Sunday, December 25, 2005

A Christmas Wish, the Christmas Promise

I wrote this essay a couple of years ago. It speaks of my experiences returning to Payatas Trese where I used to go for apostolate as a college student, an ACLCer. I share about how things change, and how things stay the same. But I also share about how one who goes to apostolate areas simply doesn't go on in life without being somehow formed or changed inside after such experiences.

Implicit in this essay is my hope that people continue trying to find God and themselves in going to apostolate areas. It's beautiful when you realize how much you actually grow because of the lives you encounter...

“Will you remember us?” the children asked in chorus. Our collective reply then was simple: “Of course we will. We will remember you. We will even return to visit!”

Now, many years later, I return to Payatas Trese--to promises that have not been kept--and ask a question to the same children, now a bit more grown up: “Do you remember me?”

Who takes note of these things anyway? Things change. People come and go. The RVM sisters who used to run the tiny makeshift chapel have moved on elsewhere. I still have a picture of the chapel then, where we would teach catechism and play with the children every weekend. Dilapidated and run down, it was a surprise for me to see it now beautifully reconstructed and painted, with tiles on the floor and a stained glass image of a resurrected Christ behind the altar. In fact, cobblestone paths now line Trese--where once simple dirt roads existed--leading to a Legoland of simple, yet colorful, bungalows: the work of Gawad Kalinga. Who would have thought things would turn out this way? No one really makes such expectations, it seems.

Lolo Lito, who had been around in Trese ever since the beginnings of the squatter relocation site, had recently died of a stroke. None of us who had once visited him every Saturday were there to see him off to his final resting place. You see, we did not know that it happened. In a way, perhaps no one really expects these things to really happen: that things do have their endings, even as endings abound in our daily lives; that almost as forgotten are the beginnings that mark renewal and rebirth.

The children recounted for me that even until his final days, Lolo Lito could still remember Jong… Yes, Jong, who had brought him a copy of the Saturday morning tabloid every week and who would then have biko and orange juice as a way of receiving thanks from the old man. Jong, as well as his brother, Jaypee--two generations of Ateneo CLCers--were lovingly kept in his heart. His home of salvaged wood and yero was their home, too. Many stories were shared in this place. Many laughs and sighs, too. Lolo Lito, who relished the past, brought these dear friends along with him into the present, even as the distance of many years separated them. Why that is so, I wonder. Perhaps because of thanksgiving and gratitude. True. But perhaps also because his heart could not forget.

Back then, I honestly thought that between husband and wife, Lola Lourdes would be the first to go. She always seemed to have had more health problems than Lolo Lito did. In fact, her blood pressure seemed to have shot up more easily. She was notorious for feeling real bad if we did not have some merienda during our visits to their humble dwelling. The biko would be brought out, as well as the orange juice. And on special days like the birthdays of her grandchildren, we could already expect some spaghetti to be served. This was a tradition that had been going on for many years.

Lola Lourdes, weaker with her age, has suffered much over the past decade. Nothing of her fiery hospitality seems ablaze as I visit her now. She does not recognize me. She cannot speak. RJ, her grandson, explains that she is simply too old and that her mind is not there anymore. I sit beside Lola Lourdes. I recall her generosity, and I take her hand. Her eyes betray the truth: she does not understand nor remember. I cannot expect her to. But my eyes cannot lie either: my own tears roll down my cheeks. My heart cannot forget.

Walking around Trese, I find that a school is now built behind the shack that used to be the RVM convent. The basketball court has finally been fenced off. The sari-sari stores seem to be in their old places, though there is now a distinguishable increase in the things they sell. Posters of F4 and the Sexbomb dancers--unheard of the last time I was here--haggle for space on walls and doors. In every other house, I see Christmas decorations hanging below door sills. Some children follow me as I walk about. I'm a relic to some of them who now vaguely recognize me. In their words, I'm the fat guy who once came and told them the others won't be able to come because of the exams. I take their word for it, I guess. They say I would have made a great Santa Claus back then.

Grace, now a teenager, recalls quite vividly, that it was Jong who played the role of Santa Claus, complete with a matching red costume and a beard of white cotton. Excitedly, she stamps her feet and tries to remember the past. She calls out to her brother, Nonoy, a boy of ten, who does not understand what her sister is so enthusiastic about. She waves her hands frantically and thinks out loud, describing a girl who always took care of him when she came to Trese.

