Of Pigs and Demons

(The following is a discourse I gave in a local congregation.) 

On June 8, 2015, a major highway in Ohio was shut down for 8 long hours. The reason? There were several hundred pigs running wildly on the road. According to the news, a trailer truck carrying 2200 piglets crashed and tipped over. Even though a couple hundred pigs died in the accident, the majority survived, but were set loose. People in the neighborhood took several hours corralling the piglets. About 1500 piglets were recaptured, but a few hundred were not, as they had escaped into the nearby forest. I’m not sure if there are still sightings of pigs running freely in that part of Ohio even today.

Our Bible story today is also about 2000 pigs running wildly. Let’s read Mark 5:1-20.

Crossing To The Other Side

The story opens when Jesus was getting off the boat, but I would like to go several verses back to what leads to this story, Mark 4:35-36.

After a long and tiring day of teaching, Jesus told his disciples, “Let’s go to the other side.” They were on the sea of Galilee, and Jesus told his disciples to cross to the other side.

This other side is not just the other side of the lake, but for the Jews during that day, it was really known as the “other side,” referring to a Gentile territory, a place to avoid. The whole region was known as Decapolis as it was composed of 10 cities. But in Jewish tradition it was also referred to as the “land of the seven,” pertaining to the 7 pagan nations that were driven out of the land of Canaan during Joshua’s conquest.

But why go to the other side? Because Jesus wanted to minister there too. Because the other side needed a Savior too.

What is the other side for us today? The other side of the world? It does not need to be, for it could be the other side of the fence. Or the other side of the street. Or the other side of a room. Hostile or not, someone on that other side needs to hear the message too.

The Sea of Galilee is not really a sea. It is a lake. It measures 64 square miles, nearly the size of Washington D.C. The lake is 700 feet below sea level with semi-tropical weather around its coasts. The lake is bounded by high mountains with snowy peaks especially on the east side. So the rising warm air from the lake can collide with the rushing cold air from the surrounding mountains, causing large temperature and pressure changes and giving rise to sudden violent storms.

Jesus and his disciples encountered such a strong storm as they were crossing it, that the disciples, most of whom were experienced fisherman who knew the lake like the back of their hand, were terrified that they would not see land again. They feared that they would perish. They cried to Jesus for help.

Jesus commanded, “Peace be still.” And all was quiet again.

Some of us may be going through some storms of life right now. Just remember, the Prince of Peace is on our boat. There’s nothing to be afraid of.

IMG_4588

A hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee

My Name is Legion

As Jesus and his disciples reached the other side, they got out of the water and were immediately met with another stormy situation.

In Mark 5:3-5 it is described how terrifying yet pitiful the condition of this man. He was alive yet he lived among the dead – in the graves and tombs. People tried to bind his hands and feet but he was so wild and strong that he broke the chains. He would shout and the people would hear his blood curling cries every day and every night. He cut himself with stones. He was naked, only covered with dirt, mud, and blood. What a terrible condition!

Jesus was still far off when this demon-possessed man came running to him. The disciples might have run in the other direction, but Jesus was ready to meet this man. The man fell on his knees in front of Jesus.

Did this man come to Jesus on his own volition despite under the power of the demons?Perhaps this man knew despite his cloudy mind that Jesus was his only hope. Maybe he knew that the only one that could free him from the slavery of the devil and has come to deliver him.

Then the demon within the man spoke to Jesus, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!”

Even the demons knew who Jesus was. But whether they acknowledged or were subservient to that authority, is another story.

In the background of this, there is an ancient superstition that you can have spiritual power over another if you knew or said their exact name. This is why the unclean spirits addressed Jesus with His full title: Jesus, Son of the Most High God, not as a confession of Jesus’ authority, but a desperate attempt to gain control over him.

Jesus asked, “What is your name?” Now Jesus was not playing to that ancient superstition. In reality, Jesus knew each demon, their name and their rank. So when the demons answered “My name is Legion,” they were not giving their exact name. Yet Jesus still had power over them.

Legion is a Roman military unit that is about 6000 men. Whether this man has really 6000 demons, is not clear. What we know is that they were many. And so when the demons answered, “My name is Legion,” they were saying we are many and outnumber you. Were they trying to intimidate Jesus?

This is what I know, with Jesus on our side, we are never outnumbered. Even if its you against the world, with Jesus on your side, you always have the advantage.

Because Jesus was more powerful than the demons, He commanded them, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!” Then the man was free.

Dark Encounter

It was a Friday night. We were attending a prayer meeting in our church in the Philippines and I was about 12 years old at that time. My father was out-of-town for a conference, so it was just my mother and us kids that went to church that night.

My mother had a part in the service. She gave the opening prayer, so she was sitting in front. The speaker was a lay person and was just starting his sermon when suddenly, a young lady a few pews in front of where I was sitting, started screaming in a voice that sounded non-human. She stood up and ran wildly to the pulpit and tried to attack the speaker.

The church members realized what was happening and sprang into action. Strong men in our church tried to hold down the lady who was acting strangely. It took at least 7 or more of them to control her. It was clear her strength was more than human.

But you know what? When she attacked the speaker who was a small man, the speaker, with one swiping motion, sent the lady sprawling to the floor. I want to believe that power was not coming from a human too.

They took her to a room at the back of the pulpit, the Pastor’s room, and there several members of our church tried to drive the devil out of her. You need faith to be inside that room. I was not one of them, for I may have been too young then, but more so, I was too afraid.

