn’t even know I was there listening to his story. He is not aware that the walls, even the very private toilet walls, have ears.

I would like to break out from the stall I was in and give this young man a big hug, but given the situation and place, that may be deemed inappropriate. Perhaps even scandalous.

The thing is I know his first name, his age, where he is from, and what club he is a member of, but I never saw his face. By the time I was done with my business, and came out of the stall, the two boys were gone.

My heart was broken just listening to that sad story. I can just imagine what heartache that boy was feeling. I just hope he finds the love he was looking for even if he has no father. Though one thing for sure, “our Father who art in heaven,” loves him and I pray that he realized that.

This made me thinking, that fathers who aren’t in heaven, me included, have such a great responsibility. We may never change the world singlehandedly, but we are given this distinctive duty and privilege to make a positive impact in the precious lives of our children. And perhaps if all fathers will do that, then the world will change.

For you fathers who may be reading this, or for you young men or even boys who will be fathers some day, I hope we all rise up to this challenge.

Have a happy and meaningful Father’s Day.

A Weekend To Remember

Few days ago I drove to my outreach clinic which is an hour and a half away. As I mentioned in the past, the drive there is mostly serene and relaxing, going through picturesque rural Iowa landscapes. Unlike the frustrating drive through EDSA being stuck in traffic for an hour and half. It was a beautiful spring day too, with colorful blossoms on the trees lining the highway.

This journey provides me an opportunity to ruminate, I mean to think deeply, not chew the cud like cows here in Iowa. And a chance for some “sound tripping” too. The music album I picked that day for the drive was an album I have not listened to for quite a while. I just added it recently to my iPhone’s music library. It was Jim Chappell’s “Saturday’s Rhapsody.”

While I was cruising down the road and listening to the music, it took me back 25 years ago. To be exact, it was a Saturday night in January of 1993.

I was a fresh graduate from medical school, and I just passed the Philippine Medical Boards. Some of my friends had been harassing (kantiyaw) me for days to take them out to eat as a celebration for my recent board passing. So I told them, perhaps the coming weekend after a church function, we can go out if we wish. A wishy-washy plan.

There was this girl, a friend of a friend, who recently became part of my circle of friends, that I knew it was her birthday that weekend so I brought a gift just in case she’ll show up and join the party.

The gift was a music cassette tape. Remember them? Compact discs were not in vogue yet or they were more expensive than the cassette tape that time. It was Jim Chappell’s album “Saturday Rhapsody.”

Jim Chappell is an American jazz pianist. I’m not really a jazz type-of-guy. I am more of Pinoy folk, rock and country type-of-guy, with favorites like Freddie Aguilar, Asin and Eraserheads. But when I’m studying, I avoid those songs, as I would break out in a song which will be disruptive. So I gravitate to instrumental music or music without words. That’s how I end up listening to jazz music, especially when I was reviewing for my boards.

As I was listening to a smooth jazz radio station in Manila, I heard the music of Jim Chappell, and I got hooked. I bought my first album of his, “Living the Northern Summer.” I love his music so much that I shared this to my friends, as I gave them Chappell’s album as a gift. And that brought me to that particular night in January 1993.

I bought the album “Saturday Rhapsody” as a possible gift. That is if this particular girl would show up that night. If not, I can keep it for myself, for I still don’t have that album anyway.

But the girl showed up.

Darn, I would like to keep that cassette tape for me! Yet it was also a good thing, since it was her birthday, thus it was her blowout too. So she shared on the bill for the restaurant meal for our group, saving me some money.

After seeing the album, this girl thought that the music was kind of “bastos” (lewd), as the picture on the cover of the album was some sort of a naked woman (see photo below). She also thought I was “presko” (fresh or impudent)! But afterwards, when she listened to the album, she found that it was decent music and she liked it. It changed her impression of me too.

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We became good friends since then. We even went together to the concert of Jim Chappell when he came to Manila and performed at the Philippines International Convention Center in the summer of 1993.

