My mind traveled far, instantly.
Nostalgia comes from a memory of a past that surfaces in us at some point in our lives, not necessarily painful, yet compels us to remain in our state of longing.
A good friend of mine is currently working on completing her second book of visual storytelling. She is an incredible artist. She has asked me what I thought the word "dor" meant.
My mind traveled far, instantly.
Nostalgia comes from a memory of a past that surfaces in us at some point in our lives, not necessarily painful, yet compels us to remain in our state of longing.
For over forty years, I practiced a career I did not choose but did it for the sake of my parents and siblings. Then I got married and kept doing it to support my family, especially under such circumstances where I became, unexpectedly, a single parent of three young children. Years passed and I thought my life was enough, only to realize that my true dream had never died.
Eighteen years ago, I ‘dropped everything' I was doing and made a decision to follow my heart. I resigned from my position as Director of Nursing in a 250-bed residential facility for addicted and HIV positive clients. I took a night job in order to pursue my studies in performing arts and writing. Pursuing studies in music and vocal performance was one of the brightest highlights of my life, despite the sleep deprivation I had to endure. In the last eighteen years, I’ve juggled two careers, switching day and night to cover both fields of work. Recently, I published my first book and am now ready to publish my second. I have performed solo concerts in cities worldwide whenever opportunity presented itself. Yet I still do not feel I’ve given it my all.
I needed to go through phases of fear, self-doubt, sacrifice, self-criticism, insecurity, and uncertainty -- none of which triumphed over my hungry soul. Courage persevered. Some call it leap of faith but I call it being faithful to my truest self.
With bittersweet emotions I am saying goodbye to my first career which has helped me live throughout many trials and successes. It was in this career that I found my niche in two unique fields of specialty, Psychiatric and Addictions nursing. This was where I discovered my strongest talent in human interactions while taking care of the mentally ill in his darkest moments. It was as if God thought my blessings were not enough so He sent many angels in the person of my bosses and colleagues who offered me a miracle job where physical distance was not an obstacle. In the last seven years, I’ve traveled all over the world without having to miss a day of work. I feel empowered making an income while sharing an unsettling lifestyle with my husband as a 'trailing spouse.'
Fifty-two years have been a lifetime of waiting. Having learned the virtue of patience, I embraced the life I was given. Through all its struggles, tragedy, and disappointments, I’m able to see beauty. I find love. Today I’m finally welcoming my new life as a full time artist -- poet, singer, stage performer, and writer. In order to feel fully alive, I have to keep pursuing my calling. Dreams don’t die on their own... we kill them.
I wake up sprinting out of bed every morning with my mind filled with thoughts. Lofty thoughts. Inspiring. These same thoughts brought me to a deep sleep the night before. Rituals form out of tasks. Having my first sip of steaming coffee, making my own savory breakfast while spending a few moments staring at the sun rays streaming through my curtains, allow me to feel privileged, abundant and rich. No, I’m not talking about money for I don’t have much. What I am blessed with is the time and ability to create beauty. My inner voice says, “Follow your calling and things will always work out if you have faith. Work hard. Master your craft.”
People in my outer circle see me as someone different. Some call me “weird.” Isolated. I am an introvert who loves to be with people. I am a mother, wife, sister, caregiver, friend, student. I do things for reasons not quite understood by onlookers.
Music is my refuge when the outside world gets harsh. When disappointments get in my way, I look at the flowers and rests in the comfort of the written word. I often struggle in my journey of imitating life in a painting. Poetry is my best friend and singing is my healing chant. Dance is one language I use to express deep emotions. The stage can be surreal yet full of opportunities to gain insights into someone else’s pain and exhilaration. I was born a storyteller. I write and hope that others may see their stories in what I write. This is how I touch other souls. Connection.
Yes, I need to get reminded that I am a but a speck in a vast creation.
I seek to find the extraordinary in the mundane. At times I have failed and have learned to do better. A few times I have reached success. My journey is endless.
I am an artist.
I was twenty-three, married, with a one-year old son and a newborn daughter. Our business was failing. Bills were mounting. Despite our hesitation, my husband and I approached his wealthy aunt to ask if she could loan us some money to make both ends meet but… she told us, “No.” At that point I knew that we had reached an unexpected crossroad. A decision had to be made and it had to be done fast. Right there and then I knew as a mother I would have to make the worst sacrifice of my life.
I mailed a handwritten note to my former employer in South Florida informing them that I was interested in applying for a position in their institution. The written requirements were easy to fulfill, I thought. Four weeks later I received my work visa. It would expire within six months from the date of issue.
