A late Christmas post

Kisses are sparks of love, wonderfully magical. A kiss in Christmas, then, is a shower of magic sparks, radiating the world.

image by the half-blood prince

December is not only the most eventful month of the whole year, but the perfect month during which people can deeply reflect about their spirituality, about life, about the year that has passed, especially since there are so many non-working holidays and it’s Christmas break for us students.

In Theology class, Father reminded us that Christmas is supposed to be celebrating the miraculous birth of a baby boy 2009 years ago who was destined to save humanity. If people are merely celebrating Christmas for love, joy, and peace, Father said they must make another holiday, celebrating love and joy and peace. I giggled at his way of putting it.

He also said some interesting things about Christmas traditions we all have grown accustomed to. Candy canes symbolize Joseph’s cane, where the white is for purity and red is for blood. Wreaths signify eternity. Christmas trees are originally fir trees with green leaves all year that mark God’s everlasting love. Although nowadays, we see white, red Christmas trees, and brightly multi-colored candy canes. We worry about what gifts to give, and stress over gaining weight during the endless parties, amidst holiday ham, sweets, and fruitcake.

Father’s remarks made me wonder how one should really celebrate Christmas. I feel that it’s ironic that we celebrate Christmas but never even once do I hear my family and relatives during Christmas Eve talk about Jesus Christ, wishing him a happy birthday, wherever in heaven He is now.

All these beautiful hidden meanings make me feel guilty that I have been seeing Christmas only on a superficial level. What more are we missing? Christmas is already magical when one looks at the Christmas lights, the night masses that’s special in the Philippines, the shine on one’s eyes as she receives a parcel wrapped in red and green. What more when we think about the miracle of Jesus’s birth, about the hidden metaphors in the Bible story, about why there are twelve days of Christmas, why we celebrate Christmas on December 25, why couples kiss under the mistletoe, why do we deck the halls with boughs of holly (As much as I want to explain the rest here, it would be fun to do your own research)?

Instead, we talked about how the baked salmon and the chicken pot pie were utterly delicious over bottles of red wine. We laughed and about the littlest, craziest matters. Most of the attention fell on my aunt’s own little baby boy Carr, who turned a year old this month. This Christmas Eve became a little more lively with a new member of the family, watching him struggle to balance on his feet, slowly learning to walk by himself. He, like baby Jesus, is so young and innocent, full of infinite possibilities.

Having said all this, I may want to disagree with Father, even just a bit. Maybe Christmas is not just about Jesus Christ. It could also be a time to celebrate life that God (whoever one believes) has given us, and the love that He wants human beings to share and feel. Christmas is also about giving and sharing what we have, to those who need it more. Who says there is only one way of celebrating Christmas?

Christmas will forever be my favorite season. Even though I wish we have winter in Manila, that one day I would wake up seeing snowflakes falling from our window wearing woolen gloves and socks (sewn by Mrs. Weasley??), while I sip on a warm cup of coffee, a Starbucks limited edition Christmas blend. Get it while it lasts, it’s worth the sweet treat. It’s Christmas in a cup. Don’t forget to share! ;)

Merry Christmas everyone! May God bless each and every one of us.

“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.”

– Norman Vincent Peale

The balance of life

Starbucks Cookie Splastphoto courtesy of Siebe

“The true harvest of my life is intangible – a little star dust caught, a portion of the rainbow I have clutched”

~ Henry David Thoreau

“We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”

~  e. e. Cummings

I picture human life as a giant weighing scale. It is a scale that has dozens of plates for things to balance on, instead of the normal two, like in the symbol of the Zodiac sign, Libra. In each plate is a particular activity that people spend time on, such as family, working (whatever “work” means to each of us), exercise, studying, reading, keeping in touch with friends, texting, e-mail, eating, prayer, daydreaming, television, sleep, laughing, getting dressed, thinking deeply, and all other things people preoccupy themselves every single day.

If you want to know how meaningful a person’s life is, you can look how balanced each plate is in his weighing scale, as well as what each plate contains. The diligent student has a heavier serving of Academics than that of TV. A monk pours generous servings of Prayer and Meditation on one plate, have lighter Socializing and Partying ones. The typical fashionista would probably have her Shopping plate overflowing. An unhealthy person forgets to name one plate as Exercise on his scale. The successful yet unhappy one has a greater serving of his Career plate than on Friends and Family. The unconditional mother always manages to have equally balanced plates for each of her children, but not without removing a few servings of Freedom and Travel. We strive to keep our plates evenly balanced, although no one will ever manage to level everything fairly. Balancing life is way more complicated than balancing shiny gemstones on one dish and bars of gold on the other.

