I’m so tempted to post a candid, really horrid photo of me here, just to prove a point. I almost did, until I saw the scratches on my arm, blemishes on my face, remembered how I over-trimmed my eyebrows and well, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was also at my heaviest (not pregnant), my hair was limp and unstyled, and of course I had the worst expression ever: bored, zero energy, definitely anemic–basically, an unthreatening zombie. I could not post it. Not even for that point. I have to say that I look more like that most days before, during and after obsessively scrubbing my shower stall, cooking, exercising, doing the laundry, not cleaning my study–just being myself, and not appearing in selfies.
I’ve been very quiet since Yolanda and going through a sort of crisis. There was so much to do and such incredible noise around it. All of a sudden volunteerism became all about selfies and narcissistic posts. I just couldn’t get into the culture. And that made me look twice at the stuff I write and wonder if there was still space for it in today’s obsession with lists, quizzes, travel posts, witty one-liners and other “look how clever I am” entries. I rebel at the thought of having to post and promote my own writing. Then D. said just this morning, “But how else will you do it today ?”.
I honestly don’t know.
Many years ago, during a particularly difficult time, I was sitting in pained silence as we flew above a sea of flame trees. I was sinking deeper into despair, even as I found joy in the sea of orange before and below me. Then I heard it: “find your voice”. It was loud enough so that I looked around, only to find that everyone was looking elsewhere. No one was speaking, nor looked as though they had just spoken. Come to think of it, was there really a sound to the message? Maybe not. But it was so clear.
I know. The title makes me sound like my grandmother, who simply meant say “please”, use “may” not “can”, and always end with “thank you”. But today, I find that people are more comfortable manipulating, not asking.
A friend snort-laughed after reading a text message recently. An acquaintance wanted to hitch a ride to an event, but instead of asking directly, the message said: “Hey, excited for the party? How long are you staying?” My friend answered, “yes”, and tossed her phone on the couch. She instinctively knew something else was being asked. Perhaps if she had answered, a more forthcoming question would have followed, but apparently there was a history of asking-yet-not-asking with this person, and she simply didn’t want to play that game anymore.
I didn’t know Jesse Robredo. I may have met him once and that was that. But I first heard his name in 2005 as we worked on the Karangalan Festival. We were looking for people in the different sectors of society who were serving honorably, effectively and with integrity. His was pretty much the only name we considered for government. Since then I have been a fan in the sidelines and so I was surprised at the depth of my pain when I first heard of the plane crash. I had hoped against hope that he had been quietly making his way back home on a bangka, perhaps a bit battered and bruised, but none the worse for wear.
The depth of grief that continues to dwell in my heart and the heart of most every Filipino is almost inexplicable. I realize so many of us felt comfort that he was here, in our corner of the world, and where he was there was good. In him, we saw who we could be. Like many, I also held hope he would one day run our country and finally be the force that would inspire us to be our best. Always.
As I watched his wife Atty. Leni Robredo speak yesterday, I realized that we lose good people also so that we may know their full story. There was so much more good in Jesse Robredo that would have remained private, had he not passed on. He was a good family man and husband. You could tell his marriage was authentic, living and true. Theirs was a marriage that was not about them. Service was at the center of it. I know no other formula for the longevity of a male-female bond than that. They had it and they lived it. They lived simply and with integrity. They both did such good work that was so apparent they didn’t have to spend to put their initials, names and faces on tarpaulins, sidewalks, benches and billboards. His work was on the ground. Everyone knew him and they could feel and see his deeds at work.
Why do the best ones go first? This is a question so many have asked in the last few days. I think it is so their light can inspire us to rise higher and do our share. Through his passing we see so much goodness. I am in awe of his wife, Leni. She is the epitome of dignity and grace. She also shows us that there is no need for drama, hysteria, bitterness, but how grace and acceptance can heal and unite. There is so much inspiration to draw from now and I believe that sometimes that is what death brings–a quality of light that allows us to see with more than our eyes.
Jesse Robredo’s life and death show us that service, honor, integrity simplicity–a life of good–crosses borders and goes straight to the hearts of people far and wide.
Last night, my son brought in the blank book he bought at a recent yard sale. He was treating it as a most priced treasure that he didn’t want to use. He finally found something worthy to put on its first page.
Salamat, Jesse, for showing my children that good Filipinos continue to dwell and serve among us. In life and in death.
They must regret opening an online store in the Philippines. I needed an extra wi-fi router so D. told me to order online. His experience with them has been stellar: quick, efficient, stress-free. I don’t know what happened between then and now, but that has not been my experience.
