When You Finally Find Her, Fight For Her

WHEN YOU at long last met her, don’t expect her to instantly reciprocate your smile, affection, and care. She’s been through a lot and she wouldn’t deftly bare the fountain of her being for you to quench your thirst for every imaginable speck of curiosity you have about her. She’s witnessed them all: the mundane, the humdrum, and the lackluster. The passing of time made her deeply understand the footnotes for every arrival and departure; that the goodbyes of some are inevitable and to be replaced in someone’s heart is a thriving possibility.

When you ultimately decided to solemnly know her, expect her to push you away. Prepare not to cruise on a newly furnished highway complete with post lights and signs but be introduced into a concrete jungle of questions and uncertainties. There will be bricks and tests and sobbing. She easily trusted some people before but they betrayed her and like the morning mist along the shores, no trace of them can be found anymore. Yes, they left without any explanation with all their vows and promises.

When your paths at length crossed, always remind yourself that you only have one chance to be with her. In a world clad with so many options and choices, it’s facile and tempting to believe that someone will come along after her; that there’s a better, more alluring, and more brilliant soul waiting for you; that beyond the horizon is somebody else who’s a better fit to your personality. The truth is, there will always be someone more quick-witted, funnier, and exquisite than her. But remember that she’s more than the generalizations you can imagine. She’s greater than every conceivable affirmative adjective that your mind can pinpoint and grasp.

When your hearts eventually encounter each other, do everything to keep her. Focus on the little things and then to the complex, the grandeur, the complicated differences in your beliefs, principles, and roots. There’s excitement in novelty, in the realization that after a long time of waiting, you’re in each other’s arms. The days and the nights will be unlike before. The sun will shine brighter, everything will feel lighter, and the moon and stars will be clothed with poetry and rhymes. The clouds will have rejuvenated meanings and symbolism and together, you’ll joyfully search for their formations rudderless flowing above. Suddenly, you’ll dance with her under the pouring rain with a kind of music not dictated by external devices but by the voices entangled within you to celebrate life, to forget for a moment all the worries and frustrations both of you should endure.

When you, at last, see her, you may sense discomfort, banishment, and dismissal on her part. Over time, she has convinced herself that she won’t be needing anybody else in her life. She’s strong and confident and equipped with her dreams and passions. Doubts will enter your consciousness on whether you’ll pursue her or not. Recognize that if she’s gone this far, why would she crave for someone to be with her? But no matter how strenuous she is, be there for her. Be courageous and determined. Show your sincerity. Cheer her up, support her, and open her mind to a world she’s never been to before. Prove to her that being alone can be a thing of the past; that you have arrived.

Because when you finally found her, no matter how thirsty and yearning and hankering you are to discover the reservoir of the fountain of her being, you have to be patient. Brace yourself. Stand next to her. Pitch your most cherished coin. Listen. Splatter…

And when you’re both ready, drink.

(Thought Catalog published this piece on the 19th of April 2018.)

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Spirited Away

“It was always an emotional ride from the entrance of the cemetery to his grave close to the center. Spirited away, I succumbed to flashes of memory: his laughter while watching a Dolphy show, his chicken tinola, his low, manly voice, our weekend afternoon sessions of counting the number of white, curly hairs I could pluck from his head, which was directly proportional to the number of pesos I would earn to buy my favorite orange drink and biscuits.”

WEEKS AFTER my father passed away when I was in grade school, I raised a question to our catechist, Ms. Y: “Where does a spirit go after a person dies?” My classmates and I were then sitting on the steps in front of a Catholic church in the financial capital. Ms. Y responded: “Ben, he’s in heaven with God. He’s watching over you. Pray to him every time.” Still baffled, I followed up with more questions: “But will he be bothered if he sees me getting low scores or failing grades, or unable to submit projects on time because of his absence? Does that mean that the dead still think about us, the living? Do they still have problems in heaven, a supposed worry-free paradise?”

At a loss for answers, she moved on with her discussion. But I did not.

In this Catholic nation, it’s instilled in the majority that we should observe Undas, a holiday where families visit cemeteries to lay flowers and light candles on the graves of their loved ones, to honor them.

I still vividly remember how every year after my father’s death, I took on the task of repainting his grave a week before the holiday at the Manila South Cemetery. With a small towel covering my nose to avoid inhaling the vapors from the white paint, I gleefully sang to my father some Fernando Poe Jr. songs, to bond with him, to reminisce on the old days, to feel his presence. FPJ, known as “the King of Philippine Cinema,” was his favorite actor.

After painstakingly removing the wild grass that had grown around his grave, I talked to him, whispered my dreams that I hoped he’d help me realize, and asked him to guard and guide us, especially my mom who had to take on the gargantuan role of being father and mother of the family after he left.

It was always an emotional ride from the entrance of the cemetery to his grave close to the center. Spirited away, I succumbed to flashes of memory: his laughter while watching a Dolphy show, his chicken tinola, his low, manly voice, our weekend afternoon sessions of counting the number of white, curly hairs I could pluck from his head, which was directly proportional to the number of pesos I would earn to buy my favorite orange drink and biscuits.