“Ah! It's your Mama Kaye!” she says eagerly to her brother, as her brother responds with widening eyes and a broad smile. Yes, he remembers. And I remember, too, how Nonoy was the little boy who loved running about so much as he shouted all around the chapel where his playmates were grouped into games. This was the same Nonoy who liked being carried, especially by Kaye, and who would leave his mark by way of the dripping mucus from his nose. As I recall all these, Nonoy sniffs and says, “Ate Kaye.”

I begin to write the names of these kids who have accompanied me thus far. They spell out their names to me, after which they cannot help but share some anecdote from the past. I begin to see how powerful the experience of those Christmas parties were to these kids. Most of them either return to Jong's infamous Santa Claus impersonation, the food they ate during the party, or the gifts they received after playing games. As I continue to listen to their stories, I see a boy walk by. He wears a prosthetic where one of his legs should be. An arm is missing, while on the other limb, there are only two fingers that stick out where a hand should be.

“Ompoy,” I mutter to myself. Some of the kids hear me and call out to the boy, shouting out his name. He stops, visibly annoyed. I walk a few steps towards him and bend to his height. He looks at me quizzically. I look at him with wonder.Yes, this is Ompoy. But aside from being bigger, there seems to be a difference in him. Is this the same boy whom we gave extra gifts to out of pity during those Christmas parties in the past? Is this the boy whom his playmates used to literally push around and make fun of? Did he not cry so often that we took turns each Saturday to console him even when he seemed so restless? Where are the crutches he needed to support his frail body?

“Hello Ompoy. I still remember when you were smaller.” His face turns into a frown. Perhaps he does not wish to remember. He walks away to a group of boys in front of a sari-sari store. They give him space as he buys something from the counter. The boys are a bit bigger and circle around him. I take a step closer to discern what is going on. I smile as I realize that they are listening to his story, and are engrossed with what he is saying. Confidently, he raises his voice as he tries to mimic a character in his story.

“Kuya,” nudges Jennifer, another child who has been walking with me. “Ompoy is very popular around here. He's the chess champion of the district. No one in his age group can beat him. And also, he's really great with basketball.”

“Basketball? How could that be?” I ask.

“He runs very fast, even with one leg heavier than the other. He uses his elbows to control the ball. And he shoots very well, rarely missing the basket.”

I return my sights to Ompoy. Who would have thought things would turn out this way? To think some of us were afraid he would grow up feeling totally abandoned and abused by life. And now, look at him. He is so confident among his friends.

“I will remember this, Ompoy,” I think to myself. “Perhaps you cannot remember me. But I have not forgotten. My thanks to you. You have made my heart see more clearly today.”

Some children place my arms on their shoulders. They ask, “Kuya, come back and join us this Christmas. Even if just in the Christmas party. That will be your Christmas gift! Please! Please!”

There are no answers I can give. My promise is fulfilled as I draw my visit to Payatas Trese to a close. These children will forget. These children will remember. I, too, fall along the same boundaries. But perhaps I will return. That will be something to look forward to, especially as I relish memories I have made here today. Some people ask me what all this is for, this going back, this reliving, this returning to. Are these encounters with various people supposed to make a difference in the choices I make in the future? Am I supposed to be accountable to these people? Am I called to ask even more questions, perhaps leading to even more formative situations?

I give no answers. All I can say is that I have fulfilled my promise. What happens after that? I do not know. But let us see what follows.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A Turtle Named Benito, Biking in the Rain, and Letting Yourself be Loved...

The following is a piece I wrote as I lived in the Alingal Subcommunity of Loyola House of Studies. This was at Barangka, Marikina. I was studying and teaching Philosophy then as a Jesuit Scholastic. The Ateneo campus offered much space for comfort amidst my own human struggles.

Benito, our default mascot in Alingal House, is a turtle whose age one can only guess. Legend has it that a member of the house brought him when he was smaller, and because of neglect, was left to the back-area where clothes are dried. Fortunately, this small enclave had enough supply of growing plants to feed the hungry reptile, enough to have allowed it to grow so much through the years. Many times, he remains hidden beneath foliage. Many times, you wouldn’t even notice he’s there.

