Thoughts From An Old Couch

Where do old couch go?

Few days ago, my son and I carried out our old couch to the end of our driveway for waste management to pick-up. Would it be recycled into a new form or would it rest in a land fill? I don’t know. This is not the first time though, that I have dealt with a couch on a curb.

About two and a half decades ago, I came to United States on a training visa to start my medical residency. I had one suitcase in hand which was all my belongings plus a few dollars in my wallet. Leaving our home in the Philippines, I arrived in Morristown, New Jersey and stayed with another Filipino medical resident whom I just met. I crashed at his apartment for I have no place of my own.

One day we saw a couch left at the street curb to be picked up by the garbage collector. Seeing that the couch still has some life left on it, I thought it could be of use to me. My friend and I scooped up the sofa before the garbage truck could pick it up. Of course we inspected it first and it passed our visual and smell test.

A month later after I received my first paycheck, I was able to move to my own apartment. My friend and I transported the couch from his residence to mine which was 1 kilometer away. No, we did not load it on a truck for we had no truck. We carried it through that distance. Even though it was not that big, it seemed that it got heavier and heavier as we went further along. Especially considering that we were two scrawny and muscularly-challenged guys.

Good thing was, midway, somebody saw us struggling with our load. She flagged us down and asked how far we were going. We were actually already sitting (and panting) on the couch taking a break at the side of the road. The lady lent us a furniture dolley so we can roll the sofa instead of lifting it, and she said to just bring it back when we’re done. That was nice of her. That was one of my first impression of that place – that people were nice and trustful of their neighbors.

The lady even asked if it was some kind of a special “oriental” couch that we were transporting. Perhaps she was wondering if it was that valuable that we would go through all that trouble. If only she knew that we just picked it up from the street curb.

Several months later, my wife got her visa and came to America to join me. We used that salvaged couch for a couple of years. When we moved to New York, we did not bring it along anymore. We left it at a street curb for the garbage collector or perhaps somebody else to pick up. Did it find another owner? I don’t know.

We moved several more times since then and in fact, we had 10 different address changes until we finally moved to our current address. It seemed like we were in a witness-protection program that we kept on moving, roughly every year. However, we are living in our present home for 14 years now and counting.

Regarding this couch that my son and I just placed at the curb, we bought it when we were still in Florida after we moved out of California. We got it on a clearance sale. We really did not care about its blue color, but my wife thought she could make a cover for it. Her family’s business when they were growing up in Pampanga was making drapes and seat covers. After she made a phone call to her brother and asked for some tips, she sewed a white fabric cover for our couch. It turned out pretty good actually.

We hauled this sofa along when we eventually moved here in Iowa. We have sat on it, lounged on it, spilled food on it, my kids barfed on it and I spent many lazy days sleeping (and drooling) on it. Over the years of use the covers that my wife made got torn and for a long time now we were just tossing a white blanket over it. It has seen better days and now it is time for it to have another life apart from us.

As we placed our couch at the curb, I sat there for a few moments, reminisced, and watched as the season (and our life’s season) turns. There are so many things to be thankful for. Including old couches.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Electric Outlet Plugs and Precious Memories

I am taking a break from studying. I took two re-certification exams from American Board of Internal Medicine for different subspecialties this year. One in May and another this November. Next up is for another subspecialty, but it’s not until September next year. So I’ll chill out for now.

Because of the preparation I did for the boards, I have spent a lot of time reading and studying. I chose to review in my daughter’s room. Since my daughter is in college now and her room was empty, I took residence there and used her study table which is near the window. It was nice and quiet there plus it has a great view of the outside.

I also downloaded my favorite music for studying in Spotify and had it playing while I was reviewing. My go-to music when I’m studying is Jim Chappell’s. I discovered him back in the early 1990’s when I was preparing for my Philippine Medical Boards. His music is calming and perfect for quiet reflection. It puts me in a right mood too, I guess.

As I was studying in my daughter’s room, I was surrounded by her articles and effects – the stuff toys she had in one corner, the favorite books she read in the book case, the medals and trophies in the shelf, and other sort of things. Lots of memories tied to all of these items.

Then I noticed that some of the electric outlets in her room still has the plastic plug covers. We child-proofed our home and placed these outlet plugs when we moved into this house years ago. She was still a little girl at that time. Obviously we place those covers to protect her from being electrocuted in case she stuck her little fingers on those electric outlets.