In the end, the album that I gave away, became mine eventually and I didn’t have to get one for my own, as she and I shared it together. We have been sharing more than just music together for the past 25 years.

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Here’s a sample of one of the songs in that album “Saturday Rhapsody.” This song is “A Weekend to Remember.” It really was.

(*photo from the web, video from YouTube)

 

 

Unplugged

Last weekend we shed life’s conveniences and spent some time in the wild. We went camping.

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For three nights we slept in a tent. But before you think it was really miserable and uncomfortable, it was not. We have camping cots, so we did not have to sleep on the ground. We also have comfortable sleeping bags, blankets and pillows.

We did not go hungry as well, for we did not have to forage for something to eat in the forest or hunt for some wild game. We have canned goods and packed foods in our coolers. We even have propane powered stove and oven to cook our food. Though we build an open fire to keep us warm and for real “camping-feel.” In addition, we have to roast our marshmallows for the s’mores in the camp fire, of course.

Furthermore, we did not have to dig a latrine, for there was a modern bathroom facility with several toilet and shower stalls. And with heated running water!

You may argue that what we did was not really camping, but “glamping” – glamorous camping.

However, there’s one life’s convenience or some may even consider this a necessity nowadays, that was not available in the campsite. What is it?

There was no cellular phone signal there. It was a dead zone.

For three days, I have no use of my smart phone, except to take photos. No phone calls, no text messages, no e-mails, no Facebook, no news feed, no Google, no ability to check NBA scores, and no access to my blog. Nothing, nada, zilch.

In this current age, we are so wired up that we have connection with people around us and even people in the opposite side of the world. Phone call, texting, Facetime or Skype has been part of our everyday life now. I am finding out that nowadays courting has been reduced to video chat and sending text messages. What happened to the formal home visit, bringing flowers and asking the girl’s parents if they can meet?

I am not saying that this is bad, as it has made our world smaller. This technology has been a lifeline for families that have loved ones working overseas. Skype, Facetime, or any form of video chat is definitely a boon for them.

With the internet available almost anywhere whether thru Wi-Fi or cellular signal, we have access to any information we need. I remember the days we have to go to the library and search for the facts and data we want. Today, we have that instantly at our fingertips that I am not sure our present society will survive without this technology.

But I survive without a phone signal and internet for 3 long days. Proving we can live without it. The only connection I had there was with people around me in the “here and now.” You may say that we were isolated from the outside world, but there was plenty of interaction and connection in those days we were on the camp.

Where we went was a camporee. My wife and I volunteered to join my son’s club as supervising adults. There were 25 other youth clubs, and more than 300 people in that camp. So there’s a great deal of communicating and socializing. Though not by Facebooking or texting.

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some young people leading the worship service

Yet we did have some “long distance” interaction while we were in the camp. We witnessed the mighty sun as it sets by the lakeside and it was gorgeous. We marveled at the distant bright stars above us at night. Moreover, we had quiet communing with the Creator who surrounded us with these beautiful nature, who by the way, is really nearer than we think.

I believe we should be spending more time unplugged.

(*photos taken with an iPhone) 

 

Return to Florida

We were in Florida for a few days about a week ago. We accompanied our son who had a team competition held there. That was our official purpose to go to Florida, though there were other reasons.

One reason is to escape the cold, as there was still snow on the ground in Iowa when we flew to Florida. Another excuse perhaps was to see the ocean. Iowa is a land lot, and the nearest ocean is about 1000 miles away, so it’s not everyday that we can view the ocean. But the biggest reason to return to Florida, was to see our many friends there, for we once called that place home. That was before we moved to Iowa.

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beach in Sarasota

We have lots of good memories in Florida. Spending weekends in the theme parks or time in the beach were not even the highlight of our three years of residence there, even though we’ve become good acquaintances of Mickey. First of all, it was in Florida where I started a “real” job, after three years of Medical Residency (New Jersey) and another three years of Subspecialty Fellowship (New York) training.