I nervously counted the months without wanting to know the real answer to my question. The expiration date meant that my baby would then be only six-months old! All I could think of was that I was leaving her. Could I do it? Immediately I gathered all my strength to convince myself that this was the right thing to do, the only thing I could do. I went into a stoic mode, one skill I’d learned as a young child when my father was in a bad mood. I thought only of the practical steps needed to prepare for the day I leave. I started losing weight slowly and steadily. After a couple of months, I went from a hundred pounds down to ninety. Doctors could not find any diagnosis related to my weight loss. One said it was post-partum depression. I was losing my appetite. At one point the scale showed eighty -six pounds. My husband and I became worried thinking I was seriously ill. We consulted one medical specialist after another and every one of them told us that all diagnostic tests showed normal results.
The next four months were spent mostly in preparing for my departure. I took continuing education credits in order to reactivate my nursing license. My husband and I scraped off what remained in our small savings. He started to get more aggressive in his process of collecting overdue loans from his clients. Despite all these efforts our funds were still not enough to cover my airfare and miscellaneous expenses. Somehow we eventually were able to borrow additional funds from another relative who trusted me because she knew I was offered employment in the US.
There was a part of my brain that I had to turn off so I could function without falling apart. Many times I found myself staring at my son and my baby and wondering how long I would last not seeing them. There was a certain question I wanted to ask myself but did not dare to for fear of knowing the real answer. I decided to offer large amount of money to the babysitter. I asked her to take care of my children and to not leave them for any reason. In return I would give her the promised amount when I come home. I was relieved when she did not ask me when that day would be.
On the day I had to leave I instructed everyone but my husband not to see me off. I felt numb all over as I started heading to the bus stop with my baby’s sitter walking along with me and holding my baby. She was quietly looking at me. I cried silently with no tears coming out of my eyes. My husband understood how I felt without saying a word. At this moment I discovered that somewhere between emotion and devotion there is a place where sacrifice takes on the face of love. It becomes love. It is nothing but love. I wanted nothing more but to secure the future of my children. It was then or never.
The bus ride from my town to the international airport lasted ten hours. Manila International Airport has witnessed two of my significant departures. The first one had something to do with honoring my parents’ wishes and leaving behind my fiancé. This time it was all about leaving my baby girl and my son. I weighed nothing more than eighty-six pounds on that day and yet I felt the weight of two hundred. The last image in my mind was my baby’s face with her eyes in a questioning look thrown at me at the bus stop. My son was quiet and could not grasp the idea of where ‘mommy was going with a big luggage.’ He kept asking me where I was going. I kept telling him, “I’m coming back soon.”
The flight to Miami was longer than usual due to multiple stopovers. I could not sleep during the trip. Exhausted and sad I arrived in Miami International Airport thirty six hours later. I patiently waited by the curb for my cousin who promised to give me a ride to the nurses’ dorm in Miami Beach. Thirty minutes passed and I started to notice that most of the passengers I have traveled with were gone. I decided to wait longer patiently and sure enough, my cousin finally arrived, quite exasperated.
“Bles, I did not realize that that was you standing by the curb! I drove past you three times. I did not recognize you! What happened?!”
I tried to answer her question but nothing came out of me. In my mind, only flashes of worry, stress, exhaustion, emotional pain, sadness, and regret remained.
It was pure déjà vu entering my old nurses’ dorm. Every image I remembered about it seemed unchanged except myself. This time I felt torn and battered. The following morning, I anxiously reported to the Human Resources department. Sitting patiently while trying to resist shivering in the chilly room, I finally felt I have passed through the worst trial in my life. After reviewing my employee file this one lady turned to me and said, “Your priority date is set for next month.”
I had to ask her what priority date was. She said, “You are set to be interviewed to receive your green card.” I froze. I did not want to believe her. I wanted to find logic in everything I heard. Then I remembered the countless hours my former roommate and I spent at the Immigration Building in Downtown Miami, filling out piles of documents. She has been smart enough to see that I would need it in the future. When my initial shock faded I realized that I no longer would be worrying when to see my family again. Still I found no logic to what was happening. I could only believe one thing. On that day my life was blessed with a miracle!
The images of the day I left my babies have stamped an indelible mark in my memory. It serves as a reminder of how much I have endured as a young mother and a realization of how much love I am capable of giving to my children.
Decades later I felt overjoyed witnessing the birth of my second granddaughter, Meliya. Her mommy knows the story of how I left her when she was only six-month old. She vows to never do what I have done.
A recent event held in our community here in Frankfurt, has given me an opportunity to speak in front of a crowd about how I see the world. Below is an excerpt from my 'Opening Remarks' for an event celebrating National Poetry Month.
I know that poetry is not only found in the written verses, or in the rhymes that shape it; It's not only heard in the lyrics of a song nor seen as movement in a dance, or the sound of harmony in a chorus.
