Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Using an Eggplant to Pleasure Yourself When You're Alone and No One Else is Looking

I just finished the book, “Alone in the Kitchen with An Eggplant”. When I saw it in the bookstore, I thought it would be about masturbation and all kinds of kinkiness. As it turns out, the book is a collection of essays from various writers reflecting on the subject of “ cooking for one and dining alone”. The book title is from the first piece in the collection written by Laurie Colwin, who is better known for her fiction-writting.

In the essay, she writes about how she would cook eggplant - "cheap, nourishing, versatile" - in different ways when she was just starting out and living alone in her tiny apartment. In her intro, the editor - Jenni Ferrari Adler (love that name), writes “alone and lonely are not synonymous, (when cooking and eating alone) you will have yourself – and the food you keep – for company”.

Ok, taken out of context, that sounds way too sad. But, really it’s not.

The essays in the book are about taking a break from all the noise and pressure of everyday life and being nice and loving towards yourself thru the act of cooking food that makes you happy. .

I very seldom cook for myself. Because I have to be “inspired” to bother, cooking for me has always been an expression of affection for the people I plan to feed – family, friends coming over, friends who invited me over, officemates who needed cheering up.

Whenever I needed home-cooking, it used to be that I could always look forward to week-end visits to my Mom and Manang. Here, food was also prepared and served as an expression of love - but for me.

I can't go home to my Mom and Manang anymore. But, even now, many of my happy memories are inextricably linked with the food that was served or attached to particular occasions (roasted chicken dripping with fat and butter for birthdays, pancit for Wednesdays, Pochero for Sundays, home-baked ham and fruit cake for Christmas, arroz caldo for noche Buena, sautéed sardines for rainy days, etc).

Nowadays, I take most of my meals out of the house. In the rare occassions that I find myself home alone and hungry, I would usually just have something delivered - the same things over and over again.

However, something happened several weeks ago. I decided I should start cooking for myself. I have to tell you that I’m loving it.

I love deciding what to cook. I love going over the internet and recipe books to research. I love coming across cooking tips (rub salt on ampalaya and then rinse it with cold water to remove the bitterness). I love going to the grocery to buy the ingredients. I love cooking the food and making spur-of-the moment executive decisions to tweak the original recipes (i.e. “hmm, what if I added lemon grass to the sinigang broth?").

I love trying to recreate the flavours of my childhood and then putting in some kind of twist to make it my own. Most of all, I love ladling out the finished product on proper dishes (as opposed to the cardboard boxes most of solitary meals come in), sitting down to a set table and eating slowly and deliberately. My delicious food. Alone.

On my one-burner electric stove – over the span of a few weeks, I’ve come up with several dishes that deserve to go in the memory bank. My sinigang is awesome. My adobo sa gata brings comfort. My mushrooms in chili sauce is a classic. I have to work on my version of pochero and I have yet to make friends with beef (maybe I’ll buy a pressure cooker). Making adjustments on the recipe quantiies so that they serve 1 instead of a family of 6 is still confusing. But - what the hey – I’ll learn and I am enjoying this new adventure.

Without going too pop-psych about it - cooking for myself makes me feel all of these things at once: self-reliant, in-control, creative, intuitive, nourished, and glow-y all over (maybe from the heat of the stove)Sometimes, when I’ve come up with something really good – I’d call my friends and ask them over or I'd bring a batch to the office to share. I do get off on people appreciating what I’ve made but that’s become just a bonus. I like what I made. I enjoy eating it by myself.

And that’s enough to make me full. Until the next meal anyway.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


Okay, so this happened a few weeks ago. .

I sometimes have lunch in the cantina near our office. Their TV set is always tuned to WOWOWEE . For those who don’t know about this (count your blessings) – it’s a Filipino lunchtime show. People line up for hours to get in and to get picked to participate in the games.

The host, Willie Revillame is some kind of mass hero. He’s been involved in all sorts of very public court cases but that doesn’t seem to have affected his popularity .