After finishing my training in 2000, I had to change my visa from a “training” to a “working” visa. That transition took several months to get approved, and I was in limbo with no permit to work and no place to go. I was jobless, broke, and homeless. I cannot provide for myself let alone for my wife and my daughter who was a toddler at that time.

During that dark period of our life, we were fully dependent on the kindness of friends and family. We spent a month living in our friend’s home in New Jersey, then two months in another friend’s apartment in New York, then several months with our relatives in California. We did not starve nor sleep in the streets because there were good people who adopted us and cared for us. They provided everything, from the food we eat to the diapers for my daughter. It was a humbling experience, yet at the same time awe-inspiring on how good people can be.

When my visa got finally approved in 2001, we moved to Florida for my first employment. It was a wonderful feeling to move to an apartment of our own, sleep in our own beds, buy our own groceries, and cook our own food. It was not that the food we ate during the times we were “homeless” taste bad, but it was just good to taste food from the fruits of our own labor. Florida is known as the “Sunshine State,” and for us we really experienced a sunny existence there after going through some cold and dark circumstances in life.

So during our return to Florida last week, besides seeing our friends, we also visited the homes we rented (we moved twice) when we were still residents there. We felt so nostalgic driving through the streets and neighborhoods we used to know. Although it took us some time driving around to find the homes we rented, as there were considerable changes in that area. It was sad to see that the orange groves around our previous residences are now gone and turned into commercial complexes.

We drove by the clinic and the hospital where I used to worked. We also visited the hospital where my son was born only to find that the whole building was demolished and the site was turned into a park. The hospital was relocated to a new site and is a much larger facility now.

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the new relocated hospital

I even teased my son that we’ll return him to the hospital where he was born. The back story to that was after my son was born, our daughter who was 5 years old at that time was jealous at the attention our new baby was getting. So she pleaded, “Let’s return the baby back to the hospital.”

Since technically the hospital where my son was born is gone, he can argue that we cannot return him anymore. I guess we are stuck with him. Hah!

I would be lying if I say that it was all good things that we experienced in Florida. For there were alligators there. They were not just in the lakes and swamps. They wear clothes like you and me. To be fair, they can be anywhere not just in Florida. Yet I still believe that overall, people are good.

While we were living in Florida, we had a friend and his wife who underwent a transition phase where they were in-between jobs, just like what we went through before. They have no place to go, so we adopted them and they stayed with us for a few months. We cannot repay those who adopted us before, but we can do to others what was done to us. We paid it forward.

As expected, this couple made it through their dark times and was able to get back on their own. We were happy for them.

So guess where we stayed when we visited Florida recently? At the Disney Resort? No, done that. At the beachfront hotel? No, done that too. In a tent at a campground?  Not this time. We stayed somewhere much better.

We stayed at the home of our friend whom we adopted before. A home where love abounds trumps even the most posh hotel. Not just we stayed there for free, it also gave us more time to catch up and enjoy each other’s company again. Besides, their place was cozy with a resort-like feel. Consider waking up to this view (photos below).

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We also had a meet-up with other friends who took special efforts to delight us. From a treat to a restaurant, to a home-cooked Pinoy breakfast, from home-baked bread to freshly picked malunggay for our “pabaon.” I’m not sure we deserve all these kindness but we’re thankful to all of them.

We surely had fun visiting Florida again. And we did not even see Mickey.

(*photos taken during our last trip to Florida)

Ang Tandang at si Uncle Tom

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.

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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(*photo taken during our last visit to the Philippines)

Looking for Falling Stars

Last summer, we learned that there would be a great opportunity to see meteors in our area. That is if we would look at the right time and at the right direction. And provided that we would have a clear sky.