Years later, I questioned everything.

As a once devoted and proud Catholic, I became more inquisitive about things of the spirit, religion, faith, and the Bible when I entered college. After rereading Jose Rizal’s novels, “El Filibusterismo” and “Noli Me Tangere,” confusion plagued my mind. Rizal is our national hero but I wondered why most of us don’t heed his words. We even have “Rizal” as a required subject in tertiary education, to delve deeper and study his life and works, to learn from him, to inculcate in us the virtues of an exemplar of Filipino brilliance and excellence. But do we understand him? Have we realized the principal reason he was banished, with all his might and courage, from the face of the earth, which we commemorate every Dec. 30? Are we blind to historical facts?

On page 72 of the “Noli,” Rizal wrote: “But now, let’s see how the idea of Purgatory, which is absent from both the Old and the New Testaments, became Catholic doctrine. Neither Moses nor Jesus Christ make the slightest mention of Purgatory…” Yes, purgatory is never mentioned in the Bible. A quick search in your electronic Bible can prove this to you. The question then is: Where did the doctrine of purgatory come from?

What about the scrapping of the doctrine of limbo by then Pope Benedict XVI when he authorized the Catholic Church’s International Theological Commission on April 22, 2007, to publish a 41-page document titled “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die without Being Baptized”? In an article written in Rome for Telegraph.co.uk, Nick Pisa reported: “Babies who die before being baptized will no longer be trapped in Limbo following a decision by the Pope to abolish the concept from Roman Catholic teaching.”

Why do we have to light some candles, thick and thin, big and small, during Undas? Why do some Catholics steal and disrespectfully recycle the very candles of their fellow Catholics that are believed to illuminate the path for their deceased? Why are we made to believe that our departed loved ones are guarding and guiding us from heaven? Isn’t it true that the dead know nothing, as what’s written in Ecclesiastes 9:5 (New International Version), “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten”?

For hundreds of years people have been made to believe in doctrines that have no basis in the Bible. Worse, these are just invented teachings that go against the principles of truth and justice. But to no surprise, when I brought this up to the other members of my Catholic family, they were caught uninformed. Because of fear for our souls to be condemned, we grew up following our leaders without testing or asking them, and, like a sail in a vast ocean with no map, GPS tracker, or a virtuoso captain to follow, we’re clueless on why we practice or celebrate centuries-old traditions.

While it is true that we’re a democracy and that our Constitution protects our freedom to choose and practice a religion, it is time to rethink our stand and course. We’re living in a world where access to information is encouraged—something nonexistent when the greatest Filipino who ever lived challenged those in authority in his time using his proverbial pen as his sword. Yes, there’s fake news. Yes, deception is rampant. Yes, it’s an uphill battle to get to the bottom of things. But today, more than ever, we have a duty to get to the truth, for veracity to shine, not just for other people but for our own sake—for our souls.

The choice is in our hands.

And with God’s grace and mercy, someday I hope to talk to my father again. No, not in this world, not next to his grave, or while sitting in front of another Ms. Y, but with the almighty Father in heaven, in his paradise.

(This piece has been published in Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Op-Ed section – Young Blood – on the 31st of October, 2017.)

9. Birthday bash!

“Because each year is not promised. Open yourself up. Choose to be free.”

ALTHOUGH IT’S something that has been planned weeks ago (and even if it’s in my Outlook calendar), still, attending a birthday bash at work adds a sense of enjoyment inside.

There are games and songs and Q&As and strangers in a room full of balloons, cakes, and gifts wrapped in variety of colors. But do you know what’s more exciting than these things? It’s the chance to be reminded that one day in the past, you were born, may be, surrounded by relatives and nurses and doctors who were all smiles looking at you – the newest arrival, the cutest creature, the innocent one. It’s hard not to put value into it. It’s difficult to comprehend everything that had to happen for someone like you to exist: your parents met, they fell in love, decided to raise a family, hardships and challenges in between. They never cowered to face life head on to nurture you, to give you the best life they could give, that you may grow up to be a good person. Again, good. Good which sometimes we take for granted because of the menacing distractions around us.

And so, if you’re in your twenties, or thirties, or in your senior years, give yourself a break, play and jump and laugh just because you want to as you completely cross-out the 365 days that have passed. Because each year is not promised. Open yourself up. Choose to be free. Be birthday bashed!

Collision

IT’S NO longer a question of who’s braver, of who made the first move, or of who wrote the first letter. It’s all about how your universes collided. It’s about that one moment you saw each other differently; when the sun started to shine brighter; when time seemed to pass by faster; when you pictured the future together with no ounce of doubt in between. It’s the certainty of us at each sunrise that makes other things secondary like transitory blank slides. It’s about choosing each other every morning as you take life’s unpredictable rides.