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Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

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Music to de-stress by 0

Posted on January 05, 2020 by jimparedes
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – January 5, 2020 – 12:00am

The holidays are over. We are back to everyday life. I don’t know if the transition back to daily living is a relief or a challenge for you. For some people, the Christmas season can be a very stressful time. Traffic, finances, social obligations, etc., can push people’s buttons and trigger great levels of stress. For others, the season is a time to enjoy and have quality time with loved ones. Through the years, I have noticed that I have actually been swinging from one to the other.

While we have started on a new year, much of the past will still be with us. Problems do not go away magically just because an old year ends and a new one begins.

Changes, the positive ones, take longer to happen. Deterioration, inertia and negativity can sometimes feel like they last longer. That’s because, without human intervention, the nature of things is to break down, get corrupted and destroyed. Entropy is a law of thermodynamics and rules over everything. And our lives are about trying to stop chaos, uncertainty and destruction that happens in the world. But preventing things from going to pot and rot also causes pressure and stress in daily life.

Through meditation, I have learned to remain mostly calm and collected even in the middle of a situation when many people are likely to be showing signs of physical and psychological cracks. Sure, like everyone, I lose it at times. But I have trained myself through the years to depersonalize situations or look at events objectively and without too many emotional attachments. The world does not revolve around me. Things and events simply happen. They come and go. When I am under stress, I just tell myself that problems are simply clouds passing by. They, too, shall pass.

And yes, they do.

Aside from mediation, I have been relying lately on the power of music to help me cope. I have discovered some songs and instrumental pieces that I know to be effective in helping me relax and calm down. There are pages on the internet that claim some of these songs have even been tested scientifically on people and gauged at how effectively they relieve all kinds of pain, daily stress, headaches, depression, and even for post-operative recovery, etc.

I did a lot of research on the net and personally listened to a lot of the recommended material. Many of the songs recommended were still not calm enough for me. The beats and melodies were still too actively engaging for my taste. In my quest for de-stressing music, there were some albums I’ve discovered by myself over the years. I find that the songs I like were not too well known by me or other people. That, to me, is a good thing. It forces me to surrender to them.

Here are my recommendations.

1) “Music to Calm Down Anxiety” by Relaxing Records. From the very beginning, the music will calm you with its extended long notes played on strings. The label has other albums that can put you in a meditative state. The songs can help ease anxiety or just simply pull the plug off from your busy mind. You will leave your concerns far behind.

2) Please Don’t Go by Barcelona. I have not heard other songs from this group except this one. This song is chill and can calm you down. The sound is more contemporary, too.

3) “Watermark” by Enya. Enya’s sound is very conducive to relaxation. Mostly slow, no loud beats. Very chill. Most of her albums are like that. After a while, you tend to be unaware it is playing and just feel so light and stress-free.

4) Any album by Ravi Shankar. Sitar music is very mysterious and haunting. It still sounds almost alien to the Western listener. I find it relaxing because unlike Western music, it takes a long time before the music gets to its central or main theme or melody. There is a lot of meandering. And the music sounds atonal since it is not written or played using a Western musical scale that we are used to. We are used to songs that try to catch our attention and engage us within seconds. Ravi Shankar’s music does not build up, at least not in the Western sense. They are long pieces that last up to 30 minutes or more. A busy, analytical mind will simply surrender to it since it is hard to analyze its structure. There is a drone-like effect that lulls you to sleep.

5) Happiness Runs by Donovan. A short song. Delightful, but calm. The working ingredient is its repetitiousness.

6) Energy by Ryuichi Sakamoto. I would recommend not just the song but the whole album called “This is Ryuichi Sakamoto.” The music is unfamiliar and the flowing piano solos are very soothing. They do not intrude. Play it at low volume in a dark room. Get lost in it.

7) “Urubu” by Antonio Carlos Jobim. Strangely, I find this album engaging but relaxing at the same time, probably because it takes me to another world. All the lyrics are in Portuguese and so I am not distracted by any narrative or story the lyrics may suggest. The orchestration is by Claus Ogerman. His arrangements are wonderful, magical, sometimes with understated brilliance, and at other times breathtakingly playful. The total effect is it engages you out of your mundane concerns and refreshes you.

8) Cinema Paradiso soundtrack by Ennio Morricone. The music is beautiful and sentimental. It is soft and grows on you immediately in a very cozy and caressing way. Totally disarming in its beauty. It can change your mood from tense to totally relaxed in just a few seconds.

9) “Weightless” by Marconi Union. This album is undisputedly the most relaxing, de-stressing album you can listen to. The first time I heard it, I drifted to sleep quite quickly and woke up two and a half hours later feeling so peaceful, calm and refreshed. I listened to the two-hour version of “Weightless” on Spotify. Upon further research,  I discovered there is a 10-hour version! No, I have not listened to the long one. But I will soon.

* * *

You can put all these songs on a playlist and have them ready when you want to seriously relax or just get away from all the problems of the world.

I like to lie down on my bed wearing loose clothes (or none), and feel all my muscles give way to gravity. I try to abandon all physical, mental, psychological resistance and control, and just totally surrender to the music. This means not even having an opinion on what I am listening to. I avoid trying to classify, understand, analyze or dissect the music. I open and allow the music to change and alter my mood and feelings. I end up completely flowing with it.

I would not suggest you listen to your playlist in traffic. While it will de-stress you, it might also make you sleep. If you have a driver, try it, but make sure he does not fall asleep either.

Shut off the deadlines, obligations, responsibilities once in a while. Recharge. This is a good practice to adopt for the new decade to survive it intact.


A gig at a detention center 0

Posted on December 15, 2019 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – December 15, 2019 – 12:00am

I had been looking forward to this particular appointment at 2 p.m. last Thursday, Dec. 5. I brought my guitar. I joined Leah Navarro, Bertie Lim, Melie Nicolas, Dan Songco, Charito Cruz, Gina Ordonez, Narz Lim, and Vicky Garchitorena all EDSA veterans and warriors to visit a common friend of ours in jail.

We agreed to meet at Camp Crame by 1:30 p.m. I came a few minutes late. After a long process where we had to submit identification cards, sign in as visitors, get bodily inspected, we were finally let inside the gate. There was a handful of police in this guarded area. In front of us was a long open-air corridor. We walked passed it towards a detached detention room. The clouds were heavy. It looked like strong rain was going to pour any minute. I walked briskly just in case.

When we got into the solo detention place, we were bodily inspected once again. They checked my guitar, the food someone brought and the Christmas party hats we intended to wear during the visit. At last, we were allowed to enter the receiving area, which was a bare room with a red leatherette sofa and some white monoblock chairs. And there, we waited.

