Boracay Bliss!

It was good to get away even for a while. I was tired physically and emotionally. We had just buried dad at the Christ the King crypt after a 4 day wake. The next day, I left for Boracay for a two nights and three days stint. I was to deliver a talk for CEMEX, a cement company. I flew in on Asian Spirit on Thursday, August 25 and landed in Caticlan early afternoon. Soon after, I was checked in at Waling-waling resort and was having a late lunch of chicken pork adobo while chatting with my sponsors about this and that. The change of pace and scenery was both healing and exhilarating.

Waling-Waling at night!

I’ve been to Boracay twice before, and each time it was during its quiet season. I don’t remember seeing hordes of people the way my children describe it each time they go there. It was this time around, quite the same. This is habagat season, supposedly not the best time to be there, but that didn’t matter. It was cool, windy, and pleasant, though unfortunately, it was also cloudy mostly and therefore not conducive to great sunsets. Nevertheless, I had brought my camera with me and was determined to explore and take a few shots in between catching up with eating and sleeping .

Sarap matulog!

Foreigners enjoying native hospitality

Friendly vendors

I went to D’Mall, which was an entirely new place to me. But I mostly just hung around the beach and walked towards Station 2 where I took pictures of people and places. It was such a pleasure to be aimlessly walking without any agenda except to relax and enjoy the beach!

Freida Dario of Mandala Spa

I was able to connect with some old friends, notably Freida Dario, who dropped everything and moved to Boracay a year and a half ago. She used to be my nephew’s girlfriend, and was a student in my TCU class. We went drinking with her friends in Hey Jude by D’Mall. We reconnected with stories of people we both knew and updated each other on the goings-on in our lives. It was good. She now does the marketing for the Mandala Spa, a high end spa resort which has won international awards in its brief existence of three years. Even before I left, she was already texting me to invite me to stay at the Mandala Spa and try their massage. I promised I would try to squeeze it in my schedule.

My talk was scheduled early friday evening, and it went quite well. Luckily, after that, I was free and rushed to Mandala on a tricycle, checked in and, allow me to dare say, had the best massage of my life. From the time I entered villa no. 9, it was peaceful gentleness and tender loving care all the way. My room was the lap of luxury with glass doors which opened to the outdoors everywhere, and had a really spacious and beautiful bathroom. Ida, my masseuse massaged my feet first and then proceeded to the rest of my tired, tense, aching body with the specially prepared peppermint oil, supposedly good for its ‘healing effects.’ It was total surrender as I let go of the last tense-filled two months, a span of time when I experienced a major operation, then Lydia’s operation and finally, Dad’s eventual passing. I felt everything releasing as she pressed her palms on my body. It was heavenly bliss. From the way she calibrated the pressure of her hands, from soft to medium and back while touching different body locations to her soft gentle voice, it was ecstasy all throughout. After the massage, I proceeded to the bathtub where I lay alone for around 20 minutes just floating gently in warm water filled with floral petals.

What a room!
What can I say, except thank you Freida! You were right about how good it was going to be. It was so good it went beyond wonderful. That night I slept restfully on a very comfortable and humongous bed. My only complain was that I had to wake up at 5AM to catch the 7:15 flight back to Manila and make it to APO’s show in Las Pinas that evening!

But I know I will be back someday, hopefully soon enough.

From a ‘son’ to a ‘father’

My first really serious talk with Roman Mabanta, my father-in-law was around May 1977. I asked for his daughter Lydia’s hand in marriage. I remember him waxing sentimental saying that he had wondered often what this moment would be like, a stranger asking for one of his daughters’ hand in marriage. And now here it was!

Throughout my life with Lydia, I had known my father-in-law as a strong yet distant figure. He sat at the head of the table, often quiet, but quite imposing in his presence and when he felt the need to express his conservative moral views to us, he did so with emphasis. It was difficult to imagine that he would enjoy a ‘wala-lang‘ kind of conversation even if once in a while, we actually could, and that was a big deal. It was better not to engage in banter though unless there was a point to it. He was quite a serious man. Sometimes, I feared him, tiptoeing around him so as not to arouse negative judgment or comment.