Anyway, the contestants are taken from different groups every day. One day, it’s people who work in funeral parlors (more than I thought), another day its returning Overseas Filipino Workers. The day I'm writing about, it was grade school students who had won a prize for something or the other (you had to bring your medal or trophy to prove it).

The contestants are interviewed by Willie before each game.(the following dialogue is from memory and translated from Filipino)

This boy comes up and Willie asks – “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

The boy goes, “I want to be an engineer”

Willie goes, “What, you want to be an engineer? Do you know how difficult that is?”

Willie goes on and on about how difficult it is to be an engineer. Then he asks the boy again – “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

The boy goes, “I think I’ll just be a teacher”.

Willie goes, “What, you want to be a teacher? Do you know how difficult that is?”

Willie goes on about teachers not getting paid enough or on time, Finally, he asks the boy again, “So really what do you want to be when you grow up”.

The boy goes, “I think I just want to drive a tricycle”.

Willie goes, “That’s right! You better! That's what's best suited for you. At least , you’ll have money”.

He then gives the boy a prize. The audience laps it up.

Millions of people are supposed to be watching this everyday.

No additional commentary needed.


Ang Past Ko at ang Pasko

Christmas is just around the corner (ok, a long corner). I was passing through the mall yesterday and noticed that the decorations were already up and the sound system was blasting carols. It’s a Filipino thing – we start preparing for the season as early as September and the commercial establishments are only too willing to cooperate.

But – I digress – this isn’t about how consumerist Christmas has become. This is what I’m thinking:

Christmas for me has always been about family. All my associations – the food, the traditions, the memories – are linked to people who aren’t around anymore. Apart from 1 year when I was studying in the US and 2006 when I couldn’t care less because I was too tired from a funeral – last Christmas was my first time without a place to which to come home.

No, this is not meant to be another post about dead people either. However, with everyone else gone, retired or not around – what’s a mid-lifer supposed to do about Christmas?
This brings me to my point(s).

1. Whatever Auden says, life goes on. You have to create new traditions if you have to. My friends’ “adopted” me into their family for the holidays (with a standing invitation for all holidays thereafter). Their Christmas tradition (having also been orphaned many years ago) is for everyone - wherever they are in the world - to vacation together in some exotic place every year.
Slathering myself with oil and lying under the sun isn’t exactly part of my Christmas lexicon (yet) but – what the hey, there are worse things than sunbathing in Bali.

2. The human spirit is more resilient than we think. Life gives us lemons. We make lemonade. We adjust to our new circumstances. Eventually, we may even thrive on it. While respecting and honoring the past, it should be possible to live in the present and look forward to the future.

3. There are families created from the womb. And there are families created from the heart. I’ve been very fortunate on both counts. However, while the womb can only produce so much (unless you’re that woman from Pensylvania with twins AND sextuplets, and then again you have towonder if she can do it again), the human heart is expandable. There is always room to take in new people into its folds.

This year is going to be as exotic – New York (exotic to me, I’ve travelled quite a bit but I’ve never experienced snow).

I no longer believe in Santa but I am looking forward to a Merry Christmas with my extended family this year.

State of the Bookshelves

Books represent one of my major expenses. I buy them for various reasons – favorable reviews, favorite subjects (I have a fascination for the Kennedys, subject of another post), cheap, nice cover (I can be incredibly shallow). etc. Whatever. Net-net, I have a lot of books, many of them read several times over. More, not yet read.