But the rains bring out something magical in Benito. As the first pitter-patter of rain hit the roofs, he extends his long neck anticipating what is to follow. Soon, the shower comes, and a once immobile shell suddenly has legs taking it out from the shade and into heavy downpour. This is Benito’s dance. A dance of life. A dance to life. With his long neck wagging from side to side, he raises opposing legs high—one pair after the other—as he crisscrosses the little space that has become his own little playground. Above broken pots and old wooden stakes. Over the cistern cover. Through the rags and mops left behind. He continues his dance as the rain continues to wash over him.

The Magic of Rain

The last time I did this was around a month and a half ago. I think August was about to end then. As the clouds overhead started to rumble, I walked out into the garden anticipating the heavy rains that were about to come. Almost immediately, Gil and I struck on the idea of biking in the rain through the campus. It was so spontaneous for me. Gil was the veteran in these things. It was going to be fun.

As the first drops hit the roof, we rushed to get our bikes and rallied to get to the ramp quickly. We didn’t want to miss the part when the rain suddenly gets really heavy. Just in time, as we biked up Paseo de Reilly, all of it came down heavily on us. We continued our biking spree. Through Masterson. Around the Jesuit Residence. Down to the High School. Even around the grass oval several times. Back to Masterson. Right alongside the ISO Complex. Through the SS Parking Lot. Parallel to Katipunan. Up to the Grade School. Down Masterson again. We went around in circles through the campus, again and again, drenched wet in the rain and utterly enjoying this little escapade. Somewhere through this, someone shouted, “Hoy! Nakakainggit naman niyan!” He looked liked he really wanted to join us. I could only reply, “Ang sarap!” And indeed it was.

The rain fizzled out into a drizzle. We ended up in the middle of the flooded football field near Gate Two. There, we could see the tiny figures of students taking exams and listening to lectures in CTC as Gil tried to catch dragonflies as he did when he was a child.

The rain poured just as hard today. And as the first heavy drops hit the earth, a rush came from inside of me to go, go, go! Gil was nowhere to be found this time. But I went on ahead anyway. Down the ramp. Up Paseo de Reilly. Through Masterson. Down to the High School. As I went round and round the campus, a kind of peace settled in me. It made me feel good to be alive. I could only utter thanks. Thank you for this life. Thank you for allowing me to enjoy this. Nothing spectacular, yes. But thank you just the same.

Somewhere near the flooded football field, a little thought came to me. It’s nice to let yourself feel loved, ‘no? I could only smile.

Love Yourself

As I biked back home to get a quick bath and get back to work, a little memory surfaced. Sometimes, I text myself on the cellphone, as a way to express the negative things I’m feeling. For example, I texted myself past midnight towards the end of July how wretched and needy I was feeling. Or even as recent as a week or two ago, I texted myself how frustrated and upset I was over someone. These text messages lay together with the nice text messages from friends and people who care. Scrolling up and down the message menu shows how both positive and negative movements in me simply live side by side with each other. And I’m okay with that. I accept it.

But I remembered how my birthday came along, and people started texting me nice birthday greetings. Some were poetic. Others were corny. Still others were straightforward and simple. But they were all heartfelt and beautiful. Then came an alert on my phone. No more space for new messages. And so the dilemma was quite simple: Do I hold on to these text messages from myself, proclaiming how upset and bitter I have been? Or do I let little tokens of love and kindness in? There is a price, true. Would I be willing to give up the space?

Sometimes, it’s nice to let yourself feel loved, ‘no? I can only smile.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Ang Ngiti ni Ate Fely

I recalled some experiences I had several years ago as a Jesuit novice. Going through my old journals, I came across some memorable anecdotes. Here's one which I wrote about and particularly liked...

Ika-27 ng Oktubre, 2002
SHN; Room #21
9:22 ng gabi

Bukas na magsisimula ang Urban Trials. Kasama ang kapwa kong mga nobisyo, sasabak ako sa mga squatter area ng Tondo. Iyan ang sabi sa amin. Sasabak na raw kami.