Each person’s scale is different. We apportion our minutes and hours on our imaginary scales based on which plate is more important to us. Every day, each plate’s serving is somewhat different than the other. Sometimes, it’s too hard to choose where give out our precious minutes that we simply let the invisible hands of fate and chance do the difficult task for us. Once in a while, they are kind and intuitive. Occasionally, they give us surprises. Oftentimes, they backfire on us.

Daily planners and the iCal on our Macs only go so far as scheduling the things we want and need to do daily. The trickier task of choosing which things to do lie in our hands. When we identify which things are more important, then planning our days is easier, rather than scheduling tasks without considering whether this is really worth our time.

Many a person lets time trickle away like dripping faucet, where a miniscule drop of water drips every few seconds, that no one seems to notice, or maybe even care to fix.

How many times do we let moments fleet away, neglecting to ask, Is this worth my time? Why am I doing this again? How many of us do not consider that minutes lost would eventually amount to hours and days of lost time? I have read somewhere that the average modern person spends 500 hours a year in the car. I am quite scared to compute how many days that amounts to in one lifetime. The average person too, will spend 1/3 of his lifetime sleeping, given that he gets the prescribed eight hours of sleep. How then, will we spend the remaining 2/3 of our waking lives?

With these thoughts hanging, I wonder, what are the things that are truly worth striving for? Why do many people go through their days as if they would live forever? How can we make each second count? As of this writing, I am at a loss trying to find out this perplexing riddle.

American Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Annie Dillard once wrote, “How we spend our days, is of course, how we spend our lives.” Indeed, each day spent wisely and happily is adding one colorful piece to life’s great jigsaw puzzle. We do not know how the completed puzzle will appear, but we can definitely make each puzzle piece as colorful, happy, funny, meaningful, wisdom-filled, and inspiring as we want, one day at a time.

Sadly, we won’t be able to back and remove the pieces already permanently fitted. On a brighter note, we are in charge of what puzzle pieces are within reach, right here, right now.

Regardless of metaphors, it’s eternally difficult to comprehend how every waking moment will add up to the bigger picture. Although I believe looking at the grander scheme of things, even through vague imaginary sketches, would help us gain a clearer view of the long path ahead of us.

We all spend our lives differently, and we all all destined to different kinds of greatness. One may live a full life by loving another person so deeply. One would write books. Another will create monumental art. Others build houses. Some become powerful leaders. If only everyone allots more time doing what they do best. If only each one of us aims just a little bit higher. If only all of us communicate better with people around us. If only we could save a few more minutes each day doing things that truly matter instead of letting it quietly slip through our fingers. If only…

Weighing scales and the essence of time aside, I think each human being all wants to have a healthy balance of the same intangible things: happiness, safety, contentment, a sense of fulfillment, a sense of self-worth, and living with integrity. What’s amazing is, all of these can be attained, all in unique ways. In all cultures. Class. Race. Age. Doesn’t matter.

I worry a lot about not being able to do my best, but I realize that what’s more significant is what meaning I make of each moment I have. It is not about the accolades, the status, the end results of each endeavor. Depth of life is more accurately measured by how we feel about the things that happen to us. By the love we give to others, by the lessons learned. Reflection also helps decipher this. Are we doing what we really want? Are we giving it all, and not holding back? Are we letting go, living freely and passionately? Are we seizing as much wonderful experiences as much as we can?

Although there is always a fine print in the unwritten code of life. That includes sacrifice, responsibility, discipline, hard work, and suffering, however painful these are to us. Besides, challenging tasks amount to something greater than what takes less effort to attain. Then, that is where motivation, determination, and perseverance come into play.

Soft lips kissed, a warm cup of coffee brewed, a prayer whispered, a few tears dropped, a book published, an idea formed, a word uttered, a penny saved. Little things are the stuff of life. We spend the rest of our lives trying to make sure we receive adequate portions of the things that matter. The balance of life. Quite intriguing to think about, isn’t it?

One of these days you’ll be
under the covers you’ll be
under the table and you’ll realize
all of your days are numbered;
all of them one to one hundred.
All of them millions.
All of them trillions.
So what are you gonna do with them all?
You can not trade them in for more.

Take every moment; you know that you own them.
It’s all you can do, use what’s been given to you.

Give me a reason
to fight the feeling
that there’s nothing here for me.
Cause none of its easy,
I know it wasn’t meant to be.
I know it’s all up to me.
So what am I gonna do with my time?

All of the moments you didn’t notice;
gone in the blink of an eye.
All of the feelings you can’t help feeling
no matter how you try.

~ Live Like You’re Dying, Lenka ~

Time to change our lives

the_subtle_yarn_of_hope___by_m0thyykuphoto courtesy of *mothyyku

“Life is not about looking good or pleasing people.”

– Jim Paredes (Probe Profiles featured him tonight. He is simply an amazing artist. He’s another reason for us to be proud to be Filipino.)

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

-A. Einstein

Our lovely planet earth has been frighteningly destructive lately, showing once again how vulnerable humans can be to the powerful elements of nature. Typhoon Ondoy has taken the lives of hundreds of people displaced hundreds of thousands of others in Metro Manila. A few days later, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit Indonesia , destroying infrastructure and leaving thousands of people trapped in rubble. American Samoa and Samoa (I bet a few of us has even heard of these islands before) has also been struck by a tsunami, killing so many people and wiping out whole villages. I am holding my breath as I type this.

It was my first time to wade into knee-deep (sometimes deeper) floods that tragic Saturday. For a moment, I didn’t think of anything but to get to the LRT Station and to get home safely with my dad, who fetched me from Ateneo after my Accounting class that was cut short. Even though the rains were pouring endlessly since the night before, I didn’t expect to see the whole Katipunan Avenue to be flooded, devoid of vehicles, with the gray skies a haunting us from above. Little did I know that this was nothing compared to what is happening to other areas. When my dad and I eventually arrived in the office, we were both soaking wet from head to toe, a clumsy me ending up with a scratched knee and a laptop drenched in floodwater.

In contrast to what other people are going through, I am thankful I got to walk in floods sprinkled with trash and debris (with the occasional cockroach), to be able to sleep on the dirty carpeted floor in the office. A wave of excitement and gratitude fell upon me as we walked again in knee-high floods just to get home the following morning. I thank God for giving me this opportunity to experience a natural calamity firsthand. Staying at home, not being able to know how the endless pouring rains fell on my skin would be a great loss for me.

In a time of calamity, of loss and of people needing help, keeping my QPI up, salvaging a wet Macbook, struggling keeping in touch with friends, are worries that suddenly seem so mundane. Everything could be wiped out in a blink of an eye whether we’re looking or not. I suddenly feel the need to detach myself from all my worldly possessions, to embark on a quest to live simply, to discover the hidden beauty in muddied streets and in a little girl’s hopeful eyes as she looks down from her rooftop, holding on to dear life, to reflect more about what really is important in this world, as were are all but specks in a boundless universe.

The sheer number of people willing to volunteer in relief efforts for typhoon Ondoy is overwhelming, with many comprised of the youth. Through Tweets from Filipinos constantly updating the happenings in relief operations, videos posted on Facebook of volunteers, of stories posted on blogs and in the papers, I could not describe the feelings rushing through me as I witness the greatest values of our humanity that is clearly seen everywhere.

Simplicity. Gratitude. Compassion. The bayanihan spirit of Filipinos.

I see these moments of need and despair as our chance to realign our priorities, to do what is needed to be done,  to take away all the other unnecessary things (Do I really need that extra bar of chocolate?), to think about the world in the larger scale of things: Just how hard can this be, given that other people have accomplished more difficult, impossible tasks and goals before me? How significant are my problems compared to the problems other people are currently facing?

I am extremely frustrated that I have not yet volunteered anywhere. I still respect my parents’ decision though. I know can still help in my own ways. Aside from gathering clothes, slippers and pillows from the attic, I am currently organizing a fund-raising drive in my subdivision. I hope and pray that this would be a success. This is the first time I am going to do this.

There is a quote from a card I keep in my wallet by American educator, orator, author Booker T. Washington, who once said,

Decide to be your best. In the long run the world is going to want and have the best, and that might as well be you.

Imagine if all of us decided to be our best. Then the world would definitely be a better place to live in, wouldn’t it?

To Filipinos out there, go out and do your part. Volunteer. Donate some clothes, books, food, or whatever you can give. Even that box of cookies would make a child smile, and sets you free of some unwanted calories. Those textbooks that are gathering dust in your shelves could be used by a student out there. Little acts of kindness do not go unnoticed. Rebuilding our community together, becoming aware of the needs of other people, is the only way our nation and for all of our lives to get back on track.

I am writing for the victims of the floods, for the people trapped in rubble, for the people starving, for the people struggling so hard just to be able to live. I am writing for our humanity. I am writing for our slowly deteriorating planet. I am writing for the time that has lost by being complacent, by being mediocre, by staying silent. I am writing because at the moment this is the most productive thing I can do. I am writing because I can.

*Sighs* I know I love to write. I just hope writing about things will take me somewhere. Likewise, I hope what I write will be able to touch someone’s life, somewhere.

Have faith, have faith, have faith.

It’s time to act now. It’s time to change our lives.

If you want to know how/where to help Typhoon Ondoy victims, visit this site: http://sites.google.com/site/ondoymanila/home