I was cleaning out my bookshelves today and came up with three new piles (descriptions in quotes are from the cover blurbs, italics in blue are my side-comments)

Books I Just Finished (These have gone to the back of the shelves)

1. Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant, edited by Jenni Ferrari Adler
2. A Golden Age,by Tahmima Aman – love, war, loyalty and Porgy and Bess - a novel about the civil war that separated Bangladesh from Pakistan

Books I'm Reading Now (These stay in the book sack near the toilet)

1. Lasting Contribution, by Tad Waddington – “how to create meaning in your life, take sophisticated action, manage your career and make a lasting contribution to the world”. O di ba?
2. Partnering with Microsoft by Ted Dinsmore and Edward O'Connor - "how to make money in trusted partnership with the global software powerhouse". Required Reading. 'Nuff said :-)

Books that are next on my To-Read List (These go to the bedside table or in the book sack next to my toilet)

1. Banker to the Poor, by Muhammad Yumus – “micro-lending and the battle against world poverty” Paluwagan with meaning. The author won the Nobel price for his work.
2. Stumbling on Happiness, by Daniel Gilbert – “describes the foibles of imagination and illusions of foresight that cause each of us to misconceive our tomorrows and misestimate our satisfactions”. Baka kasi I might find out I’m happy na but I just don’t know it yet.
3. The Venetian’s Wife, by Nick Bantock – “ from the author of the Griffin and Sabine trilogy, a strangely sensual tale of a renaissance explorer, a coputer and a metamorphosis”. Ok, I bought it because I liked the cover.

Books I've Read but Want to Read Again (These go to the coffee table)

1. Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, by John Wood - :”an entrepreneur’s odyssey to educationa the world’s children”. He seems like a really nice guy and I want to be just like him when I grew up, although he is maybe 3 or 4 years younger than I am.
2. Honeymoom with my Brother, by Franz Wisner – “a funny thing happened to Franz Wisner on hs way to the altar”. His girlfriend dumps him, he goes on the paid-for honeymoon anyway but takes his brother. They decide to quit their jobs and travel and world together.
3. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh – “the wellsprings of love and the impediments of desire come brilliantly into focus”. Yeah, whatever. But Emma Thompson is on the cover and I remember liking the book when I read it like maybe 15 yeas ago. Let’s give it another try, shall we?

Books I'm Going to Read Eventually, So Help Me God (These will stay in the front of the shelves because they make me look good)

1. Tibetian Book of the Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinponche - "a guide into the Tibetian traditions of life and death", Besides, don't you just love the author's name


Friday, September 26, 2008

I blog, therefore I am

Why do people blog? Why are Facebook and all the other social networking sites so popular.

Being an avid Facebooker and having finally succumbed to the siren call of blogging, here's my take:

From pop culture - there's this one scene from JLo's remake of Shall we Dance (I prefer the Japanese version, I'll lend you the VCD if you want) that has stuck with me, The Susan Sarandon character explains the importance of Richard Gere's character in her life. In so many words, she says something like - in a world of a billion people, having someone bear witness to our lives is a confirmation that we are not a non-entity, that somehow our lives have mattered .

From somewhere deeper and murkier in my brain - there’s the old age riddle about the tree falling in a forest – if no one hears it, does it make a sound? Can something really exist if it’s not perceived? What is the value of a life un-noticed?

So there – I think putting ourselves out here is our way of being borne witness to, of making a sound.

I blog therefore I am. I poke therefore I am, twice over.

Of course, having relationships with real people would also serve the purpose. But it’s so much harder and it would mean going out of the house more often.

End of thought. Back to surfing.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Drawing the Line Here

I have much for which to be thankful. I have a good job, wonderful friends and the respect of my peers. I make enough to afford myself the little luxuries but not too much for wealth to be a burden.

In my life, I have loved and been loved several times over. I have regrets – who does not? – but I have learned to live with my choices.

AT 45, I figure I have about a third of my life left. But, I'm afraid that before I die of old age, I might first die from boredom - my remaining days distinguished only by their sameness and uneventfulness.

I have more than 36 pairs of shoes on active rotation - not because of greed or vanity but wearing a different pair every day is one way to break the monotony. There has to be another way:-)

Today, I am asking myself these questions - is there not more that I can do; can i still make a difference? do I have more in me to contribute? do i have energy and passion left to take on a new cause? Can I have that fifth piece of chicken?