Bukod-tangi sa isip ko ngayon ang mga karanasan ko sa ganitong mga lugar. Masikip. Mainit. Marumi. Maingay. Mabaho. Kahit papaano’y hindi ko maipagkaila ang pangamba na baka may mangyari sa akin.

Eh tingnan mo naman ang hitsura ko! Matabang-mataba. Singkit ang mga mata. Nakasuot pa ng makapal na salamin. Paano mo masasabing anak ako ng mahirap? Paano ako babagay doon? Higit lamang ako mapapansin sa kakaiba kong anyo.

Ano pa ba ang magagamit kong script upang itago ang aking tunay na pagkatao? Ay basta! Ayaw ko nang mag-imbento pa ng kung anu-ano! Basta sasabihin kong seminarista akong nagnanais makibuhay kasama sila. Siguro sapat na iyon para wala na akong ipangamba.

Ika-28 ng Oktubre, 2002
Lover’s Compound, Tondo
5:38 ng hapon

Hindi ko pa lubusang maintindihan ang pinasukan kong mundo.

Kakatwa ang unang nagpakilala sa akin.

Sigaw siya nang sigaw. Ang naglalakihan niyang mga mata’y tila nagmumura. Kitang-kita ko ang mga mapupulang ugat sa mga gilid nito. Hawak naman niya ang isang boteng basag. Dinuduro-duro niya ito sa akin. Gusto yata akong saksakin.

“Walang ibang anak si Hapon! Putang ina! Wala sabi, eh! Sino ka ba talaga? Putang ina!”

Amoy na amoy ko ang alak. Nakakalasing ang kanyang hininga.

“Putang ina! Hindi kita pamangkin! Hindi, hinde-e-e-e!”

Wala na akong ibang maurungang sulok. Pumasok na siya sa barung-barong. Nakabuka ang aking bibig, ngunit wala akong maiimik.

Biglang may sumigaw mula sa labas.

“Puñeta! Anong ginagawa mo diyan? Lumabas ka diyan! Lasengga! Layas! Layas!”

Napatingin sa labas ang mga naglalakihang mata ng lasengga. Kumurap.

“Labas, sabi eh! Labas! At lumayas ka na! Layas!” patuloy na sigaw ng boses mula sa labas.

Tumalikod ang lasengga at bumaba sa hagdanan. Muling sumariwa ang hangin.

Nagbulyawan sa labas. Tuluy-tuloy ang murahan. At ako naman, napasara ang bibig at tumikhim.

Ika-5 ng Nobyembre, 2002
Kapilya ng San Pablo Apostol, Tondo
6:50 ng umaga

Ano ba ang ginagawa ko rito sa Tondo?

Ipinikit ko ang aking mga mata. Hinayaan kong madala ang aking isip sa agos ng sari-saring imahen ng lumipas na mga araw. Mukha ng mga kapitbahay. Mga umiiyak na sanggol. Walang katapusang paglalasing. Mga batang minumura ng kanilang mga magulang. Mga batang sinasampal ng tsinelas. Mga batang nagbubugbugan.

Higit kumulang may tatlong daang katao ang nagsisiksikan sa tinitirhan namin. Sa bilang na ito, dalawang daan ang mga bata. Kay rami nila.

Ngunit pinakamatingkad sa aking alaala ngayon ang duguang mukha ni Jonathan.

“Atan, paano naman kasi, alam mo namang lasing ang tatay mo. Bakit mo pa kasi nilapitan,” anang Nanay During sa kanyang apo.

Sinulyapan ako ng bata. Naisip niya sigurong may sasabihin ako. Halos hindi ko na makita ang kanyang mga matang isinara ng itim na maga.

Dahan-dahan kong iniabot ang saping binalutan ng yelo. Hindi siya kumibo.

Patuloy na dumaloy ang dugo mula sa kanyang ilong. Pinalibutan nito ang mga labing may hiwa. Walang imik ang bata. Ni luha wala. Nakayuko lang. Nakatingin sa sahig na aming kinauupuan.

“Maghilamos ka na, Atan. Ibabad mo na ‘yung suot mo sa tubig bago pa tuluyang matuyo ang dugo. Lalabhan ko na lang iyan bukas.”