The event is the Perseid meteor shower, a stream of debris associated with the Swift-Tuttle comet. This is an annual event, and they said that in a clear night sky you can potentially see 100 falling stars in an hour. A hundred falling stars in an hour? That’s a proposition that was just too hard to resist.

Even though I spent half of my life in Manila (can’t see much stars in a big city), I have seen meteors several times in the past. The first time was when I was in grade school during our school’s camping in Batangas. The last time was not too long ago when I was driving home one night here in Iowa and it streaked down the sky. Perhaps I am lucky to see falling stars a few times, or perhaps I’m just looking at the night sky an awful lot of times.

My wife who have not seen a falling star ever, except maybe Kris Aquino falling off the stage on live TV some decades ago, so she was really determined to see this event.

So one night last August, we went outside to watch for falling stars.

We live in a country side, which was a decision we made years ago, where our dark night sky still shows the stars shining brightly and not blurred by the city lights. However in the past 13 years we have lived out here, the city has been creeping closer and closer to us. The cornfields and open prairies that we used to pass by is steadily being gobbled up by construction of housing developments and commercial establishments. I am not sure if I would like to call that “progress.”

It was close to 11 o’clock at night when we went out, a time that ordinarily I would already be snoring. We stood in our deck and looked out in our backyard sky towards northeast, the direction we read it would be. After close to half an hour outside, we still have not seen any falling stars. Not even a single one! And they promised 100 stars an hour?

We were also getting cold, for even though it was summer, it was seasonably cooler than usual that night. Our necks were getting strained as well from looking up. We should have placed a mat in our lawn and lay there under the stars with our blankets. At least we would be comfortable while we eagerly wait and while we listen to the ‘sweet nothing’ whispers in our ears. I’m referring to the pesky mosquitoes buzzing around our heads.

After a long while, as I was looking at the sky in the direction we thought the meteors would appear, I believed I saw a light streaked in my peripheral field of vision. So I told my wife that perhaps we were looking at the wrong direction. So we trained our gaze to a different direction in the sky.

Sure enough, in less than a minute, we saw a bright star flashed across the sky and disappeared in the dark. Not much later, another one did. And another one.

Isn’t it like many times in life, what we’re searching for has been there all along, we just have not realized it, or we just have not looked the right way. Like your lost keys. Or the love that you’re waiting for. Or the happiness that you’re chasing.

Satisfied, my wife suggested that we can go back inside the house, knowing also that the right direction where we can look was in the full view of our bedroom window. So we pulled out a sleeping mat and placed it near the window, and there we laid for the night instead of our bed, and watch for more shooting stars.

They said that you should make a wish when you see a shooting star. Of course I did. That wish was already been granted: lying down here beside me.

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Happy Anniversary my dear. It has been 23 years of happy moments and fulfilled wishes.

(*photo taken in Mohonk Mountain House, New York)

 

Old Friend

Hello friend.

First of all, I know it is your birthday tomorrow. Don’t be impressed that I remember that after all these years. It is just because you shared the same birthdate with my father, that’s why I cannot forget.

I know we have not seen each other in person for several years. But it is not a reason that we have not stayed in touch as friends. After all, we’ve known each other since our “uhugin” days of childhood. We even had that matching yellow shirt that we would often wear at the same time when we were kids, as if we were twins.

We played together. We ate together. We even got lost once together in a farm. We were so small then and cannot see beyond the tall plantation. But you told me that we should kneel down and pray right there in the rice field. After that, we eventually found our way back.

Remember how we played those tau-tauhan or toy soldiers? We would stand them up in the dirt while we were on our hands and knees on the ground, and we’ll hit them with marbles as if it was a war. I think I could hit more than you. And I’ll rub it in, mas asintado ako sa iyo.

Our lives were intertwined, as our families were good friends. We would go to parks and other places together. Remember how we would fit our two families in our “Ford Cortina” – all 4 adults and 6 young kids in one car? Who cares about seatbelts? Those were the good ole days.