I'd like to think so. I just don't know yet where to begin. In the meantime, I'm taking this essay from Paolo Coelho to heart.

Paolo Coelho

One always has to know when a stage comes to an end.If we insist on staying longer than the necessary time, we lose the happiness and the meaning of the other stages we have to go through.

Closing cycles, shutting doors, ending chapters whatever name we give it, what matters is to leave in the past the moments of life that have finished. Did you lose your job? Has a loving relationship come to an end? Did you leave your parents' house? Gone to live abroad? Has a long-lasting friendship ended all of a sudden?

You can spend a long time wondering why this has happened. You can tell yourself you won't take another step until you find out why certain things that were so important and so solid in your life have turned into dust, just like that.

But such an attitude will be awfully stressing for everyone involved: your parents, your husband or wife, your friends, your children, your sister, everyone will be finishing chapters, turning over new leaves, getting on with life, and they will all
feel bad seeing you at a standstill.

None of us can be in the present and the past at the same time, not even when we try to understand the things that happen to us. What has passed will not return: we cannot for ever be children,late adolescents, sons that feel guilt or rancor towards our parents, lovers who day and night relive an affair with someone who has gone away and has not the least intention of coming back. Things pass, and the best we can do is to let them really go away.

That is why it is so important (however painful it maybe!) to destroy souvenirs, move, give lots of things away to orphanages, sell or donate the books you have at home. Everything in this visible world is a manifestation of the invisible world, of what is going on in our hearts and getting rid of certain memories also means making some room for other memories to take their place.

Let things go. Release them. Detach yourself from them. Nobody plays this life with marked cards, so sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. Do not expect anything in return, do not expect your efforts to be appreciated, your genius to be discovered, your love to be understood.Stop turning on your emotional television to watch the same program over and over again, the one that shows how much you suffered from a certain loss: that is only poisoning you, nothing else.

Nothing is more dangerous than not accepting love relationships that are broken off, work that is promised but there is no starting date, decisions that are always put off waiting for the ideal moment.

Before a new chapter is begun, the old one has to be finished: tell yourself that what has passed will never come back. Remember that there was a time when you could live without that thing or that person nothing is irreplaceable, a habit is not a need.

This may sound so obvious, it may even be difficult, but it is very important. Closing cycles. Not because of pride, incapacity or arrogance, but simply
because that no longer fits your life.

Shut the door, change the record, clean the house, shake off the dust. Stop being who you were,and change into who you are.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Stuff I've Learned (Learnt?). Ok, Stuff I Know Now.

1. Cheesy but true - just because someone doesn’t love you the way you want doesn’t mean that person doesn’t love you the best way he or she knows how. And that should count for something.

2. No matter how much you work for it and how good your intentions are, there are things that really aren’t meant to be. When you’re sure you’ve given it your best and won’t look back with regret, just move on.

3. Listen to everything but take as much time as you need to make your own opinion. You’re accountable for all your decisions so you better make sure you’re making the right ones.

a. Corollary 1 to the above Most of the noise in this world is the one from our heads. We can’t hear because we’re too busy second guessing while somebody else is talking

b. Corollary 2 to the above. Not making a decision is not an option. You should stand up for what you believe in. I’m going to have to borrow from Alghieri who said, “the hottest part of hell is reserved for those who, in times of moral crisis, stand back and do nothing.”

4. Everything is temporary. We should enjoy what we have while they last. but shouldn’t expect that we’ll have them forever. So, make the moment of enjoyment worth it.
a. Corollary to the above – and borrowed from a dear friend – while we remember the past and make plans for the future, let’s not forget to live in the here and now.

5. I can be like the calm blue ocean: vast, serene, nourishing, symbiotic, nice to look at.

6. I can also be like the raging, dark, murky, slimy, freezing sea. But at the end of the day, I'd rather not.

7. Positive energy generates more positive energy. Negative energy has the same effect. We can choose what kind of energy to surround ourselves with.

