Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

The need to connect 0

Posted on August 27, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 28, 2016 – 12:00am

I want to write about addiction. It is clearly the scourge of our time. Right off, I would like to say that I am no expert on the subject. I only write based on my limited experience.

I first got interested in the topic almost two decades ago when I met people who told me about their journey to recovery from alcoholism and meth use. Their accounts moved me and left me extremely curious about addiction and how to deal with it.

They talked about the many rehab efforts they went through before they finally succeeded in quitting. Some rehab centers physically harmed and beat up addicts. But there were other enlightened programs that spared them from violence. The ones that worked according to them were the latter.

From what I have gathered, addiction is a multi-faceted problem. It is not just an extreme physical longing for a substance. It also has emotional, psychological and spiritual dimensions to it.

Recently, I watched a “Ted Talks” episode where the speaker told of a lab experiment with rats. They were put in solitary cages and given a choice to drink pure water or some that was heroin-laced. All the solitary rats chose the heroin-laced water and sooner or later became addicted.

In another experiment, scientists put many rats together in a large cage and gave them unlimited food. They also had space, a wheel to run on and a lot of opportunities for sex. The two types of water were also offered. To their surprise, the rats consumed the pure water over the heroin-laced one.

The same speaker also said that during the Vietnam War, 20 percent of the US soldiers were using heroin during their stint fighting the Vietcong. The US military establishment was worried that when the war ended, many soldiers would come home heroin-addicted. But strangely enough, it did not happen. There was no heroin addiction boom that followed. Many went home and merely resumed their normal lives.

In their explanation of why the results are what they are, the researchers concluded that a key factor that prevents addiction is “connection.” When individuals (and rats) live in a community where they were connected with loved ones and friends, they were not attracted to drugs.

It is no wonder then that sick people who are given massive doses of pure heroin in hospitals to fight pain do not turn into addicts when they return home and connect with their loved ones.

Loneliness, boredom, alienation and social deprivation may be central in making people susceptible to addiction. Everyone is looking for love, for peak experiences, and the feeling of being whole. Drugs can delude us into thinking we can get these things chemically.

The few people I talked to who survived addiction affirmed that reconnection was a big factor. And, they added, the struggle also had a strong spiritual dimension.

Going through the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Step Program was a game-changer. This program is a searingly honest examination of oneself aimed at getting right down to the core of who you are. In the process, you encounter and hack away at all the bullsh*t and delusion that feeds the addiction. It is a severe reality check and yes, it is life-changing.

The AA 12-Step Program has been around for decades and is still recommended by many professionals who treat addiction. It has saved many lives.

Going back to connectedness, it seems to make sense that when people feel secure, loved and in touch with people who matter to them, drugs lose much of their allure. Being connected also means being in touch with one’s own thoughts, feelings, dreams, the sense of what is right and wrong and our deep humanity. In other words, it means staying grounded.

In real life, many of us are not. I often forget or deliberately ignore my inner callings. It is too scary to know oneself sometimes. It is easier to live hiding behind the masks that we wear in the world and believe in the delusion that we are being real.

I do not have the stomach for extrajudicial killings or the willingness to give up due process even if I support the campaign against drugs. I value our hard-fought human rights. I am glad it is not in my hands to decide who lives or dies. I know people who are addicts. I love some of them even if I know how much their families have suffered because of their addiction. I do not wish it on anyone.

A successful recovery is always inspiring because it is a story of redemption. While rehab is expensive and unaffordable to many right now, it is perhaps one of the rescue mechanisms that we really need to solve this huge drug problem. We must do more of this in place of killing people outright. I personally believe in second, third, sometimes even fourth chances. I have seen people recover from drugs permanently.

Look outside our families and into our larger communities. Do you see much connectedness? Are people reaching out to each other? Do we have real personal relationships with people who live near us?

Everyone is going through something difficult at any given time. It is so easy to not care. After all, we do not like to be bothered by problems that do not concern us.

While not all of us are called to actively catch pushers or users, we can volunteer to be our brother’s keeper. We can initiate healing connections with people who need it. Let’s start with our own families, relatives, friends and neighborhoods.

We need to connect with each other now, more than ever.

Answering the call 0

Posted on August 21, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 21, 2016 –

I watched the movie Ignacio de Loyola a few nights ago. It is a wonderful movie. I was impressed with the script, the acting, direction and the entire production. Needless to say, I loved it. I must confess that it touched me in many ways, both good and disturbing.

As a dyed-in-the-wool Atenista from my first day of school in prep to my college graduation, the Ignatian ethic was always being rubbed on me.

Watching the movie brought back a lot of memories. The letters AMDG (Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam) was something we wrote on top of our test papers. We wrote it on every essay we crafted, every assignment and exam we took. It was written on the blackboard daily. The Loyola crest shown in the movie was painted on the chapel doors, and the Prep School gate. Early on, I memorized St. Ignatius’ prayer for generosity which goes:

Lord, teach me to be generous.