Then your family decided to migrate to Papua New Guinea. I was sad that you were leaving us, but happy for you and your family that you would be going to a new country and pursuing a “better” life.

Yet you still came back a couple of times to the Philippines for a visit. You told me about your experience riding that big airplane and crossing the ocean. I was so envious! You told me how excited you were in going down the stairs of the plane that you slipped and almost fell down the tarmac.

Then after a few more years I heard that your family would be migrating to the US from Papua New Guinea. Again I was happy for you and your family for another new adventure. Though I honestly was saddened, as the chances that you would come back to live in the Philippines and we’ll be together again was nil.

But tadhana smiled again and our path crossed once more. Several years later I was given the chance to go to the US too. I remember how you and your family welcomed me with open arms. I even stayed in your place for a short time. You showed me around California in your new Toyota Camry. Your family toured me to Disneyland. And you even took me shopping for some muffler and gloves, as you learned I was going to New York City in the dead of winter to have an interview.

Then I too was able to chase my American dream.

One day you called and told me that you are quitting your job. Your stable, high-paying job. And that you were going to South America with your family as missionaries. I was surprised. But more so, I was so impressed with your admirable faith. I know it’s not easy to give up the comforts and luxuries of life, and leave everything behind, in the name of God’s higher calling. I don’t know if I can do the same.

I understand it took you some time getting used to the change. You told me how remote your location was in South America. That you live almost like in a jungle, and your home was like living in a big tree house. And how it would take you a couple of days to travel to the nearest city. Yet you never forget to call me once in a while when you have the chance. I know you can only make that overseas call whenever you’re in the city.

I heard you say that even though how meager your resources were and how simple your life was, you told me, that you love working in God’s mission. What a remarkable dedication. I have nothing but respect for you.

Then more than a couple of years ago, I learned that you and your family came back to the US. Though I understand, you were still live-in volunteers in a small Christian academy. At least you don’t have to fight anymore, those pesky mosquitoes and poisonous snakes that sneak inside your home.

Once in a while we’ll talk about our families over the phone. And how we would open up about our “little” problems raising our family, just like any parents have. I called you few weeks ago, and I told you that I would be praying for you and your family. I also got your “thank you” card about two weeks ago.

Then I got a phone call from your sister yesterday. What an awful news! A heartbreaking news. That you had a tragic car accident. And in an instant, you were gone.

I don’t know what to think. My finite mind cannot rationalize it. I don’t know why God called you home too soon. But I just have to trust Him. As you always did.

I cannot imagine how your family and children are taking this. I am praying for them. I would continue to support them in whatever way I can, just like I promised you the last time we talked.

I guess I will never hear your voice again. We will never have that heart to heart talk again. At least not here on earth. But hoping someday, somewhere, beyond this earth…….

Goodbye my old friend.

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(*in loving memory of Boying)

(**photo taken with an iPhone)

 

 

Figments of Lavender Field

Few weeks ago, my family visited a 90-acre field of wild flowers. It was actually a farm land before, but the owners turned it into a natural prairie. Here in Iowa, the state gives incentives through federal conservation program wherein the government will give yearly rental payment in exchange of farmers turning their agricultural land into a prairie or a wooded area. This is one way of reclaiming industrial lands into natural habitats for the wild life.

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Wanting to see more beautiful field of flowers, my wife checked on a website and learned that there is a lavender farm here in Iowa. She envisioned that it will be an expansive gorgeous fields of lavender flowers. Besides, the farm is located near a scenic route, the Loess Hills, which is included in the National Scenic Byways of America, meaning it is a must-see drive. Since we have not seen it yet, so we drove to it last weekend.

The lavender field is about two hours drive away from our place. Here in the United States’ midwest, two hours drive is nothing. At least when we say two hours drive, we mean we’re really driving mostly at maximum speed limit. Unlike in other parts of the world, like in Manila, two hours drive means a distance you can get to in twenty minutes but you’re stuck in traffic for two hours.