Soon enough, the most feared prisoner of this government Senator Leila De Lima walked in. She had a big smile on her face. She was clearly happy to see us. We were also quite excited to see her. The last time I talked to her was during the EDSA celebration three years ago. It was a few weeks before she was arrested and jailed. Noel Cabangon and I even had a photo with her then.

I noticed that she had lost a lot of weight since the last time I saw her. She looked good, healthy and even slightly fit. She was happy to see us even as I noticed a calmness about her.

After a few minutes of greetings and some chit chat, the rain poured outside. The loud pitter-patter made conversation a bit hard because of the noise level. At that point, Leah Navarro suggested we sing Christmas Carols. The group (minus myself) had met two days before the visit to practice. We were raring to sing. Everyone had lyric sheets and wore party hats over their heads. I brought out my guitar and started playing. We started singing Pasko na Naman Muli. Then we segued to Silver Bells, Silent Night, Pasko ay Sumapit and a few other songs. We sang them cheerfully and with gusto. After a while when the rain eased a bit, we paused from singing and resumed our conversation.

Leila talked to us about her living quarters, which we did not get to see. It is a room that is away and isolated from other prisoners’ quarters. In fact, she has had zero contact with any other prisoner. There is no kitchen in her quarters and so she cannot cook. But they allowed her to have a microwave oven to heat her meals. She has no access to television, radio, cell phone and definitely no social media. Once a week, they bring a television monitor to the receiving area where she watches a movie all by herself. The movie, which is on a USB, is submitted days before so that it can be reviewed by her guards before she can watch.

She is allowed visitors, but the rules change from time to time. Lately, her visitors have been going through a hard time getting permission. She said she noticed the tightened restrictions ever since some US senators publicly asked for her release.

After about 30 minutes of conversation, we went back to singing again. Next on the lyric sheet was the song Pasko na Sinta Ko. I noticed how poignantly we sang this compared to the other songs. While it was sad, it felt too beautiful and appropriate to skip it. We sang a bit more until we finished all the songs on the list. I then went solo and sang Tuloy na tuloy and Pasko, a light, delightful APO Christmas hit which emphasizes why Christmas will always go on despite hard times. The message of the song is, as long as Jesus is part of it, there will always be Christmas to look forward to.

Then I started singing APO’s classic song Ewan, and everyone including Leila sang joined in. It was a light, joyful moment. What a unique gig this is, I told myself smiling. Leah Navarro, the only other singer in the group sang her classic hit song, Kailangan Kita. I accompanied her on the guitar. We were all having a great time as we all broke into applause after her song. At that moment, we seemed to have been transported to a free, happy place far from the depressing detention center. We were happy to see that Leila was especially relishing the moment.

We continued conversing about this and that. We talked about the goings-on in our country hoping to update Leila on the latest happenings. To our surprise, she seemed updated on a lot of things. We also shared happy stories and speculated on how everything would turn out. Someone joked that Leila would not be too happy living outside her jail since traffic has become more severe and almost hopeless. And then, there are water shortages, flooding, pollution, crowded and expensive Christmas shopping, etc. She laughed. She shared a few very interesting stories about her court trials which one day soon she will hopefully be able to share publicly. We mentioned to her that she was always in our thoughts and prayers. She smiled. It clearly buoyed up her spirits.

We were only allowed to visit for two hours. Time was running out. After a few more stories, we stood up to say goodbye. I thanked her for the handwritten thank you letter she had sent me a few weeks ago for attending the rally and Mass on the occasion of her 1,000th day of detention. I hugged her and told her what an honor it was to have sung for someone like her who was in jail because of her principles. We all sang a reprise of Pasko na Naman Muli before we left the reception area.

I felt good I signed up for the visit. I admit I felt apprehensive about saying yes due to personal security concerns and being possibly included in some negative government list, but in the end, I was happy I overcame my fears.

I will be the first to admit that I am far from being a good Christian. I am remiss in many of my religious obligations. But something inside tells me that it is a good thing to ease the suffering of others when we can. One of the few Bible quotes I remember from Mathew is, “I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Often, I think perhaps these simple phrases sum up all the Christianity we need to know.

In times of trouble, I like to go back to another thing I read somewhere. It says we should not worry because everything will be all right in the end. If it is not all right, then it is not yet the end. I know and believe Leila will get her vindication. Truth and light will always triumph over falsehood and darkness.


Boomers, millennials and the climate apocalypse 0

Posted on November 24, 2019 by jimparedes
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – November 24, 2019 – 12:00am

I have been thinking and worrying about the environment for a long time now. Decades ago, I started educating myself about environmental issues that mankind and the earth would be facing. I joined a few groups that had environmental concerns as their advocacy. I have kept abreast of the latest news and I continue to update my knowledge about it. It hardly occurred to me then that everything we feared about global warming and climate change would be unraveling in my lifetime. Not only is it happening, but it is also occurring at a faster pace and at a scale we never imagined.

The scientists were right all along. We’ve pushed the limits without thinking of the repercussions. Something has to give. The proverbial feces have hit the fan big time.

Mother Nature has become Mama Bitch Goddess.  Don’t expect love and nurturing from hereon. Nature is way too angry and now seeks retribution.

I was having a conversation with my millennial nephews a few days ago. We were talking about random things. Soon enough, we started talking about the environment and how their generation felt about climate change.

I was not surprised that they had an attitude of hopelessness about a lot of things. They said that the past generations have messed up the world so much that their generation and those that will follow will no doubt be facing a bleaker future.

They mentioned the unprecedented floods, droughts, forests fires, typhoons, storms, earthquakes, etc., that have been happening more and more often. By all measurements, environmental degradation is becoming more intense and severe. What we are going through is probably the new normal now, they said. Because of this, they expressed the fear that life would be harder for their generation. As they get older, they would enjoy less and less the same quality of life that they’ve experienced so far. They do not expect mankind to thrive on a planet that is dying of carbon overload. What depresses them most is the indifference of those in power regarding the environment. Greed still rules over the need to act swiftly and decisively to change the trajectory and heal the earth.

I used to imagine the next 15 years of my life in somewhat idyllic terms. In that world, I would still be healthy enough to travel to any place, enjoy the outdoors, and probably live by the beach for a few months every year. But with the air pollution problem worsening worldwide, the rising of the sea levels, the disappearing islands, the comeback of old diseases and germs, etc., I know I will have to reimagine a less optimistic one.