Teach me to serve you as you deserve;

to give and not to count the cost,

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,

to labor and not to ask for reward,

save that of knowing that I do your will.

I find much comfort in this prayer to this day.

What disturbed me in the movie was not anything about its technical or artistic aspects. The elements that a good story told in that medium were well executed. What I found troubling was the story of Iñigo himself. He was a man of high social standing, a true knight in the most traditional sense who was willing to fight for the glory of love, honor, and loyalty to his king and country. And he most certainly did all that, until complications set in.

In a battle to protect the motherland, he suffered a broken leg which left him with a limp — a crooked gait that ended his dreams of knighthood and all its attendant glory and pride. Crippled and recuperating in bed for four months, he had nothing to read but the lives of saints and of Christ. There, in the midst of pain, despair, regrets and boredom, he accepted God’s invitation to leave his old life and walk in His path.

Watching the movie, Iñigo’s response to the call made me feel afraid, for my own sake. It was the path unknown, the one less traveled. I felt that if God called me to a life of service, I would probably find every excuse to refuse Him.

Would I be willing to be a foot soldier who would deny all my worldly connections if God demanded it? The answer is, I do not know. If I said yes, I would probably argue with Him every step of the way.

If we truly listen, God is probably calling us to do something, but we are too distracted or cowardly to hear it. Is it something dramatic or earth-shaking? We do not know. But I am sure it is something that will shake our individual lives if we follow it.

Some are called to live big lives that can affect a lot of people and change a lot of things for good or evil. Smaller callings, though not as dramatic, are as important. Touching one life with an act of kindness could set the wheel turning for a series of events that could lead to something bigger.

When you look back and review your life, you will catch themes and meanings that can give you an idea of how you have spent your time, and what is important to you. Or it may suddenly dawn on you how little you have done that matters to you or to anyone.

We moderns like to think life is about the pursuit of happiness. Ignacio reminds us that more than the worldly pursuit of happiness, however we define it, life is about obeying God’s will for us. It demands sacrifice, obedience, and discernment.

It is so simple yet so radical. Are we ready? Many of us are probably not and never will be. Perhaps that is why great unexpected interventions happen in life, like what happened to Ignacio. Fate brings us great disappointments to break us out of our comfortable lives and pursue a new path. It may not be the path of least resistance, but a more challenging one that will make us happy, not with riches but with meaning and purpose.

Learning how to detach 0

Posted on August 14, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 14, 2016 – 12:00am

I see myself as a more or less easygoing, happy individual. I can live without spending much. I am not really picky about what I eat even if there are certain foods I won’t touch, mostly for health reasons. I don’t need to dress impeccably. I do not need signature clothes even if I am happy when I am gifted with some. I am what I would describe as a low-maintenance person.

I know many people who are the same. We are generally optimistic and adaptable people who can, most of the time, take disappointments and setbacks.

There are people who tend to be the opposite. Mostly, I find that they are unhappy, lonely and discontented with what they have. They are always looking somewhere else for solitude, peace and satisfaction. They are generally pessimistic, expecting the worst in any situation. And not surprisingly, they experience more disappointments than the optimists.

Whichever type of person we are and whatever our default mood is, we cannot be perpetually happy or sad. Being human, our moods change all the time. We are all capable of running the whole gamut of emotional highs and lows.

One of the things I am continuously learning to do is to step back and watch myself as I go through my experiences. Even when I am going through some intense moments, I am often able to watch myself as a third person and I find that I can detach on some level even as I am emotionally involved.

Maybe it is an adult life skill to be able to cope this way and not get overwhelmed by emotions and feelings. It is sometimes good to distance one’s self from one’s moods. Sure, you can be happy, but don’t cling to the feeling. Just enjoy it as long as it lasts. And when in the midst of overwhelming sadness or anger, it helps to be able to tell yourself that this, too, shall pass. You must be able to let it go after

And so it is with every mood we have. They are too transient to own and keep. They are like storms, or a carnival that visits, but don’t stay long. Thank God.

But being able to detach is not the same as being in denial. Denial is pretending an ugly mood you are feeling does not exist. It does.

I remember a woman I met in Zen training who had been a practitioner for years. She told me a story. One night, she woke up at 2 a.m. Her teenage son had come home late driving the family car, which had smashed headlights and a broken fender. He reeked of alcohol. She got angry and scolded him. Her son retorted by asking, after all her years of Zen practice, why was she so angry and livid? Shouldn’t she be calm, collected and speaking to him softly? Shouldn’t she be more forgiving? She looked him in the eye and told him that this ugly mood was where she was at right then, in the moment, and she was not going to pretend otherwise and deny it.

I laughed because it broke the stereotype of what it means to be on a spiritual path like Zen. The truth is there is nothing special about Zen practice. We don’t walk in the clouds. We are not above others. We are still human, though perhaps a little more conscious about our being human and more accepting of it.

Detachment is also not indifference. You could be involved in a drama, an argument, or whatever the situation is. You can even participate with passion. But you know deep down this is just something you are doing at the moment. Like a movie, it begins and ends sooner or later and has nothing to do with who you really are.

That capacity where you can distance yourself from what you are feeling suggests something intensely profound. For one, it raises the question: Who is the one experiencing and who is detaching? Is there a bigger “you” that no mood, event or experience can affect or alter? Who are you, really, without your moods or feelings? Who are you without your opinions, thoughts, biases? Do you know who you really are?

These questions are something to ponder and can lead to bigger questions. It may take more than a lifetime to find the answers to them.

Ten things I owe the world 0

Posted on August 06, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 7, 2016 – 12:00am

We breathe the same air. We live on the same planet. Our own survival depends on one another. We are capable of the same feelings. We have the same dreams. We all need food, homes, education, jobs, security, opportunities, human rights, freedom, happiness.

Everything each of us does has an effect on someone or something. It may seem small or insignificant but it does create some kind of ripple in someone’s life. Even when we are alone, our state of mind, our consciousness, the thoughts we have and the things we do, matter somehow. They either make us better or worse than what we are. And that matters every time we engage each other. When we grow physically, emotionally, spiritually, the world is impacted positively, however small. And when we are selfish and irresponsible, the impact is negative.

When a person enters the world, he or she is mainly concerned with “finding him/herself.” Yes, there is a “self” to discover during the early time in our lives. When we get older, we redefine that same self as something bigger and inclusive of more people, until it collectively becomes all of mankind. We lose the small egotistic self and discover that, indeed, “we are the world,” as the song goes.

I have been thinking lately about how things are going in the world, and I have not been happy with what I see. People seem to be more prone to and affected by negativity than positivity. Bad news reigns. More often, pessimism gets more traction than optimism. There is a scarcity of goodwill, tolerance and kindness.

It could be just me. I don’t know.

But since we all live and affect each other, I would like to think that while we, individually, want to pursue happiness, we must also think collectively. The connectivity we share as humans forces us more and more to think collectively and consider the rest of mankind, even when we make many individual decisions. World events, and even social media have shown us how we affect each other. Good and bad things go viral and probably define how we view things on a daily basis.

In short, we cannot live just for and by ourselves. There is no escaping from one another. Here is list of some of the things I believe I owe mankind, if I am to live and love and pursue happiness in a world-centric way.

1) I owe every human being the recognition that he is more than a statistic, a nationality, a part of a race, a member of a social class and gender. Everyone is a person, a human being, unique, with a personal history and a purpose on earth.

2) I owe everyone respect just as I want respect from everyone.

3) It is my duty to honor, promote and defend everyone’s human rights.

4) In choosing between something that degrades humanity and something that uplifts it, I must choose the latter.

5) I must try and love everyone as well as possible. It is important to try and see God in everyone. Even my so-called enemies have what in Zen is called “Buddha nature.” If I cannot love fully, I must at least insist on giving the minimum required, which are respect and justice.

6) I owe it to the world to keep educating myself so that I may understand more and thus deliver the compassion and love that are most needed.

7) I owe everyone, especially future generations, a better, healthier, more sustainable planet.

8) I owe it to everyone to consume less of the earth’s resources and when possible recycle, revive and renew the planet.

9) I owe it to humankind to stand on the side of hope, positivity and, when faced with negativity, hate and hopelessness, to pursue positive action.

10) Lastly, I owe everyone a life of purpose for myself that makes me happy and creative. The happier I am, the more I can give. I cannot give what I do not have. And that purpose that makes me happy, helps me make life better and kinder for everyone around me.

This is not pie-in-the-sky stuff. This is a turning moment in the history of mankind. Values we built through the centuries that promote rationality, human rights, inclusivity, equality, tolerance are being challenged. And once in a while, we have seen that the world has a capacity to go berserk, as history has shown us. The polarization seems to tell us that we must either move upwards in evolution or move backward. Now is the time to consciously be aware and do the right thing.

The world needs help. Sometimes, what is demanded is a big act of compassion. Sometimes, a smile or a “thank you” is enough. We must do what we can to spread more kindness and happiness around.

Committing to staying sane 2

Posted on July 23, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated July 24, 2016 – 12:00am

I am sure I am not the only one who feels this way.

Many people I know in the Philippines and in many parts of the world feel a collective letdown at how the world has been running lately. I am talking about the challenges hurled at the values and beliefs humankind holds dear. Things most of us believe in — like human rights, fairness, tolerance, freedom and justice, openness, science, logic, diplomacy, the unifying aspects of religion, the equality of all people and races — are now being questioned.

Racism, bigotry, terrorism, intolerance and an utter disbelief in science and logic have built up to an all-time high in the past 30 years. People seem to be fact-resistant, unable to analyze fairly. Nor do they have a wide enough grasp of history to understand what is happening. Many people I have met recently have no clear idea of events that transpired in the world in the past 40 years. These seem to be beyond the limit of their comprehension, too ancient to be analyzed, much less understood or valued.

Many easily buy into memes, lies and manipulation created to convince them to rally behind wrong causes. Serious reading of anything beyond a few paragraphs is a dying practice.

Ironically, at this moment when technology, the Internet and Google allow us practically unlimited access to knowledge, wisdom and data, more people seem to be ignorant about what has transpired that has shaped our societies and the entire direction of mankind itself. With so little knowledge and even less wisdom, many people have become absolutists, dogmatic and thus easily gullible.

I have often wondered why this is so.

Perhaps the array of knowledge on the net is too overwhelming, intimidating and complex to be understood or even bothered with. It is way too challenging for people who want things simple.

More and more, I see people turning to oversimplified positions that quickly deteriorate into insults, threats and shaming, in place of listening and arguing politely and — yes — rationally.

For example, the fight against addiction and drugs in our society through summary killings seems to be accepted by the majority. When the dangers of abuse are brought up, these are airily dismissed and instead the question is posed: “Why are you afraid?” They posit that one should only be fearful if one is a drug addict or supports drug use. And anyway, the rich and privileged would never be affected by the drug menace (unless, of course, their kids happen to become addicts). They take aim at the questioner personally so that no intelligent conversation or investigation of the issue is possible.

The Brexit vote happened because many older people in England are afraid of diversity and multiculturalism. They are not comfortable with certain foreigners. Not surprisingly, that may be the only issue many of them knew about the EU when they voted. Then there is ISIS and its cruelties and barbarism, which is a big scourge to mankind, especially to the great majority of Muslims who view Islam as a religion of peace. The world seems to be in serious turmoil.

Most people are afraid of the unknown. They are afraid to evolve, to think larger. Many easily believe the rhetoric that blames immigrants for all the problems in their countries. And so their allegiance to the values of tolerance, openness, and even democracy are easily suspended.

How did this happen? Who let the dogs out and the riff-raff in? There is no simple answer. I notice, though, that ever since people have had easy access to the Internet, many have felt the power to express their views, but not own the responsibility that goes with the power. There is much hate and ignorance in social media. The world is going mad. There is too much mistrust, too much heat generated but too little light produced, too much negativity and hostility. I worry that the deteriorating discourse in social media may be the new norm and direction.

The imperative challenge to every thinking person or for anyone who cares about mankind is to remain sane amid the ignorance, racism, intolerance and viciousness spreading in the world today.

Recently, I was with a group of people whom I respect, and after a long talk about the state of our country and the world, we held each other in a tight hug and vowed to stay sane in a world that seems to have stopped thinking and has turned its back on the values that promote equality, human rights, and decency.

I cannot help being fearful that the direction of human evolution will be the result of this epic battle between the forces of light and darkness. We must believe that, in the end, the sane will outsmart the negative and ignorant. Each one of us must therefore choose the side of good. This means choosing democracy over dictatorship, education over ignorance, moral values over values that dehumanize us.

Mankind paid a lot to overcome the Dark Ages and experience the Age of Enlightenment. It was a huge evolutionary step that made societies kinder and more egalitarian, offering greater opportunities for everyone. Admittedly, more of this has to happen. I trust that a more evolved humanity can make life on this planet better for everyone.

In the face of the strong dark forces that fuel the present deterioration in civility, it is my fervent hope that more people commit to being sane and civil. Reason, logic, goodwill, understanding, tolerance, patience and collective action to move higher up the evolutionary ladder are what we need. This is the only way to prevent mankind from going whole-hog crazy.

A dad moment 2

Posted on July 16, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated July 17, 2016 – 12:00am

Precious and few are the moments I get to spend time with my kids these days. They are all grown up now, living abroad and have lives of their own.

That is why last Thursday night was a special occasion. I had dinner with two of them, Ala and Mio, in Sydney where they now reside. Together with Kaylee, Mio’s girlfriend, we had dinner in Newtown, one of Sydney’s suburbs, at a delightful pizza place.

When our kids are young, we parents tend to worry too much. We are often on the lookout for their safety, their health, and their moral and ethical upbringing. We tend to be protective. We are always looking out for them like they are helpless creatures that won’t survive without our guidance. We are in a constant state of vigilance, concern and anticipation of anything that may happen. We are constantly thinking of what is good for them, giving them opportunities, supporting and leading them to the right direction.

Often, I find myself contemplating awful scenarios, and if I was asked to give up my arm, or even my life for any of them, I know I would gladly do so without hesitation.

But no matter how hard we try, we will never be perfect parents. We will make mistakes. All we can do is give our children all the love we can give. And our kids, even if they are heavily influenced by us, will come into their own in this world And that is how it should be.

It was a great feeling to be with Ala and Mio. We talked about a lot of things — their lives, mine, our relatives and friends, what the future will bring. and some what-could-have-beens. We also laughed. All this as we devoured our delicious pizza.

I remembered my mom. When I was 27 years old, like Mio is now, she would quietly enjoy watching her kids interacting, smiling with pride in the midst of our conversation. I felt like my mom last night. I sat there watching my kids unfold and express themselves and delighting in how wonderful they are. They had intelligent opinions. They were passionate. They were eloquent. They took pride in their work and their achievements. What I noticed is that they are quite comfortable being who they are. And best of all, they have grown into loving adults. And they get along.

After the dinner, we went to a bookstore that was still open. It was a secondhand bookstore that had an interesting collection of books, CDs and old vinyl records. I was amazed to know that Ala has read a lot of the classics as she pointed them out while we examined the shelves.

As I watched Ala and Mio go through shelf upon shelf of old and new books, I was beaming with joy and pride at my son and daughter. I was also happy to see that they are readers, a rarity now among millennials who like very short reads that are mostly summarized, having neither the time nor patience for real reading. Ala and Mio, and even Erica, who is in Paris, all like books.

As I looked at them, all I felt was gratitude and pride. I felt a deep sense of family bonding, even if my wife Lydia and Erica were not with us. To this father, seeing that they have gone a long way in creating their own lives that in turn nurture them and the people they love is a great achievement. I affirmed to myself that Lydia and I had raised them quite well. The sleepless nights, the hard, tedious daily work of raising them were all worth it. The hours spent reading to them, teaching them their ABCs and 123s and engaging them on many levels, the times when we had to dispense tough love for their own good — these things have all paid off.

As we walked back to the car on a cold wintry night, I had my arm around Ala. When we dropped her at her place, we said our goodbyes. I whispered, “I love you, anak. Ingat.”

I leaned back in the car. Mio had his music on. We sang along with his girlfriend all the way home. What a great Dad Moment.

To be vulnerable 1

Posted on July 10, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated July 10, 2016 – 12:00am

Most people are afraid to be vulnerable.

When we think of vulnerability, we imagine being defenseless, without any protection.

We fear that we are exposed to trouble or potential harm, that someone or something may hurt or destroy us.

To be vulnerable is to be at the mercy of outside forces. Anything can happen and it can leave us hurt, powerless, destroyed.

To be vulnerable is to have no security, no assurances of being safe or well, to be subject to uncertainty and risk.

We are born vulnerable. A newborn baby is extremely fragile. Even if we are born healthy, we can die in a day or two if we do not get the necessary sustenance, or if we are left exposed to the elements. An infant is totally dependent on other humans to survive and to thrive. It is completely helpless.

And yet, helplessness is a kind of power as well. When a baby cries, doesn’t a parent drop everything to check on what’s wrong? It makes people around the baby act, show concern and fix whatever is the matter.

All of life is vulnerable to something. There is a physical law called entropy that threatens all physical and material things. Everything tends toward decay: everything rusts, rots and eventually gives way to destruction. If we do not actively prevent things from crumbling, they surely will. It is nature’s way.

One might say that vulnerability is part of the human condition. While we fear it and go out of our way to protect ourselves, our loved ones and the things we own, we really do not have ironclad protection. Life will always hurt us, somehow. And in the end we will all die.

But what if, instead of hiding or worrying about our vulnerability, we embrace and accept it? What would happen? Will we get hurt? We could, or maybe we won’t. Anything is possible. But to relax and let down our emotional, psychological and physical defenses, to let go of certainty and just open ourselves to life, can be liberating.

When we do, we allow the world to change and shape us. We open ourselves to new experiences like love, learning and change. We open ourselves to creating and being re-created.

Criss Jami, an American poet, essayist and philosopher, wrote: “To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.”

This is so true. In a world that controls people with exaggerated fears of danger and failure, it is awesome to see people who defy these dictates and succeed in what they set out to do. You can’t get anything done without exposing yourself to some risk.

How can you start a business without risking anything? How can you love someone without the risk of pain and loss? How can you grow and mature without leaving your comfort zone of truths and beliefs that may no longer work for you, and embrace new ones? Everyone who has lived has gone through pain, error and loss. They have also learned a lot about authenticity and being true to oneself.

“Real dishes break. That’s how you know they’re real,” wrote the late Marty Rubin, a gay activist and writer from South Florida. To be vulnerable is to live life in a magnified manner. Joys and hurts are felt deeply. But all of living is more intensely experienced.

Sometimes, it is better to be sorry than safe. Even when you are hurt there is something to be learned. The more vulnerable you are, the stronger you become.

As you begin to awaken to your inner strength, you realize that your true identity lies beyond your physical appearance, ego and feelings. Your essence is divine. Only the ego gets hurt. Your authentic self is invincible.

So drop the heavy armor. Feel the wind on your body, allow your being to come alive and declare yourself to the world. To be vulnerable is to be free — and alive.

How I spent June 30, 2016 23

Posted on July 03, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated July 3, 2016 – 12:00am

Screen Shot 2016-07-03 at 9.48.29 AM
PNoy with (from left) Noel Cabangon, the author, Virgilio de los Reyes, Bro. Armin Luistro, Dinky Soliman, Mely Nicolas, Zenaida Monzada and Leah Navarro

I woke up at 5:15 on Thursday morning, took a shower and put on a Barong, white undershirt and black slacks, up and ready for the inauguration of the 14 th Vice President of the Republic of the Philippines. I was to go first to 36 Valencia Street in New Manila where shuttle buses would bring guests to the VP’s office located at the former Boracay mansion.

I felt honored to have been on the guest list for this occasion. I was one of the early birds who got to Valencia practically an hour before the buses left to take guests to the venue. I was too excited. I wanted to see friends whom I worked with to convince Leni, the reluctant candidate, to run for Vice President of the Filipino people, and campaign for her.

It was at a Kaya Natin party two years ago when some of us gathered for dinner to celebrate board member Marissa Leynes’ birthday. Leni and I were there as members of the Kaya Natin board. It was also an occasion to discuss politics. Towards the end of the evening, I casually asked Leni Roberedo who was seated on my left, a question that many members of the board hadreally wanted to ask her. I asked if she was interested in the VP position. She smiled, showing
disinterest. When more people at the party pursued the question, she gave us a look that said her life was fine the way it was. She was a congresswoman who served district well, and a widow who was taking care of her three daughters and she wanted nothing more. She doubted that anyone would even vote for her. Then she turned to us and asked if we were really her friends.

The rest of what happened is, of course, history.

I got to the venue, sat with friends and since we were early, we looked around the mansion that now houses Leni’s office and took a few pictures there before the ceremony was to start. I also got to chat with outgoing cabinet members about their stint in government.

The VP’s arrival was announced, and every one of the more than 600 guests stood up to welcome Leni Robredo, radiant in a re-cycled, re-styled dress she once wore as a wedding sponsor. We cheered as she entered the huge tent where the ceremony was held. A children’s choir sang the National Anthem followed by invocations by four religious leaders (Christian, Muslim, a holy man from the Cordillera, and a Franciscan nun). Then, Leni went up the stage to be sworn in by her chosen barangay captains. She raised her right hand and solemnly swore in Pilipino that she would follow the Constitution and carry out her duties as best she can.

Her speech was truly inspiring, rallying everyone to help her continue pursuing her vow to serve the poor and dispossessed (‘ang laylayan ng lipunan’). It was such a privilege being witness to history being made. VP Leni made her way through the crowd slowly, greeting everyone
individually, posing for selfies, and hugging and throwing kisses athose who were beyond reach if a handshake.

Meanwhile, snacks were served inside the Vice President’s official home. When she finally came in, she tirelessly and gamely posed for even more photos.

After Noel Cabangon and I had our turn having our pictures taken with the VP, we rushed to Times Street where we joined the neighborhood association and two priests welcome Citizen Noynoy Aquino back to his old neighborhood. After singing a few songs, we ended up having lunch at the Aquino residence where we saw Pnoy, members of his cabinet and friends, watching the last few minutes of incoming President Duterte 's inaugural speech. The room was silent.

Then Pnoy called everyone to eat.The mood was light. There seemed to be a feeling of relief. The president was in a joking mood, relaxed and smiling, lying on a butaca. It was quite a sight seeing him, and his cabinet laughing along.

I left Times Street at about 2 pm and tried calling for an Uber car. The signal was bad. Luckily, former DAR Secretary Gil de los Reyes offered me a ride home, saying he was free and had nnothing better to do. We talked about his boss Noynoy for whom had the highest praises, and the often tireless and thankless job of working in government. He felt he made a difference. He served the people to the best of his ability and he was happy to be going back to private life.

I got home, took a nap and by 5 pm, I was on my way to the Quezon City Memorial Circle with my sisters Lory and Paulynn for the inaugural party for VP Leni organized by her Facebook followers. It was great to be with so many people who were in a celebratory mood. There was a
concert going on with some of the best Filipino performers giving their all.

Leni arrived at around 7 pm. As she spoke, the crowd hung on to her every word. She thanked us for making her VP, reminded us that her long journey has just started and asked for our continuing support. She called on those who experienced the ugliness, hate and ill-will
which pervaded social media during the elections. She acknowledged the hurt of those who fought and defended their candidates. She asked us to let go of all the negativity. The pain,bitterness, suffering, hate will soon go away, she said, and what will remain is the good.

Her message was simple but profound, a healing call for unity and cooperation that brought a lot of people to tears, including myself.

When my sisters and I congratulated her after her talk, she
apologized that she made us cry, but she added, there was just too much hate last elections that has to dissipate. My sisters and I went home aglow from the experience of Leni and her message of peace.

Finally on my bed, I felt exhaustion overcome me but, it was a satisfying kind of tiredness. I had done my share supporting Leni and witnessed her inauguration that sealed the whole deal. With a small sense of fulfillment, I said a short prayer of thanks and whispered ‘Mabuhay ang Pilipinas’ in my mind before I drifted to a deep satisfied sleep.

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The author Jim Paredes with Vice President Leni Robredo

That’s life 2

Posted on June 26, 2016 by jimparedes

That’s life

By Jim Paredes
Philippine Star Humming in my Universe

At age 50 or 60, you look back at your life and a lot of realizations hit you. For example, you will look at friends, family, and other people you have gotten to know well, or even as mere acquaintances, in a different way than you did when you were much younger.

In your 20s, you may look at someone as a close best friend because you spent a whole summer together. Or you may think you have found true love because the other person could understand and accept all your quirks and imperfections within the few months you have been together.

But at age 20, you still have your entire life ahead of you. So much more will happen to you, and during that length of time between 20 and 60, you will experience more stuff that will change you. You will be tried and tested. You will go through heartbreak. You will feel pain so deep, it will change your personality. You will undergo great joys and disappointments. You will probably have a change in civil status, physical condition, geographical location, job, political affiliation, socio-economic status. You may change religion, life partner, or even sexual orientation.

No one’s life is static. Anything can happen, and you can be sure it will. That’s life.

Looking at people I’ve known from way back, I see entire life narratives played out, and still being played out. Some have had it easy. Some have had it tough. In some, I sense great spiritual growth, while others seem stuck in some of life’s tight bends and have not moved on. Not yet.

Days turn quickly into decades. Time will teach us that there are so many ways to be happy, and also so many ways to be miserable. We all change to some degree. As we age, some opinions and beliefs we used to hold dear will eventually be dropped for new ones. Carl Jung put it well: “But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning, for what was great in the morning will be little at evening and what in the morning was true, at evening will have become a lie.”

He also said something which I often remind myself of. “The first half of life is devoted to forming a healthy ego, the second half is going inward and letting go of it.” When I look at people I have known for years, many seem, in some great measure, to have been successful in letting go of much of their ego, while others are still struggling with it and holding on. One can never completely kill the ego, but you can set it aside enough of it to be able to laugh at yourself, admit mistakes and be forgiving of yourself and others. Time and aging can help you to do that. Those who can tame the ego are happier. The others perhaps need more time.

On social media, I get an idea of how friends and acquaintances live their lives. There are so many permutations of how life can be lived. If life were meant to be lived only a certain way, then all this diversity would be wrong and against nature. But as we can see, the life force in us brings us to where we are. “Life will find a way,” as posited in the movie Jurassic Park, and each path is individually and personally carved out.

While life seems to have no rules since it goes on as it does, we must make rules to get to know ourselves and everything around us. It’s the only way we can earn the right to sing “My Way”.

It is also true that many of us often find ourselves in situations not of our own doing. That’s because many times, we did not choose things consciously. We do not know how we got to where we are. The unconscious took charge of our life and brought us there.

Growing up means that we must make our own decisions in our own lives. The task is to make conscious what is unconscious so we are able to knowingly make clear choices in charting our own path. To be conscious is to know and accept ourselves and our true motives, no matter how “good” or “bad” they are. I am talking about total honesty and acceptance of oneself. It is hard, but that’s what it means to be responsible for our own decisions.

On Facebook, we read about people dying – of lives like Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali, and other more humble lives of simple people coming to an end. Words like “mission” and “destiny” come to mind. What did their lives mean to them? To others? Did they live with a purpose that was clear to them? Then, I turn to myself and ask: What is my mission? What is my life all about? Have I fulfilled my mission yet? What else do I have to do before my life ends?

In life, we accumulate wealth, and we build relationships and reputations. We also make friends and enemies. It is clear to me that worldly goods and relationships are not real possessions. You can’t take them with you. The temporal world has no place in eternity. We are all going somewhere infinite.