After finishing our Sunday morning chores, we packed the family in the car and drove. My college-age daughter, who is home for the summer, was not even feeling well that morning due to menstrual cramps, but we drag her anyway so she won’t miss it. She just brought a pillow and laid down in the backseat.

It was a relatively cool day for a summer, as it was cloudy and even had intermittent showers. In fact we encountered some heavy rains along the way, which to me, just made the trip more interesting.

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As we approached our destination, we passed by an overlook area. It has a tower where you can view the surrounding scenery. My daughter was feeling better already at that time, that she got off the car and also climbed the tower.

When we came to a nearby town just minutes to our destination, we decided to stop for lunch first before heading to the place. We discovered a nice old diner. It has a 1960’s theme, or perhaps they just did not change it since they opened. We found out that this diner was a major hub even back in the days, as it was near a major train station.

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When we continued on our trip, we got lost as our GPS directed us not to the exact site. Yes, I gave the verdict that the GPS was at fault, and it cannot defend itself. We phoned the farm’s number and it re-directed us to its location.

Finally we found the place. As we were pulling into their parking lot, we saw the field in front of us and it was nothing like what we imagined or expected. It was a dud. A let-down. A disappointment.

No stretches of beautiful lavender. No expansive field of wonderful flowers. Instead, it was a patch of drying bushes. In its defense, perhaps we were just expecting too much.

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As we already drove for two hours, so we still went down and checked the farm, including the small shop they have in that place. We did not tarry though.

We then decided to drive further in a road that has a sign “National Scenic Byway.” It was said that this scenic byway, the Loess Hills, has a unique terrain, formed by windblown silt, called loess. No other place in the world except the one in China, where there are higher loess hills formation than this place in Iowa.

After driving for some time in this said scenic byway, we admit that they were interesting, but we’re not utterly impressed. Maybe because we have already driven from US coast to coast, and we have seen more stunning scenic byways. We turned around and headed for home.

We passed by a small town that has a number of antique shops on our way home. The last time we were there was more than 10 years ago (see previous post). My son who was less than 3 years old at that time, accidentally knocked down an antique mirror sitting on a floor at one of the stores. The mirror fell on its face and shattered the glass into several pieces. I ended up paying $200 dollars. Since I paid for it, I took home the wood or board where the mirror was mounted. $200 for a piece of board!

They say that breaking a mirror will cause seven years of misfortune. I don’t think so. What followed was several years of bliss living in Iowa.

This time we did not shatter any mirrors. Just shattered expectations, I guess. After that last stop, we came home after almost 6 hours on the road.

Have you had any similar experience? Going to a place that did not live up to your expectations? Did we just wasted a day and some gallons of gas? I don’t want to believe so. For even if the destination was less than spectacular, we still spent some quality family time together.

Life is a journey. Sometimes it is not the destination that matters. But it is the joy of experience, discovery, shared moments together, and the eventual precious memories during the travel, that really matters.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Nanay

Mother’s Day. A day that the world be celebrating this coming Sunday. Long distance calls will be made (for those who live far away from home), flowers will be delivered, cards will be sent, visitations will be done, and restaurants will be full.

Mother’s Day in fact, is the busiest day for restaurants, at least here in America, but may be the same throughout the world. Perhaps families think that on that day, they would like to give moms a break in the kitchen, so they would dine out. Or perhaps they just wanted to celebrate and give them the attention they all do deserve.

This will be the third Mother’s Day since my mom passed away. Because my mom’s birthday is on the second week of May, so Mother’s Day (every 2nd Sunday of May) and her birthday celebration usually coincide. I will surely miss calling and talking to her.

For my wife, this will be their first Mother’s Day without their mother. She passed away last July. I will also miss calling and talking to my mother-in-law. After all, I am her “favorite” son-in-law. Just don’t tell the other sons-in-law.