8. I am more like my Dad than I thought I was.

9. A person who is angry or violent or vicious is - more often than not - just crying out for somebody to listen to him/her.

10. Staring at your bike doesn’t count as exercise.

11. Having a dream is a beautiful, noble thing.

12. I am blessed with good friends, a childhood happier than most, many happy memories, the ability to recognize the humor in the absurd, the ability to empathize and style to spare.

13. People come and go in our lives but some have the power to leave us with everlasting pain or joy - long after that person's face/voice/smell fades into memory.

14. Whether I like it or not, some people have given me the irrevocable power of causing them great joy or great pain. I have to remember that and be careful about what I say or do.

15. Never underestimate the power of a smile or a kind word. Or, for that matter, a careless remark or action.

16. I like being with people who take their work but not themselves seriously.

17. I can’t change the world but I can change myself and the people around me.

18. It’s not unusual for people to stare at me as I walk by. And I don’t mind.

19. I figure prominently in some people's sexual fantasies. And I don’t mind.

Requiem (from a letter to family and friends, December 2006)

Dear Family and Friends:

I was asked to give a short talk during my Mom’s internment mass. Please let me share it with you.
When my dad and sister passed away 17 years ago, a very good friend shared a poem about death and letting go. I don’t usually go for the maudlin stuff but somehow it struck a chord. Grief does that to you :-). Unfortunately, over the last few years, I’ve had many opportunities to share the same poem with other friends and family members hoping that it could provide them with the same measure of comfort at their time of loss.

When we laid my mom to rest, the poem came back to mind for two reasons:
1. I realize that our sadness over death is not so much about the departed, because they are off to a better place; and
2. My dad, mom and sister Grace showed us countless times, by words and example, that even during our lowest points we should never be inconsiderate of other people.

The poem is entitled “I’m Free”. Think of it, as I do, as my Mom’s way of reaching out to us for one last time to make sure that we are alright.

I'm Free
Don't grieve for me, for now I'm free
I'm following the path God laid for me.
I took His hand when I heard Him call;
I turned my back and left it all.
I could not stay another day,
To laugh, to love, to work or pray.
Tasks left undone must stay that way;
I found that place at the close of day.
If my parting has left a void,
Then fill it with remembered joy.
A friendship shared , a laugh, a kiss;
Oh yes, these things, I too will miss.
Be not burdened with times of sorrow
I wish you the sunshine of tomorrow.
My life's been full, I savored much;
Good friends, good times, caring hands, a loved one's touch.
Perhaps my time seems all to brief;
Don't lengthen it now with undue grief.
Lift up your heart and share with me,
God wanted me now, He set me free.

When we were children, my Mom taught us that if we were to give something at all, to make sure that it is something that is of value to us. To give away something that we do not like or care for, negates and makes meaningless the spirit of giving. My Mom had many imperfections like all of us. But, in her life, she gave us the best of herself and we are all the better for it.

Thank you and God bless us all

Jun and Kikay, the Dynamic Duo (from a letter sent out to my high school email group, 2008)

Here's a question - of all the things that you've learned from your parents, what is it that sticks out the most?

As is my wont, I'm asking a question so I can answer it first :-).

From both my parents, I learned generosity of spirit. Here's a Kikay and Jun Taruc story. When we were growing up, my Mom used to go to church every morning. One day (I must have been 15 or 16) , she saw a lady in one of the front pews crying. Something about the lady must have caught my Mom's attention because she (mom) went up and asked the lady what was wrong.

This story needs a visual. The lady looked like...uhh...a hospitality worker in one of the night spots (there was an American military base where we lived) but ..uhh...past her prime :-). Those of you who remember my Mom can imagine the contrast.

Anyway, the lady told her that one of her parents was sick in the province and she didn’t know how to help. My mom brought the lady - her name was Dory, I remember - home and when my Mom found out that she had taken a beauty course(talk about career changes), my Mom asked her to be her regular manicurist (you get home serviced for everythng in the Philippines) so Dory could have extra income .

One day, Dory was in our house around lunchtime so my Dad invited her to eat with us. After that, every week-end for about a year, Dory was a regular at our Sunday family lunches and because my parents treated her decently and like a member of the extended family, everyone else did as well.

Dory died in a car accident about a year after we met her. A few years after when my Dad and sister Grace were sick - my Mom would tell us to pray and ask for Dory's intercession because she was sure that Dory was in heaven.

From my Mom (who passed away December 2006) - I learned that to be true to the spirit of giving, you have to give away something that you like not just something that you're ready to discard. It's very easy to give something that we're ready to throw away. But my Mom always told us that true generosity y is to share something that remains of value and use to us. Whenever there was a charity or clothes drive for example, my Mom told us not to donate the pinaglumaan (what we had outgrown) toys or clothes that nobody could use anymore but the ones that we liked and could still use.

From my father (who passed away in 1990) - here's something I wrote to family and friends a few years ago which I saved in my yahoo sent box

A few months before he died in 1990, my dad started a correspondence with a 12 year old boy studying in Antique (a province in the Philippines where my Dad spent a few of his growing-up years.) It started as a English-subject project for the boy. His teacher was an old classmate of my dad.

They would write regularly and my Dad would always look forward to his letters and he would reply promptly. I had already started working at that time and, after a while, I got bored with his regular updates about the correspondence.

It was one of those things my Dad liked to do. He corresponded with a lot of people, kept in touch religiously and filed all his letters systematically.

If he was that way with the people he wrote, you could imagine the way he was with us. There was never a day where he failed to show me – in whatever way - how much he loved me and my mom and my sisters and how proud he was of us and how happy we made him by ....just being.

My dad kind of embarrassed me in that way. I always thought he was too sentimental, too emotional, too attached to the past and had difficulty moving on. While I loved my Dad, I would always tell myself that I would be different. Where my Dad wasn't successful, I would be. Where he was weak, I would be strong.

Something strange happened to me today. It started like any other regular work day...you know, the usual stress and problems and back to back meetings. Mid afternoon, I was told that I had a visitor. I had some time before my next meeting so I had the visitor brought in.

It was the 12 year old boy. Except, well now he's a 24 year old man. He had graduated from college. He had moved on from Antique and he said he's been trying to look for me over the past few years. He tracked me down from an old press release about my company.

At first, I was suspicious - "what does he want?". He didnt want want anything. He wanted to know where Daddy was buried and he wanted to ask my permission to visit Daddy's grave. Just that. Nothing else.

I didnt know what to say. So, instead, I listened. He told me how much my Dad helped and inspired him. How much interest my Dad showed about his plans and dreams and aspirations. About how Dad would tell him about how proud he was of his wife and children, of his brothers and sisters, about how much he loved all of us. About how he waited all these years -to finish school, to work, to get to Manila - so he could visit my Dad's grave and honor him.

When my Dad was already sick, he was more emotional than ever. I thought he was being clingy and needy. I guess we could all have paid him more attention. I guess we could have spent more time to just sit down and talk with him and tell him how much we appreciated and loved him.

I guess having this boy he never met meant a lot to my Dad. Somebody who sought his advise. Somebody who responded to his stories. Somebody who showed a genuine interest in what he had to say.

What my Dad must not have realized was how much he meant to this boy. But my Dad was like that - he would love and share unconditionally and not expect much in return - just the privilege of being able to give what he can. All of us who knew him know this.

For the longest time, I thought my Dad didn’t have a successful life -the kind of life I've tried to build for myself.

But this afternoon, I realized that my Dad is one of the most successful men who ever lived. He touched people. He is not forgotten. He remains alive in the memory of this boy, this man, he met only through letters many, many years ago - so alive that a driving force in this boy's life after so many years was to be able to visit his grave and honor him.

How many men can claim that for themselves?

I am proud to be my Dad's son. I am proud to share his name. I am proud to count myself among those whom he loved and touched in his lifetime. I wish I could live the rest of my life like him. I'm not sad as I write this - my Dad would not have liked that. I write this to celebrate his memory and his life.