First, I had to email them a copy of my credit card statement. Next, they made it clear that they need MY signature when the item is delivered. If I’m not home, they will just come back. In short, there doesn’t seem to be room for anyone else to receive my order. These are minor inconveniences and I understand that they must be hitting a lot of fake purchases and scams, so I just scanned my statement and sent it.I immediately got a confirmation and shipping notice. Since it looks simpler if I’m home when they deliver, I’ve been tracking the order. Here’s what it looks like:
|Jun 11, 2012||07:55||Mnl – MNL||Clearance delay – Mnl – MNL|
|Jun 10, 2012||01:34||Mnl – MNL||Clearance delay – Mnl – MNL|
|Jun 09, 2012||02:51||Mnl – MNL||Clearance delay – Mnl – MNL|
|Jun 08, 2012||03:11||Mnl – MNL||Clearance delay – Mnl – MNL|
|Jun 07, 2012||06:45||Mnl – MNL||Processed for clearance – Mnl – MNL|
|Jun 07, 2012||06:45||Mnl – MNL||Clearance delay – Mnl – MNL|
|Jun 07, 2012||03:18||Hhp – HHP||Clearance processing complete – Hhp – HHP|
|Jun 07, 2012||02:13||Hhp – HHP||Arrived at sort facility – Hhp – HHP|
|Jun 06, 2012||21:22||Sin – SIN||Departed from facility – Sin – SIN|
|Jun 06, 2012||21:18||Sin – SIN||Processed – Sin – SIN|
|Jun 06, 2012||18:53||Sin – SIN||Arrived at sort facility – Sin – SIN|
|Jun 06, 2012||16:18||Sin – SIN||Shipment picked up – Sin – SIN|
Since June 7, Manila has been the cause of delay.
Poor Apple. I hope it doesn’t give up on us.
A well-organized space is a sight to behold. It makes me want to dance. This is true of our internal spaces as well. How often have we foisted our emotions on the wrong people, at the wrong time and for all the wrong reasons?
Just like our outer spaces, our emotions need organizing. There are times when our emotions become bigger than us, because we fail to see them objectively. I suppose it’s normal. It is difficult to see ourselves objectively and emotions do tend to run away from us, but that’s why it’s so important to make an effort to put them where they belong.
Recently, a parent nearly traumatized his child over schoolwork, when his frustration was really directed at the child’s school and what he felt was their negligence in providing him with the proper foundational skills. He was angry at the school, but he let his anger leak out towards his child. Did that solve anything? No, it created more pain. That’s what happens when we are not conscious of our emotions and WHERE they belong.
We can live with our emotions for years until they become habit. We are angry, very angry, but we don’t really know why anymore, or where we ought to put it, so it leaks out everywhere until we bubble up and burst, causing irreparable damage everywhere. What a mess we make when we let our emotions rule us.
If we are aware of our points of anger, rage, frustration and pain, we can make an effort to examine them–with the goal of seeing them objectively. Where does it belong? What was the source? Am I taking it too far now? Have I let it become bigger than it is? Is it time to put it to rest, or do I need to dust it off and re-shape it? Where does it belong today?
It’s easier said than done, I know, but it’s a useful practice and one that allows us to manage our emotions, rather than the other way around.
I grew up with very volatile, emotional people and that taught me to be the opposite: organized, methodical, cool, calm, because I know that big, obtrusive emotions can wreak indescribable havoc. As an adult, I had to adjust by telling myself it’s okay to be angry and hurt, as long as I don’t inflict it on others. I am still working on that and it helps me to have a picture just like the one I posted above. I tell myself that as long as I can put my feelings and emotions in context, I will not behave abhorrently towards others.
That’s the goal, really, to make sure we do not impose our emotions on others. Emotions can be so powerful that we tend to think they are RIGHT, and sometimes this leads to misplaced indignation. But, emotions are only arrows that give direction. There is no right or wrong there. I believe they are indicators of what we need to look at and work on in our biography. And it would do us well to pay attention, take a step back, breathe, and later on see where everything belongs.
Wouldn’t it be great if our inner spaces could look organized, yet creative, orderly yet unfixed?
I think so.
Okay, so the words above are extreme, but we know (especially if you snickered) that there’s some truth there.
BE CONSEQUENT. These two words sparked a flame in me last week. When I heard it, I knew it to be the very phrase I’ve been looking for. It was spoken in the context of religion. Our priest was speaking to some parents who were considering having their children receive the Sacrament of Confirmation in our church and he was trying to give them a picture of what that meant. There is no dogma in my church–perhaps the only dogma is freedom of thought–so, we would certainly not prohibit people from other religions to participate in the Sacraments, but certainly it is only right that anyone who wants that would have to be awake to what he was doing. At the very least, one should be clear about the consequences of their choices.