Umabot ang kalahating oras bago tumayo ang bata at tumungo sa may balde upang maghugas. Nagbuntong-hininga na lang ang lola niya.

Ika-12 ng Nobyembre, 2002
Lover’s Compound, Tondo
9:06 ng umaga

“Sino ka nga uli?” usisa sa akin ni Midi, maliit na batang limang taong gulang.

“Anak ko siya,” sabi ni Nanay During mula sa tabi.

“Ha? Anak! Tanga! Tanga! Tanga! Ha ha ha ha!” sagot ni Midi na tawang-tawa sa sarili.

“Hoy, huwag kang magsasabi ng tanga! Lola mo iyan,” biglang sabi ni Ate Fely.

Magkadikit na ang aming mga balikat sa loob ng barung-barong. Hindi namin maideretso ang mga tuhod namin habang nakaupo sa sahig. Ganyan talaga rito. Mabuti na lang naipapahinga ko ang aking likod sa pagsandal sa dingding.

“Tito mo iyan,” turo ni Nanay During kay Midi habang tinutukoy ako.

Tumawa lang nang tumawa ang bata. Tila naaliw sa sariling pagtawa. Pati si Ate Fely ay natawa na rin sa kanyang anak.

“Anak, uwi na tayo,” sabi ni Ate Fely. “Gusto ko nang magpahinga.”

“Ha? Anak? Hindi! Hindi! Hindi! Hindi ako ang iyong anak!” sagot ni Midi na tawang-tawa pa rin sa sarili.

Minasdan ko ang ngiti sa mukha ni Ate Fely. Hindi ito nagbago, bagaman nabigla ako sa aking narinig. Ano kaya ang maikukuwento ng ngiting ito? Tumahimik ang bata at bumaling sa kanyang ina.

“Di ba ampon lang ako?” ang tanong niya na wala nang tawa.

Tahimik lang ang lahat. Hindi nagbago ang ngiti sa mukha ni Ate Fely.

“Ha? Gago! Gago! Gago! Ha ha ha ha!” biglang bulalas ni Midi.

Tumawa na lang siya nang tumawa. Naaliw sa sarili. Hindi na siya pinagsabihan ni Ate Fely na nakangiti pa rin.

“Hay naku,” biglang sabi ni Nanay During, natatawa sa nangyayari. “Ano kaya ang sasabihin ni Hapon kung buhay pa siya. Aba! Nagkaroon siya ng apo na tawa na lang nang tawa.”

“Ha? Baliw! Baliw! Baliw! Ha ha ha ha!” muling sigaw ni Midi.

Napahalakhak na rin ako.

Ika-20 ng Nobyembre, 2002
Lover’s Compound, Tondo
3:44 ng hapon

Lumusob ang mga pulis. May raid sa mga pusher. Biglang nagkaputukan. Sa tapat pa naman namin. Halos hindi ko maigalaw ang mga binti ko sa takot. Marami ang tumakbo para makaiwas sa anumang gulo.

Biglang may naglabas ng patalim. Ilang hakbang lang mula sa aking kinatatayuan. Kasing haba ng kamay ‘yung balisong. Ang naghahawak nito’y nakasando. Kitang-kita ko ang tatoo sa kanyang bisig. Isang malaking ahas, cobra yata, handang tumuklaw sa kalaban.

May hinahabol na naman si Cobra: isang lalaking nakahubad. Bigla niya itong sinaksak sa tiyan. Ang lakas ng sigaw. Saglit na ngumisi si Cobra, kita ang kanyang mga pangil, natutuwa sa kanyang nagawa. Ang kamay niya ay unti-unting nabalutan ng dugo. Hindi pa rin niya hinugot ang balisong. Nahimatay na lang ang kanyang sinaksak.

Nagputukan muli ang mga pulis. Natamaan sa binti si Cobra. Umungol. Sinundan ito ng pagbatuta ng mga pulis.

Nasindak ako sa mga pangyayari. Namalayan ko na lamang ang paghatak ni Nanay During sa akin, palayo sa duguang eksena. Baka pa raw ako madamay.

Ika-25 ng Nobyembre, 2002
Kapilya ng San Pablo Apostol, Tondo
6:52 ng umaga

Madalas akong datnan ng pagkainip sa mga lumipas na linggo. Tila ang buo kong sitwasyon dito sa Tondo ay paghamon sa akin.