This isnt a sudden realization. As I've grown older, I've been realizing more and more how much I have in common with my Dad and how much I miss him and how I wish he were here to share in what I have now. This afternoon just put everything in place in the most wonderful, clearest way.

Dad, wherever you are, I love you. We love you. You are not forgotten.


One Day in a Taxicab (from a letter sent to friends in 2005)

Somebody once told me, I laughed too hard so my heart gave out.

That last sentence was totally force-fitted but cool, huh? :-) (somebody actually did say that to me) .

Anyway, so, I’ve been going through some kind of weird transition , especially over the past 2-3 years. I find that I laugh a little less loudly, dress up a little less colorfully, proceed a little more cautiously, sing a lot less frequently - but no less horribly. Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s my health. It doesn’t matter really. We can’t expect to be the same forever. That's the way it is.

However, some things have not changed. Although I have never been fearless. I have always, always been hopeful. And one of my greatest hopes has always been that at the end of the day Good will make a difference.

I know (I bet some of you do too :-) ) that I can be really mean and petty and vindictive (ahem - in my defense, it is my dichotomies that make me the complex, fascinating person that I am :-)) but I have my moments - those precious few instances when the opportunity to do good presents itself and we act on the opportunity without hesitation.

Here's a visual: Silas Marner counting his gold coins by the light of a candle in an otherwise dark and dingy room. That's me when I'm feeling particularly loathsome about myself. I lay down those moments like pieces of gold in front of me and I derive comfort and joy from the reminder that I'm not such a bad person after all and there's hope for me yet.

Well, one of those gold coins seemed a little less shiny recently. There was this thing that I did a few years ago for an old man I met in a taxicab whose wife was dying , or so he said. Purely by coincidence, I came across the old man again a few weeks ago. He didn¡¯t mention our earlier encounter. That threw me off the loop a bit but I couldn’t immediately figure out exactly why.

Did he make up the story many years back? Was I duped? Was it my ego hurting from not being acknowledged? Pride? I finally realized it was disappointment I felt more than anything else. I don't think he was lying the first time I met him. His story was consistent. Having settled that, I realized that what was disturbing to me was not so much the thought that I wasn’t remembered but that the experience didn’t even warrant a mention at all. In my mind, I thought I had made a difference in someone else's life - that an act of kindness I was responsible for may have provided an affirmation of faith and a reason for hope for the old man. But nope, there seemed to be none of that. If anything, he seemed just as sad and just as tired - perhaps even more so than when we first met.

That kind of bummed me out for awhile. But sometimes you just have to let things go. I guess I’ll never know the old man’s real story. I may not have made a difference in his life ( or I may have) but I made a difference in my life. An act of kindness is by itself an affirmation of faith and a reason for hope.

You just have to put it out there and whatever happens or however it is taken does not take away from the act itself.


Total Eclipse of the Heart Attack (from a letter sent to family in 2004)

I had a heart attack in October of 2004. I was 41. During my recuperation period, I realized, among other things, how unprepared I was should the worst have happened. There were too many things that were unsaid, undone, unfinished.

I left the hospital with a resolve to put everything in order. All my papers and documents are now properly labeled and filed. My old clothes are in storage or have been given away. My books and CD’s are arranged according to title, author or subject. I’m back to work, I’m seeing my friends. I try to watch what I eat and I now have a gym membership.

While I’m glad about these changes, things still don’t quite seem right.

I had a major car accident a few years ago. The car ended up inverted at a 45 degree angle to the ground, a few feet away from a deep ravine. I was not wearing a seatbelt. I got out without a bruise. I immediately came up with all these resolutions about focusing on the important things and taking advantage of what seemed to be a new beginning.

A few years later, I had turned into a stressed, tired, cynical, bored person being wheeled into the Emergency Room by excited medical interns. So much for that new beginning.