The words were spoken again by a mentor of our school, in the context of teaching. As a teacher, one must be consequent. If you say something, mean it and follow through on it. This is major for me, because it presupposes an active inner education. To be consequent, one must be clear in thought and intention–in whatever you do or say, you are clear about why–and then you release it in the classroom and because you were clear about your intentions and were purposeful, you can be active and consequent.
Today I said it to someone because I spent a big chunk of my morning trading texts. One party said she had been approached and asked to support an initiative. The other party said it was jokingly said. Well, clearly, the joke was not taken as such. So I wanted to point out that it’s so very important to be consequent about what we say! Were you joking or were you hoping? If what you sincerely wanted was help and support, why would you joke about it? Consequently, how can you expect full support if the energy you used to seek it was cloaked in a joke?
Part of this, I know, is cultural. We are the kings and queens of passive-aggressive behavior. We love to make “parinig”, asking questions we don’t really need answers to when what we really want is to show people how knowledgeable we are, for example. Or we’ll not look at a person but talk about them anyway, cloaking the discussion in something or other, when what we really want to do is point out their weakness or fault. The truth is it’s so much healthier and more respectful (though, admittedly, not easier), to address the person and lay it out, preferably with warmth and empathy, so that the person on the receiving end can feel safe, especially in a situation of conflict.
I find that people are reluctant to step forward with their requests, wishes and intentions as well. They don’t want to be responsible for them. So they like to say they just “jokingly” mentioned something, but in truth they were asking for something. Their true hope was for the other party to read the request and fulfill it. I find that unfair to the person from whom they are soliciting help. Instead of taking full responsibility for your actions, you are transferring the burden to him. There’s nothing wrong with soliciting or asking for help, but one must be clear and able to really ask for it with full conviction, responsibility, transparency, honesty, uprightness and intention. Yes, all that. If you want something, ask for it and be fully behind what you ask for. It shows the person you are addressing that you value his help enough that you would stand before him forthrightly. That’s how much you believe in what you’re asking for. So show it.
There is so much murkiness in social relations today because of this. We are not clear when we say things. We might say we are just joking, but really we are not. We ask a question when what we want is to point a finger at someone. And this begins a chain of murkiness, at the end of which blooms cold conflict, because the premises are tangled up in unclear agenda. If we are consequent, or try to be, then we start from a place of clarity. We can only be consequent if, at first, we are clear.
Be clear. This is a lifelong task, I know, but if we remind ourselves and work on it, we can always be clearer than the last time and that is progress!! It takes a lot of inner listening and mirroring, and being honest with oneself about what our true purpose is for any undertaking. When we are clear, it is so much easier to be consequent.
Be clear. Be consequent. I just know this will change our lives and the world for the better.
This is an article I wrote in 2007 that I feel impelled to share after I saw a friend tweet something about “broken” families. I’ve never been comfortable with that term. I think it assumes too much. Here’s my take on it. Please feel free to pass it on.
During a recent parent get-together, I realized that the modern world has really changed the constellation of families. There are a lot more complex family situations than there are “normal” ones. Which brought me to the question, “what is normal anyway”? Father, mother and children living under one roof doesn’t guarantee normal and normal doesn’t necessarily mean healthy.
Today there are many single-parent homes, not just because the modern Filipina is more independent, stronger, and less inclined to suffer the transgressions of her husband, but because one or the other spouse has gone abroad to work. Children are growing up with a different sense of family, what with fathers having to mother their children and mothers having to double up as dad as well.
If we simply look at the picture and add into the formula our ideas and mainstream definitions of “normal”, we would immediately conclude that the Filipino family is headed for disaster. But it doesn’t have to be. There is much hope to be found on the other side. Other family members are stepping in. Estranged couples are now more willing to deal with each other with respect and love despite their obvious differences. They bring their current partners into the picture, creating a new web of parenting and friendship that is borne of acceptance and maturity. The whole family learns a whole new way to love. It is not without its difficulties, but I find a tremendous opportunity for humanity there.
Today, children are experiencing deep levels of love and nurturing from people who are not related to them by blood. Blood-love is automatic and expected. Nature takes care of that. But love that is consciously bestowed upon another human being with whom one is not blood-related—that is a gift of unfathomable value. That is the foundation of true brotherhood.
Of course this doesn’t just happen. Things can certainly go awry and the worst possible outcome for the children can still happen, but adults who are willing to take the broader view can make such family situations harbingers of hope rather than despair.
In the past, divorced couples behaved abhorrently towards each other, dragging the children into the fray and causing irreparable emotional wounds in the family. Today, more conscious adults are taking stock and deciding there is a better way to do things. More and more divorced couples are choosing to be friends and their children are faring better. A gifted child psychologist told me that in all her years of practice, children have repeatedly said that they didn’t mind that their parents were separated, as long as they could be friends.