Maybe what matters in living our finite lives is to somehow outlive it and be remembered even for a few generations. We will die, but some part of us must live on. We must live a life that defies our own death, and leave behind something that people can enjoy, emulate, be grateful for or be inspired by.

That legacy speaks about how well we lived and loved, and what we leave behind that somehow makes life kinder and better for other people. ###

Real-life fathering 1

Posted on June 19, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 19, 2016 – 12:00am

Today is Father’s Day.

I became a father in 1979 when my daughter Erica was born on May 7 of that year. It was tremendous experience to see her right after birth being bathed by a nurse. She was so fragile. My feelings welled just watching her get wrapped up and taken to the baby viewing room. At that moment when I saw her, I knew I would never live a day without thinking and wondering about her.

I have two other kids — Ala and Mio. There isn’t any kid I love more than the others. I love them equally but differently. We raised them in the best way Lydia and I knew how. I did a lot to get them to enjoy reading and writing. I sat with them, helping them do a lot their homework from prep through college. I was the walking encyclopedia in the house who tried to answer all their questions. I taught them poetry and appreciation for the arts. Lydia nourished their health, mothered them, fed them, showered them with love and made sure they were always safe.

We are glad we became parents at the time that we did. It was a time when we still experienced the old ways our parents taught us about raising children while also being exposed to the new ways of building our family’s life.

I am both and old-fashioned and a modern dad. I taught them to be respectful of others and to be accountable for their actions. I shared the value and importance of being totally trustworthy when it came to money matters. They had to return the complete change always. I also encouraged them to learn to live with little.

At the same time, we encouraged then to join every activity they wanted. Erica was into gymnastics. Ala was into piano and ballet. Mio took up Tae Kwan Do. We traveled a lot with them. We let them attend youth leadership camps. We made sure they had both indoor and outdoor lives.

I am also a bit of a disciplinarian. I don’t believe in not calling my kids out when they do wrong. To kids, silence on my part can seem like a tacit “Okay.”

One time at the dinner table many years ago, I set a rule that “required” them to tell me at least three things they learned in school or things that happened to them that day. This came about because there was a time none of them would talk or converse even when I asked them questions. I hated their short answers. No one was interested in sharing. Dinner, which is an important family activity, was spent not even noticing one another.

I remembered pounding my fist on the table one night and demanding they talk to Lydia and me during dinnertime. They had to, or else no one could leave the table. At first it was a tense situation. In no time, I got them to start talking. From the required three things, we started to converse about everything. Supper, which used to be a 20-minute activity, became a one-hour affair, often extending to two hours because everyone had more stories to share.

Soon, they invited their friends to join in. Everything could be discussed at the table. I set no rules. They all talked candidly. It was a great way of learning where their lives were at. Lydia also thought of making a gratitude journal for everyone to write about things they were thankful for. That was a big hit with everyone. Every one of us, and even our friends and visitors, started to write their “thank you”
messages in the notebook. It was so inspiring to read this one: “I thank God for being born into this family.”

One of the things fathers often think about is how close they should be to their children. I am a dad who can sit down with them and listen with great patience and compassion, while still maintaining objectivity. I like to talk about spirituality, and discussing questions about life with them. I also like laughing with them and tickling their imaginations with absurdities. We can really have fun together. To be a real dad, you have to be present and engaged with your children!

The television used to be called the third parent since kids spend a lot of time watching it. Many kids grew up being exposed to TV content that, as a parent, I probably would not be crazy about. I am glad we as a family never got addicted to TV. We liked conversation more.

Some parents aim to be their kids’ best friend. I do not believe in that. As a friend, you will not want to give tough love when needed. And you will always find excuses for them when they do wrong. As a dad, I feel my duty is to check on them and raise them well with the right values, and to be around to guide them.

They have actually grown into fine adults. Erica is 37 years old. Ala is 33 and Mio is 28. I appreciate them a lot as true and good human beings who just happen to be my kids.

Parenting in this age of social media can be much more difficult. Too many gadgets stand in the way of real conversation. The kids, and even the parents, can get too spaced out. The big bad world outside can lord it over the family values you want to teach them. Porno, gambling, etc. are so accessible online. In place of reading books, kids now limit their reading to book reviews. In place of acquiring real knowledge and thinking things out, they opt for memes. In place of outdoor activities, they rely on video games.

The true values in life require patience, reflection and hard work. In a world of instant 24/7 communication, constant titillation and immediate gratification, it can be very difficult for parents to inculcate these life lessons unless access to all these gadgets is regulated. Kids should spend more time living a real life rather than a virtual one.

As a father, there is nothing like being with your kids, talking face to face and sharing real moments with them. Dad speaking from a TV monitor or cellphone can never replace a physically present dad who can hug his children, and be hugged back.

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