During the conversation, I thought of how different my generation was. Boomers (as my generation is called) lived quite an amazing life. That’s because our parents sacrificed a lot. It is important to point out that our parents’ big defining moment was World War II. They experienced the ugliness of war, hardship, famine, violence, scarcity, and fear. They literally scrounged for food, fought the enemy, suffered greatly and survived through it all. And despite the untold hardships, they overcame, survived and even thrived after the war. They weren’t called “The Greatest Generation” for nothing.

We were born and grew up during the post-war era. There was relative peace. Times were definitely much better. There were many new opportunities for growth. In fact, we were raised during more prosperous times. College was more affordable. We had a higher standard of living that seemed to get better as the world modernized rapidly. We could be anything we wanted to be. And many of us went for our dreams and succeeded.

But even if our generation had it better than our parents, we were still raised to be tough. There were no excuses about not going to school. We had to finish our food. We were taught good manners and correct conduct. We could not argue with our parents. We were subjected to greater discipline than the generations that followed us. We did not harbor feelings of entitlement or privilege.

Most of the psychological conditions that kids suffer from today — like ADHD, ADD, bipolar syndrome, Asperger’s syndrome, depression, and the whole spectrum of autism — were probably already present among boomers then. But these conditions were not clinically identified yet. If we had any of those conditions, no one knew what to call it. Not the schools, our parents, not even us, had any idea it was unusual (except for clear-cut autism). Those who had these conditions were dismissed as weird. They just suffered and toughed it out.

To the millennials, and Gen Z, the imagined future is not comforting. Many millennials are resigned to the fact that not all of them will be able to earn enough to buy their own homes as their parents did. The home will have to be a tiny condo (if they can afford it), or maybe their parents’ house. They will not earn enough to afford new cars, travel and enjoy the finer things in life that their boomer parents were able to enjoy and share with them. They won’t be able to afford that on their own.

I asked my nephews to give their take on why so many kids were undergoing depression and why suicide has become the secondary cause of death among many of the young. I ventured my opinion that we boomers were probably too soft on our kids. We wanted the best for them and gave them everything, so much so that they became used to an easy life. In short, we softened them up too much and spoiled them. We did not make them tough enough the way our own parents made us tough.

My nephews pointed out that the times and conditions now are so different from that of the boomers. There are more social pressures now because of social media. Having access to so many things all at once has caused many of them to have much lower attention spans, less discipline, and patience. And they spend way more time in the virtual than in the real world. Addiction is also more common because of feelings of alienation. I would add a lack of parental care and adult supervision among the reasons why kids today are more screwed up. I also notice that they have serious commitment issues. Too many choices, some studies say, is not always a good thing.

We boomers are at that stage in our lives when we are beginning to plan and prepare for our grand exit.  Many of us are in retirement. Millennials are just beginning to inherit this messy world and shape it into their own image.

What are we to do in response to the environmental tragedy that the earth is progressively hurtling towards? While everything is rapidly descending into an apocalypse, is there time to respond and save the earth? Scientists say we barely have time. But yes, we must do something.

Sometimes, I wonder why I am still adding more causes to fight for than I already have time for. My plate is too full. I am getting too old for this. At my age, I need new ways to cope with the staggering problems we face now. Perhaps having the wisdom to live and accept how things are is what I need at this point. I remember a quote from Joseph Campbell, and while it goes against the grain of the activist life I often live, its truth speaks to me.

“We’re in a freefall into future. We don’t know where we’re going. Things are changing so fast, and always when you’re going through a long tunnel, anxiety comes along. And all you have to do to transform your hell into a paradise is to turn your fall into a voluntary act. It’s a very interesting shift of perspective and that’s all it is… joyful participation in the sorrows and everything changes.”

Maybe we will win and save the earth. Maybe we won’t. But wherever and however everything turns out, we don’t have to lose our spirit and die in hopelessness. May we all live the rest of our lives with joyful engagement to the end.


If we live up to 150 years, when do we become senior citizens? 0

Posted on November 10, 2019 by jimparedes
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – November 10, 2019 – 12:00am

During most of the past 5,000 years, the greatest threats to humanity have been sickness, famine, and wars. We have had plagues that decimated millions of people. The Bubonic plague, the Black Death, the Antonine plague in 165 AD, cholera, malaria, etc. reduced entire populations to as much as 1/10 of their former size in a matter of months.

Mass starvation has been the cause of millions of deaths throughout human history. The Great Irish Potato Famine, the droughts in Russia, as well as many other parts of the world, are all recorded in history. And yes, millions starved to death.

And wars, with all their pillaging, have caused the demise of whole communities, countries, and peoples since the beginning of time.

But something has happened in the past 100 years. Mankind has had great success in eradicating sickness, wars, and famine in truly impressive ways. The acceleration of evolutionary progress is such that we are solving these problems faster (although, admittedly, also creating new ones).

During the last century, there have not been epidemics that have caused deaths by the tens of thousands. The few epidemics and viruses — like SARS, Ebola, HIV — were quashed relatively quickly preventing more widespread deaths. While we cannot say that deadly plagues killing thousands will not happen again, in all probability, it won’t, thanks to advances in medicines, vaccines, and sciences for saving many lives all over the world.

Food supply in practically all corners of the world has greatly increased in abundance thanks to scientific agriculture and modern food production. We are winning the war against hunger. While there are still many starving people in fourth world or war-torn parts of the world, it is a fact that more people suffer more from obesity now than hunger.

The last major war was 80 years ago when millions died during World War II. We still have conflicts happening in some parts of the world. But the whole idea of settling disputes by ravaging and conquering a whole country or continent and its people by military force is largely becoming an obsolete idea. People are actually solving more conflicts today through diplomacy and negotiations.

I have been reading all this in a book entitled Homo Deus: The Future of Mankind by Yurval Noah Harari, and I am finding his examination of history very fascinating.

According to the author, the future of mankind, with sickness, mass starvation and the tendency to wars now under control, is his inevitable movement towards his own immortality. Harari says we already have the science to allow humans to live up to 150 years. It is still a bit costly now, but eventually, it will be affordable. This will happen with genetics and changing replaceable parts every few decades. He predicts that by the last quarter of this century, living 150 to 300 years will be probable and widespread. And if a man can live 300 years, why can’t he live 500 years or more?

I am completely absorbed and fascinated by this book. A bunch of questions keeps flashing through my mind. What would living that long feel like? How old would one have to be before he/she becomes a senior citizen? What would the age of consent be? At what age will one go through certain “rites of passage”? What new rites of passages will there be for people who live that long? What is the future of marriage? Does this mean people will still stay married for, say, 200 years to the same partner? Will people stay married “till death do us part,” or will marriage have an expiry date? Will it be renewable? How often will you be renewing such things as passports and drivers’ licenses? How many years will schooling and education be? Surely, an educational degree a century ago would be obsolete today. How many times will you need to get educated or formally update your education? What about prison sentences? How will they determine how long one must be detained for crimes no that longevity has greatly expanded? How many residences will you live in throughout your life? How many citizenships will one go through in this much longer lifetime? And ultimately: Would you really want to live that long?

Author Harari claims the science of “immortality” is already here. Theoretically, science today can create a generation of babies with designer genes that will give them every advantage to live even longer with the help of gadgets, machines, replaceable body parts and new discoveries.

Many people are upset at the idea that we seem to be going against the laws of nature. They claim man is playing God. It is notable to point out that at every juncture of a scientific breakthrough, issues like these always pop up.

Humans today are not the same types of humans that roamed the earth just 50 years ago. Humans today are, by definition, cyborgs (a combination of humans and machines). We are now routinely equipped with hearing aids, eyeglasses, dentures, knee and hip replacements, pacemakers, manufactured eye lenses, titanium for our bones, and implants of all sorts for a few decades now. This has made our lives easier — and longer.

Can liver, kidney, heart, lungs, bones, brains, tissue and muscle replacements be far behind? More amazing breakthroughs will happen to enhance the human body and prolong life.

Many people today have been granted a reprieve from an earlier death through the intercession of science. And death’s so-called inevitability continues to be pushed further back. You can trust science to solve many illnesses and diseases or immunize humans against them. As an example, one important game-changer is the new class of antibiotics that can fight new evolving forms of resistant diseases.

Even so, the future will certainly create new causes of death. Many of them will be due to the dire environmental crises mankind is facing now. And it will only get worse. Not all will be given the chance at immortality.

Harari also asks questions about what religion would be like in this brave new future. Will religion as we know it today still be around? Or will a new scientific or “techno” religion exist? (Sorry, I have not finished reading the book yet to supply you with his answer.)

Perhaps along with longevity, there will likely evolve a new consciousness and a modern spirituality. It will still grapple with the immortal questions that will probably remain unanswered  forever such as, “Why are we here?” Or “What is the purpose or meaning of life?” Will we ever find the answers?

The fulfillment of man’s immortal yearning for Oneness, transcendence, his longing to meet God (however they conceive God to be) will be a whole new experience. No one, as of now, is ready to speculate on what that will be like.

What it’s like to be working with the best 0

Posted on October 27, 2019 by jimparedes
Screen Shot 2019-10-27 at 7.27.35 pm
Group 1 members are Ebe Dancel, author Jim Paredes, Herbert Hernandez, Yumi Lacsamana, and arranger Marlon Barnuevo

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – October 20, 2019 – 12:00am

MANILA,Philippines — I was intimidated at first, I must admit.

I was invited to attend a songwriting workshop by the Filipino Society of Composers and Songwriters (FILSCAP) two weekends ago in Subic.

I’ve attended many songwriting workshops as a teacher/mentor. Just three weeks ago, I was in Lingayen doing one for PhilPop were 30 kids attended.

But this invitation from FILSCAP was different. I was not going to be a mentor. I was going to be with some of the top songwriters in the Philippines and would collaborate with some of them during the workshops. Weeks before when I got my invitation, I already had my apprehensions and had voiced them out.

How would seasoned and successful artists sit down and collaborate when all of us already have our own tried-and-tested styles and ways of doing what we do? Most songwriters can be very protective o their secrets in writing good songs. Would people be able to set aside their pride and egos and work together and come up with something decent? I was not sure. Besides, some of us were meeting for the first time ever. Would we be able to establish rapport immediately to have enough time to do the work required?

It was called the FILSCAP Master Camp. Sixteen songwriters, plus staff, media to document the event, and officers of FILSCAP all met at Kamana Sanctuary and Spa in Subic. It was a great location to relax and be inspired. We would spend four days writing there. The first morning we all got together, Trina Belamide, a fellow composer and one of the proponents of the project, announced there would be four groups of four songwriters each and one arranger (tracker). For the next two days, each group was required to write and submit at least one song. If we were on a roll, we could write more.

The first group I was in had Yumi Lacsamana, Ebe Dancel, Herbert Hernandez and myself. Our arranger (tracker) was Marlon Barnuevo. We met at Marlon’s Casita by the sea after breakfast where he had his laptop and gadgets that could make any song sound decent enough for a good presentation.

I entered the casita with an open mind. I swore that I would be active but would listen to everyone. I was also a bit scared that these young people I was working with would find my ideas trite or passé. We started by focusing on what we wanted to write about. I suggested we write a love song but with an angle not yet too exploited. I suggested that particular, though random, experience where you have a five-second interaction with a stranger, that it can feel like an eternity has happened between the two of you. We talked about a setting like the Shibuya crossing where hundreds of thousands of people pass daily. Or a huge shopping mall filled with people on a weekend.

Immediately, someone suggested the phrase “Walang hanggang sandali” to describe that moment. We also adopted it as the title. Before we knew it we were throwing melodies and lyrics around, editing and changing words and phrases for better effect. It was an exciting process. We all felt open, and gave way to each other while, at the same time, we were all actively contributing to the creation of the song. Our tracker was playing chords as we were creating the musical phrases. It was like building something brick by brick. After about four or five hours, we knew we had a song.

Marlon played it on the piano while Yumi sang it. It was beautiful. We were all ecstatic. It was a good song. While Yumi was recording her tracks, we were continuing to edit the lyrics. The final outcome was more than wonderful. It felt and sounded like a great song with a powerful recall. We felt so proud and happy. We were even jumping with joy. We were thankful that we bonded well. We formed a group hug and our spirits did the same. Our hearts were full.

We had fulfilled the requirement. We decided to end the day and leave Marlon to arrange the song. There was enough time to make another song the next day.

The next morning, we followed the same process and wrote a fast pop song. It started with Herbert playing a few chords on the guitar and Ebe singing the first line. It was about a couple that can’t seem to get along even when they actually love each other. This one was written in less time. The title was Sige na, Oo na! Very catchy!

On the third day, we were reshuffled again and I ended up with Yeng Constantino, Edwin Marollano and Titus John Monterde. Our tracker was Paulo Zarate.

Again, we asked ourselves what topic should we write about. I told the story of a guy who had an affair that ran for 30 years while he was married. We decided to explore the point of view of the husband. The song would be about him talking to his wife and explaining himself. The title of the song would be Mali. We immediately came up with a melody and a few lyrics. Edwin and Yeng were concentrating on the lyrical phrasing. Titus was taking notes and running all the suggestions by the group. Everyone was excitedly pitching in.