So now, I have yet another lease on life. While I’m starting this one with very organized files, I’m not sure what to do with it yet.

On one end, I don’t want to make any more resolutions I can’t keep. On another, I don’t want to go back to the old habits and find myself at 50 still living off the remnants of my potential.

Right now, It just feels like I’m a transient in my own life. I’m trying things on for size without any commitment to stay , keep or buy. It’s very strange really. Seems similar to something I read about plane crash survivors. They go back to their lives with a super heightened awareness that makes them feel like they’re watching their own lives. Maybe our senses get turned up to maximum levels just at the moment that we face death and it takes some time before they’re calibrated back to normal levels.

I suspect I’m going through some weird process of which we won’t see the end for some time. While the process may end with the discovery of new ways to make myself miserable, it may also end with a breakthrough towards a more meaningful and relevant life. With my luck, I’m probably going to be run over by a ten-wheeler the day after that kind of break through :-)

One Day in 1990

My sister Grace died on November 28, 1990. She was 23. I made an album for her shortly after we buried her – bits and pieces of her short life kept in laminated pages. The album is still with me. I bring it out to read every now and then. The handwritten notes on it and the pictures are almost faded. It makes me sad to think that no one else will ever get to know my sister. I would not want that. For my first blog entry, I’m rewriting a page from my 1990 diary which I had torn off and put in the album. At that time, my sister was in remission but she was showing signs that the cancer may have come back. She passed away 10 months after this diary entry was first written. She would have been 24 in three months.

My sister is worried. She’s been coughing again, the way she used to when she was sick. It’s been two years since she got well but it’s supposed to take another three years more before the doctors can say for sure that the cancer is gone.

My sister says she doesn’t want the cycle of treatments to begin all over again. You cannot imagine how distressing her chemo treatments were. She would get really sick and nauseated. She had to stop studying for a year. Her hair - one of her greater vanities - fell off.

My sister was very brave though. She didn’t fall to pieces the way I might have. She tried not to show that she was depressed or worried. On hindsight, I realize that this was for her family's sake.

Nobody ever mentioned the word “cancer”. We all acted as if her cancer was just a temporary inconvenience. My sister would even go around the house without her wig on making a joke about it. Our running gag was that if our famous relative Luis Taruc was HUKBALAHAP, she was HUKBO LAWA :-) (cause she had no hair). Or we would kid around about her neck having to be amputated. Our family has a really weird sense of humor.

If anyone of us had any doubts or fear, we just didn’t talk about it. Not to her. Not to each other. I don’t know if that was good or bad. But, that’s the way it was.

It was probably because taking about it would acknowledge the sickness. It was like dealing with the sickness beyond the necessary (like somebody had to take care of my sister when she was throwing up) would have made the sickness more real. To have acknowledged the possibilities would have been really, really difficult to deal with.

During that entire period – it was just my sister and I going through everything. Our mom had to work. Our dad had also just recently had a stroke leaving him partially paralyzed.

I accompanied Grace to all her treatments. We were living in Laguna. Her doctor was in Makati. We would take the two hour bus trip every month for her chemo. Even before we began the trip, my sister was already sick with trepidation. She hated her treatments. In the bus, she would hold on to me with cold, clammy fingers.

When her treatment was done, she would leave the doctor’s room looking like the blood had been sucked out of her. She’d rest for a few minutes and then we rode the bus back home again. One thing I remember from those trips is that we were worried that her wig would slip from her head exposing her baldness to everyone. Or – because we both had a flair for the dramatic – we imagined somebody pulling the wig off her hair and passing it around to all the passengers in the bus :-). Fortunately, that never happened.

But all that time, while I never heard my sister complain or pity herself out loud - I don’t think she ever got over hating the treatments even after she was declared in remission.

And now, this coughing all over again. Our friends from the church tell us we must have an expectant faith. So, I claim – even now – my sister’s complete and absolute recovery.The Lord only has to will it and it will happen.

There, that should make things alright.