So what is Poetry? What is its origin? How did it all begin? Many may not see it the way I do…but I see poetry everywhere. I believe that the origin of poetry is primitive. It is as primitive as the innermost vibrations of our beings. I see poetry as this daily flow and rhythm we create as we conduct our ordinary lives… right here in our neighborhood, in our own community. It is the friendships that we make, the sacrifices we take, the sound of our laughter... sometimes it's in the tears we shed.
Isn’t it poetry when we hold our children’s hands as we take them to the bus stop every morning, or as we guide them with our watchful eyes when they take little steps on the street? Isn’t it poetry when we serve our husbands dinner and see them off to the door before a long travel? Isn’t it poetry when a husband volunteers to watch the babies for a few hours so his wife can spend her personal time alone or on a girls’ night out?
Poetry is also found in times spent caring for the sick, or saying goodbye to a loved one.
Maybe poetry for you means just seeing your little baby take his first steps, or hearing your daughter sing for the first time…or dance on stage.
Poetry lets us feel a certain pulse, unwritten cadences that share the rhythm of our emotions. It does not end. Poetry happens as we breathe… it matches our heartbeats. It does not stop even when we’re sad… disappointed… betrayed…cheated… robbed. Comes the next morning, as we awake and get up, we do it all over again. We go on with our flow. Our rhythm.
Poetry is everywhere. It is in us. We’re all poets. Not everyone may write verses and rhymes but everyone rides on its waves. The flow and rhythm of life.
Comforting sounds. Typical colors. The refreshing and familiar scene of friendly people makes it easy to laugh along among the waves of smiles. My years of absence have instantly made me fond of the noisy interaction that is creating an almost pleasant chaos. Here, I am one of them: brown-skinned, petite and dark-haired. Exotic, a word I have grown to identify with for many years now, is no longer appropriate.
As I stare at the carousel carrying luggage and oversized brown boxes labeled “Balikbayan”, I can feel the energy and jolts of excitement that propel every hand that grabs them. Emerging from long, tedious flights I see faces which reveal eagerness to bring home gifts labeled “made in USA” to their loved ones. “Stateside” is a word uttered with pride, despite the haggard faces of the sleep-deprived. I remember one such woman who sat beside me during my flight. Tina, is in her forties, still single and seems content being so, something unusual for a Filipina of her generation.
“I have been traveling for 24-hours…my boss paid for my airline tickets which gave me 8-hours of layover in Bangkok. He said this was the cheapest deal.” Tina uttered to me, wearing a gracious smile and dark circles around her eyes. “You know, this is the first time in five years that I’m coming home. We had three deaths in the family within this time but I continued to work because I needed the money to help them.” She added, sounding somewhat resigned.
I told her I was based in Miami, Florida and handed her my card. Her face lit up as she went on telling me she had received job offers from Miami as a caregiver. The word, “caregiver” made me excited as well, but something stopped me from telling her that I have been a registered nurse in the US for the last twenty-five years. Perhaps, I did not want her to feel jealous of my relative fortune. At this point, old emotions came flooding inside me.
At 22, I too traveled for 28 hours to find work abroad and find success for myself and my family. I felt so alone then, like being thrown to the wolves of unfamiliarity, novelty, and culture shock that bit me all over. Eventually, the wolves swallowed me until I succumbed to an involuntary transformation. Losing sight of my home and country land was just the first among the many trials of my personal strength and adaptability. There were many others.
I remember well the night I arrived at the Miami International Airport, being greeted by a cardboard sign bearing my name in bold letters. The man in white and blue uniform held it firmly as he sighed with relief when he saw me wave my hand. He took me in a van and drove me to the nurses’ dormitory near the hospital where I was contracted to work. The room was clean and furnished, lamps were lit, the bed was dressed in white sheets, and a small dining table was filled with food that included various fruits, a whole roasted chicken, and fresh bread. An impressive welcome; I felt important.
My first day of work in an American hospital flabbergasted me. I found out that there was more than one “American accent”. To my foreign ears the words did not sound as written, or as I had studied them. I was terrified to take telephone orders for fear of making a grave mistake. The straightforwardness and seemingly aggressive attitude of my American colleagues sounded disrespectful of my feelings. The loud and harsh voices of some of the doctors did not meet my professional expectations. It took months before I learned how to laugh at their jokes, understand their wit and relate to the direct, fast-paced American culture. I found Americans to be very social, fun-loving and using their humor made the process of acclimation to my new environment much easier to bear.
It was initially a huge and overwhelming sacrifice on my part to be an obedient child. Having known what I wanted to be since I was 12, I reached out to my father to buy me a piano, but instead, he had handed me back the Filipino ‘American Dream.’ I was devastated.