But time has passed so quickly it seems that she has grown up and we have not noticed that she don’t need those outlet plug covers anymore. She probably left some outlets covered as she did not need them anyway. The wallpaper in her room may also require some updating as it was from the original owner of the house. But my daughter said she liked them, so we let it be.

I took out the plastic outlet plugs now for there were no use for them anymore. Besides I have to plug my laptop, my phone, and my portable speaker near her study table.

My daughter will be finishing college this year with a degree in Music. In fact, a few nights ago we attended her cello solo recital at the university. In a few months she’ll be performing in her final senior piano recital which will be a bigger event, since piano is her major.

It seems not too long ago that she was sticking her fingers in the peanut butter jar, playing dirt and picking dandelions in our yard. Today, those beloved beautiful fingers are electrifying musical instruments. We are glad we protected them from harm, including injury from electric outlets.

Below is a photo of my daughter during her recent cello recital. She was accompanied by her piano professor.

It is kind of funny that even the simplest of things like an outlet plug cover will evoke such precious memories. Or maybe it was the music that I was listening to that made me.

Alright, I’ll blame it all on the music.

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Here’s Jim Chappell’s song, “Precious Memories.” (video from Youtube)

Bye at the Window

It’s autumn here in our part of the world and the leaves are changing colors. We see them everyday as we peek through our windows. In fact, we can watch the time go by through our windows and witness not just the changing of the leaves.

When our son was much younger, he would always tell us when we leave to wave goodbye at the window. So as our car would pull out of our driveway, he would be watching at the window and waving goodbye. He would feel bad if we would not wave back at him. It was his some sort of reassurance that everything would be alright. He would do this especially with his mom that it became their tender ritual. So when my wife would leave him even for a very short errand he would say, “Bye at the window, Mom.”

Children seems to have a hard time dealing with being left behind. Remember the first time we let them sleep alone in their bedroom? They would do all kind of delaying tactics so that we would not have to leave them in their room for the night.

Like, “Can you check for spiders on my bed?” “There’s none left, the monster under your bed ate them all.”

Or, “Can I have another drink of water?” “That’s your 5th glass of water, you will pee on the bed.”

I don’t know about you, but our kids did something similar. However we had to be firm in our actions so they would develop that sense of independence.

Maybe you remember when you dropped your kids on their first day of school in kindergarten. Perhaps some of them clung tightly at your skirt or perhaps they wrapped around your leg and would not let go. We have not really experienced dropping our kids in kindergarten since we homeschooled them, but I just wonder what kind of fiasco they could have done.

Our kids are grown up now. Our daughter has been gone for a few years and is almost done with college, while our son is a junior in high school. He still home schools, but he now attends some Advanced Placement classes in a community college nearby. He also drives now, and a couple of months ago his driver’s license was upgraded that he can drive all by himself but still has a restriction that he cannot drive alone after midnight or before five o’clock in the morning.

Few weeks ago, my son humorously told my wife (*in a deeper voice too*), “Bye at the window, Mom.” But this time it was he who was leaving, and my wife was the one waving goodbye at the window.

My wife said that it really felt weird and different this time. She felt so nostalgic as my son was pulling out of our driveway and she waved goodbye at the window for the longest time until the car made a turn at the street corner and disappeared from her sight.

There is definitely a twinge of sadness on these rites of passage. Yet, they must come to pass.

I think we had it wrong all along. It is not our kids, but it is us parents who have a hard time letting go.

(*photo taken by my wife as my son drives away)

Flower-Strewn Pathway

I was going out for my morning run a few days ago and as I got out of the front door I noticed that our walkway was covered with flower petals.

Beautiful morning. Flower-strewn pathway. What else could I ask for?

Maybe our crabapple tree was treating me as royalty, shedding and laying its flowers on my path.

I remember an old movie “Coming to America,” where the character played by James Earl Jones, the king of Zamunda, a fictional wealthy African nation, visited the United States, New York City, to be exact. He was looking for his son, played by Eddie Murphy, who was the crowned prince of that said nation. In one scene, as the king steps out of his limousine, royal attendants strew flowers on the ground where he would walk on. I know, I am no royalty.

Come to think of it that is what flower girls in a wedding do too. These cute little girls would scatter flowers in the path where the bride would walk on. But I am no bride either.

By the way the tradition of flower girls scattering flower petals has its origin from the Greek and the Romans. The young girls walking before the bride in ancient practice, scatter herbs and grains to wish the bride fertility. But nowadays it is replaced by tossing flower petals as a wish for happiness for the bride. And maybe fertility too.

Our journey in this life though is not always filled with happiness or a flower-strewn pathway, so to speak. Or perhaps it is, as our path could be littered with roses but including its thorns. Maybe the flower vase is thrown in the path as well with its broken pieces of glass!

A poem by Annie Johnson Flint said this, “God hath not promise skies always blue, flower-strewn pathway all our lives through.”

The author of the poem, Annie, was only 3 years old when her mother died while giving birth to her baby sister. Her father who also had an incurable disease decided to give Annie for adoption as he couldn’t take care of her, and he died not long after that. Annie was sent to school by her adoptive parents and was able to finish her education and became a teacher. However she developed painful and debilitating arthritis at a young age which extremely limited her mobility. She was resigned to a wheelchair most of her life.

Yet she still penned this poem:

WHAT GOD HATH PROMISED

God hath not promised skies always blue, 
Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through;
God hath not promised sun without rain, 
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.

God hath not promised we shall not know
Toil and temptation, trouble and woe;
He hath not told us we shall not bear
many a burden, many a care. 

God hath not promised smooth roads and wide,
Swift, easy travel, needing no guide;
Never a mountain rocky and steep,
Never a river turbid and deep

But God hath promised strength for the day,
Rest for the labor, light for the way,
Grace for the trials, help from above, 
Unfailing sympathy, undying love.

What a great reminder for us indeed.

As for my morning run that day, it did start with a flower-strewn pathway though it got a little thorny especially on the last mile. But I did fine.

I am thankful for the promised strength for the day. And I don’t mean just for running.

(*photo taken with an iPhone)

We’ll Be Alright

We had a very cold winter this past season. It was among the snowiest too that I can remember. According to the weather almanac, this past winter in Des Moines set some records in snowfall.

In the 15 years that we have lived here in Iowa, this last one was the most brutal winter we’ve experienced.

But winter is gone. Everything is forgotten. Above photo is our front yard in mid March when snow and ice were beginning to thaw.

Here it is today:

Life is like seasons. You may be undergoing harsh winter now, yet keep in mind that winter will not last forever. Life will flourish again.

Just like what the song “Leaves” of Ben and Ben (a Filipino indie/pop band) says:

Leaves will soon grow from the bareness of trees,
And all will be alright in time,
From waves overgrown come the calmest of seas,
And all will be alright in time.

In this case, flowers grew too from the bareness of trees. Yes, we will be alright in time.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

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Here’s the official lyrics video of the song “Leaves.”

Old Man

I had another birthday. If you don’t know it yet, my son and I share the same birth date. But as he is turning into a young man, I am growing into an old man.

We did not have a big celebration though, and in fact during our birthday, we drove more than 100 miles to my daughter’s university to watch her perform during a competition of their school’s top music students. So we just had our birthday dinner at my daughter’s university’s cafeteria. But we still grab an ice cream treat from there.

Even though we did not have a party or a fancy celebration, the best part of my birthday is that we spent it together as a family. I know as our children gets older and they go to college or move out and have their own lives, gathering together can get more and more infrequent.

It’s getting warmer in our part of the world, so we can spend more time outdoors again. And last night, my son and I played some basketball in our driveway hoops, perhaps inspired by all these NCAA March Madness. I know the NCAA basketball championship is all set between Virginia and Texas Tech tomorrow.

We spent many summers playing in our driveway hoops. It is here that I taught my son how to dribble the ball, how to drive into the basket and do a lay-up, how to do jump shots and some other fundamentals. Maybe I taught him more than just basketball here, like how to whole-heartedly compete and yet staying gracious in win or defeat.

photo taken 9 years ago when my son was 7 years old

But this time it is different. My son is now taller, even taller than me maybe by half an inch, and he is way more muscular and agile.

When we played one-on-one, it did not take me long to realize that I cannot compete against him anymore. I was just no match to his quickness and strength. He kept on blowing by me when he drives to the basket, he jumped higher to get the rebounds, and I can’t even reach his pull-up jumpers.

I tried all the ‘old man’ tricks I know, which in our language is called ‘gulang,’ but it was still a no contest. I was clearly overmatched. And every time he blows by me or make a basket, he lovingly teased me, “Come on old man!”

In spite of that, I can say that I could still run, jump and play basketball. Or at least a semblance of playing basketball.

Last night was a ‘passing of the torch’ moment for me.

I humbly accepted defeat. Not necessarily from my son, but from father time.


Someone is Praying

I was pulling out of our driveway last weekend and I had this certain feeling of heaviness in my heart. I was going to work and would be in the hospital, mainly manning the ICU, for 36 long hours straight.

First of all, it was the weekend before Christmas, so I was a little sad that I would miss out on many happenings. My kids were supposed to play music in the church’s Christmas program. But more so, I had this feeling of dread to whatever challenges I would face. The ICU is crazily busy this time of year, you know. What kind of chaos was waiting for me, God only knows.

Of course that dreadful feeling I had was nothing compared to some other people leaving for work. Like the OFW or overseas workers who are leaving their home and family for a year or longer to go to a foreign country. They would be fighting extreme loniness and homesickness. Though I had a taste of that feeling when I left my home in the Philippines more than two decades ago with an unforseen future at that time.

For some, it is even worse. I would not even try to imagine the feelings of soldiers leaving their home to be deployed somewhere in the world where there is war and unrest, and their return is not guaranteed at all. Talk about feeling of dread and angst, that definitely is.

Anyway, as I drove away from our home, the first song that played on my radio (my car radio is sync on my phone’s playlist) was “Someone is Praying for You.” All of a sudden I felt some kind of reassurance, and the foreboding feeling I had melted away.

The chorus of that song goes like this:

Someone is praying for you, someone is praying for you.
So when it seems you’re all alone, and your heart will break in two.
Remember someone is praying for you.

Do you have someone praying for you?

Maybe you owe someone money, and they are praying that you remember to pay your debt. Or maybe you have offended someone and they are praying that you choke on your food so you would think of them. But I am not talking of those kind of people wishing for you.

What I mean are people who really care for your well-being and have you in their thoughts and prayers no matter what.

I know most parents, if not all, especially mothers, are always praying for the good of their children. It does not matter how old you are or how far you wandered away from home, your parents are still praying for you.

My parents are both gone now. My father died 3 decades ago and my mother died 4 years ago. Yet, I know that there is still someone praying for me all the time.

It is a comforting feeling that someone always have me on their mind. Whether I am home or not at home. Whether I am strolling in a park or walking through the forest of difficulties. Whether I am sure of my path or I can barely find my way.

And that someone has also been by my side for the past 24 years. Happy Anniversary my dear, and thank you for walking this life with me.

(*photo taken last year)

Leksiyong Pang-Grade One

May mga bagay na nakaukit na sa ating isipan. Kahit pa may mga ilan na hindi natin matandaan, gaya kung saan natin inilapag ang susi ng bahay, o kaya ang birthday ng ating biyenan, pero may mga bagay na hindi natin makalimutan. Tulad ng aking mga karanasan at mga leksiyon noong ako’y Grade One.

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Ako ay nag-Grade One sa isang maliit na pribadong paaralan sa Quezon City. Hindi kalakihan ang klase at mag-kasama pa nga ang mga estudyanteng Grade 1 at Grade 2 sa iisang classroom.

Hindi ko makalimutan ang ilan sa aking kaklase. Si Rolando, na kukurap-kurap, na para siyang laging kumikindat. Noong tumanda na lang ako, kesa ko nalaman na isa palang medical condition iyon – facial tic disorder. Nandiyan din si Nathan, na mestisuhin. Hindi sa ako’y naiingit na maputi siya, dahil masaya ako sa kulay kong “Italyano” – Itang Ilokano. At si Ronald na aking seatmate. Seatmate din namin ang nanay niya, dahil nakaupo ito sa likuran namin sa boong isang taon ng klase.

Maghapon ang aming klase kaya may bitbit akong baon. Inilalagay ang aming mga lunch box sa isang tabi ng classroom. Isang araw, isang Grade 2 na estudyante ang kumuha at kumain ng aking baon. Iniabot daw ng isa niyang kaklase ang aking lunch box dahil sa akalang ito’y sa kanya. Ang mokong naman kahit alam na hindi ito sa kanya, ay kinain pa rin ang aking baon!

Kaya’t unang aral ko sa Grade One ay ito:

1. Magpakatatag, kahit ang buhay kung minsan ay hindi patas. May mga bagay na nararapat na para sa iyo, ay aagawin pa ng iba. 

Hindi ko na matandaan kung ano ang aking kinain nung tanghaling iyon. Pero aking ipinaalam sa aking guro ang nangyari. Nakatagal naman ako hanggang hapon at hanggang sa mag-uwian na. At bumalik pa kinabukasan sa klase.

Naaalala ko rin noon na matapos ang aming lunch break, kami ay laging may siesta. Papatayin ang ilaw, at kami ay hihiga sa sahig o kaya ay sa desk para kami ay magpahinga. Medyo sapilitan ang pagpapatulog sa amin. May mga class monitor pa, sila iyong mga kaklase namin na in-charge daw, at sinusumbong nila sa aming teacher kung sinong ayaw matulog. Isa ako sa ayaw matulog.

Kung ako lang ang masusunod, maglalaro ako sa labas at magtatatakbo sa initan ng katanghaling tapat, hanggang sa tumagaktak ang aking pawis. Bakit pa kasi kailangan ng nap time?

Pero ngayong tayo’y tumanda na, kahit pa ibawas sa ating working hours ay payag tayo, magkaroon lamang ng ilang saglit na pahinga o siesta. Dahil sa sobrang abala at pagod natin, inaasam-asam natin kahit konting nap time o kaya’y free time para sa ating sarili.

Kaya’t ang pangalawang leksiyon ko sa Grade One ay ito:

2. May mga bagay na hindi mo gusto at parang walang kabuluhan ngayon, ngunit sa pagdaan ng panahon ay hahanap-hanapin mo.  Matutong pahalagahan ang mga ito.

Nakakatuwa lang isipin na ang batang galit sa tulog noon ay isang duktor na espesyalista sa pagtulog ngayon.

May panahon namang binibigay para kami ay maglaro. Ang mga gusto kong laro noon ay sipa, jolens, trumpo, teks, shato, patintero, habulan, prisoner’s base, at taguan. Kahit nga piko at jackstone ay nilalaro ko kalaban ang mga babae kong kaeskwela.

Hindi lang naman kaming mga Grade One ang naglalaro. Kahit ‘yung malalaking bata ay naglalaro din. Dahil medyo maliit ang school ground ng aming paaralan kaya minsan walang masyadong space para maglaro.

Isang hapon, may mga Grade Six na mga estudyante ang nagta-tumbling tumbling at nagsa-sommersault sa playground. Dahil haharang-harang ako, o dahil kasi maliit ako kaya’t wala silang pakundangan, nasipa ako ng isang lalaki habang ito ay nagta-tumbling. Tumilapon akong parang lata ng tumbang preso!

Kahit ako’y nasaktan, hindi naman ako makapalag. Nang ako’y mahimasmasan at lumingon sa batang nakasipa sa akin, nakita ko itong namimilipit na rin sa sakit. Ito ay dahil sa isang estudyanteng Grade Six ang humangos upang ako’y ipagtanggol at inumbag niya sa sikmura ang batang lalaki. Ang mabilis na sumaklolo sa akin ay ang aking ate. Oo, ipinagtanggol ako ng isang babae.

Kaya’t isa sa aral ko mula Grade One ay ito:

3. Mahalin natin ang ating pamilya. Sila ang  magtatanggol at tutulong sa atin sa oras ng pangangailangan.

Oo nga’t batid ko na hindi perpekto ang bawa’t pamilya. Ngunit darating ang panahon na walang iba kung hindi pamilya pa rin natin ang magsasalba sa atin. Ika nga nila, “Blood is thicker than water.”

Sa katunayan madalas akong tumilapon noon. Kaya kong tumilapong mag-isa. Bata pa kasi ako ay dare-devil na ako. Mahilig akong umakyat kung saan-saan at tumalon na parang Spiderman. Wala nga akong kadala-dala, kahit pumutok na ang noo ko noong ako’y tumalon sa hagdan, tapos pumutok din ang nguso ko nang ako’y lumipad sa swing. Eto ay bago pa ako mag-Grade One.

Isang araw nang ako’y nasa paaralan, tumatakbo ako sa loob ng banyo. Kahit banyo ginagawa kong playground noong ako’y Grade One. Dahil basa ang sahig, bigla akong nadulas at nakanto ang aking mukha sa pader. Pumutok na naman ang mukha ko at muntik na sa may kaliwang mata. Hindi ko nga alam kung bakit mukha ko ang lagi kong ipinangsasalo ng disgrasya.

Dinala nila ako sa aking teacher upang asikasuhin ang aking sugat. Duguan na naman ang dating ako. Ano kaya ang nasa-isip ng aking guro? Siguro sa isip-isip niya, may mararating ang batang ire kung hindi lang mababalda sa kalikutan, o kaya’y may potensiyal ang batang ire kung hindi lang mababasag ang bungo.

Matapos mapatigil ang pagdudugo, ay pinahiran ng aking teacher ang aking sugat ng mercurochrome. Ito ‘yung pulang likido na mahapdi kapag ipinapahid sa sugat. Sa aking isip noon, masakit na nga ang sugat, bakit kailangan pa itong lalong pahapdiin. Hindi ko pa maintindihan na ito ay anti-septic at kailangan para hindi ma-infection upang maghilom ang aking sugat.

Kaya isa pa sa aking leksiyong natutunan noong Grade One ay ito:

4. May mga karanasan sa buhay na mahapdi, pero kinakailangan para sa ating ikabubuti. Dahil sa mga sugat, tayo’y natututo.

Iyon na rin ang huling peklat sa mukha ko.

Kung tutuusin marami talaga tayong natutunan noong Grade One. Tulad ng pagbabasa, pagsusulat, pagbilang, pagtula at pagkanta. Oo nga’t parang payak lang ang ating alam noon pero ang karunungan ay isang proseso.

Mayroon akong isang kalaro na bata pa lang siya ay pangarap na niyang maging Engineer. Kwento ng nanay niya sa nanay ko, umuwi raw na umiiyak ang aking kalaro noong unang araw niya sa Grade One. Ang dahilan? Dahil hindi raw pang-Engineering ang tinuturo sa Grade One.

Isang araw, kami ay tinuraang bumasa ng oras ng aming guro sa Grade One. Ipinaliwanag niya na may dalawang kamay ang orasan – ang hour hand at minute hand. Para lalo naming maintindihan, tumawag siya ng dalawang estudyante sa harap para magrepresenta sa mga kamay ng orasan. Si Ronald, ang aking seatmate ang minute hand, at ako ang hour hand. Sinabi niya kay Ronald na lumakad nang mabilis, at habang ako nama’y lumakad nang mabagal.

Dahil gusto ko ring lumakad ng mabilis at makipag-unahan kay Ronald, kaya’t ako’y inakbayan at ginabayan ng aking guro na magdahan-dahan. Sa tingin ko hindi lang pagbasa ng oras ang natutunan ko noong araw na iyon.

Isa pa sa aking natutunan noong ako’y Grade One ay ito:

5. Huwag natin laging madaliin ang buhay.  Kahit mabagal, basta may katiyakan ang ating pakay ay makakarating din tayo sa paroroonan.

Nakaalpas naman ako ng Grade One. Pero ako’y inilipat na sa ibang paaralan nang ako’y mag-Grade Two.

Ano na nga ang nangyari sa aking kalaro na umuwi ng bahay dahil hindi raw pang-Engineering ang tinuturo sa Grade One? Nagtuloy din naman siya ng pag-aaral at nakatapos. Siya ay nangibang-bayan din. Ngayon, siya ay isa nang ganap at matagumpay na Engineer Registered Nurse.

(*photo from the web)

A Passenger

Would you like to be a driver or a passenger?

Many of us would probably choose to be the driver, for we want to be in control. However, there are certain journeys in life where being a passenger is more delightful.  And just enjoy the ride.

Eight years ago, I was a passenger to my son’s playful dream (see original post here).

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Today, I am really his passenger.

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Even though it can be uneasy, I will savor this passage.

Who knows what’s next on this journey, but I am looking forward to it.

(*photos taken by the passenger)

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 (photo 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)