Bagaman gusto kong simple lang ang buhay ko rito at hindi ko na kailangan pang itago ang aking tunay na pagkatao, iba ang naging kapalaran ko. May script na palang naihanda bago pa ako dumating. Hindi ko naman akalain na ako pala ang anak sa labas ng yumao ko ng “tatay” at inampon ni Nanay During. Ang ganitong klaseng kuwento ay nakakasakit ng damdamin ng iba, lalo na sa mga kamag-anak ng yumao. Naiinis talaga ako. Pero ano ang aking magagawa? Eh mismo si Nanay During ayaw baguhin ‘yung kinalat na kuwento.

Gabi-gabi na lang sa lugar namin, may nagbubugbugan, nagsasaksakan, at kung anu-ano pa. Minsan pinanonood ko na lang. Nagiging sanay na rin ako sa ganitong tanawin kung saan dumadanak ang dugo. Wala naman akong magawa. Hindi ko lugar ito upang makipag-away. Bahagi na ang suntukan sa kultura ng mga tao rito.

Ang mga bata naman, sanay na sa karahasan na itinuro sa kanila ng lugar na ito. Bata pa lang, marunong nang magmura at manapak ng kapwa bata. Ang mga tatay nga nila, ginagawa silang punching bag, lalo na kapag lasing ang mga ito. Wala pa akong nakikitang batang hindi nagmura o hindi naghamon ng suntukan. Wala naman akong magagawa. Alangan namang magbigay ako ng klase sa mga bata tungkol sa tamang asal at pagrespeto sa magulang.

Ika-27 ng Nobyembre, 2002
Lover’s Compound, Tondo
8:12 ng umaga

Wala akong magawa.

Nakalugmok ang lugar na ito sa kahirapan at karahasan.

Damang-dama ko ang aking pagkainutil. Para saan pa ang aking mga kakayaha’t galing?

Diyos ko, bakit Mo pa ako inilagay rito? Bakit Mo pa ako tinawag na magsilbi sa Iyo at sa tao? Eh wala naman ako magawa!

Hindi ba’t Ikaw na rin mismo ang nagsabi na naghahari ang Iyong Kaharian dito sa mundo? Tingnan mo naman ang lugar na ito! Kay layo naman ng Iyong Kaharian dito. Ni pangalan Mo ay hindi ko na nga naririnig!

Ika-29 ng Nobyembre, 2002
Lover’s Compound, Tondo
8:35 ng gabi

“Ha ha ha ha ha!” muling natawa si Midi sa kanyang sarili.

Kasabay ng kanyang pagsigaw ng kung anu-ano ang nakangiting pagtingin ni Ate Fely sa kanya. Matagal kong pinagmasdan ang mag-ina.

Ito ba ang nais maiparating ng Diyos sa akin? Na sa gitna ng karahasan at pagkainutil ay may pagmamahal pa rin?

Dinampot lang raw siya sa tabi ng tambakan noong siya’y sanggol pa. Mismong si Midi ang nagkukuwento. Hindi mo mababakas ang lungkot sa kanyang kuwento. Sasabihin pa niyang muntik siyang kainin ng mga aso, kasabay ang malakas na tawa. Sa lahat na ito, hindi pa rin nagbabago ang ngiti ni Ate Fely.

Napatahimik ako. Pati na rin ang aking pusong nabagabag. Narito pala ang Kaharian ng Diyos. Halos hindi ko na napansin. Narito na, bago pa ako dumating. Ang kinailangan ko lang gawin ay tumingin at tanggapin.

At sa aking pagka-walang magawa, nakita ko ang kamay ng Diyos na gumagalaw pa rin – inaakay ako para muling sariwain ang ganda na hindi madaling mapansin.

“Ha? Tito! Tito! Tito! Tito! Iyakin! Iyakin! Iyakin! Ha ha ha ha ha!”

Napatawa na lang ako habang dumaloy ang luha sa aking pisngi.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

On the Road

Here's a short piece which I wrote last year on driving...

As the sky remains dark and the raindrops begin to fall, the road becomes slippery and the wheels begin to swerve. Left to right. Right to left. Left to right. Do my passengers feel this sudden movement? From the rear-view mirror I can see them, their heads nodding, their eyes shut tight by the rhythmic lullaby of the engine. My hands hold on tighter to the steering wheel.

“I must slow down,” I mutter to myself.

The van is simply too heavy to be maneuverable.

Beside us, a large bus suddenly roars by. It pushes the air between us with such a force that our rear wheels jerk up and slam down on the road. From the rear-view mirror, I see a nodding head, suddenly erect, giving off a soft yelp. Once the bus passes, however, the same head goes back into slumber. Its eyes do not remain peeled and alert. But mine do.

Mine must.

For on the road, potholes and barriers are scattered. And mine is the task of seeing us over these. As my foot continues to step on the gas pedal to propel us forward, my mind reminds me of the hand brake beside my knee. The journey is still far, and though the horizon continues to conceal the dawn’s rising, our headlights lessen the burden by lighting the way.

Monday, August 22, 2005


What did we do on Friday evenings? Many years ago when I was still in high school, our small group consisting of students and teachers from Xavier School would visit the parking lot of Araneta Coliseum, Cubao, and spend time with the street children who stayed there.

Isa-isa silang pumila. Nag-uunahan. Nagtutulakan. Pero nagtatawanan din.

Dala-dala ni Fely ang kanyang lumang manikang tila mas malinis pa sa kanya. Pareho silang gunit-gunit ang damit, mga pinagtagping retasong napulot sa tabi-tabi.

“Salamat po,” wika naman ni Daniel. Lagi niyang hawak ang isang supot na puno ng ketchup sachet–mga nakukuha sa Jollibee at McDo. Dinungisan na ng pula ang kanyang mga pisngi. Wika nga niya, “Ketsap na lang, kaysa rugby…”

“Kuya, dalawang itlog po,” ani ni Maricel, na sa bawat pagbabalik namin ay ganito ang hingi.

Idinagdag ko ang isa pang itlog, pati na rin ang isa pang kutsara sa basong may lugaw. Tinanggap ito ni Maricel sa kanyang kanang kamay, habang ang kabila’y akay ang bunso niyang kapatid na walang imik ngunit bukang bibig na pinagmamasadan ang pila sa kanilang likuran.

Sumunod si Edith, nakangiti, kahit namamaga ang isang pisngi at namumukod-tangi ang itim na pumapalibot sa kanyang mata. Sariwa pa ang mga sampagitang dala niya.

“Kamusta ang iyong tatay?” tanong ng aking kasama habang dahan-dahang naglalagay ng itlog at lugaw sa mga baso.

Walang imik ang bata. Lumakad na lang ito nang palayo. Nakayuko ang ulo. Nanginginig ang kamay habang hawak ang baso.

Tiningnan ko nang masama ang aking kasama. Nakita niya ang aking inis. Itinaas na lang niya ang kanyang tingin sa mga gusali ng Cubao.

Habang nagpatuloy ang daloy ng pila, patuloy ko ring pinagmasdan ang mukha ng mga batang inabutan namin ng lugaw. Ito ang mga mukha ng kahirapan at lungkot. Mga mukha na, sa murang edad, ay pinagsawaan na ang pag-iiyak. Mga mukha na nagnanais lamang ng munting kaligayahan.

Sa mga susunod pang linggo, ganito uli ang ritwal namin dito sa munting paradahan ng Araneta. At muli kong magigisnan ang mga mukha ng mga bata.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Kind of Love I Want

The following anecdote was written by an anonymous source. Fr. Vic Salanga, SJ read it in his homily during our eight-day retreat last year. What particularly struck me was the ending, wherein the author reminds us that love is also accepting the possibilities which are closed to us.

It was a busy morning, approximately 8:30 a.m., when an elderly gentleman in his 80s arrived to have sutures (stitches) removed from his thumb. He stated that he was in a hurry as he had an appointment at 9 a.m. I took his vital signs and had him take a seat, knowing it would be over an hour before someone would to be able to see him.

I saw him looking at his watch and decided, since I was not busy with another patient, I would evaluate his wound. On exam, it was well healed so I talked to one of the doctors, got the needed supplies to remove his sutures and redress his wound.