Being the oldest of six younger siblings, helping them finish grade school, then high school and ultimately college was my parent-imposed code of conduct. Perhaps, everything would have been just a simple adventure, instead of a personal sacrifice, if I did not have to leave my fiancé and love of my life behind in the Philippines. I promised him I would be away no more than three years, the same promise I gave my parents. That was nearly 25-years ago.
My thoughts brought me far. My life went far.
In America I found a new perspective, career success, love, and rewards I could never have imagined as a little girl who simply dreamed of singing and playing the piano. Now 17 years of being a wife and mother offered me its own rewards: a warm home filled with love.
Life’s plans can be either prearranged or serendipitous according to one’s personal point of view. Eventually I had to surrender to the reality that I don’t own it, that life is something that happens regardless of my plans. Cancer took my husband away, leaving me with three young children to raise. In spite of this tragedy I chose to embrace my newly single lifestyle, and foster a perspective which would allow me and my children to see the world as an endless opportunity for changes. Nothing, I thought, could be more painful than losing a life partner. I asked myself, why would I be afraid of change? That moment, I realized that life would never stop sending surprises, so fighting it was futile and not the key to winning. I decided to embrace change with love. Welcoming change became my new philosophy in life. This may be one of the most ferocious wolves of transformation that bit me when I was new in America. This same wolf has turned out to be my faithful friend. Perhaps this is an American philosophy. In this country where I have grown and evolved as my own person, the common mantra is that ‘change is inevitable’ and that change can be exciting.
Grieving the loss of my beloved husband took its own course. After grief had lifted its dark veil off my mind, I left my job of seventeen years which led me to learn sales, public speaking, and networking. I was placed in leadership positions to serve the civic community. My circle of friends widened to various nationalities as I continued to appreciate the warm presence of diverse people. Miami was the perfect venue! I was fondly nicknamed “merry widow,” a rather lame description of my rapidly evolving life. Parenting became a tough challenge in a cross-cultural home with three teenagers, which then, enlightened me to yet another truth. I could not follow my parents’ methods of discipline. I needed to evolve in that area as well, I decided. We were no longer in the Philippines. My children and I were dealing with issues, trials, and tribulations that were happening in an environment that was totally different from where I was growing up as a teenager. I decided to raise my children the “American way,” if there was such a thing. I simply followed my intuitive instincts, creating my own formula for successful parenting - democracy with limits. It was the best decision I ever made.
Years passed. My children learned how to make and manage their own schedules – schedules which no longer included me. I found myself alone, with no more kids in tow. Definitely not the Filipino lifestyle I was raised in, but it worked.
Spending time by myself more often made me get in touch with my old love and passion. One afternoon, I drove by a conservatory and it made my heart long for the day when I could sing again, dance again –perform like I’d used to. I had no more excuses. I could buy my own piano, pay for music lessons, my siblings were on their own, and I had no children to clothe or feed. I was undergoing a rebirth.
With professional preparation and few years of private lessons, I felt ready to finally reclaim my childhood dream of becoming the performer I knew I could be. I was in my early 40‘s when I auditioned and was accepted to New World School of the Arts in Miami, popularly known as the “Juilliard of South Florida.” With a scholarship to pursue a degree in music with a major in vocal performance, I worked at night and studied during the day. I was passionate, but friends called me crazier than the psychiatric patients I tended in order to pay the bills. Every morning as I drove to school, I murmured my thanksgiving prayers for this rare chance that had fallen in my lap. Someone was paying the cost of my music education so I could sing well! All I had to do was pass the audition and ask for what I wanted. It reminded me of why my father insisted that I come to America. For the first time, the phrase, “America, land of dreams and endless opportunities”, started to make full sense to me. I felt privileged.
I sang everywhere I could with my newfound voice. Classical and sacred music, opera, and languages have always fascinated me. They transport me to the inner world of the spirit.
Romance came naturally in my single lifestyle. I met many gentlemen in social gatherings, community activities, volunteer work, libraries, church, and of course, online! At this time I began feeling attracted again to the idea of male companionship. I loved being a woman, so to speak. Interacting with strangers to get to know someone on a personal level sharpened my communication skills. Dressing up for a nice dinner with a friend became one of my weekend events. Little did I know that no matter how much influence foreign culture had on my life, I still valued my need to be pursued as a woman, an ideal that has been ingrained in my being long before I knew what the word dating meant. As a young girl sitting in my third grade classroom, I was in awe listening to my teacher say emphatically, “The ideal Filipina is demure.”
“Hey, Manay Bles! Over here!” My sister Bel’s greeting brings me back to my present travels.
I see that the carousel has stopped moving. The whole area is cleared of suitcases and balikbayan boxes. My travel mate Tina is long gone. As she walks towards me, I notice that hard work is written all over Bel’s face. Her eyes tell me a thousand stories but only one keeps coming back…that one summer day in the campus of Santo Tomas University in Manila many years ago. Her skin looked light yellow against the sunlight… her dress, slightly faded in color, her sunken eyes had fear in them that was camouflaged by a half-formed smile. She stood quietly with an unbalanced gait that made me question if she was weak and hungry.
Her hesitation made her lips quiver as words finally came out, “I eloped. I’m pregnant.” I felt the need to read her lips as words were almost inaudible.
This thought suddenly melts with the sight of my nephew, my sister’s youngest son. Bel glows with pride telling me that her oldest son is now a civil engineer in Dubai, his brother, a lawyer, and her third son, a Fine Arts Major. She herself is a Geodetic Engineer, managing huge government projects. As I drag my suitcase into my sister’s car, I notice that her car looks expensive and her way of dressing shows self-confidence with a fashionable touch. She has come a long way in life. I have, too.
I am a proud Bicolana. A bus ride by day gives me the most scenic view of mountains, palm trees, calm seas, fishermen working their nets…and of course, the most awaited stop at that restaurant famous for its nilagang bulalo, (stewed beef bone marrow). Every traveler driving on South Road from Manila to Bicol finds this stop strategically timed. My anticipation of home is heightened most as I reach Naga City. Its streets bring back the image of myself as a young girl in white uniform loudly chanting, “Viva la Virgen!” Santa Isabel University, my Alma Mater, still stands elegant with its century-old walls but is no longer exclusive for girls. I feel fortunate having had the privilege to spend several years behind those walls when it was exclusive for girls but I feel sad as well, knowing that it had lost the one most special thing it could offer to young girls – the uniqueness of an all-feminine influence.
Roads leading to my hometown seem unchanged. The rough pavement does not bother me as I revel in the sight of the rice fields boasting golden grains ready for harvest. Mount Isarog, set in the heart of Bicol, overlooks my hometown like an ever-watchful mother, just like it was when I ran in those fields. This mountain has witnessed the quiet disappearance of my childhood. Made visible only by the flickering kerosene lamps, the nipa huts and their silhouettes at dusk are like impressionistic art. Familiar faces look older, while some souls departed long ago in my absence.
As I look back at the last 25 years, I realize that I have spent more of my life in America than in my homeland. This time I feel the strange need to belong again to my surroundings as I find myself no longer demure and timid unlike most of my old friends and relatives. They tell me I have changed and that I have become straightforward and fully expressive, saying it with a negative bite to it. What has become of me... I do tend to reflect. I am a product of multicultural upbringing, travels, life tragedies and successes, and the constant processing of insights gained from these experiences. I am truly grateful for having been enriched by the fusion of these values, both cultural and personal.
Although I was absent for decades from my beloved town, its old traditions set against the mellow temperament of its people have laid the foundation for me to become the person that I am today – mother and caregiver, poet, singer, artist. I am an heir to its legacy of spirit so rich as to sustain me for a lifetime.
My final thoughts fade into the blazing sunset.
“Blesnak, is that you?!” A familiar voice calls me by my childhood nickname. His smile brings back the freshness of his youth and mine.
At last I am home. Sweet home.
Twenty years. I slowly count the years that I have missed my dear cousin Nen and my little niece Vanessa, her only daughter. A clear image of them still lingers… we were seated on the front row of the church where we celebrated the funeral mass for Andy, my first husband. Vanessa was only nine then. Nen is not a relative by blood but I call her “cousin”, a word aptly made for someone who is the reason I have met the father of my children, her cousin. She has been there with me, from the beginning of my budding youth to the end of my innocence that has been brought on abruptly by the reality of death. For twenty years I have wondered about her silence.
The day I first met Nen was the same day I started my nursing practicum, a program mandated by then Philippine President Marcos, where new graduate nurses would serve the rural areas for six months while waiting for the results of the Nursing Board exam. She and I, along with three other nurses filled the small health unit in my hometown with the glare of our white uniforms. We could hardly contain our eagerness to practice what we have learned in nursing school. We were immediately oriented to our new duties by the rural health unit medical practitioner who has assumed the role of mentor. At the end of the first week , our duties were no longer limited to sterilizing needles and syringes. Our health care team started making trips to remote barrios involving walking on rice paddies, to provide children’s vaccinations. Every visit ended in a feast on staples like boiled camote, grilled corn, and tropical fruits. The barrio captain in each community we visited would serve as the proud host. We felt important. Little did I know then that Nen, besides being my new colleague and friend, would be playing a more significant role in my future.
She introduced me to Andy when I attended the annual fiesta in her hometown. My adult life began.