Not too strangely, I also admired him because he was mostly what I was not. He was a lawyer, a man who dealt with the concrete issues of life–property, money, ownership, rights, justice, fiduciary trust (he explained this to me one time, thanks dad) and stuff like that. His world revolved around the corridors of power and wealth which demanded measured responses. I guess this was part of the territory and had become embedded in him. I was, in many ways in awe of him. I saw myself on the opposite end– an artist, a man who delves in ideas and abstract things like art, music, poetry, creativity, literature, etc. In short, he was, at least in my eyes on the reserved and serious side of life while I lived on the relaxed, and more easy going side of the street. But one thing we both had a passion for, albeit expressed and appreciated in different ways was our deep interest for the spiritual life! But even here, we were not exactly on parallel paths. He found God in the traditional Catholic way while I did through a more oblique, circuitous route, and continue to discover God largely outside of any tradition. He spent a lot of time in prayer, as I did my zen sits. His faith gave him great solace. It was the bedrock of his existence, and for that I admired him.

But we hardly talked about religion then, not early on, and when we finally did, it was close to the end of his life. We mostly talked of other things–politics, the news of the day, his law firm, etc. A light but memorable conversation occurred at the onset of my married life. I remember talking to him about the difficulty I was having making ends meet which I had blamed then (as I percieved it) on Lydia’s extravagant spending habits. What should I do, I asked him. Half-smiling, he looked at me, and with a playful wink said that based on his own experience with my mother-in-law, the only solution was to ‘earn more’! And even if it was said with a laugh, it was advice seriously given and earnestly taken!

Other talks I had with him occurred when my mother-in-law was gravely ill in the US. Those were times when I first saw glimpses of his vulnerability, that behind the veneer of decisiveness and distant strength was a man who could also have big doubts, as it became obvious he greatly needed support from others. In fact, he felt dependent on his children for many decisions that had to be made. It was a turning point in how I knew him. It opened up a more intimate, human side of him which his family was seeing for the first time.

After mom died, I saw him reaching out to his children and grandchildren more. He still had it in him to stress the obligations and duties that he wanted us to adopt in living out the faith. But at the same time we also saw a softer, more relaxed, less judgmental, and approachable side of him. One could banter with him, make jokes and he would smile, laugh more often. He also seemed to enjoy everyone’s company more, and allowed himself opportunities to bond with his loved ones perhaps realizing the tenousness of life since mom’s death 3 years ago. My own children would kid around with him, and he seemed to enjoy being a doting grandfather generously giving in to their requests for this and that–a job he used to relegate to his wife. We had a chance to travel together during one Christmas vacation to Davao and even if I knew he was missing Mom a lot, he was light and fun to have around. He was making up for lost time. When Lydia had her bout with breast cancer, I even recieved a few concerned calls from Dad asking how I and the rest of my family were as he even offered financial assitance to tide us through the mounting expenses of treatment.

Dad (center), in the midst of family he loved and who loved him back.

When it was his turn to be diagnosed with cancer, he was devastated. Lydia and I were not surprised. Statistics say that a great number of husbands follow their wives to the grave within 3 to 5 years of losing them. Throughout his illness, few things could make him smile. One of them was Ananda, his great grand daughter who could make him forget momentarily what it was like to suffer. Perhaps because her middle name was Aleisha, close to the name Alice, the love of his life, she could do no wrong except delight him even if for brief moments.

During his last days, I took the opportunity to get to know him more, to bond with him, and to help him cope. Perhaps, I needed to do that for myself too. During one of our many talks, I expressed to him how I felt I never really had a dad since my father died in a plane crash when I was six. I explained to him how long it took me to call him dad but I was glad to do so and that I am able to talk to him. I told him I loved him that day, and in the following talks, I would tell him so repeatedly. He was teary-eyed. He always had a problem expressing himself emotionally, and more so when people did so to him.

During one of our last times together when his voice had already been reduced to just a soft, barely audible whisper, I made an attempt to bring comfort to him amid his pain. He was clearly suffering and miserable. He wanted to die and join his beloved Alice as soon as possible. If he could have his way, that moment was as good as any. I sat beside him, gently rubbing his hands as I always did, and told him that I was so sure that strangely enough, amid all this pain, God was here in the room with him. I asked him to just focus and stay in the moment, and leave tomorrow’s suffering for tomorrow, and just be here for the ‘gift of now’ which God was dispensing every moment. Eternity was now. God was here. We just had to stop resisting seeing Him. He was here asking us to focus not on the temporal body of pain but in the eternal spirit that was free of it and already saved by Him. