Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes


Bar life down under: Footy and a beauty contest 0

Posted on July 15, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – July 15, 2018 – 12:00am

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I have been to Sydney many times and have seen and experienced a lot of what comprises Aussie living and social life. I have done a fair amount of what the locals do. I have gone hiking in the forests, gone to the beach many times, gone camping, had numerous barbies (barbecue picnics), celebrated ANZAC day, Australia Day, visited national parks, owned a house, had a job, paid a mortgage, taken countless train and bus rides.

I have also gained Aussie friends, and I feel comfortable with them. They are very friendly and accommodating. “No worries, mate” seems to be one of their national mantras.

Last night, I had a minor experience in acculturation. I went to a bar, watched Footy there and took photos of a modeling contest. This is quite unprecedented for me. I hardly go to bars; I don’t even drink. I’ve never sat and watched more than five minutes of sports on Australian TV. Footy, a very physical contact sport similar to American football but with Australian rules and without the protective gear, is very popular here. But I still have to learn to like it enough to care to watch it. I do not know the teams people cheer for, nor the mechanics of this strange sport called Footy. And as for the modeling pageant, while I have attended and judged a beauty contest here in Sydney before where Filo-Aussies competed, I had never witnessed a beauty pageant with an all-Aussie cast until last night!

Two close friends of mine, Paul and Rissa McIness, brought me last night to the Ettamogah pub here in Western Sydney. We have been there before to eat. The pub/bar is a popular family place because it serves good meals. It is a huge complex. A portion of it is a bar where people just drink. Rissa, an active member of the Filipino community and the Lions Club in Blacktown, was invited to judge the modeling contest. Paul and I tagged along.

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The modeling contest started during the break in the game. The judges, a mixed group of ex-winners, beauty queens and civic leaders, were looking for a Miss Photogenic, a Miss Personality, a Miss NSW, a Miss Queensland, and the big winner who would be crowned and given a sash with “Face of the Origin winner” written on it.
Inside the pub, I could see TV monitors everywhere. People dined and drank while watching the sports match between New South Wales and Queensland. Each time the NSW team scored, the noise level in the bar would escalate so loud with cheers. When the NSW team would lose the ball, people would shout in frustration. It was quite interesting to observe. While we were watching the game, Paul patiently explained everything that was happening. It is a fascinating game. Actually I can understand now how most people can get quite involved and carried away watching Footy, thanks to Paul.

The modeling contest started during the break in the game. The judges, a mixed group of ex-winners, beauty queens and civic leaders, were looking for a Miss Photogenic, a Miss Personality, a Miss NSW, a Miss Queensland, and the big winner who would be crowned and given a sash with “Face of the Origin winner” written on it.

As their names were called, each of the 17 contestants came out wearing skimpy sports clothes. They were all bubbly and gung ho as they presented themselves to the judges. Like most girls who join contests like these, many find the limelight and attention thrilling, maybe even overwhelming. They loved the spotlight and gamely posed for anyone who wanted to take their photos. I could feel their excitement.
I have watched many of these contests before in the Philippines. I noticed a general difference in how Filipinas and Aussie girls presented themselves on the ramp. The Aussies seemed to be more energetic. They had bigger movements. They seemed bolder on the ramp. Some of them actually stretched their arms when they presented themselves. They appeared less shy and seemed more comfortable with their bodies.

I am speaking generally, of course. I have seen some of our own girls back home parade with great confidence, too. But they do it with less “loudness,” if you get what I mean.

After about 40 minutes of the pageant, the game on TV resumed for another 40 minutes. When the game finished, the contestants reappeared on the ramp in bikinis. The pub area was suddenly filled with more people.

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Ettamogah was a curious experience. There is still so much to discover about Australian life. Watching Footy and a modeling contest in a bar may have been just trivial things, but interesting nonetheless.
In my limited observation, nudity and body exposure are not as big a deal in Australian culture compared to ours. There are nude beaches here and no one makes a big fuss, save perhaps for a few tourists. I remember shooting a model with some photographer friends of mine at Bondi Beach. The model made no issue about changing outfits right there by the beach without cover. No one stared, and no one cared. Undressing and dressing in the outdoors is so ordinary here.

Personally, I find it quite healthy when people are more accepting of partial or even full nudity. There is a confidence and even a wholesomeness when people have few reservations about their bodies.

There are so many locations here that are very scenic. The beautiful outdoors can make people feel more carefree. Semi- or full nakedness can be celebratory and liberating.

Ettamogah was a curious experience. There is still so much to discover about Australian life. Watching Footy and a modeling contest in a bar may have been just trivial things, but interesting nonetheless. I opened myself to a new experience and it was good. I even had half a beer. (That wasn’t meant to be a joke.) My understanding of Australia and its people expanded a bit.

I have spent quite some time here over the past 12 years. I like watching politicians debate in Parliament. I still have to experience Aboriginal cultures and ways outside of what I’ve seen in museums and read in books. I also have to get bolder and explore a bit more of the outback and the rest of the continent, among many other things.

Acculturation is when you learn something new from another culture. I love it. It is a never-ending process. The more you learn, the more you understand a bigger chunk of the world and its people.

You also understand yourself better.

My gadgets? My cell phones, my rosary 0

Posted on July 08, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – July 8, 2018 – 12:00am

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I have always been more spiritual than religious. I always felt that most religions place too much weight on dogma, rituals and rites. I am not against rites, rituals and practices as long as they “work,” in the sense that they make you inspired and drawn to the great mysteries that they are suppose to connote. The problem for me is many of them do not take me there. I intellectually understand what they are suppose to do, but they do not inspire me.

As far back as I can remember in my childhood, our family always prayed the rosary. I remember kneeling in our sala with my sibs as my mom led the rosary while facing a statue of Jesus who sits on a throne. Our household help would join us. We would also participate in the Block Rosary ritual where a statue of Mary is passed around the neighborhood and each family leads a communal rosary with a long novena for a few nights.

I also associate the rosary with riding our car. Often, when our family would be riding, my mom would suddenly start praying the rosary. And that was a spoiler since, all of a sudden, a pall of seriousness would come in and change the mood in the car. To counter that, my siblings and I would start singing a few minutes after we got inside the car so that my mom would forget to start praying the rosary. She loved listening to her kids sing.

In grade school and high school, it was the same. We prayed the rosary in school all the time. We were expected to carry one in our pockets. During the month of October, we wore the October medal with blue ribbons in honor of Mother Mary.
The rosary baffled me. I would always ask myself why we had to repeat the “Hail Mary” 53 times, and the “Our Father” six times. And I could never remember the “Hail Holy Queen” prayer, and the “Pour forth we beseech thee oh Lord thy grace…” prayer to end it. For a young man, all this was repetitive, and boring.

Lately, my wife has picked up a new hobby. She has started to make rosaries to give away to anyone who wants them. She spends hours and even days stringing up beads making rosaries. She finds it not only therapeutic but it also gives her a feeling of peace. She feels that it helps the Catholic cause by giving them away.

A few years back, while rummaging through some old stuff, Lydia found my dad’s rosary. My dad died in 1957. He prayed the rosary every day. I don’t know how long he had that particular rosary before he passed on. I remember praying with that rosary a few times. I imagined how many miles my dad’s fingers had traveled through it. I was moved.I felt my dad’s presence. I could feel the holiness and sacredness that this surviving family relic possessed.
When I was going through my decades of cynicism about religion and the Church, I turned to meditation. That became an integral part of my spiritual practice. I got used to silence and watching my thoughts come and go without being attached to them.

Since the new pope came in, I’ve softened my stance somewhat about religion. I started attending Mass again though still not regularly. I again picked up the rosary and started doing formal prayers just like I did when I was a kid. I don’t know why. Perhaps it was this pope’s openness and his liberating views that made me reconsider a few things.

In the late evenings, I like to pray the rosary in the dark. I often fall asleep without finishing it. But it calms me down. Its repetitiveness makes it feel like a mantra. I try to focus on every word. When I say, “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners…,” I add the names of people I know who need prayers. It makes it more meaningful.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not a devotee. Far from it. I don’t do it as a regular practice yet. But I have discovered its power to stabilize me and calm me down. I try to think of all the times the rosary had been prayed over the centuries, and I am awed into humility. There is a power to it.

I remember a classmate of mine saying that after spending most of his life asking big and small questions about life, love and the nature of God, he still ends up going back to his basic catechism and finds the answers there.

I haven’t found all the answers. And I know the answers that I have found so far may not even be the same as those my classmate found. But as an older person now, I am more patient and I can concentrate more when I pray.

I keep a rosary beside my bed and pick it up quite often now. It is there on the table beside my cellphones. My mother would be so proud.

While my modern gadgets connect me to the world, the rosary, I have rediscovered, is still a reliable gadget that can connect me to deep solitude and God.

How to love your enemy 2

Posted on June 24, 2018 by jimparedes

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I am not really sure if it is a poem. You can call it anything you want. But this really hit me.
Artwork by David Mihaly

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – June 24, 2018 – 12:00am
I thought that visiting some of my favorite sites on the net might be a good way to be inspired to write my column this week. I remember saving a screenshot of a page I had encountered on the net years ago. When I reopened it last night, I was again struck by it.

I am not really sure if it is a poem. You can call it anything you want. But this really hit me.

It talks about love, especially how to love your enemies. I like poems, quotes, stories, passages and essays that deal with the harder issues of life. They make me feel more inspired to expand my understanding of the human condition.

For sure, all of us have a few people we secretly wish ill-will on. We disdain and ridicule them. We hate them because of what they had done to us. They have become targets of our hate. We see them as lower than us. These are people we know who want to hurt us or may have actually done so. They have insulted threatened and humiliated us. And often, we dream of the day when karma will bring us face to face with them and we will have the upper hand and we can administer personal revenge in the name of justice.
When I read this, I felt that it cut beautifully into my heart. I thought I should share it with you my readers. Read on.

Another way that you love your enemy is this:

When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy,

that is the time which you must not do it.

There will come a time, in many instances,

when the person who hates you most,

the person who has misused you most,
the person who has gossiped about you most,

the person who has spread false rumors about you most,

there will come a time when

you will have an opportunity to defeat that person.

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Artwork by Richard Day

It might be in terms of a recommendation for a job;

it might be in terms of helping that person

to make some move in life.

That’s the time you must do it.

That is the meaning of love.

In the final analysis,

love is not this sentimental something that we talk about.

It’s not merely an emotional something.

Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men.

It is the refusal to defeat any individual.

When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power,

you seek only to defeat evil systems.

Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love,

but you seek to defeat the system.

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote this. It is a testament to how evolved a man he actually was. Amid all the hatred, discrimination and injustice that surrounded him practically all his life, he had the kindness of heart and the wisdom to not just write something so beautiful like this but to actually live it.

It makes me want to kneel in awe. How can strong people not fight back and do revenge or justice? And yet, he tells us not to. Nelson Mandela was also able to overcome his painful past which was full of injustice and racism. He suffered a lot. But he needed to learn this to lead a racially polarized nation. How did he do it? I don’t know but it takes extraordinary character to be able to rise above personal feelings.

I hope someday when I meet the people I loathe and wish ill will on, I can summon the better of me to be more loving.

It doesn’t count too much when we only love those who love us. That is so easy to do. The real evolved human beings must rise above personal feelings to be able to dispense love to their tormentors because that is actually what they need. This is what it means to love; it means learning to love the unlovable, the ugly and respect even the despicable ones in our midst.

Surely karma will kick in at some point. And that is what we call divine justice, and we hope it really happens to those who have hurt us. But at the same time, we also need a greater consciousness and compassion to stop thinking like this. Let karma do what it must without us having to relish their defeat. Otherwise, we as humans will remain stuck in this cycle of hate forever.

Are you ready? How many of us can say yes right now?

As for me, I am open to the concept. It sounds good and right. But to actually practice it, I need to evolve a lot more.

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/06/24/1827248/how-love-your-enemy#MTAFFPB1cUQFVUl8.99

Why being a dad is like shaving 0

Posted on June 17, 2018 by jimparedes

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Dad’s the word: Author Jim Paredes with (from left) Ala, Mio, wife Lydia, Erica, and granddaughter Ananda

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – June 17, 2018 – 12:00am

I have been a father for 39 years now. Let me tell you, it has been quite a ride.

Being a dad is a multi-faceted job. From the time they are newly born up to age three is a very important phase because that’s when kids are most physically vulnerable. You pretty much do primitive nanny work. I do not belittle this. The work is important and crucial. You help clean them up. You rock them to sleep when mama is too tired. You make formula milk, or feed them breast milk from a bottle. You check once in a while if they are still breathing. You take turns with Mama in taking care of them.

You also make sure they are physically safe from insects or from airborne sicknesses. You make sure they are alive and healthy. You buy food, diapers, medicines, clothes, bibs, tiny shoes that they outgrow very quickly. You bring them to the doctor for their inoculations. All these, and much more. The payback for all the exhaustion and sleepless nights you spend taking care of them is when you see them smile, turn around by themselves, chuckle, crawl, stand, walk, run, and learn other physical skills.

My three kids started pre-school when they were three years old. They were active, curious kids who were always looking for things to do and learn. I personally taught them to read and write, and do math. Throughout grade school to college, they learned their academics quite easily, for the most part.
All that seemed like many decades ago. My daughter Erica is now 39 and has a 14-yearold daughter. Ala is 35 years old, wife to John Buencamino and is a first-time mother to Zadie. Mio is single, a hard-working man who will be turning 30 this September.

Some 13 years, ago, we moved to Australia. Since then they have learned to become very independent. They all earn their own money and pretty much live their own lives.

The three of them all get along easily, often beautifully, although there are times when they disagree and even have shouting matches. That’s normal. I am glad that, somehow, they are able to fix things.

One of the things Lydia and I had impressed upon them from the start is the sense of belonging to this family. They are close to each other and to us, their parents. Throughout their growing years, we constantly told them to look after each other. And thank God they do watch out for each other. When my eldest Erica went through her depression, we were all available and ready to talk or be there if she wanted to open up to us. I am always happy when Erica takes on her ate role and gives advice to her younger sibs. She can be very reassuring to younger sister when Ala has questions about her baby Zadie’s health, eating and sleeping habits, etc. Ala invites Mio to lunches and dinners at her place just to see how he is doing. Mio can be very protective of his sisters, and delights in being a good uncle to their children.
While they have their own secrets, our kids are pretty transparent and upfront when they express themselves to each other. When one of them goes through a breakup, the other two are there for some emotional support.

Our kids often talk to Lydia and me about their lives, their issues with their partners, their dreams and a host of other things. They like to run their plans by us to hear our comments or seek advice. We always lend a listening ear. I am always happy to know where they are at every moment of their life stages.

Erica is now living in Paris with her daughter Ananda. In a few years, my grandchild will probably be very European in her ways.

Ala and Mio have been living in Australia for sometime now. They almost think, talk and act like Aussies. They know their place in this new country. They work hard and I’m pretty sure they, too, will come up in the world. They are great, responsible and reliable adults.

When they ask for fatherly advice, I listen and readily give them my thoughts on the matter, although I do not expect them to follow everything I say. They know that. They must follow their own paths. If they want help, I will certainly be there. I trust they will decide what is best for them. If they suffer pain, I know they will recover.

I remember the time I was in my mid to late thirties. I felt that life was waiting for me to decide what I wanted to be. I felt fearful and challenged at the same time. I was full of doubts about my capabilities. But I began to notice that when I tried hard enough, I would often get somewhere close to achieving what I wanted. Sometimes, I even exceeded my own expectations. As a parent, I feel that they are in this stage now and are discovering their true capabilities.

I have written two songs for my kids. One is Batang-bata ka pa. The other is called, Live Your Own Life. In both songs I mentioned that they will have to learn and discover their own truth. Here’s a passage from Live Your Own Life:

Don’t take my word or anyone else’s

What’s right for me may not be right for you

I have my own dreams. I live my own story

And someday soon you’ll be living yours, too.

So… Enjoy your own joys.

Gain from your own pain

Dream your own dreams

Dance to your own song

It’s the only way to go

It’s the only road you’ll ever know.

Live your own life (feel it so you know it’s real).

Hold on to your own truth (live life without any fear)

Decide your own fate (with bated breath the world awaits)

Make your own mark (All you gotta do is start)

Everything you need is inside of you

You’re the fire and breath of your own soul..

I knew that when I became a dad that there wouldn’t be a day that would pass when I would not think of my children. Although they are grown-up now, they are still in my thoughts daily. I can’t help it. That’s what being a father is like.

As parents, it is true that we raise our kids in our own image and likeness. We only know what we know and where we come from. We do our best. Hopefully, our own parents raised us well.

Now that they are adults, I delight in watching them become who they are as they create and recreate themselves.

No matter how much I try to detach from them, it seems impossible. I love them too much and so the caring and concern will never stop even when I don’t express these daily to them. I quote writer Reed Markham, who said, “Being a great father is like shaving. No matter how good you shaved today, you have to do it again tomorrow.”

Your children may outgrow you, but you will never outgrow being their father.

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/06/17/1825186/why-being-dad-shaving#VS3UoCPHcu7QPQhJ.99

…And miles to go before i sleep 0

Posted on June 10, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – June 10, 2018 – 12:00am

I have been taking stock of my physical, mental, psychological, artistic and spiritual health lateIy.

I have been paying attention to my body and all its aches and pains and its new gains since I’ve been going to the gym. A few years ago, I also started eating moderately and more sensibly, and have generally been taking care of myself.

I have been sleeping well lately, around seven hours a night and a few naps at different times of the day. I still have bad nights sometimes where I get less sleep because I wake up and can’t get back to sleep. But that is rare.

I go to the gym two to four times a week. I do a lot of stomach crunches of different types — around 500 reps each visit. I do 3:15 minutes of planking followed by 60 pushups and 13 pull-ups. I work out with jump ropes and a few weights as part of my routine.
I would say my gym activity is a light one. What I am aiming for is to get better body definition and a few cuts around my arms, chest and stomach. I also like getting that endorphin high and that feeling of well-being which exercise brings. I also walk to and from the gym which is about a 26-minute walk. Sometimes, I walk further inside the ADMU campus near the gym for an hour.

Mentally, I try to stay alert. I like to read a lot and still like to learn new things. I continue to write a weekly column. Quite often, though, it happens that I forget people’s names and can’t remember certain circumstances when I met them. I notice memory lapses. However, my innate curiosity about everything continues. I also still teach at the Ateneo de Manila University. Teaching young people is as much a learning experience for me as it is for them. It challenges not just my mental skills but my overall ability to pay attention. I am also thinking of taking up a new language.

Psychologically, I feel more or less balanced. Despite the times, I can easily find calmness when I need to. I am generally okay. I am less bothered now by things that used to bother me a lot when I was younger. I can watch my mind processing information and can flag most of my own biases. But best of all, I may even say I am capable of generating my own inspiration or happiness. I like being by myself. I like myself most of the time.
Spiritually, I am still dialoguing with the Universe and trying to ask questions about life. Maybe this will never stop. I talk to God the way I understand God to be. Yes, I hear answers. I try to have a Zen take or understanding of everything. It makes me calm. Sometimes, I become more compassionate. The state of the world and our nation has not dampened my optimism or hope. I am still up to the challenge to change things for the better. The contemplative in me is still there although perhaps I should cultivate it some more by going back to daily meditation.

Artistically, I feel freer than ever to think and do what I want. I have lately picked up the guitar again and started learning new songs and chords. I can write songs easier. I do not fret about whether people will like them or not. I do what I like. I do not need constant reassurance from an audience. I can also be more focused if I have to be. More easily, I am able to synthesize my thoughts and feelings and shape them as presentable musical or literary pieces.

My interest in photography continues although I should be shooting more. I should also do more workshops like I used to.

In short, I feel more good than bad, overall.

I know I am getting older. My hair is thinning. My hearing has deteriorated a bit. Sometimes, I get sudden joint pain, but this disappears just as quickly. I am still working on getting even just a shadow of abs on my stomach. I refuse to accept that this goal may be a losing battle at this point, and yes, it will be difficult to achieve.

The first thing my Zen teacher told me to meditate on some 16 years ago was the phrase, “Every day is a good day.” I mostly believe in this. Every day brings blessings. When it is not a good day, it’s probably because I unconsciously decided it wouldn’t be one.

For this phrase to be true in your life, you must be able to practice self-acceptance on a daily basis. With aging comes diminishing abilities. You will never gain back a 30-year-old body. The past is gone forever. That’s life. But if you can accept that how you are today is the best you can be right now, you will probably congratulate yourself. This is not mind’s play. This is the truth. You may have been more productive, healthier, better when you were younger. You were great then. But you are also great now.

Every day, we are great and perfect.

I will be 67 soon. Some people think that is already a ripe old age. Sometimes, the world can make you feel like that. Some people are retired at this age. I don’t think I will ever retire unless my body makes it impossible for me to move and do things. Maybe I can’t picture retirement because I never had a 9 to 5 job. I did what I wanted and got paid for it. How can I retire from things I love doing?

One of my favorite lines in poetry is from Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” It goes,

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.

While it is not my choice to decide when I will die, I still want to do many other things while I can before I go into the lovely dark and deep woods.

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/06/10/1823074/and-miles-go-i-sleep#wB5rrijKKcmXHm3u.99

Death of a classmate 0

Posted on June 03, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – June 3, 2018 – 12:00am

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Joey, you lived a good life. You were a good person. Your classmates stand proudly and applaud at the idea that you have not just done your mission but have also become one with God.

The message I saw on Viber a few mornings ago was a rude awakening. Our classmate Jose Biglete Zuñiga had suddenly passed on. Everyone in our class was shocked. We still are. We haven’t stopped talking about Joey’s demise since.

Joey Zuñiga seemed healthy and strong. In fact, he was one those classmates who still looked very youthful. His gait was that of a young man. To me, he did not look any different from 45 years ago when we finished college. He did not even have white hair. You had to look hard to find any wrinkles on his face. Classmates say he jogged every morning. He looked fit. He did not seem to have any of the physical pains many of us in class are already feeling due to the onset of old age. During class parties he was one of those who danced a lot.

And then came the terrible news that he had suddenly died. Soon after the announcement, we learned that he had had cancer of the lymphatic nodes a few years back. He underwent chemotherapy and it seemed he had conquered it. Apparently, it made a vicious comeback. He had kept the news about his condition to himself mostly. Except for his family and a few classmates, no one knew.

Hearing of someone dying, a relative, a classmate, or anyone we know and have had pleasant interactions with is always devastating. But for our class, it was more than that. We are all going into our late 60s and it is beginning to really dawn on us that time is fleeting fast as we march towards our sunset years. This reminder seemed especially cruel to hear. Many of my classmates already have health issues. Some are moderate while some need more medical attention.
Even for those who are still fit and healthy and who exercise regularly, the news of Joey suddenly dying hit hard. It can happen anytime, to any of us. And yet, no matter how often we are reminded, the reality of death is so shocking and abhorrent that it shakes us every time someone dies.

Prior to hearing about Joey’s death, the topic in our viber discussion thread was death itself. Before that, it was religion, the meaning of life, God, etc. The death of our dear classmate made me think about my own life and how tenuous and fragile it actually is. I am sure everyone had the same thought.

A lot of us posted about our last interaction with him. The last three times I saw him, he asked how I saw the political landscape. He seemed worried and upset. He was close to angry at how things were unraveling. After the conversations, he cautioned me to take care of myself since I can be very vocal about things. “Ingat, pare,” he said to me each time.
Our Viber group has been a beehive lately. Many have been sharing their feelings, their grief. Names of classmates who had passed on before have been reposted several times. We remember them with fondness. We still feel their loss in our lives.

I sense that we have mostly been showing up on Viber not just to express our shock at Joey’s death but also to comfort each other. There is genuine concern, fondness among our classmates. Our friendships are decades old. The bonding and camaraderie are wonderful and healing. Thanks to technology, even those who have migrated to other parts of the world are brought into the conversation.

My eldest brother Jesse, who is 15 years ahead of me, has been attending wakes more often these days. The death count is expected to increase more frequently. Their class is much older and the latest census shows that 72 of his classmates have passed on and 72 remain.

While our class is still in a more optimistic situation, I know we will also get there.

Captain Hook in the movie Pan by Spielberg called death “the final adventure.” No one knows what is out there. And yet, we will all go though it.

We are suffering and grieving the death of Joey right now. Death is indeed a thief in the night. But perhaps its sting may really be overrated.

Maybe we might even be completely wrong about death. I don’t know. But since no one really knows anything about it firsthand, I am suggesting a coping way to look at death. It is this: Joey is finally free from all physical, emotional and psychological suffering and pain. His mission on earth has ended. He now rests eternally.

And let me push the envelope a bit more. Could it be possible that the day we die may actually be the happiest day of our lives? Why, you may ask?

Well, why not? For those who have faith, it has to be THE event of events. It has to be that since the whole search is over and we finally meet our loving God and experience unconditional love, and get to answer all of life’s greatest mysteries and questions.

If this is indeed true (and personally I believe it is), then maybe we should mourn less and instead honor the journey of each soul that leaves the earthly plane and joins eternity. We celebrate it the way we do with every passage in life.

Joey, you lived a good life. You were a good person. We, your earthly classmates, stand proudly and applaud the idea that you have not just done your mission but have also become one with God. That is the greatest thing we actually all strive for.

‘Til we meet again, Joey. And I wish the same for all who have gone before, and for all of us who will surely follow. The heavenly reunion that awaits will be the happiest one and will have complete attendance.

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/06/03/1820993/death-classmate#YWLthG8Ol3yPxZ66.99

The field between right and wrong 0

Posted on May 26, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – May 27, 2018 – 12:00am

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about. – Rumi

Let me ask you.

How many people have you blocked people on social media because of politics? I am not talking about trolls or people who are paid to give you a bad time. They do deserve to be blocked. I am talking of relatives, friends, acquaintances you may have been close to in varying degrees but are estranged from right now. We used to see them on our timelines and media feeds but not anymore since we do not want them there because of their views and they probably are avoiding us, too.

These are hard times. The divide caused by political differences is so deep and contentious it has spilled beyond mere politics. It is so deep some see it as a battle of conscience. It has gotten so bad that many have resorted to cutting off relationships with each other.

We sever relationships because of irreconcilable differences. Or sometimes we do so but only for a temporary period. We are hoping that things pass and differences play out until they end and we can get together again just like old times.
It is good to remind ourselves that we are certainly not all alike. We will always have differences. We are all made differently. It is to be expected. After all, even when there were only two brothers in the world, Cain killed Abel.

Now these are easy things to say. It sounds so wise and enlightened when we say them. But when bitter differences emerge as they are right now, we find it hard to respond with coolness and tolerance.

In the quote above, Rumi talks of that space between definitions of right and wrong, good and evil, and all other dichotomies where none of these matter. Is there such a place?

I remember finding myself acting as a sponsor at a wedding with a politician I actually despised. I think he knew where I stood with regards to politics. I was in the exact opposite place of everything he was and what he stood for. But there we were, smiles and all. We even shook hands.

I observed him while we made shallow conversation. He was polite and seemed completely indifferent to what he knew of me. I was equally polite. Perhaps we both avoided the elephant in the room so as not to cause unpleasantness.
I was also observing myself. Here I was engaging the “enemy” in niceties, while secretly laughing at the awkward situation. But at the same time I was trying to open myself to see what saving grace I could find in him.

He was charming. He was genuinely funny. And he was close to the groom whom I loved dearly. That gave me a few reasons to lower my guard and look him straight in the eye and see more of his concealed humanity. (At least to me, it was concealed.) In short I was opening myself to that space that Rumi was talking about.

That space that Rumi mentions is an innate ability within us that can see things without judgment, bias or color. But this ability has to be awakened and developed. It is that field where we can transcend transgressions or faults. It is where we stop judging and condemning. Zen masters will say it is the state of true seeing. It is not stuck in the past or obsessed with the future. It is seeing everything fresh and new in the NOW.

Writer Eckart Tolle likes to ask, “What can possibly be wrong with right now?” The Present only goes wrong when contamination from the past and future come in and destroy its freshness. In reality right now is all there is. The Present is ever new and full of potential, while the past is over and the future may not even happen.

This space is where humanity stops defining, dividing and cataloguing itself according to race, nationality color, economic status, religion, sexes, etc. It is a place where our commonalities, not our differences, come alive and celebrate.

Natural compassion springs forth when hurts and cruel histories are set aside.

But does this mean that we should forget injustices and everything that is wrong in the world and just focus on the now so we can all be happier? I don’t know. I do not have enough wisdom to answer that with confidence.

But let me try.

Yes, we all live in the phenomenal world. Our life in this world is full of pain and pleasure, evil and good, etc. But beyond that world is where reality really is. And that reality is where that Oneness we strive for is real and achievable.

But unless more than half of humanity has awakened to the real world, the phenomenal world will carry on doing as it does. Hopefully, there are enough people right now that can keep the slow incremental evolution going towards more tolerance and love. We may soon end up in a happier, kinder place — at least enough to make us all mend fences with each other.

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/05/27/1818846/field-between-right-and-wrong#ehuFyQ3hUEwvI91F.99

She’s leaving home 0

Posted on May 20, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – May 20, 2018 – 12:00am

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I am feeling it.

In a few days, my eldest grandchild Ananda will be leaving Lydia and I to move to Paris and join her mom Erica who has found a life there as a chef. Since my daughter Erica left to study and work in Paris around two years ago, we have been Ananda’s guardians.

We are feeling a great impending loss. Lydia and I are getting quite emotional as the days go by. She and her mom lived the first eight years of her life staying with us.

We have been part of her life and she in ours. Lydia was with her a few hours after she was born almost 14 years ago. When I heard about her birth, I was in Miami doing a concert with the APO. That night I sang the song Batang-Bata ka pa for her — a song I made for Erica when she was born 25 years earlier. I felt so warm inside as the audience joined in.
I was shedding a tear as my voice cracked a bit.

Ananda was a sprightly child. Like her mother, she was very sweet, charming, animated, inquisitive, strong and had a stubborn streak. She is still like this today, always curious about everything and loves to ask questions. I, the ever doting Lolo always tries to answer as best as I can.

I used to spend a lot of time with her in conversation while at home, or in the car, and while traveling. I like to kid her a lot. I like to poke her sense of wonder or challenge her logic especially during train rides in Sydney as we observe people, and look out into the scenery. I invent ridiculous stories and scenarios and she would love them. Where we live, I would accompany her to the park to ride the swings, play on the slide, or walk the dog, or just run around.

The past year and a half, she has become a bit distant and stopped being as communicative with Lydia and me. We knew it was because she had turned into an adolescent.
I used to just spontaneously hug, or tickle her when she was younger. These days, physical contact has been reduced to a kiss on my cheek when she comes home and when she leaves the house.

There are many things that we as her guardians in Manila fight about with her. It can range from excessive use of the air-con, her sleeping at friends’ houses and vice versa, her going out without permission, the use of the car, her constant attention to her phone during meals, her spending habits, sassiness, etc. She can be very stubborn and hard-headed. Often, she has to be reminded about house rules.

One thing I notice though is that often, the very things that we fight about are also teachable moments for all of us. It is hard to raise children. Often, I have to remind myself that she is already a teenager and being one, she is beginning to claim a higher level of autonomy in the way she wants to live everyday life. But she still has to learn that as her guardians, we rightfully worry about her security and welfare. We impose certain rules. And yes, there is a curfew.

We will miss conversations on the table whenever she shares stories and opinions about anything. We will miss her silliness and sense of humor. We will miss her big smile, too. We will miss her spontaneous bursting into the song Halleluia at the top of her voice many times in the day. We will miss seeing the lights on downstairs at 1. or 2 a.m. as she has her past-midnight snacks.

She loves to play with her dogs and walks them around the neighborhood. She will be missed by them too, including Noodle her snake, her rabbits, and her two turtles.

We will miss raising and taking care of her.

When she leaves, it will only be Lydia and I in this house. Our home will be quieter. I would rather hear the sound of her favorite music wafting through the house coming out of her phone, or the sound of her steps on her way up and down the stairs. I will miss her shouting out loud to call someone instead of using the intercom.

We still want to be part of her new life as she grows up and studies in Paris. It will be a strange, new, challenging place for her. I wish we could still be there to protect and guide her, to encourage her, and to cheer her up when things get tough.

Letting go is always tough. One can be fraught with worry and anxiety. But such is life. People enter and leave our lives, some temporarily, others permanently.

At the same time, I am very excited for her. Just as I saw my own kids bloom when we moved to Sydney, I am sure Ananda will be fine and will thrive in this new atmosphere. There will be difficulties for sure. Her French will have to be more than just passable to cope with school and life in general. She will meet new friends. She will be intellectually and socially challenged. She will have to mature a lot more.

But I know she will be able to do it. She is more than a survivor. She will actually thrive.

I hope that in two years, she will be quite adjusted to her new surroundings. We are looking forward to the time when she can see her again and she can tour her Lolo and Lola to see the sights around Paris!

When I became a father, one of the things I realized was there wouldn’t be a day that passes when I will not think of my kids and how they are doing . Being a grandfather is no different.

We love you Ananda. Take care. Ingat. We will ALWAYS be around to help you anytime and in any way we can.

Au revoir notre chère petite-fille. Nous vous aimons toujours!

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/05/20/1816717/shes-leaving-home#Py88Bgoh8wxOmmyu.99

Mothermorphosis 0

Posted on May 13, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – May 13, 2018 – 12:00am

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Just the sight of her takes me to such places of bliss and inspires such feelings of sublime love that I can’t help but get all choked up. I don’t just love her, I need her, even when she doesn’t need me.

I am giving way to my daughter Ala Paredes Buencamino this Mother’s Day. I especially want to reach all new mothers out there with her beautiful article.

By Ala Paredes

Once upon a time I was part of a really hip, fun-loving club called Childless Adults. We had disposable income to blow on artisan coffee, avocado on toast in trendy Sydney cafes, happy hour cocktails after work, new clothes that we didn’t really need or like, and fancy dinners. Also, we had time to spare. Lots of time. Though I thought I was time-poor, I only learned the true meaning of time after I had a baby.

Every day, I woke up, put my best face on, dressed in a smart outfit that still made me feel cutesy-cutesy, and draped myself with tons of big, chunky, dangly accessories. Then I would get on the train to go to work at a job where I felt challenged, appreciated, admired and respected. Not all Childless Adults feel this way about their jobs, but I did. I was a youngish professional urbanite living in a trendy, hipster neighborhood, who lived on pre-prepared grocery meals, and whose life looked happy and successful on Instagram.
All that came to an end when I had a baby.

There are a lot of things you can’t possibly anticipate about child rearing before you become a mother. This is coming from someone who thought she had a good handle on what it means to care for a baby. Growing up, I had a younger brother whom I took care of with such devotion that after my mother came back from a month-long trip, he looked at her blankly and ran to me, his “mother.” I also had a little niece who lived with the family from birth so I’d had my own experience with rocking, burping, feeding and entertaining a baby. I had experience, and was not afraid to handle little humans. I was maternal.

But all new mothers walk into their new role with hope, excitement, trepidation and total naiveté. Taking care of someone else’s child is a world away from becoming a mother. It’s like the difference between reading a book about swimming, and actually jumping into a pool and learning to swim. You may have dipped your toes in the water or waded and splashed around, but when your own baby is placed into your waiting arms, it’s sink or swim, Mama.
Here were my biggest shockers about motherhood.

1. I never imagined that my baby would own my breasts. Never did I imagine that my modest breasts would suddenly become the most important part of my body. In the first three months, I felt like all I did was breastfeed, sometimes for four hours on end (this is where having Netflix comes in handy). Your baby will need your breasts when she’s hungry, scared, tired, bored, sick, when she needs to poo/fart, or even when she just wants to be close to you. She will guard the breast jealously, and she might cry when hubby plays with them. (As I write, I can just imagine my baby yelling, “You shall NOT pass!”, Gandalf-style, at my husband.)

If you choose to breastfeed, your baby will be on your boob so often that you won’t even bother putting them away in between feeds and will get used to walking around the house topless. Which brings me to my next one…

You may find it hard to feel sexy about them. It’s hard to keep an aura of mystery about them when they’re always exposed. Besides, it’s hard to feel sexy about them when they wax and wane around the clock.

They belong to baby for now.

2. I never imagined motherhood to be so animalistic.

My smart-cutesy outfits, my signature shade of lipstick, my big jewelry, my job, my glossy Instagram feed — all those marks of urbanity and sophistication, were stripped away the moment I went into labor — quite possibly the most animalistic I’ve ever felt in my life.

While humans are animals, it’s not often that we feel like an animal under our polished public personae. In labor and birth, you are no different from a cow giving birth to a calf despite the trappings of modern medicine surrounding you. Since I’ve become a mom, I often feel more like a mother wolf with her cub in her den, than a career woman in a nice, inner city apartment. Motherhood really awakens your basest biological instincts. Mommy can see danger, smell danger, and watches out for the predator lurking just past the protective circle of light. Mommy is up on her feet as soon as she hears baby’s distress signal. Baby in turn wants mommy’s animal smell, the touch of her skin, her voice, her heartbeat.

You spend so much time alone at home in various states of undress, in barely passable levels of hygiene, cuddling with your baby in bed sheets that haven’t been changed in so long that it begins to smell like the two of you. As the months pass, you begin to feel like you no longer belong to the civilized outside world. Whenever I leave the house dressed presentably, I feel like the wolf in “Little Red Riding Hood”: a beast dressed in borrowed clothes.

3. I never thought I would need my baby so much.

The first time I was given the afternoon off after weeks of living in my mom-cave, I walked out of the house swaying to Aretha Franklin’s Think (“Freedom!”), planning my glorious afternoon. Little did I know that I would get an anxiety attack midway and come rushing back home, only to find my baby asleep and unaffected in the care of my husband.

The umbilical cord may be severed at birth, but that doesn’t mean the baby stops being a part of your body. Before I gave birth, I had read The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine so I knew there was a complex interplay of hormones and brain chemicals between a mom and her infant. But to actually experience the profound effects that my baby’s touch, smell and voice had on me was something I wasn’t really prepared for.

I would be reduced to an anxious blob of Jell-O whenever I was away from her for too long. I found it impossible to fall asleep without her touch, and would instead writhe around in bed like a junkie going through withdrawal. The very thought of her would instantly make my breasts harden with milk, and I would then feel a crazed urge to run home, jumping over cars and pushing cyclists out of my way, to make sure she wasn’t starving. Merely imagining her hungry hurt my soul. And yet, my lovely baby’s smell would instantly restore calm and balance to my mind.

To this day, even just the sight of her, in real life or in photos, takes me to such places of bliss and inspires such feelings of sublime love that I can’t help but get all choked up. I don’t just love her, I need her, even when she doesn’t need me.

Who would’ve thought a mother’s separation anxiety can be just as bad as their baby’s?

So there you have it. If you’ve got Bun No. 1 in the oven, be prepared to morph into a half-naked, clingy, irrational, feral creature of the dark; one whose beating heart is about to experience the deepest levels of human love imaginable.

* * *

You can read more of Ala’s musings at https://bloodsugarmilkmagic.wordpress.com/

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/05/13/1814606/mothermorphosis#uIvQq9P62mXdbviM.99

Saving others and saving ourselves 0

Posted on May 06, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – May 6, 2018 – 12:00am

I mostly wear my heart on my sleeve. That means I readily express my feelings.

I tear up easily during emotional situations. I can cry while watching a movie. My empathy can be easily stoked. Yes, I do have my fair share of selfishness like everyone else, but I can also put myself in the shoes of others who have less in life. I am the type of person who expresses my outrage when I see injustice, discrimination.

While I often feel afraid to express my anger against authorities when I see corruption, dehumanization and evil at play, I almost always end up doing so because my empathy is oftentimes greater than my fear.

I “blame” my parents for the way I am.

Growing up, we saw our mom and dad open our doors to strangers and relatives who were in some sort of a bind and take them into our home. They often stayed with us a few days. Sometimes, some would stay for weeks, even months. Our parents fed them, nursed them, and took care of them till they were ready to go and live on their own again.

We had household help who stayed with us for decades. We treated them as family. One of them served us until she died. When she passed on, my mom gave her her own memorial plan for her to use.

Our parents’ example influenced us a lot.

We are 10 sibs in the family, and we are all our parents’ children. Coming from a big family ingrained in us the practice of sharing what we have and living with less. You learn to divide things equally. It also means that you learn to care and look after each other. In the process, you develop a greater sense of love, fairness and justice.

I have no sibs who are indifferent to suffering. We all see suffering and injustice as a big deal. We don’t always stop in our tracks every time we see suffering but we have an almost instant empathy towards people who are in bad situations. You might say we all wear our hearts on our sleeves.
I often think of what moves people to get out of themselves and really begin to think of others. One mover is pity. We see people in pain and we feel sorry for their lot. Sometimes, strangely, it is accompanied by a feeling of gratitude. We may be profoundly moved to tears but thankful and relieved it is other people who suffer and not us.

Empathy is a deeper engagement. Psychology Today defines it as, “the experience of understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings and condition from their point of view, rather than from your own.” You try to imagine yourself in their place in order to understand what they are feeling or experiencing.It moves you out of your own world and you find yourself wearing the shoes of the sufferer and feel their pain as yours.

Compassion goes even deeper. I found many definitions of compassion on Google. I quote one: “Compassion literally means ‘to suffer together.’ Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.” There is a strong component that we must not miss here. Compassion moves one not just to pity and empathy but to actually take action. You not only feel another person’s pain but you also do something about it.

Every time I see an appeal for contributions to save Syrian kids, or helping refugees in Marawi, or see the injustice brought about by EJK, I ask myself what I can do about it. Often, my immediate reaction is to say a prayer.

Images of suffering stare back at us from our monitors daily. The problems often seem so overwhelming that many times, you just want to move on to other more pleasant stories or funny news. You often justify your inaction by asking yourself what you can realistically do to effectively alleviate suffering of that magnitude. While we excuse ourselves by saying one can only do so much, we must remind ourselves that one can still do something, however small and seemingly insignificant.

I have learned to fight that feeling of helplessness by talking and meeting like-minded people who want to take action instead of copping out and just being indifferent. I am not content with just shaking my head and resignedly whispering, “Too bad for the victims.” Or say “That’s life,” and dismiss the suffering. When we do not act, there is a great chance that our capacity to care will lessen and our hearts become leaden. I would rather do something, anything — however small — that can relieve pain and encourage people to overcome their situation than nothing at all.

To be really concerned about something, our presence, empathy and compassion and action are needed. One is not being asked to solve the problems of the world by his/her lonesome. We can do much by being supportive of efforts that are already in place working to help others. We certainly need to go beyond Facebook, Twitter and social media to move the world closer to become a better place.

Activism is so important today. There is a battle going on for the soul of this nation, and of the world. Online is one battlefield. The other is the real world outside. Some people say that going to the streets is not their thing. But the truth is, when good people do nothing, the bad and the evil are emboldened to do more.

Pity, empathy and compassion mean we feel the pain of those who are treated unjustly and we commit to action to help them. This way we also weaken their oppressors and perhaps lessen the suffering in daily living. When we save others, we also save ourselves.


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