Even though I was not in that room, I heard what happened inside that room as it was relayed to us by those who were inside. They said that the demon-possessed woman was looking fiercely at everyone inside the room, and that was the most intimidating situation they had ever been in. But I want to believe that when the woman looked around her, it was her who was intimidated, as what she saw was not the frightened brethren, but the angels of God surrounding the brethren.

She also uttered that it was too bright in that room, and that she hated the “blinding” light. I would like to believe that it was not the 100W bulb that she was pertaining to, but it was the truth that our church had that she hated, for the devil is the prince of darkness. I am sure as well, that the blinding light was not coming from the light bulb, but from the presence of the Most High.

After some time of intense prayer, the devil left. Interestingly, when the demon left the woman, the door banged three times. Were there 3 demons in her? We don’t know. What we know was it left her.

After that event, there was a spiritual awakening in our church. The members became more active. For one we realized that since the devil was attacking the church, we must have the truth, and that angers him. The other thing was we realized that with God’s power, we can defeat the devil.

Deviled Pigs

Back to Jesus’ story, the demons requested that they would not be sent outside of the city but to the pigs instead (verse 12).

Nearby was a herd of 2000 pigs. As I’ve said, this was Gentile territory, that’s why they had pigs, as Jews would not raise pigs, for they were unclean. This story is full of the ritual of uncleanliness: the place of Decapolis – a pagan territory, the man living in graves, having an unclean spirit, and then the unclean herd of swine. But God can make even the most unclean clean. “Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow,” Isaiah 1:18.

So the legion of demons were sent to the pigs. If there were 6000 demons, they went to 2000 pigs, so there were more demons than pigs. That’s the real “deviled ham.” So the pigs ran to the cliff and made a swine dive into the lake and drowned.

Iowa has the most pigs in all the US, so we could be considered experts. Every pig farmer would tell you that pigs can swim. Pigs may not fly, but they can swim. In fact, they are good swimmers for short distances.

Then why did those pigs drown? I don’t know, but perhaps the lesson for us is that even if we think we’re strong and can swim against the tide of temptation, if we allow the devil to take hold of us, we will drown.

Can you imagine the horror of the pig herders? The horror of the owners of those pigs? Losing 2000 pigs, that’s a lost livelihood!

When the town people came, the man was seen sitting, clothed, calm and on his right mind. The people, when they saw what had happened to the man, were afraid (verse 15). Were they more afraid now that the man was calm and on his right mind than when he was wild and fierce?

Then the saddest thing happened in this story: the people asked Jesus to leave their town (verse 17). Were they more concerned of their lost material possession or their lost livelihood? Or were they afraid of Jesus’ power and what He could do to them and their town, and they don’t want any part of that? What a more pitiful state they were in, than the demon-possessed, for they rejected Christ.

The most tragic state to be in is to believe that we don’t need a Savior.

The 13th Disciple

That term “sitting” is significant (verse 15). In Luke 8:35 it tells the “man is sitting at the feet of Jesus”  – a term usually used to picture somebody taking a posture of a disciple. What the gospel writers are saying is that this man became a disciple of Jesus. Thus I consider him the 13th disciple.

In fact he wanted to come with Jesus (verse 18), but Jesus said no. This is one instance that Jesus said ‘no’ to a request. To some disciples he said, “Come, follow me.” Not to this disciple.

Instead he was sent out and given a commission: “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (verse 19). Besides being the 13th disciple, he was also the 1st missionary that was sent by Jesus.

Is there something that the Lord has done for us? Has He shown us mercy? Should we also tell our family and friends?

I can just imagine the people from this man’s hometown who saw him before like a wild beast and helped chain him down, now seeing him sane but on fire for the Lord. Those who have heard his wild cries in the night, were now hearing his wonderful story of redemption. Those people who were afraid and were running away from him before, were now drawn to this unusual bearer of good news. They must all be wondering, “Was this the same man?” And as the scripture said (verse 20), they were amazed. Amazed of how Jesus transformed this man.

When Jesus came back to this territory of Decapolis perhaps some months later (Mark chapters 7-8), the people were ready to listen. They even brought their sick for him to heal. We read that there was a multitude of people who gathered that after being with Jesus for 3 days, they refused to leave. This was when Jesus fed 4,000 people.

Why had this part of town become more receptive? I would like to believe that some of those people had heard the testimony of this 13th disciple, the man Jesus freed from the Legion, and they wanted that same transforming and saving power too.

When Jesus met this man, he did not see a demoniac. Beyond his frightful appearance Jesus saw a man who needed to be saved. He saw a man who would be his next disciple. He saw a man who would be a missionary for Him.

If Jesus can transform this demon-possessed man, He can transform you and me.

For One Lost Soul

We always heard, “Let’s come to Jesus and live.” But the truth of the matter is, we don’t come to Jesus. Jesus comes to us. He’s always the one initiating to meet us. He’s always the one searching for us.

As in this story, Jesus came all the way across the lake to meet this man. When Jesus made that trip, He foreknew that it would take all night to cross the lake. He foreknew that He’ll even encounter a storm. He also foreknew that the people on the other side of the lake were not ready to receive Him and He would be sent away.

But Jesus made the trip anyway. Why? Because there is one wretched man on that other side that needs salvation. He ministered to no other person on the other side of the lake, except for one man. He made the trip and crossed the lake for just one man.

I believe that if there was only one man who had fallen into sin, and if that was me, Jesus would leave heaven and die on the cross just for me. If it were you, He would do it for you.

That’s the God we serve. He’s searching for you and me. He’s coming to this part of town to meet us. Be ready to meet Him. This is my prayer.

IMG_4542

Waiting by the Sea of Galilee

(*photos taken last year)

Abangers: Infinity Wait

Ilang araw na lang ay lalabas na ang bagong pelikula ng mga paborito nating superheroes, ang “Avengers: Infinity War.” Ito ay isa sa pinakamalaking production ng Marvel Studios at pagsasama-sama ng pinakamaraming superheroes.  Ang movie genre tungkol sa mga superheroes, ay isa sa mga pelikulang kinagigiliwan ng madla at malakas tumabo sa takilya.

Pero ibang superheroes ang gusto kong talakayin ngayon. Ito ay ang mga Abangers. Mga taong nag-aabang.

Hindi ko tinutukoy ‘yung mga tambay sa kanto. Oo nga’t nag-aabang din sila, pero hindi ko lang alam kung ano nga ba ang inaabangan nila. Siguro, Pasko?

Hindi ko rin tinutukoy ang mga pasaherong tinitiis ang pagod, gutom, init, at pakikipag-siksikan habang nag-aabang ng masasakyan. Tunay naman na umaabot ng siyam-siyam makarating lamang sa paroroonan. Sa ibang pagkakataon ko na lang tatalakayin ‘yon.

Ang aking tinutukoy ay ang mga nag-aabang sa pag-ibig na hindi nila maangkin. Sa simpleng salita, ‘yung mga nagmamahal ng taong may girlfriend o boyfriend na. O mas masaklap pa, nagmamahal ng may asawa na. Sila ay nag-aabang na magkahiwalayan ang sinisinta nila, para sila naman ang makaentra.

Maraming mga kanta akong kinagisnan noon na nagsasaysay ng ganitong sintimyento. Ito ang isa: Hanggang Sa Dulo ng Walang Hanggan.

Ang orihinal na umawit nito ay si Basil Valdez, at ni-remake naman nila Gary Valenciano at Sarah Geronimo.

At kung sadyang s’ya na ang ‘yong mahal,
Asahan mong ako’y di hahadlang,
Habang ikaw ay maligaya ako’y maghihintay,
Maging hanggang sa dulo ng walang hanggan.

Ayan ang tunay na Abanger! “Abanger: Infinity Wait.”

Heto pa ang isa, awit naman ni Martin Nievera, “Ikaw ang Lahat sa Akin.” May cover din nito si Regine Velasquez.

At kung hindi ngayon ang panahon,
Upang ikaw ay mahalin,
Bukas na walang hanggan,
Doo’y maghihintay pa rin.

Meron pang isang kanta, ang awit ni Andy. Andy ba kamo? “Andy ‘to ako, umiibig sa ‘yo.” Huh?

Ah, eh si Ogie Alcasid pala ang kumanta nito. At my version din si Leah Salonga.

Nandito ako umiibig sa iyo,
Kahit na nagdurugo ang puso,
Kung sakaling iwanan ka niya,
Huwag kang mag-alala,
May nagmamahal sa iyo,
Nandito ako.

Ilan lang ‘yan sa mga theme songs ng mga Abangers. Sila ay mga superhero, di ba? Hero, bayani, as in martyr! Pwedeng-pwede na silang barilin sa Luneta.

Maaring iyong tatanungin, masama bang maging Abanger?

Unang-una, mahirap maging Abanger. Lagi ka na lang nagtatago sa dilim, naghihintay sa pagkakataon na lumabas sa liwanag. Laging patago ang iyong diskarte, at baka ka mahuli ng tunay na nagmamay-ari. Sabi nga ng lumang kanta ng Apo Hiking Society:

Mahirap talagang magmahal ng syota ng iba,
Hindi mo mabisita kahit okey sa kanya,
Mahirap oh mahirap talaga,
Maghanap ka na lang kaya ng iba…..

I-dial mo ang number sa telepono,
Huwag mong ibibigay ang tunay na pangalan mo,
Pag nakausap mo siya sasabihin sa’yo,
Tumawag ka mamaya nanditong syota ko.

Pero marahil ikakatwiran natin, kung tunay ang pagmamahal natin, ito’y ipaglalaban natin kahit pa may bakod na. Bahala na kung magkabistuhan pa. At handa tayong maghintay, kahit pa sa dulo ng walang hanggan, ika nga ng kanta.

Pero dahil kaya sa pagiging Abanger ay maaring ipinipinid natin ang ating paningin at sinasarado natin ang pinto sa ibang mga pagkakataon. Sabi nga ng isang quote:

When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us. – Alexander Graham Bell

Minsan hindi pinto, kun’di bintana ang pinagbubuksan. Kaya’t tumalon ka na sa bintana. Jump out and move on.

Marami ang nabubulag at marami rin ang nagbubulag-bulagan dahil sa pag-ibig.

Isa pang dahilan, ilagay natin ang ating sarili sa sapatos ng boyfriend o girlfriend ng ating inaabangan. Hindi ko ibig sabihin na nakawin mo ‘yung sapatos ng boyfriend o girlfriend, pero siguro naiintindihan mo ang ibig kong sabihin. Hindi ba nakakabwisit kung may umaasungot o umaaswang sa iyong syota? Sabi nga ng Gintong Utos: Huwag mong gawin sa iba, ang ayaw mong gawin sa iyo ng iba.

Ang huling dahilan na naiisip ko kung bakit hindi magandang maging Abanger ay ito, hindi mabuti ang “One-Way Street” sa larangan ng pag-ibig. Hindi ito malusog na relasyon. O hindi ito maituturing na tunay na relasyon.

Unrequited love is the infinite curse of a lonely heart. ― Christina Westover

Tulad ng mga naririnig mong payo ng iyong mga kaibigan, ‘Ang mga martyr, binabaril!’ Alam kong may halaga ka, kaya’t pahalagahan mo rin sana at mahalin ang iyong sarili. Natitiyak kong may tao ring magpapahalaga sa iyo.

Masakit man isipin at mas masakit pang aminin, na ako ay naging isang Abanger din noon. Oo, nag-aabang ako sa pagdaan ng magtataho sa aming kalye noon.

Pero seryoso, naging tunay akong Abanger, nanligaw at nag-abang sa babaeng may boyfriend na. Ito ay nang ako’y nasa unibersidad pa. Akala ko nga kami na. Dalawang taon din akong nagpakagago! Pero salamat at naumpog ako at namulat sa katotohanang wala akong mahihitad at hanggang sa pagiging Abanger lang pala ako.

Hindi ako nagkikimkim ng galit. Hindi ako nanghihinayang. Hindi rin ako mapait sa mga pangyayari.

Noong makailang taon lang ang nakalipas, ay dumalo ako sa aming Graduation Silver Anniversary ng aming unibersidad sa Pilipinas. Dito ay muli kong nakita ang aking dating inaabangan. Oo nga’t may kaunting kislot sa dibdib nang akin siyang makita matapos ang dalawampu’t limang taon. Pero akin ding napagtanto na pundi na at wala nang liyab ang aking damdamin para sa kanya.

Hanggang sa ngiti na lang kami at pagbati ng “Kamusta ka.” Dahil para sa akin, natagpuan ko na ang aking “forever.” At hindi lang ako isang Abanger.

IMG_2340

(*Our class section of Medicine batch ’91, who attended the reunion gala night. Photo credit to our official photographer.)

No Chance Encounter

(The following is an excerpt from a discourse I gave in a local congregation. Thoughts were inspired after standing in a spot pictured below.)

Simon, after an 800-mile long travel, in a dream journey of a lifetime, finally arrived in Jerusalem.

He was warned of the large crowd especially during Passover time. But that day, he saw a different event. Even though the streets were crowded with lots of people they were making way for this unusual procession. There were no wailing sirens or flashing lights to warn people to make way, but there were Roman soldiers shouting with their glistening swords that part the crowd like the Red Sea.

Then Simon saw a man, so bloodied in his face, head, and back, carrying a beam of a cross, being led by the soldiers. Simon realized, he was witnessing a man being led to his death by crucifixion.

Crucifixion was not invented by the Romans, but they perfected it. Crucifixion was a punishment mostly reserved for those sentenced with insurrection or rebellion. Mostly people crucified were people subjugated by the Romans.

The weight of the whole cross was about 300 pounds. But usually the one being crucified carry only the cross beam, which in itself weighs about 100 pounds. They carry this to the place where they will be executed.

But even that weight of the cross beam was too heavy for this man condemned to die, as Simon witnessed. Perhaps he was weakened from all the lashes he received in his back. Perhaps he was already too weak from the blood loss from the wounds in his head and body.

Simon saw that the man carrying the cross fell under the weight and cannot stand anymore. Next thing Simon knew was that he was being ordered to carry that man’s cross.

But why was Simon chosen? Was it really random or by chance that he was picked? Romans will not let a Roman citizen carry the cross. They only let Jews or a foreigner do it. And Simon looked like a foreigner. He stood out of the crowd. He definitely looked like a stranger in Jerusalem. Was it the way he dressed? Or was it something more obvious?

Simon was most probably dark-skinned. In a more blunt way of saying, he was black.

First of all he was from Cyrene, a country in North Africa. We know that these people were descendants of Ham, the third son of Noah, who was believed to be the ancestral father of black people. The name Ham, many scholars believe meant “black.” This is supported by the Hebrew and Arabic evidences, in which the word “chamam” means “to be black.”

Another support is in Acts 13:1, it mentioned a man named Simeon (Simon) who was called the black man, who was one of the teachers in Antioch. Whether this was the same Simon from Cyrene who carried Jesus’ cross is hard to prove. What we know though, is that Acts 11:19-21 mentioned that the first Christians who preached in Antioch were from Cyprus and Cyrene.

In all likelihood, Simon was picked because he looked different. Discrimination is not something that we only have today. Even in those times it already existed.

But Simon was not pick by chance. I believe God has destined him to carry the cross for a special reason. Same thing that God picked those who were being discriminated and ostracized during those times: the Samaritans, the tax-collectors, the Publicans, the lepers, the sinners. God chose those who the world see as unwanted, and use them in a special purpose for his divine plan.

If God does not discriminate, who are we to discriminate people whom we think are different from us?

Back to Simon, when he was picked by the Roman soldiers, he was reluctant. The Bible said in Matt 27:32, he was “forced” or “compelled.” Meaning, he did not volunteer. Most likely he even refused!

But can you refuse the Romans? There was a Roman law called lex angeria stating that if a Roman soldier tells you to carry his pack or a load, you must carry it for 1000 paces (1 pace=2 steps), which is really close to our current mile. After 1 mile, you can bring down the load and you can go on your business.

But Jesus in his teaching in Matthew 5:41, said that if a soldier demands you to carry his pack for 1 mile (pertaining to lex angeria law), carry it for 2 miles instead. That was Jesus said! So if someone ask you a favor, do it beyond what you are being asked. Not out of duty, but do it out of love.

I am not sure Simon heard of this Jesus’ teaching, that he would be willing to carry the cross for more than a mile.

IMG_4454

Station V, Via Dolorosa: spot where Simon carried the cross

But I get it, not just because the cross was heavy, and it was not even his cross to carry, Simon has other reasons to be reluctant. One is that if he carry that bloodied cross, he would contaminate himself with blood and he would be deemed ceremoniously unclean by Jewish law. He then would not be able to participate in the Passover feast, which was the very reason he came to Jerusalem in the first place.

Sometimes we have our own plans, and all of a sudden we are being diverted to do something we don’t want to do. Just like Simon. But God has a plan for us. We just have to trust Him.

The other reason, why I think Simon was reluctant to carry the cross was, can you imagine the humiliation of carrying the cross of somebody you don’t even know? The humiliation of being associated to somebody condemned to die.

Simon’s experience was: from dream to nightmare, from holy to horrific, from going to the place of worship to going to a place of execution.

But as Simon followed Jesus carrying the cross and being led by the Roman soldiers, something happened to him. It changed him.

Simon have looked into the bloodied face of this man and their eyes met. The look that peered through his soul. The look of love and forgiveness, despite him being led to his death. Surely, Simon thought, this Man was different.

As he was following Jesus with the cross, he have heard him speak as recorded in Luke 23:28 “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and your children.” Surely, Simon thought, this Man was different.

Something changed the heart of Simon. I believe that after they came to Calvary and he was told by the soldiers that he can bring down the cross and was free to go, he stayed in the crowd and watched what would happen to the Man whose cross he carried.

Simon witnessed of how this Man forgave those who were crucifying him, praying “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” He saw this Man die and how He cried “It is finished,” and how he uttered “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” Surely, Simon thought, this Man was different.

From an unwilling cross bearer, Simon became a willing faithful follower.

Simon realized the fact that his hands and his shoulders and his body that were stained by this Man’s blood did not make him unclean, but rather that very blood cleansed him of his sins. Simon can claim that he was literally washed by the blood of the Lamb.

How sure are we that Simon became a follower of Christ?

In Mark 15:21 it mentioned Simon’s sons, Alexander and Rufus. The book of Mark was written about 25-30 years after Jesus died. The fact that Mark mentioned the names of his sons, implied that his sons became known to the early Christian church. That means they became pillars of the church, because their converted father introduced them to the Savior whose cross he carried.

Also in Acts 11:19-21, which mentioned those early Christians from Cyrene, and we may wonder, why were the earliest Christians from a place 800 miles away from Jerusalem? I want to believe that those were converted by Simon when he returned home to Cyrene. Even Paul in Romans 16:13 greeted Rufus, Simon’s son, whom Paul said was ‘picked by God to be his very own son.’

Yes, Simon was not picked by the Romans by chance, but rather God picked Simon. And it was not a chance encounter, but it was a destined encounter.

May the story of Simon, inspire us for our own fateful encounter.

(*photo taken in Jerusalem)

 

Once Upon A Time

Not too long ago while walking at the mall, I was captivated by the music being played. You might ask, on what occasion does mall music captivating? Many times the music is just blaring and quite annoying.

Not in this store. Actually I was in a large department store that you would consider old-school, a holdover from the classic era, if you will. Though it is in the mall, this particular store has a quiet and serene environment. The music is calming and not loud. Most of the time it is provided by a grand piano in the center of the store, near the escalators. And they employ a live pianist to play the piano.

So when I heard the certain song being played, I was drawn to the place where the piano was, to see the musician who was providing the music. Though I was not familiar with the tune, somehow it stroke a nostalgic chord.

When I came down the escalators, I was surprised when I saw the pianist.

IMG_6249

He was a bit older than what I was expecting. He was perhaps in his late 70’s or even 80’s. His mobility was not very good anymore, as substantiated by the presence of a walker beside the piano. Yet the dexterity of his fingers were still impeccable. And the emotion in his playing was still very much palpable.

I was enthralled that I had to sit down on one of the sofas near the piano so I can watch him a little longer. He has no notes or music piece that he was reading. He was playing by memory with his eyes closed. Perhaps he has played this song so many times, that he’s performing it all by finger or muscle memory. Yet I can feel the deep sentiments on those fingers as it runs through the piano keys.

Maybe he was reminiscing the good ole days. Maybe he was reliving bygone happy moments. Or maybe he was lamenting a lost Valentine’s.

What was the song? I didn’t know, so I asked him after he finished playing.

He answered, “Once Upon A Time.”

Such an appropriate piece.

(*photo taken with an iPhone)

********

“Once Upon a Time” is a song composed by Charles Strouse, with lyrics by Lee Adams, from the 1962 musical All American. It has been sung by Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Tony Bennett and Bob Dylan among others.

Here’s a version by Alex Bird (taken from YouTube):

 

For all the lovers out there, including those who loved and lost, and who loved once upon a time, may you have a memorable Valentine’s.

Lalamunang Butas

Bahagi ng pagiging isang masinop na duktor, ay ang pagkuha ng istorya, o aming tinatawag na history, mula sa pasyente. Dahil kalimitan, maaring ma-diagnose o malaman kung ano ang sakit sa pamamagitan lang ng history. Siyempre kailangan pa rin ng physical exam at mga ancillary testing, para makumpleto ang diagnosis. Pero napaka-importante ng history.

Kaya naman kasama sa aming training o pag-aaral bilang duktor, ay ang kung paano kumuha ng tamang history. Katulad nang kung masakit ang tiyan ng pasyente: aming itatanong kung kailan pa nagsimula, o anong oras ng araw lumilitaw ang sakit, anong klase ng sakit, anong maaring nagpapalubha o nagpapaginhawa sa sakit, kung saan mismo ang sakit, o kung ito ay gumagapang sa ibang bahagi ng katawan, kung kumain ba ng panis na pansit, at kung anu-ano pa.

Huwag ninyo sanang isipin na makulit lang ang inyong duktor dahil napakaraming tanong, na pati pagkain ninyo ng pansit ay inuusisa. Ang mga tanong na ito ay kailangan para malaman ang tamang diagnosis.

Oo nga’t mayroong mga pagkakataon na hindi kami makakuha ng tamang kuwento o history mula sa pasyente. Tulad ng mga pasyenteng tuliro o walang malay na dinala sa hospital. Marami kaming ganyang pasyente sa ICU. O kaya naman ay ibang wika o dialect ang kanilang salita, o kaya’y pipi ang pasyente, kaya’t kailangan pa namin ng interpreter.

Mayroon din namang mga pasyente na hindi makapagbigay ng tama o accurate na history, dahil lito sila, o talagang magulo lang silang kausap. Para silang laging lasing. Kaya naguguluhan tuloy pati ang duktor kung ano talaga ang nangyayari.

Saludo ako sa mga Pediatrician, na kayang malaman kung ano ang iniinda ng mga bata o sanggol nilang pasyente, kahit hindi pa ito nagsasalita. Siyempre nakakatulong din ang history na ibinibigay ng magulang ng mga bata.

Mas saludo ako sa mga Veterinarian, kung paano sila kumuha ng history. Siguro ay naiintindihan nila ang bawat kahol, meow, o huni ng kanilang pasyente. Buti na lang at hindi ako pinag-beterenaryo ng nanay ko, at baka kumakahol na rin ako ngayon.

Isang kuwento mula sa matagal na panahon nang nakalipas ang aking isasaysay sa inyo. Ito’y nangyari nang ako’y intern pa sa Pilipinas.  Isang araw ay sabik na sabik na nagkuwento sa amin ang isa naming co-intern, ng kanyang karanasan mula sa hospital ward.

Sabi niya, may pasyente raw siyang may butas sa lalamunan o tracheostomy. Siguro dahil sa cancer sa larynx, pero hindi niya ito sigurado.  Kaya’t kailangan pa rin niyang kunin ang history ng pasyente.

Kung hindi ninyo alam kung paano ang may tracheostomy, sila ay hindi makapagsalita ng maayos,  dahil lumalabas ang hangin sa kanilang tracheostomy at hindi dumadaan sa vocal cord. Minsan, yung mga may tracheostomy, ay wala na ring vocal cord, at tuluyan na silang hindi makapagsalita.

Gayun pa man, desidido pa rin ang aking co-intern na kunin ang history ng kanyang pasyente.

Intern: Kuya, ano po bang dahilan bakit ka pumunta sa ospital?

Pasyente: Heh, hasi hirahp ahoh humingah.

Intern: Ganoon ba? Eh bakit ka nagka-tracheostomy?

Pasyente: Heh hasi, hanito hiyan. Halahas haho hahihahiho. Hayah haghahooh haho hang hanser sa lahlahmunah.

Intern: Teka, teka kuya. Hindi po kita maintindihan.

Luminga-linga ang aking co-intern at nagbakasakali na may kasama o bantay ang kanyang pasyente. Inisip niya, baka makakatulong ito na magbigay ng kuwento.

Sapak naman at naroon sa may pintuan ang isang kabataang lalaki. Tinanong ng intern kung kilala ba niya o siya ba ang bantay ng pasyente.

Tumango naman ang lalaki. Natuwa ang intern.

Tinanong uli ng intern kung alam ng bantay ang kwento ng pasyente. Tumango ulit ang bantay. Lalong natuwa ang intern.

Intern: Ano ba ang nangyari sa kanya?

Bantay: Ngabi ngiya, malangas naw ngiya mangingangiyo, ngaya ngagngaroon ngiya ngang nganser nga lalamungan.

Toink!

Sa kabila nito, nakuha pa rin ng intern ang wastong history. Kinailangan lang ng konting tiyaga at pangunawa.

*********

(*Ang kuwentong ito ay tunay na pangyayari, at hindi ko po intensiyon na laitin ang may mga tracheostomy o cleft palate.)

 

Pahabol na tula:

Mga lalamunang butas,

At ngala-ngalang bukas,

Mga boses na gasgas,

Hirap silang bumigkas.

H’wag batuhin ng pintas,

Bagkus tratuhin ng patas,

‘Pagkat ‘di man sila matatas,

Isip nila’y matalas.

Life Can Be a Lonely Highway

A few weeks ago we embarked on an ambitious summer drive that took us from farmlands and prairies, to mountains and valleys, to deserted areas and busy metropolis, to rivers, waterfalls and ocean.

We started off from our home in Iowa and drove to Glacier National Park in Montana where we stayed for 3 days. Then we continued our trip to California where I attended 3 days of conference and my medical school’s grand reunion at Long Beach, but we passed by Yosemite National Park first, where we stayed for 2 days.

The sceneries that we passed have been so varied that it changed drastically: from barren lands of South Dakota to lush forests of Montana, from farm lands of Idaho to deserts of Nevada, from wilderness of Yosemite to concrete jungle of Metro Los Angeles.

It was the drive from Glacier National Park to Yosemite National Park that we passed through very lonesome country roads. Though I would take the lonely highways anytime than dealing with the heavy traffic of Los Angeles.