Since then, each day I went to work, Nen would greet me at the door and hand me a red notebook. Inside were poems written by Andy for me. For each poem I read I responded by writing another. This literary exchange went on until there was not a page left to write on. Somehow this romantic activity made the six months pass more quickly than we imagined. Six months felt like six days. Suddenly they were gone. Our next big question was what to do next with our young careers. Nen and I decided to go to the big city only to realize later that the life we found in Manila was not enough. We looked for employment abroad and ended up in Florida. As roommates in the hospital’s nurses dormitory, we became family and endured the first impact of homesickness together. On warm evenings we would stroll along the bay behind our building, watching the horizon display Miami’s skyline which reminded us of Manila Bay. We missed our families terribly.
In less than a year, Nen felt an urge to move out of Florida and join a friend in the West coast. Shortly after we separated I decided to return home to marry Andy. My family was shocked but was accepting of my decision. I was twenty-two then. Life was simple.
Just as I thought I would be content in my provincial life, some truths slapped me in the face so hard that I decided to go back to Florida. As soon as paperwork was complete and visa documentation was ready, I moved my whole family overseas. It took only a few months and everyone seemed to have naturally embraced their new lives. We learned how to be Americans. All this time I have not heard from Nen. One day as I was revising my old phone book, I came across her old work number. Hesitantly I dialed it and was greeted by a pleasant sounding voice who asked me to hold for five minutes only to be told that she was not available. Weeks later I tried again but was unsuccessful. I was disappointed yet deep inside I knew she must have had a good reason for her self-imposed distance. I accepted and respected her choice.
Twenty years later, it took only one message and one response through the most unlikely (or most likely this time) “venue.” I found her! Little Vanessa is getting married… in Lisbon… and all I could say was, “Yes, I’m coming!”
My thoughts brought me back to where I am now.
Suddenly I hear myself practicing Schubert’s Ave Maria as requested by the bride. Rummaging through my gowns in the closet. Packing my small luggage. Clicking reservations online for Pestana Palace. Everything feels surreal.
Seeing the city of Lisbon for the first time and anticipating my reunion with my long lost cousin and niece are stirring up such excitement!
Inside the grand St Geronimo Cathedral, Vanessa looks regal in her white gown as she walks down the aisle. The lacey veil trailing behind her, gently touching the tiled floor creates a poetic motion. In my mind I still call her “little Vanessa” even with her five-foot-eight-inch statuesque figure. Rui, waiting by the altar, has the most eager look and dreamy eyes in anticipation to have a glimpse of his queen. The organ music is intoxicating to the point of taking me back to the 17th century as the wedding ceremony begins. He listens to her vows, then he speaks, “I have realized that my one important purpose in life is to make Vanessa happy… because that’s what makes me happy.” As I listen to his quivering voice I feel his genuine love for her, so touching that I am unable to hold back my tears. My scarf is getting damp. I am totally filling up with this inspiring energy that only true love can bring.
Another full circle.
My last day at the palatial hotel has come so quickly. When I knocked at Nen’s door to say goodbye, she was not there. Later I have read a message from her saying she went looking for me to do the same. Fate has intervened. On that same day in Lisbon we both have learned that saying goodbye is no longer an option.
Today seems to be a perfect time to visit the past. This sort of compulsion must have been influenced by my lifelong training in the field of health care where I have gained the habit and skill of post- performance evaluation. In healthcare parlance this process is called quality assurance and improvement. Today I am reminded about the rough crossroads I have trodden in my personal path. They looked insurmountable at the time. I am wondering what and how I did to overcome them. I have asked so many questions that ended with why’s but never found the answers. There was a point when fear was succeeding in paralyzing my self-will, stopping me from wanting anything, and making me lose the desire to dream. Nothing could have prepared me for the face-to-face encounter with life’s vicissitudes. Losing the father of my young children in his prime. Raising three young children on my own. Long, sleepless nights filled with worries. Robotic focus at work. Stretching finances day in and day out. The excruciating process has become a blur in my memory. Here I am decades later, still wanting and dreaming.
Life has been better. I have been cheering myself and everyone around me with this belief until a loud knock started shaking my consciousness lately. Fear has come back and this time it has a different face – and it seems to mirror itself in others, around the world. Violence on the streets. Terrorism and mass killings. Ordinary people and innocent children become unwilling victims. My thoughts run wild. My fear keeps growing because there seems to be nothing that I can do to stop it. Killing seems to be looking much easier than sustaining life. I am seeing what could be the worst breakdown in the nature of humanity. I sense common feelings of uncertainty and desensitization on many levels. Maybe a certain amount of denial is necessary for one to keep going and surviving. Another question surfaces… do we have a chance to bequeath a safe world to our young? As a child I thought and believed that all religions were good. As an adult I see how religions can divide instead of unite. Why can’t gentle and forgiving love be the only religion?