For this Mother’s Day, I would like to share a tribute that my wife read on her mother’s funeral last year:

Nanay. Perhaps the first word I uttered. Perhaps the first word I really learned the true meaning of.

I know when I was very young and can barely walk and talk, I would say the word Nanay, and I am assured that I would be fed. I say Nanay, and my thirst would be quenched. I say Nanay, and  I would be safe. I would utter Nanay, and I would be taken care of.

Over the years of my life, the word Nanay has become synonymous to provider, protector, and love.

Now Nanay is gone. Never can I utter the word Nanay again with the same meaning, the same urgency, the same pleading anymore.

But I am glad Nanay had trusted and is now resting in the Lord, who is our true Provider, Protector, and encompass the true meaning of Love.

Goodbye Nanay. We will see you in that Great Morning.

For all of you who still have the chance to celebrate Mother’s Day with your moms, please value and cherish this opportunity, for we don’t know how many more opportunities we are given.

As for me, I would still be celebrating this day with the reigning world’s best mother in the world, at least in my perspective – the mother of my children. I hope there’s table for us and the restaurants are not too full.

For all the nanay in the world, may you have a happy and blessed Mother’s Day!

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“Duyan,” painting by Nestor Leynes

(*Nanay is the Filipino word for mother.)

 

No More Free Concerts

Last week, I took a day off from work, drove a couple of hours, travel more than a hundred miles, just to see a concert.

It was not a concert of one of those pop superstars, like Adele or Lady Gaga. Nor was it a concert of some well-known classical artist like Andrea Bocelli or Yoyo Ma.

It was my daughter’s concert. It was their university’s orchestra performance. And it was their first concert for this school year.

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I have seen my daughter play cello in the orchestra multiple times in the past. From her grade school days, to high school days, and to community orchestra. From the screechy-sound of beginners, to more polished tones of intermediate, to quite advanced.

Though this maybe the best group that she’s been a member so far. After all they were all music majors, both undergraduate and graduate students. As far as I am concern, they can be considered “professional” musicians now.

We knew back then, that when we introduced our little girl to music, that she has a special attachment to it, and we cannot deny the fact that she has a gift for it. So it was no surprise that that was the career path she chose to pursue. Even though honestly, I tried to sway her to a different path.

I know as a parent, we wanted a secure future for our kids. So we prefer professions like engineer, or doctor, or lawyer. But what’s wrong with literature, or arts, or music, if that’s where our child’s passion is? Success should not be gauge only on how much money we can earn, but also on the satisfaction and joy on doing what we love to do.

It was heartwarming to witness that my daughter is getting very skillful on the cello, as well as playing with the orchestra. But playing cello is not even her major. She’s majoring in another instrument. A much larger instrument, the piano. So there will be more concerts and recitals to attend to.

All those years of music lessons are finally paying off. We’re proud as well that our homeschooling “experiment,” (we homeschooled her from kindergarten to high school) was a success. All of our worries that her education was not adequate, were all appeased.

Now, my daughter is not merely surviving, but thriving in college. She even was granted a good scholarship that covers her college tuition, so we only have to pay for her food and dorm. With the cost of college education ever on the rise, ranging from $10,000 per year in state universities (for in-state residents) to $50,000 or more per year in private and more expensive institutions, getting a college degree these days can definitely break the bank.

Back to the concert. Though some of the selection they played were kind of hypnotic to me, I was able to stay awake through the concert. Over all it was fantastic. After the final bow, the audience were up on their feet. The only gripe I have on the concert is that it was not free. Sorry, I’m cheap.

But I get it. It helps support their university’s music program. Besides, the quality of their performance was superb that the concert was even recorded, and maybe aired one of these days on a public radio station. Definitely worth paying for.

So for the first time, I bought a ticket just to see my daughter perform. But I’m OK with that.

I wonder, would I have to pay a more expensive ticket when it’s time for her solo piano performance?