Monday, December 31, 2012

I Wish for the Stars

Hello, 2013!

To all of you, readers, a very happy new year. 2012 has been a very eventful year for a lot of us. But new years also mean new dreams and new experiences to look forward to. And I wish all of you the fulfillment of your dreams, an infusion of joy, and the return of wonder.

In this day and age of speed and efficiency, awe and wonder are things that have become hard to come by. I miss being awed. I miss feeling overwhelmed by the feeling of elation when I am face to face with something big and wonderful and almost impossible.

So, dear readers, allow me to share to you that this 2013, I wish to see the stars.

Not the city night sky we always see, where you can actually count the number of stars you see. No, I'd like to see the one where it looks like Someone had thrown silver dust against the black sky, where the expression "countless as the stars" isn't an expression, where you can actually see the Milky Way. I've seen it only once in my life, when my clan spent the night in a beautiful but remote resort on Samal Island for my grandmother's 83rd birthday. I hadn't been awed like that in a while. Looking at the stars, I felt small and not so very powerful. But that was alright. Because I also felt peace, and that it was okay to not be too powerful at that point in time. It suddenly made me realize how self-absorbed I had been. And how God was so terrifyingly awesome.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Breakfasts and Writers Meets

I went on a vacation to my hometown, Davao, this Christmas season. And there were just things there that I found I really missed. I still like Manila when I'm doing business because the companies I need to meet are here. But, even if my cousins don't agree with me on this, I like certain things about the way we socialize in Davao.

I actually have friends in Davao who happily meet with me for breakfast. Some people would just drop by our house in the middle of my family's having breakfast. I have 10am social meetings! I don't know if it's just coincidence, but I don't have friends from Manila who would actually ask to see me for breakfast. If there's no work, none of them want to get up early. They will normally curse you for dragging them out of bed at 9 in the morning. I love breakfasts. And I wish I could find friends in Manila who would have breakfast with me on a Saturday morning.

House Calls
People there actually visit you at your house when you're in town. My friends in Manila visit me at home sometimes, and me them, but it seems such a hassle. And I don't know why house calls in Davao are a little more formal and respectful. Probably because when they visit, they visit the family. And people are expected to do it out of courtesy. Sometimes the social obligations get tiring, but I like that it's expected. It feels proper, and it would be nice to have a bit more of those in Manila, where work usually takes precedence over family obligations and propriety.

Writers Meet
Every month or so, a friend of mine met with a group of writers. I met his writers group once. It was composed of men and women of different ages. They would meet at one of their houses and just talk about stories. No plans. No projects. Just talk about the stories they were writing and the stories they've read. I have writer friends in Manila, but we never do this. Well, the fact that we all lived so far away made it hard to meet regularly. Also, we were good friends who didn't really hang out. Would be nice to have a group to meet regularly like that, though. I think I did before. Before everyone got busy.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Mean Princess and the Ring

I came home and asked my siblings, what must one do to look more appreciative? What must one do to make the people around her know and feel that she is happy with them when words don't seem to be enough?

Their unanimous answer: smile.

Fake it, my mother said. Smiles, fake or not, will release endorphins. And so after you fake-smile, it becomes a real smile.

Bite a pen, my brother said. Do that Japanese smile exercise where you bite a pen horizontally so that your cheeks will get used to it. And eventually, you'll do it naturally.

Wear a ring, my sister said. Do you remember the story of the mean princess and the ring? It made me smile just thinking about it. I don't even remember the title. But I remember the story. Let me tell it to you.

There was a princess who was known to be mean and ill-tempered throughout her kingdom. She didn't like herself very much. And she felt ugly and unattractive. Then one day, an old lady came to her and said she had a spell to make her beautiful. She gave the princess a ring and told her to smile at the ring three times a day. At first, the princess didn't believe her and didn't want to do it. But her subjects urged her to try. There was no harm in trying anyway. So she did. Hidden, at first. Then she started to do it more openly. And more than three times, eventually. Then after a time, she didn't need the ring anymore. She was beautiful.

Maybe I'll wear the old woman's ring tomorrow.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Loneliness and the Value of the Self

I have only recently just appreciated how much of an impact our relationships have over how we react to experiences in our lives. In the past, I judged bad experiences based on what I considered the "bad"-ness of the circumstance. But recently, I have realized that there really is a different scale in each of us when it comes to experiences. And that underneath the circumstances, it all boils down to the feeling of being loved and valued.

I've been there. I've been to a point when you feel unloved. And you feel that you deserve to be unloved because you're unlovable and unloving. Of course, that's a lie spoken by a treacherous heart that's just been hurt. Treacherous because it doesn't want to cooperate with you when you tell it to calm down and be quiet. A lie because there are actually people who love you. Like your family and friends.

But whether there really is someone who loves you or not, at that particular point of time, when you don't feel loved or valued, when you feel alone and unnecessary, that's when despair kicks in. I have a friend who was betrayed by her boyfriend of ten years. And to her, life sometimes becomes unbearable because she doesn't feel like anybody actually cares. That if she dies, nobody is going to miss her. Whether that's true or not, that's what she feels. And this feeling is what would drive her to consider permanent escape and other such unpleasant things. (I care, though, so don't do anything stupid. Please.)