After about an hour, Yeng had this idea and suggested that we change and turn the narrative around. We would take the wife’s position and she would be explaining to her husband why she had an affair. That was an inspired “a-ha” moment. We were getting away from stereotypes. We immediately changed course and came out with a poignantly beautiful song.

On the last day of the workshop, the 16 songwriters, staff and FILSCAP officials listened to all the songs every group made. There were 11 of them written in different genres, styles, and approaches. They were all good and quite outstanding. Everyone was so high after the listening session. There were hugs, tears, and affirmations going around and being passed on.

I was amazed that, in the end, all my apprehensions were for naught. Everything worked like a charm. Everyone just sort of slipped into the right vibe to make everything work well. We were open to each other. We left our egos behind. We were focused on writing great songs without having an attitude of personal ownership. We relinquished control to the collective. It was a group effort through and through. And we built new friendships and cemented old ones.

Between sessions, we would get into discussions about life, death, creativity, etc. It was fascinating to listen to fellow artists. We learned a lot from each other. Personally, I am thankful that opportunities like these are beginning to happen in the music world here. Rico Blanco, FILSCAP president, has pioneered a lot of projects that have given songwriters venues for self-expression. But this was his boldest, most successful endeavor yet. Congrats to the songwriters, FILSCAP, and everyone who was part of Master Camp.

Expect all of this to translate into great songs and music you will hopefully hear soon.


Remembering Jojit Paredes & his hearty laughter 0

Posted on October 12, 2019 by jimparedes
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HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – September 29, 2019 – 12:00am

I remember the wake of my grandfather, who died some 55 years ago.  Relatives from all over the Philippines showed up. Many of them I saw for the first time. My cousins and I looked at the faces of our new relatives as they entered the room. Immediately we spotted relatives we had never met who hailed from Pasay. They turned out to be our second cousins. The girls were beautiful, and the guys were good-looking.  And we noticed that they were also staring at us and were whispering and giggling.

We were barely in our teens. My first cousins and I  were immediately attracted to our newly arrived second cousins from the far side of town. In our eyes, they looked gorgeous, exciting. We felt the feeling was mutual. Finally, we guys mustered our courage and introduced ourselves to the girls. They were quite friendly. The rapport was instantaneous. We immediately had crushes on them. The Pasay Paredes guys also had crushes on our girl cousins, too.

Soon after, my cousin Mark and I started going to Pasay where we met more of them. That was where I met my cousin Jojit Paredes, who was always with his good friend and neighbor Ronnie Henares. They both played the guitar and liked to sing and perform. They had great vocal harmony. They were campus idols, especially in Assumption College and LaSalle where they studied.

Before I knew it,  I had joined them in a band called Les Violents, another hobby and outlet they were doing aside from their acoustic duet. The how and why of that awful name becoming our band’s name is still a mystery to me to this day. We still laugh about it.

As the Violents, we were doing gigs in parties, school programs, fairs, etc. Jojit was the handsome guy. He had that matinee idol look. His smile was infectious. I would see girls sigh when they saw and heard him sing. He and Ronnie were friendly and sociable and confident enough to approach the girls and introduce themselves.  Me? I was the shy one then. I was a bluesy, brooding 13-year-old. I mostly just tagged along with the two of them.

My stint with the band did not last long. Pasay was too far from where I lived and so I started going there less and less.  Besides, I had my own singing friends in school. Soon after, they became a duet called the Two of Us. Meanwhile, I hung around with my own friends in school and we formed the Apolinario Mabini Hiking Society.

But Jojit also had a budding career outside of his duet gigs with Ronnie. He did some solo recordings and some movies for a while. He even did one with the biggest star at that time who was  Nora Aunor.

Jojit, Ronnie and I  hardly saw each other anymore. After doing some movies and an album, I heard Jojit got married and went to study at Ateneo  Law School. But his first marriage did not last long. Soon after the breakup, he moved to the US and settled there for good. It would be decades again before I would see him.

I remember Jojit as being a kind soul. He was a gentleman, especially to the ladies he met. He would always cause a mild commotion among the girls when he entered a room. He was handsome like his father and he had a presence. It was not surprising that he had a lot of admirers and fans.  That killer smile and his sparkling, eyes made him likable to everyone.  He loved to laugh heartily.  Ronnie, who always had a ton of jokes to share at any time, must have influenced him.

Last year around April, Ronnie called me to ask if Boboy Garrovillo and  I would be interested in being their guests at a planned Two of Us concert in Solaire for September.  It was Jojit’s idea to have a revival show with his good friend Ronnie. He had missed performing so much. In Los  Angeles, he largely kept away from his music passion. He worked for a law firm. Doing a big concert again was high on his bucket list. We immediately said yes.

The days leading to the concert saw the Two of Us,  Boboy and I  get together for rehearsals.

It was great to see Jojit back in Manila. Still, as young and good looking and friendly as ever at age 68, he hugged me. He was clearly happy to be home and doing the thing he loved to do. He was playing the guitar and singing again. We talked and updated each other about our lives. He seemed content, and even happy with his life in the US.

On the day of the concert, Ronnie and Jojit were clearly excited and thrilled that they still could attract a big crowd despite their long absence from the concert scene. They bombarded the audience with old ’60s songs they used to sing decades go. The audience gamely sang along and had a good time.

That night in Solaire after the show would be the last time I would see Jojit. A few days later, he was back in LA.

Last Sept. 24, I got a text from a relative saying  Jojit had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. Things did not look good. The last thing he did before the stroke was to stand up and get water because he was dizzy. He never got up again. He was rushed to the hospital and was put under life support. A few hours later they pulled out the plug and he died peacefully at 12:35 p.m.

Ronnie and I called each other to exchange info. We cried on the phone.  We both had lost a dear friend.

These days, when I see friends, classmates, and relatives who are over 60, I always consider the possibility that we could be talking for the last time.

Jojit, we never got to meet and spend time together again after the concert. But I am so happy, though, that you were able to have that concert you dreamt of having. That was one big item on your bucket list that you fulfilled.

Remembering your smile lifts the heaviness we are all going through because of your demise. Gone too soon. Till we meet again dear, friend and cousin.


Taking your audience where they have never been 0

Posted on September 14, 2019 by jimparedes
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – September 15, 2019 – 12:00am

I had a small gig the past weekend. It was held at Parliament On King at King Street in Newtown, the hippest place in Sydney. It’s a tiny venue that can accommodate only 25 people. This was the second time I’d performed there. Proceeds went to an NGO called Asylum Seekers Centre. The first time, we used the money we raised to buy mobile phones for a few refugees.

What I want to talk about is the topic of performance.

I have been performing since my high school days and I still prepare for each gig. Several days before the Sydney performance I had a cough that had been going on for four weeks; I finally took antibiotics, hoping my voice would be well enough to perform.

In addition to trying to keep my voice intact, part of my preparation before each show is planning my repertoire. I am always expected to sing the hit songs I made with APO, so I did that. That’s a given. But I also made sure to play new compositions that I’ve composed since APO ended 10 years ago. I have been writing new music and done two solo albums since. I am still as excited as ever about doing new material for anyone who wants to listen.

Throughout the years, I’ve developed and discovered my own philosophy about what a performance really ought to be.

From National Artist Rolando Tinio, I learned that theater is all about the filling up of time and space. You create content for people to watch. Your content is your material. And you perform the material.

To me, a performance is an artist’s attempt to bring his (or her) audience to a time and place where they have never been. I am speaking about physical, emotional, sensual, spiritual states that they have not experienced. While they may have felt similar emotions in the past, a performer’s unique material will make it a new experience. It is an engagement with the audience’s imagination and a suspension of disbelief.

A magician will arouse wonder and mystery. Dancers will wow the crowd by showing great agility in moving their bodies through the choreography of different successive physical movements coordinated to music. Often, they seem to defy gravity. Singers engage the audience with songs that they know and enjoy. They interpret the songs using their own vocal styles and arrangements, giving a new take on them. Playwrights and actors create and tell stories that engage their audience. Athletes break records of human physical endurance, strength, speed and skill. Religious leaders aim to take you toward spiritual states that give you a feeling of comfort in your belief and a feeling of liberation.

All throughout, through the clever use of surprise and delight, and/or shock and awe, good performers take their audiences to different places and states of mind.

In a little gig such as mine, I aim to bring enjoyment and delight via songs that elicit memories of the past, stories about the songs I have written, and other topics about life that people can relate to. I also sing new material. I know it sounds like a formula that’s been done before over and over again — and on the surface, yes, it is true. But I believe in the power of live performance and engagement. Something wonderful always happens to both performer and his audience when one has the right material and it is delivered powerfully.

A combination of spontaneity from the performer’s end and an audience willing to have fun can bring magic to the situation. A wonderful combustion can happen. Carl Jung once said, “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.”

The specificity of any present moment and place and has an inert energy about it. To a seasoned performer, it is ripe for exploitation. He can focus on anything and exploit it. He can seize the moment and instantly make comments or do something that can affect the audience in a delightful way and play it to the hilt.

In comedy, it’s called improvisation — where you go off script and directly ride with the flow of the moment. In jazz, it’s also called improv, or ad libbing. The musicians become completely extemporaneous without any previous preparation. And if they’re good, a magical performance happens.

A performer gives something of himself to every show. A live performance opens you to vulnerability. Your voice may crack. You can lose timing. You can forget lyrics or sing flat or sharp notes. Many things can go wrong. But that’s the thrill of it. That’s what a live performance is all about.

I try to give a new spin or take (no matter how small) to songs I have done countless times and make it fresh and new again. There are many ways to perform an old familiar song and give it a twist. Sometimes, I stretch one note longer, or even just hold the mic with the other hand. Adding even little nuances while performing can make me more present.

During the APO days, I used to imagine myself as some sort of high priest as I put on my costume before a show. I looked at my clothes as vestments that gave me the power to transform the next two hours into a creative moment of entertainment, thrills, magical music and alter the emotional state of my audience to something wonderful and memorable.

It took us years to learn everything we did. These days, I am still trying to find my comfort zone as a solo performer. It is a good stage to be in. I like trying new things. At my age I still look at myself as a student learning many lessons. Sometimes, I think I am getting better.

Performing is something I don’t think I will ever get tired of doing. I had 44 years of it with APO.  Throughout those years, I learned a lot as a songwriter, singer, performer, arranger, director, scriptwriter and, yes, critic. I have also learned to calmly accept criticism. They were great years because they engaged all of my creative powers. What more could I ask for? I just wish to continue doing this.

Sometimes I remember performers I knew who “died” onstage while doing a gig. While it may have been a shock to their audience, I feel in way that they were lucky and blessed. At least they left this earth dressed elegantly, doing what they loved to do.

Are these our last days on planet earth as we know it? 0

Posted on August 31, 2019 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – September 1, 2019 – 12:00am

There is a lot to worry about these days. Humanity seems to be assaulted on all fronts. Doomsday seems more impending than at any other time. I worry.

The Amazon, which provides 20 percent of the world’s oxygen, is burning and Brazil’s leader Bolsonado seems not to really care about it. He seems to be of the same mindset as Trump who basically has no grasp of the whole global warming climate phenomenon that 98 percent of all scientists have been warning about for decades. These leaders are climate-change deniers.

The catastrophe is almost a sure thing although some scientists say we have five to 10 years to change our ways. If we do not act concertedly as a whole human race, we will be doomed to suffer in a planet which is increasingly getting hotter and we will struggle to survive all its attendant climatic consequence. As a result, many islands all over the world will be drowned by the oceans as big ice sheets melt into the sea.

There is the trade war that is causing a lot of anxiety all over the world. Markets are jittery. Currencies are shaky.

There are the massive protests in Hong Kong and Taiwan whose people are fighting for their own freedoms amid Chinese threats of total control and hegemony. The countries along the West Philippines Sea are also being squeezed by China to give up territory.

Everywhere you look there seems to be trouble of some kind brewing. Dictatorships are reigning in many countries of the world. A nuclear bomb actually exploded in Russia last month. North Korea is testing missiles non-stop. The divide between the rich and poor, citizens and their governments are getting wider than ever everywhere.

The world goes on even as many wonder how much longer it will take before a massive breakdown of systems happen.

Between the apathetic and those who are concerned about what is happening outside of one’s own world, I find myself among the latter. I have always been interested and concerned about the state of my community, village, city, country and yes, the rest of the world. It has always mattered to me that some people have to suffer greatly. The suffering of strangers, of people I am not even related to can affect me greatly. My empathy and compassion are easily aroused. I can easily identify with them. At the cost of sounding like a cliche, I feel their pain.

I know a lot people who can dismiss suffering very easily. They readily brush it off. When suffering happens to other people they can be very dismissive. Some even make jokes about it. They simply do not care. I do not understand how anyone can be like that.

I remember my uncle who had to endure suffering during Marcos’ time. He said, “Martial law is OK until it happens to you.” Maybe for many people, misfortune has to happen to them first before they can have empathy towards others.

Apathy and indifference are the last things the world needs now. We have to awaken and solve the big problems that threaten every sentient being on earth.

Today I read an article that said that under the regime of cataclysmic climate change, the rich will be spared more than the poor. In terms of countries, we all know that the richest nations were and still are the biggest contributors of CO2 emissions and garbage on the planet. And yet it is the poor who will ultimately and unfairly suffer more.

I really hope I am just exaggerating but I do believe the day of reckoning is just around the corner. The dreaded predictions are happening sooner than expected. The ice sheets of Greenland and Iceland were still supposed to hold from melting until 2050. Two months ago, some of them already started to disappear.

The destructive forest fires are not just in the Amazon but also in Bolivia, Indonesia, Russia, and huge parts of Africa. In a Brahma Kumaris talk I attended about a month and a half ago, an esteemed yogi was asked how people could help Mother Nature recover from climate change. The yogi answered by saying that she is not too worried about Mother Nature because the natural world will adjust and heal no matter what happens. It is mankind that she says will suffer greatly and whose survival is more threatened. I sadly agree.

Sometimes, I imagine that we may be enjoying our last “normal” days on earth before things turn really crazy very quickly. Storms, rains, floods, droughts and other natural weather conditions are becoming more extreme and dangerous and occurring more often. Never has it happened that Alaska had temperatures that were in the 80s Fahrenheit. Yet it did two months ago. Unbelievable.

There is a great battle going on in the world. It is between those who see the world and humanity as sacred and worth saving. They aim for a more sustainable, inclusive way of life. And then there are those who see everything solely from the point of view of generating profit, wealth and accumulating more power for its own sake.

More and more people know that things cannot go on as they have been. We have to transition to something more sustainable. Can the old business model of aiming for unlimited profits above all else continue? Has capitalism reached a point where it is now unsustainable and must transform to something more egalitarian?

I am not against profit or business. But here’s a thought I picked up on the net  I want to leave you with. When we see people who excessively hoard things in their apartments and can’t let them go, or people who are addicted to substances and can’t stop, don’t we see the same perverse similarity in the excessive and obsessive pursuit of money and power? Isn’t it a form of addiction too? Isn’t it a sickness?

The climate crisis is in large part a psycho-spiritual one. The only solution is to awaken and move the world into a different direction.

The big questions is, can mankind wake up in time to save the world? Or are we living the last days of life on earth as we still know it?

I don’t want to leave you with questions. We all know the answers. If your appreciation of the problem is still in the level of intellectual understanding, bring it down. Feel it so it becomes visceral. Can you feel the sadness, impending loss and the pain?

In your own way, act now. Do something daily in the direction of saving the world. Who else will do it?


Drop virtual living and live a real life 0

Posted on August 24, 2019 by jimparedes
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – August 25, 2019 – 12:00am

Time was when our attention was caught by just a few things. There was news we read in the daily papers, or heard on the radio or watched on television. We thought we were busy enough with the things we needed to do like work, study, worry about the next paycheck, clean the house, raise a family, etc. But there was always time to interact with fellow humans, have good times with friends and family, read books, do some sports and yes, taste our food and enjoy it.

Even when we thought things were already a bit hectic, life was actually way simpler then compared to now.

The creeping  onslaught of life-changing technology entered our lives with the advent of the internet and smart phones. More and more, we have been (perhaps unknowingly and tacitly) allowing the internet to insinuate itself into our lives and rule over  bigger and bigger portions of our activities and our time. Now, it is no exaggeration to say that to a great degree we are all held hostage by technology.

I still remember being in my teens and meeting a girl in a skating rink in Cubao. After one or two visits to her house, I asked her out on a date for the next weekend. We  agreed on a time and place to meet seven days later. There were no follow-up calls; not everyone had a telephone then. Believe it or not, the date actually happened and we had a great time. Life was so simple. People simply showed up when they said they would. We did not need all these present-day gadgets for reminders, confirmation to plan or do anything.

These days, with apps like Facebook, Instagram, Viber, Whatsapp, etc., things have drastically changed. People meet online before meeting in person, stay in touch, maybe even get something going if the vibes are right.

Technology has changed everything. I often wonder how people of my generation lived their lives without smart phones and still got from one place to another sans Waze and Maps and other travel apps. How did people travel abroad and plan their itineraries without booking a hotel a month earlier? How did we live and manage in such an “unsure”  world? Now everything is tracked and documented. Our phones can suggest restos and  destinations based on our past monitored activities.  We can predict travel time, weather  and contact practically anyone anytime.

We can also publicly express our opinions over a wide array of issues. We all have an apple box to stand on and tell the world how we feel. It is interesting to note that the earliest pioneers of the internet predicted then that the open access of millions to online conversation, articles blogs and data would guarantee the end of all dictatorships. How can it thrive when truth and facts can be shared quickly and massively? they asked. In hindsight, they were perhaps way too optimistic.

I’ve always looked at myself as a modern guy and I am up to date with  the latest in technology. But lately, I have not been as excited about it as I used to. Frankly, I go through periods of social media fatigue. I am trying to limit my time on Facebook, Twitter et al. There is just too much noise and too little substance to pick up. And if you are not careful, your smart phone can easily take over your entire day, week, month.

These days, in my own little ways I try not to be too dependent on technology when I can. I am trying to get back to the increasingly archaic habit of reading books printed on paper. And I don’t go online to read reviews and summaries.

Perhaps because I exercise and am into health, I also listen to my body and trust my instincts when it tries to tell me something. Since I started meditating again, I notice how my body clock knows within about 30 seconds when the alarm would ring signalling the end of  a 25-minute silent meditation session. When I do my walks around my neighbourhood  I can tell when I have reached 5,000 steps or when I am close to walking an hour already without having to consult my gadgets.  While technology is helpful in many ways, It is not a always a good thing to be too reliant on machines and gadgets. When you can listen to yourself and your instincts and your own inner wisdom, you can feel a wonderful wholeness and connectedness to things.

A good chef knows by instinct how much or how little to use certain ingredients when cooking particular meals. A good musician must rely more on instinct rather than machines to be able to make a great musical work. Everything is created and defined clearly in his mind before he even goes to the studio. An athlete knows when he/she is on top of his game. Gadgets and devices can merely measure and confirm what the athlete already knows intuitively.

When we turn on our devices, the whole world, or at least what we allow of it, rushes into our consciousness. We hear from and about friends, families, old classmates, enemies and read stories about all types of people, countries everywhere, etc. We sigh, laugh, curse, complain, cry, feel joy and indignation, wonder and fear, and feel so may other feelings.

But even while we feel these emotions, very often they don’t linger long enough for us to go beyond ticking the  “likes” or “share” buttons. We have a moment of empathy, compassion, outrage but actually do nothing about these causes we reacted to. We end up moving from one story to another without doing anything concrete and helpful.