While taking care of his wound, we began to engage in conversation I asked him if he had a doctor's appointment that morning, as he was in such a hurry. The gentleman told me no, and that he needed to go to the nursing home to eat breakfast with his wife. I then inquired about her health. He told me that she had been there for a while and that she was a victim of Alzheimer's disease.

As I finished dressing his wound, I asked if she would be worried if he was a bit late. He replied that she no longer knew who he was, that she had not recognized him in five years now. I was surprised and asked him, "And you still go every morning, even though she doesn't know who you are?" He smiled as he patted my hand and said, "She doesn't know me, but I still know who she is." I had to hold back tears as he left. I had goose bumps and thought, "That's the kind of love I want in my life."

True love is neither exclusively physical nor romantic. True love is an acceptance of all that is, has been, will be, and will not be.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Behind the Photo-Developing Counter

I am an avid photographer. My interests in this field are quite diverse. From shooting wildlife, engaging in night photography, to taking portraits of people, and so forth… I have found myself, at times, mimicking the hunter who is out to catch his prey. With his trusty rifle and binoculars, the hunter makes sure to have his sights set on his target. In the same way, I shoot with a camera. My bullet, however, is light, in its refraction of colors.

I wait. This happens quite often, especially when I have a scene which I want to capture in a particular way. But waiting is something I have learned to appreciate only as I immerse myself in the art of the craft. I went on a trip with a professional photographer once. He had set up his equipment atop a balcony. His camera was on a tripod: its sights set at the cloud formations above. We waited for over half an hour before he started to unpack his things: taking the camera off its stand and returning the batteries into their canisters. It was so abrupt that I had not expected it. Why did he suddenly pack up? His countenance seemed as cheerful as it was earlier. I openly shared my puzzlement. His response was very simple. The wind had changed and the clouds were blocking the sun in a way he did not want them to.

I reflected on the photographer’s words and found myself mildly impressed. In this day and age of high-tech speed and fast-food efficiency, a person can still be patient and yet be open to the possibility that his waiting will be for nothing. Well, when I think about it again, is it really for nothing? Have I not been myself a victim of the amateur photographer’s folly of taking pictures left and right, as if I had an endless supply of film and all the money to spend developing them? Have I not found myself with the bane of seeing how useless many of my pictures were anyway? So casual, so unthought-of, and so chaotic, I have seen far too many photos waste away in the corner of my room.

And so I wa
it. There is something profound about the discipline it takes to just sit in a position and wait. There is a certain level of resoluteness, determinism, patience and focus that I would not usually be disposed to when I’m not handling a camera. It’s as if waiting has taken a life of its own – an interior existence brimming with energy even as its exterior seems so dull and inactive. My mind is attentive to details that surround me as I calmly anticipate a composed image in my head. My fingers are sensitive to the sensation of the shutter, the zoom lens and the flash button. The eyes of my imagination look past the colors of my surroundings and frames the possibilities of a photograph within a 4x6 inch mental frame. And then I take my picture. With a whir, the film advances by one.

Sometimes, though, no picture is taken. Birds have flown away, the clouds have lost their interesting forms, and the mountains have hidden their sheen. I laugh to myself and disassemble the camera from the tripod. There will be other moments. I look forward to the next opportunity.

At the photo-developing center, the technician eyes me thoughtfully. He invites me behind the counter to see how my negatives are being processed. His assistant likewise invites me in. She says that this is one of their ways of thanking me for patronizing their outlet. I decline their generosity with a smile.

It takes an hour to have a roll of film developed and for its prints to be processed. Yet another hour of patience. I wait it out. I try to imagine how my photographs will emerge, knowing full well that behind the counter, the technician already sees my pictures unfurl one by one. I envision the good shots I’ve taken, and predict which ones will come out bad. As I wait, I relish the whole creative process, allowing myself the space to breathe in the experience of the art. In this way, I mature in the craft I have chosen.

With the final product of pictures released, the waiting comes to an end. I gaze slowly at the works of art that have been created, or smirk at the ones that have come across as parodies. My mind takes all these images in. And once again, the process o
f waiting begins. It begins anew with the lessons I have learned, with the longing to take to the field with my camera once more and wait for the opportunity to capture moments again.