That is a true gut-wrenching challenge for separated couples. If they have gone as far as divorce or separation, it goes without saying that there is much pain between them. But if they are striving with all their might to find areas of understanding where they can be authentic yet kind to each other, the children learn a valuable lesson of respect and true human striving that will serve them well in their own lives and relationships. When the couples find new partners and are in stable relationships that they deem worthy of the children, the family expands.
Today, I am discovering that there is a trend towards couples being truly accepting of their former spouse’s new partner, which means less emotional strain for children who don’t have to feel disloyal about liking someone in papa’s life who is not mama, or loving someone in mama’s life who is not papa. The most famous example would be the Ashton Kutcher-Demi Moore-Bruce Willis triad. The world has seen this hyper-extended family at social gatherings and even on vacations together. Some react with horror but others are open enough to say, “Why not?” With this new consciousness, children can see that love can be expressed in many ways.
It is not easy. It is not meant to be easy. But I think complex family situations are preparing us for the kind of humanity that is coming at us from the future—the kind of humanity that necessitates nothing less than a revolution of the heart to heal our severely wounded world. All the violence, war and monstrosity we find everywhere today stem from a severely flawed view of the world and ourselves. Everything we knew before is breaking down, begging for renewal
I believe that any kind of fragmentation is a call for just that. Something that is crushed cannot be restored to its original form, but you can create something new out of it—something, at least, made stronger by the fall. The ability to hold together that which has been cracked and crushed takes tremendous strength. That strength would not have risen on its own. But not everyone chooses to see the gifts that emerge from the chaos. Indeed, this takes new vision—an ability to see with unbiased clarity.
My parents separated when I was two years old and I swore that would never happen to me or my children, but today I see that what happened to me as a child prepared me for what I needed to go through in adulthood. It is a different view of my past that I was unable to see before. The threads of life are woven way, way before our present perception, and we really do have to be willing to view current life events with an openness we may not have had before. If we limit ourselves to “socially accepted” views of the world, we deprive ourselves of the chance to see the many facets of life, each possibility as brilliant as the next.
My parents’ imperfections taught me the value of living truthfully. I’m not even sure this was a lesson they wanted me to learn, but that is definitely what I got out of our family history and it has served me well. Truth-telling and truth-living have become my personal motto. Though their separation caused deep wounds, these had more to do with the way they were towards each other afterwards, rather than the separation itself. Whatever it was, I believe I was able to make the most of our situation and, as a conscious adult at last, I am able to appreciate its gifts.
Couples whose jobs cause them to live apart have to deal with their own set of issues. Yet, I have seen communities rally around these families and give them support. I have seen individuals volunteer their time to give the custodial parent space to breathe, and to provide the children with a different kind of adult influence and input. Again, much depends on the consciousness of the parents who choose to give their children something new and seemingly out of norm, but will enrich their children’s life in unexpected ways.
The positive aspects of complex family situations are revealed only when we study them with an open heart and mind. If we focus on what should be rather than what is, we always fall short. If we look at what isn’t there and not at everything or everyone else there, we will see only what is missing. But if we look at these situations and acknowledge that present circumstances can bring grace rather than disgrace, there is much to see. The view can be almost dazzling.
When I was little, a child asked me if it’s true that my family was “broken” and of course I said it wasn’t. My family was never broken, it was just different. Just like any other family today with its own special constellation, mine had its share of heartache and joy. But it was a family just like any other, with its own set of unique challenges.
No matter how hard we hope and try to have our families be like the television families of the fifties and sixties, life happens. It has its own ingenious design. If you haven’t already noticed, it does not come in a tidy box. Life is pretty messy. It is really up to us to see the beauty in the chaos.
Our families are taking on a different shape. To make the most of these complex situations, we have to step out of our limited view of what ought to be. We have to accept that the world is changing and our families along with it. So stop calling it broken. Stop whispering about it. Today’s modern family can show us just how wide and deep love can grow.
We are descended from Maria Rizal. Her son, Moris, was the father of our beloved grandmother, Fe Arguelles Cruz, whom we fondly called Lola Ba (short for Lola Taba, I kid you not), which later morphed to Mamoo. Moris was nephew and student to Rizal. For the longest time, Mamoo kept a letter of Rizal’s to Maria, telling her of her’s son’s progress during a summer spent with him in Dapitan. Every so often she would show us this letter and tell us other stories that were passed on by her grandmother and father. (translation here) The letter has since been donated to the Ateneo.
|President Aquino arrives at the shrine|
|Raising the flag
|President Aquino does a brief round of handshakes with the family.
|I loved being able to share this moment with my son on this day in history.|
I am happy to be connecting with Rizal as an adult again. I have been living with so many questions about who I am as a Filipino, and what my deeds this far in my life have amounted to. His 150th year has roused me from inner lethargy. I hope this time the journey is more lasting.