This constant and never-ending assault on our emotions and sensibilities may  have made us inured to any form of commitment beyond our superficial likes and shares, and the occasional comments.

It is so sad.

Day in and out, we are exposed to the tragic goings-on and evils of the world. Sure, we may feel the pain as we read but we comfort ourselves with the pathetic notion that  because we had reposted something or have ticked an angry or tearful emoticon, we have done enough.

The level of commitment we express online often does not match how we would really react in real life situations. As an example, we may vigorously express our anger and disgust at China and the present administration but we will not commit to joining rallies. Real life demands too much effort.

But in real life one has to physically show up. Nothing happens when no one shows up. We have to act and do something. I have been following the events in Hong Kong for a few weeks now. Hongkongers know the value of showing up and doing action. They have been rallying almost every day expressing their sentiments not just online but more importantly in the streets. We in the Philippines still have a lot to learn from them.

In this article, I am encouraging you my dear readers to live a bigger portion of your lives not in the virtual world but in the real one.  It is not easy since we have become so attached to technology. The word is full of problems to solve and causes to believe in and fight for. Life will never run out of challenges.

Once in awhile, it is good to leave cyberspace and allow uncertainty and unpredictability to shake us up. Let’s get down and dirty. Stop wasting time in cyberspace and get into the speed and flow of real life. Our gadgets can only help us so far. By itself, it will not be able to help us have fuller and more meaningful lives. Only real commitment in the battle field of life can give us such meaning.

So let’s take a break from having our heads in the cloud and get down to real living on earth. Let’s take time to talk, laugh, and interact live and in person.

As Irish netizen Paul McGirl wonderfully put it, “Technology is cold. Find a real hand to hold.”

Would you hug a stranger? 0

Posted on August 11, 2019 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – August 11, 2019 – 12:00am

‘Maybe we should stop being automatically fearful of each other. In life, we will all have to ask for help from people we don’t know.’

On a train from downtown Sydney a few years ago, I found myself sitting across from a tall white man. He was unkempt but not menacing. He was dressed like he was a tradesman wearing that signature neon green jacket. Normally, no one minds anyone during train rides. People enter, sit and get on and off without talking to each other. And so I was surprised when the man seated across from me called my attention to say it was his 53rd birthday tomorrow. I smiled and politely gave him my congratulations. I answered but without really meaning to continue the conversation. I remotely considered the possibility that he could be some kind of crazy guy. I avoided eye contact afterward.

After about two minutes, he addressed me again. He complained that his back hurt so much. I answered, “Is that so?” He kept on. And on. It seemed like he wanted a continuing conversation. I realized I was in a situation where I could not dismiss him and so I conversed with this man. I asked him why his back hurt so much. He said he was born with legs too long and so his back had been hurting for years. He opened his jacket to show me and judging from where his belt was, it did look like he had a short torso.

The next thing he said caught me by surprise. He said he wanted to commit suicide. I was stunned. I knew this was an “uh-oh” moment, to say the least. And I felt I was on the spot somehow. I instinctively looked straight into his eyes and said, “Please don’t.” I had hoped that his next words would be less disturbing since I really did not want to get involved. But he repeated that he wanted to end his life.

Here was a man who was clearly and desperately asking for help. This stranger had dropped his guard and exposed his deep loneliness. I was in full attention and heightened awareness.

I knew I was now in a serious situation I could not turn away from. I felt the magnitude of his pain. He continued talking. Actually, it was more like rambling. I could see his eyes swell up with tears as he narrated that he had lost his parents many years ago. He had no siblings nor a wife and children to come home to. He was miserably alone in his life. He repeated again that he wanted to commit suicide. At this point, I stood up from my seat and moved to where he was and sat down next to him.

I sat on his right side and put my hand behind his back. He started to sob while he covered his face with his hands. His elbows were resting on his knees. I put my left hand over his back, rubbing it as I said, “Please don’t commit suicide. Everything will be all right, sir.”

I did not know what else to say. He started crying uncontrollably. I pulled him closer and kept saying that everything would be okay. I told him that God was with him. I just kept on repeating the words, “It’ll be okay.” He seemed to be listening.

I caught myself hugging this stranger. Hugging is my instinctive way to give comfort and consolation. I wanted him to know that I was listening to him and was sympathetic to what he was going through. There were many other people on the train but they all avoided looking, much less having eye contact. They ignored what was going on.

I just sat there beside him.

Soon, the train had reached the station. It was where I was supposed to get off and transfer to another train to get home. I stayed seated beside him for a while consoling him as passengers got off and new ones came on the train. But I knew I had to leave very soon. I felt bad when I told him I had to leave. I whispered for the last time that, “God loves you, sir. Please don’t commit suicide.” I reluctantly left the train and went to my platform where the train home was ready to depart. I barely caught it. I entered a few seconds before the doors closed.

On the ride home, I sat quietly feeling a little guilty for not staying with him. It was a packed ride but I was alone in my solitude. I was emotional. It was quite a unique encounter I had just had. My mind was racing. Was it fate that I was put on the same train with this lonely man? I wondered if the man would actually kill himself. I wondered, too, whether I had helped him in any way or had done enough to prevent a stranger’s death by his own hands.

I wept silently and said a prayer for him. I prayed that somehow he could go past his feelings of suicide and make it through. I hoped he would go for professional help. I have helped strangers before but I had never faced a situation like this where I was actually bold enough to intervene in something so serious. I did not even know whether I was acting appropriately, culture-wise. Did I say the right things to make him feel better? I just hoped I did.

The next evening, I watched out for any news on television waiting to hear about suicides that may have occurred in the city. There were none. I felt some sort of relief. I will probably never know if he killed himself or not the following nights, or weeks, or even know what eventually happened to him.

I think about this incident often. It makes me wonder how many strangers out there are actually going through something so desperate that the prospect of suicide becomes an option. There are millions of people who live in big cities, and yet, ironically, one can still feel alone and alienated. So many people but no one to talk to. We are all going through something to some degree. But we are lost in our busy schedules trying to survive in this rat race, and we have unfortunately developed an attitude of not caring for others. And because of this, it has become a crueler world for everyone.

Maybe we should stop being automatically fearful of each other. In life, we will all have to ask for help from people we don’t know. I know many people, including myself, who have been beneficiaries of people’s kindness many times. I have also learned that a smile, offering a handshake, a simple hello can even lead to real, solid friendships.

By simply caring, we can all be more human again.

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2019/08/11/1942232/would-you-hug-stranger#FrvWCpJyWxLtiWCA.99

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