When I was in Japan, people ended their lives for what some of us would consider petty things. Like not being able to find a job, or not being able to fit in, or getting embarrassed. But underneath it all, they ended their lives because they felt unloved. They killed themselves because they felt they were all alone in this world. Most of the cases I heard about were students from outside the capital coming to Tokyo to study. They would live alone in Tokyo. Then when they felt they couldn't fit in or make friends, they jumped in front of the train. And we can't really judge them because the feeling of being alone is really intensified in a very polite society like Japan. I've been there. I know.

I also heard of a case of a woman jumping off the 24th story of a building in Ortigas recently. They said she took her life because her husband, who was a seaman, was coming home, and she was three-months-pregnant with another man's child. Some people would say she didn't have to kill herself. Some people would say she could just have ended the pregnancy. Or she could have confessed to her husband. The marriage could end, but hey, life goes on. But we really couldn't judge her because we don't know what she was going through. It's a high possibility that she felt that she had to deal with this daunting problem alone, and there was no one there to help her.

Things happening recently has made me stop and think. If depression and despair strikes me again, are the current relationships in my life enough to make me feel loved? I believe in God, and He has been my Anchor through my dark days. But I know that having good relationships help make going through the dark days easier. The people around us are God's gifts to us, after all.

On the other side, I also had to think, will my friends feel alone if they are struck by depression and despair? The answer is already a yes for one of my friends. Do I care about my friends? Yes, I do. Do they know that? Do they feel that? And the answer is no.

I'm going to remedy this. This is not going to be easy for me. I'm not really an expert at showing affection. But I'm going to try. Because the truth is I value my friends highly, but many of them don't know that. And I don't want them to go into depression thinking that nobody cares. I care.

I appeal to the people reading this. In this day and age, it is so easy to get caught up in our own lives and our own busyness that we forget friends or take them for granted. Or we think that what they're going through couldn't possibly be worse than what we ourselves are going through. Let us reach out again. Let us re-connect. Really re-connect. Let's have coffee. Let's have lunch. Heck, let's have breakfast if that's all we could spare. And let us show each other that someone actually cares.

The Guardians of Children

My sisters and I watched "Rise of the Guardian" today. And I loved it. The story itself is simple. But it does speak so much about how we sometimes feel in this world. And it reminded me of what I had as a child, but had lost growing up.

Invisibility and Belief
Most of us know how it feels to be invisible. Like nobody believes in us. I know the feeling. And I can totally relate when the Guardians lost power when people didn't believe in them. I lose power, the feeling of magic, the feeling that it can be achieved, whenever the people I value shoot down my ideas. I feel the disappearance of my wings, the sudden onset of tiredness, and how small and powerless I suddenly feel. Then I feel the change, the desire to turn into a bogeyman, the feeling of bitterness taking root, pitch black darkness covering my heart, and the need to strike fear in the hearts of those who didn't believe in me. But underneath it all, there is that tiny speck of fear that I feel, myself. Fear that I have no power. Fear that I will be invisible and worthless, just as my ideas had been.

The Guardians
The things that can save me from that darkness, I have observed, are those Guardians: gifts from the Man in the Moon, my Lord and my Light in the darkness. I recall the happy memories with the ones who shot me down, and remember that these people do love me, and didn't really intend to make me feel bad. They simply didn't understand. I look to other things and feel wonder and awe, and I can create new plans, new ideas. And my wings grow again. I have a little bit of fun, and the darkness disappears. And I can dream again. I can hope again.

Conversely, if I don't try to recall happy memories, if I don't have fun, if I don't find wonder around me, it is hard to fight off the darkness. Dreams die. And hope becomes so hard to find.

I had struggled with this for a time. Broken dreams have released Pitch Black into my world. And I didn't want to recall memories. The happy memories were locked right along with the sad. I didn't find wonder in my world. It's so difficult to find wonder in this world nowadays. And fun? I don't even remember how to have fun anymore. My world was a collection of responsibilities and duties. Of things that had to be done. Of things that had to be taken care of.

I had forgotten the Guardians. They no longer defended my world. I had grown up and stopped believing.

We need these Guardians. I believe the five are really Guardians of children. I believed in them when I was a child. I want to again. But I will not hold on to these Guardians' past glories. This is an age where it's a little difficult to convince children of the existence of Santa Clause because National Geographic shows what the North Pole actually looks like. And people nowadays don't really sleep anymore, so it's hard to convince kids nobody just ever catches the Tooth Fairy. The time of these forms has come to an end. These Guardians must shed their old forms (Santa Clause, Tooth Fairy, Sandman, Jack Frost, and the Easter Bunny), strip down to what they really are at the core (wonder, happy memories, dreams, fun, and hope), and don a new form more suitable to this current age.

And we, who have believed, we need to help them out. We need to revive them and give them power once more before they completely vanish from the face of this Earth. We must help them have a new form, and become relevant to the people of this age, not just for the children, but for all the hearts in this world. Because they are in our hearts, in a constant battle with darkness and fear. And you know what? The darkness is strong in this age.

We must remember them, and remember them for what they are: gifts from the Man on the Moon. Gifts to chase away the fears and the nightmares, Guardians of children. Guardians of the child in all of us.

It is no wonder the Man on the Moon says it is the children who will enter His Kingdom. When we "grow up" and stop believing, it is so easy for the darkness to swallow us.