I still find no answers.
Sometimes when hope is thin, I search for my faith and the only way I can find it is to say a prayer. I have learned so many prayers as a young child but this time I am not doing what my teachers have taught me. I am praying differently. No formulas. No script. Only conversations with God. My body stays awake but it’s my soul that speaks, for only it knows the depth of my need. I have learned that prayer is the act of allowing myself to float on the ocean of complete silence while centering all my energy into the core of my being without an iota of ill will, then letting it go into the universe to wait for its return with the gift I am looking for. Imagine if this energy is magnified and compounded by many souls. Imagine how much force that would be to leave the universe with no choice but to respond! This is the science of prayer. My faith tells me to believe in its power.
There is a war being waged in the world outside and within. I have come to a realization that I can control only one of them. That is, the war within. With faith I can live with my fear and feelings of vulnerability. I can get up every morning and face work cheerfully. I can keep on feeling joy in the company of my children and grandchildren, family, and friends. I can keep seeing beauty in the blooms and keep hearing divine voice in music.
My faith keeps me going. Maybe it is what can keep us going. I choose to keep it for there is nothing else left to protect me. Is there?
Remembering a friend with fondness makes me realize that I miss her. Out of all the memories surrounding the times we have spent together, this one evening stands out. It was the first time that I met her husband.
I felt the urge to write my thoughts the next morning...
Last evening I spent my time in a cozy restaurant by the Intracoastal waters with a couple who, I would say, have earned a well-deserved lifestyle of peace, beauty and selected friends. As soon as I entered their residence complex I was impressed by the service of the staff. I received smiles and warm welcomes from all; from the guard to the van driver who picked up residents and dropped them off to and from the restaurant as the whole complex was bigger than I anticipated to see. As we were enjoying our dinner, I hardly noticed the pianist who enhanced the ambiance by playing mellow tunes. The ceilings were high and well-designed with a skylight that generously gave us a gorgeous view of the full moon. What else could I ask for? I became a captive listener to the couple's stories of youth and as I listened I couldn't help myself from imagining how I would become as I get to their age. Her eyes sparkled as she talked about their courtship, he showed a boyish smile as he spoke about his first job during the depression. They both are in their late eighties but I kept seeing two people in their twenties so eager to live their lives! Only a few thoughts kept surfacing- life is too short...time is immeasurable...eternity is real. I kept looking at the landscape outside, lush and green, a wooden gazebo in the center, empty and quiet. Countless hours were spent to create such beauty in order to feed hungry eyes like mine. It reminded me of how elusive time is to so many. Why waste time dreaming? People generally refer to dreamers as unrealistic. I say, dreams are my reality.
Her name is Sylvia.
Travel may be a dream for many but there is another side to travel that I see. Seventeen hours in the air flying “solo” has been a usual occurrence in the last three years. The quiet “alone-ness” during long flights, though tiresome, have added an important dimension to my perspective of travel. This state of obliviousness has provided a unique sense of quietude and allowed me to be a complete stranger to those around me. I call it a break from the automaticity of routine when I could fully immerse in my own thoughts. Lost in my own questions of who I have been in the last few decades and who I want to be in the next few more, I would remain awake with my eyes closed. The sound of the word “few” started to echo in my mind. Years ahead suddenly have become more important than any other. A sense of urgency has filled my intuitive consciousness. I have asked myself, “Is this a problem or is this a call for inspiration?”
Itineraries were long and complicated. Families are spread all over US, Asia, and Europe. I have anticipated being surrounded by family and old friends I have not seen in a long while.
Some of these images I hold so dearly. Camden, my one-year old grandson, would give away the widest smile whenever he sees me after a long absence. He would readily welcome me to his happy place. Such a big boy… a beautiful boy who radiates good nature. Olivia, my nine-month old granddaughter, would look at me with such intensity, her eyes focused on my face, eyebrows crossed, but as I began to talk she would curl her nose, squint her eyes, and turn her lips into a smile only she could make. Funny girl. As I used my self-invented language to communicate with Olivia and Camden, I became a child again! My two daughters who are both new mothers would reassure me that I have been a great one to them. It makes me proud to know that and to witness their own devotion to their children. They, along with my son, tell me so often that I inspire them with my life skills. If only they knew that I’ve never consciously pursued them. Life has thrown them all at me!
From the US to Asia my trip would cover twenty hours of “air time” and with the layover added, that would push it to thirty.