Passing through Nevada on our way to Yosemite, we passed Route 50, a transcontinental highway, which is also named as the “Loneliest Road in America.”

IMG_3275

Indeed it was a lonely road. You probably can set camp in the middle of the road and not be bothered by a passing car for hours. While we were driving through Route 50, I was afraid we will run out of gas and nobody will come to our rescue. Until we saw this….

IMG_3270

Right in the middle of nowhere, is a sort of an oasis. They have a bar, a restaurant, a small motel, and a gasoline station – all in one.

IMG_3267

Notice the sign posted in the motel? It said, “Route 50: The Loneliest Road in America.”

IMG_3267

They even have an old phone booth, which of course is now obsolete in this age of cellular phones.

IMG_3271

So we pulled up to this place and filled our gas tank. We also took the opportunity of taking a bathroom break. Though in reality, I wonder how many travelers in Route 50 when they felt the urge, just stopped and took a leak at the side of the road?

We also check out their small restaurant, and we found that they have plenty of supply of ice cream! Who knew?

Life they say is like a road trip. Sometimes the journey is exhilarating as we go through scenic byways. Sometimes it feels boring as we go through mundane yet major highways. Sometimes we feel we are not going anywhere as we are stuck in traffic. And sometimes we feel alone as we go through lonely roads. But there’s always surprises and unexpected turns.

In the last leg of our trip, after the medical conference and reunion, we also took time to visit our friends and family in California, including my wife’s mother who was staying in Los Angeles area.

Sadly to say,  my mother-in-law got sick and was hospitalized while we were there. Her condition quickly deteriorated and was even transferred to the ICU. So part of my vacation was visiting the ICU, not as an ICU physician but as a patient’s relative. I can’t seem to get away from the ICU.

Despite the medical efforts, my mother-in-law did not improved. She died shortly after a few days.

It was not the vacation we imagined. But at least we can comfort ourselves that we were there during her last moments and we’re able to say our goodbyes in person.

Our family is surely going through a lonely road right now. Yet, we can find solace that even in the loneliest road, there’s always an oasis, a refuge, or a sanctuary if you will, waiting for us where we can find rest.

Lastly, an important thought to remember, that even though it seems we are passing through a very lonely road, we are never alone.

slide.001

P.S. Nanay, thank you for the love and the memories. From you “favorite” son-in-law.

(*photos taken at Route 50, somewhere in Nevada)

 

 

 

Zen Moment

In our breakneck-pace, sink-or-swim busy schedule, we badly need some time to exhale and relax. We need to find our zen moment.

Different people have different ways to unwind and rejuvenate. There are some who would spend some time in a spa and be pampered. There are some who would go for a hike in the woods or climb a mountain. There are some who would watch a movie. There are some who will go to a mall. Zen shopping? While some would just sit and do nothing. And I mean nothing, as if staring blankly in space, like a frozen computer screen. I know, I do that sometimes.

Another favorite way of unwinding for me is my Sunday easy morning run of 2-3 miles where I just go on a slower pace than my usual, and commune with the wind, the lonely road, and nature. I would say that many of my creative thoughts come during this runs. I guess mild brain hypoxia can generate a stroke of genius.

Then there’s my wife. She will put on comfy clothes. She will go outside to be alone with the elements. She has her portable speaker playing her zen-type of music softly in the background. While she is on her hands and knees……….pulling weeds.

IMG_2818

(*photo taken with an iPhone)

Kagat-dila

Nakakalungkot ang mga bali-balita na nagliyab sa ating bansa noong nakaraang linggo at nakarating pa ito sa ibang bansa. May mga nasaktan, may mga nagalit, at may mga nanindigan. Nahati ang sentimyento ng ating bayan. Kulang na lang magbalibagan tayo ng sapatos sa ating pagbabangayan. Ah, eh, may nagsiliparan din palang Nike na sapatos.

Ano man ang inyong panig o pananaw, maraming nagsasabi na sana raw ay hindi na lang sinabi ang mga nasabi. Sa madaling salita – wah sabi. Dahil pagnasabi ang isang bagay, para itong wasabi ng sushi – masarap sa iba, maanghang sa iba. Kagat dila na lang sana raw.

Hindi ko hinahangad na malagay sa sapatos (hindi na Nike) ni Manny, ngunit kung sakali mang magkataon ay kakagatin ko na lang ang aking dila at aking sasabihin:

“Tat Thritian, tawal taman ‘tung tame-tex tarriage. Tinawa tang tatae tara ta lalati, tinawa tang lalati tara ta tatae.

Tati tara ta takin tito tang, tommon tense tang. Takakita ta ba tang tany tanimals na lalati ta lalati o tatae ta tatae? Mat mabuti ta ‘tung tayop.  Matunong tumilala, tung lalati o lalati, tatae, tatae.

Tayon tung lalaki ta lalaki, tatae ta tatae, mat matahol ta ta tayop tang tao.

To ‘di ba? Tayop tang… tindi talaga twedeng magtama tang lalati ta lalati, tero I’m not tondemning them. ‘Tung tarriage tang, ‘tung tommitting tin tagainst Tod.”

*********

(*altered quote from the full transcribed statement of Pacquiao)

P.S.: wala pong kinalaman sa pag-tatae ang artikulong ito; ang pagkakatulad ay hindi po sinasadya.

 

Running of the Bulldogs

I went to the annual Drake Relays last weekend and ran the 10K road race. I can say, I ran like a Bulldog*. Or more accurately, I panted like a Bulldog.

IMG_5563

The inaugural Drake Relays was held in 1910. So this was the 106th year of this event. It was a 5-day meet with competition in track and fields.

Over the years, hundreds of Olympic medalist have competed in the Drake Relays, like Bruce Jenner (yes, that’s him or now her?), Michael Johnson, Carl Lewis, and Jesse Owens to name a few.

By the way, if you don’t know, Bruce Jenner is a former track and field athlete, and won a gold medal in Decathlon in 1976 summer olympics. So he (or she) was already famous before the Kardashian’s fame and way before the sex change.

Bulldogs stadium or also known as the Blue Stadium

Drake Stadium, home of the Bulldogs

Back to the Drake Relays, due to good sponsorships, it is also one of the richest athletic event in the US. For example, the winner of the half marathon was awarded $70,000 prize money, while the winner of the 10K was given $40,000. But I would never get that. Maybe if they have a prize for the slowest?

Even though these events attract elite athletes, it was also open for wannabe athletes like me, especially the road races. After all, if anybody can get an athlete’s foot, then anybody can be an athlete, right?

IMG_5482

For the past five consecutive years I have participated in the Des Moines Marathon (I ran the half-marathon, 21K) which is held every fall. But this was my first time to join the Drake Relays. And also the first time to run the 10K.

IMG_5481

As I came a little early, I had time to take some pictures. Then when it was time to line up, I had to find my place in the starting line.

IMG_5492

Oh, that’s the elite runners group, with the 5-minute-per-mile pace. That’s not running, that’s flying. I don’t belong there!

I had to find my place at the back. Way, way at back of the line, with the more than 10-minute-per-mile pace.

IMG_5499

Then I found this line. Oh, that’s not it too. That’s the line for the portable toilet!

IMG_5494

Finally, it was time to start. The half-marathoners were given a head start, while we, 10K runners were released 30 minutes later.

There they go!

IMG_5496

The first half of the course was a piece of cake. No, I am not gloating. It was due to the fact that it was mostly downhill. And of course, I took photos while I ran, so I can blog about it.

Here’s a photo of the course going downhill with some of Des Moines skyline in the distance.

IMG_5512

Here’s one as we pass by a sculpture park.

IMG_5532

But like the reverse of the law of gravity, what goes down, will go up.  So on the final half of the course, it was mostly uphill. That’s what took my breath away. Especially the dreaded and infamous “Bulldog Hill.”

The Bulldog Hill may have chased my breath away, but never my will.

IMG_5536

We had plenty of cheerers along the way. We even had a marching band inspiring us to push forward on the steepest climb of the course.

IMG_5544

After the hills, finally the stadium was in sight. I gave my final push.

When we enter the Bulldog Stadium, there was a crowd of people to witness as we finish. It does not matter if you were the first finisher or among the last, they cheer you on just the same.

IMG_5551

I really like the feeling as I sprinted to the finish line in those lined tracks inside the stadium. For a time, I felt like a real runner. This maybe the closest feeling I can get to being an Olympian.

Maybe I can be famous too like a Kardashian? Naaah!

 

(*Bulldogs is the athletic team of Drake University)

(**all photos taken with an iPhone) 

Life’s Worries

A couple of weeks ago, I took care of a patient who was admitted in the hospital for shortness of breath. She has COPD (CDOP if you’re obsessive-compulsive), a disease due to smoking, and went into acute respiratory failure.

The patient was really struggling to breathe thus the Emergency Room doctor placed her on a non-invasive positive pressure ventilator (NIPPV), a device similar to CPAP used by people with sleep apnea, to provide assistance in her respiration. She was then transferred to our ICU.

On the first day that I rounded on her she was still on the NIPPV and unable to talk much, as it was almost impossible to talk with that mask on, for it’s like having a blower in your face. I would not be able to hear her clearly anyway even if she wants to speak. Though I examined her thoroughly, I limited my history-taking to questions she can answer by yes or no.

The next day she was much better and we have weaned her off the NIPPV. She was sitting in a chair, breathing much easier and looking comfortable.

I pulled up a chair and sat beside her and talked. She admits she has been diagnosed with COPD for years, and has even been on oxygen at home. But sadly to say she continues to smoke. Damn cigarettes! I guess old habit never die.

I told her that it was vital that she quit smoking. Yet in the back of my mind, she has done quite good despite of her bad habits, for she was 84 years old after all, and she still lives independently, all by herself.

Then when I asked her how can I help her quit smoking, she relayed to me that she smoke because she was stressed out.

What? She was eighty-four years old and still stressed out? She should be relaxing and enjoying life, or whatever is left of it, at this age.

That was when she told me that she has not gotten over the death of her husband, whom she was married for sixty-one years. He died three years ago. I suppose the heartbreak never heals when you lose somebody you love and lived with, for that long.

If we only peel off our prejudgment and peer behind the puff of cigarette smoke, we will learn that these people are hurting inside.

Then she said that she was also worried about somebody she knew longer than her husband. She was worried about her mother.

Her mother? What?!!!

Wait a minute, was my patient confused? Too much medications maybe? Was she having ICU delirium? Or does she have the beginning of dementia perhaps?

But as I talked to her more, I ascertained that she was very lucid and of clear mind. She was indeed worried and stressed out about her mother, who has been in and out of the hospital for the past several months.

Her mother was 103 years old!

I came out of the ICU room with a smile. I was ever so determined to help my patient get well. And maybe if I can get her to relax and convince her to quit smoking, she will live more than 103.

IMG_2226

view from the hospital’s corridor

(photo taken with an iPhone)