My home province is located just south from the capital city of Manila. I couldn’t help looking out the window as my plane started to descend and prepare to land. The mountains and hills still looked the way I remembered them decades ago. The deep blue color slowly turned green as we approached the runway. It made me wonder how many times those trees have died and regrown, how many storms they have weathered. Having been faithful to these mountains, they have borne witness to my lonely childhood. I have never been more convinced that it was them who have generously endowed me with the spirit of resilience all through my growing years.
Twenty minutes away from the airport is my hometown. As I entered my mom’s bedroom, I greeted her in a loud voice thinking she might not hear me. Her closed eyes made her look like she was asleep. Her caretaker threw an attentive glance at both of us, always ready to bridge the communication gap. It’s been four years since she lost her voice. I always wondered if the woman who loved to laugh with me was still living inside that frail body. Her condition has become my constant reminder of how life cycles fast through our individual journeys.
Unpredictability has a way of making me stop and examine everything I do. A week before I left for my homecoming, I read the most devastating news, an unlikely post from my family on Facebook. I read every word printed in frozen disbelief! My grandniece Anya was only seven, sweet and precocious little girl. A drunken driver in his speeding Pajero took her life. Shock shielded me from pain for a few days. Images flooded my memory of her… her purple dress covered with rose applique, her long hair, her eagerness to go mall shopping with me, her hand-drawn thank you note … those last moments I would be seeing her across from where I sat at the long dinner table. A few days later, I found myself sobbing. I could still hear my grandmother’s words reverberate with unquestionable authority … “Only the rich can afford to cry for a long time. We can’t.” I know that my sisters and my brother have heard them too, as they cried. Yet despite our losses, we seemed alright. We shared stories, our way of “catching up.” We talked about our failures and successes. At these moments I started to realize that they are grown people, not the toddlers I used to bathe, feed, and play with. Oh, how we could laugh in total abandon… something we never did as children. Years of deprivation have taught us to find every reason to savor our hysteric laughter.
My old friends are like time machines that could instantly transport me back to our age of vibrancy and innocence. Their bouquets spoke of affection and a shared past. One hug alone could seal our years of friendship. One of them whom I have not seen for twenty eight years has not changed the smile meant only for me. Another is a revered teacher from high school who has remained my mentor. Visiting my old campus in her company gave me a glimpse of how far I have gone from the naiveté of youth. The tall concrete walls partly hiding the school building stirred up nostalgic sensations. But as I looked around, I was surprised to see that the little bridge in the middle of the campus was not as inviting as it used to be. The little pond under the bridge seemed smaller, no longer shaded by bamboos. I heard no creaking sounds when the wind blew. The Virgin Mary in the grotto remained watchful but silent.
Some old sentiments made me travel farther to bring up deep-seated images of youth. The irony was - I did not recognize my hometown anymore. The grassy roads bordered neatly by the railroad tracks were gone. Commercial buildings took their place. I didn’t see kalesas running on the streets. Did their owners succumb to euthanasia or did the horses die from starvation? What a morbid thought! Daily pilgrimage to the local mall was the common scenario. Starbucks cafés were filled with coffee lovers and Wi-Fi users, young and old alike. Electronic gadgets have been accessible to all, rich and poor. I was seeing decades of progress. My childhood years have become a remote past. Experience. Growth. Wisdom. Somewhere in between these accomplishments aging is an inevitable by-product. Is this success?
Today as I pack my bags for my return trip I feel a sense of longing and anticipated relief. There are a few truths I have discovered in my travels. I have more than one home, maybe two, three, or more and I find them always ready for my return. My homes do not exist in houses, but rather somewhere between time and space where my loved ones are destined to stay forever. I return to each one of them as life cycles over again and again. As transient as life can be, is there a purpose to everything that I do? I know that my time today will be shorter than yesterday’s. Is there an actual goal I must attain or is the ride the goal itself? Perhaps the ride is the book I must read and understand in order to learn. Perhaps learning my value is the first step. As my future legacy becomes more visible, life expands. With a new sense of peace I can reflect on all of life’s possibilities. I can clearly utter the word “older”, something I used to dread doing in front of the mirror. With renewed energy I feel ready to work hard – work on being happy. What feels heaven on earth for me? What makes me want to connect with others, serve others, and make them smile? Music, dance, and poetry are nothing but tools of my trade for this purpose. To live for myself is to also live for others. Success has its price.
So there it is, my travel within a travel. I see that life does not end. Turbulence comes and goes so I must be a willing student to learn how to ease my ride.
Being in my home gives me a sense of security. My home feels warmer. I feel safe here. I’m grateful to my husband for keeping it that way while we’re apart. Winters can be brutal. Then just as I thought I was going to rest, he announces, “I have arranged for our flights to Copenhagen. You’ll love that place!” This time it will be one simple itinerary… and I won’t be traveling alone.
Speak to me!
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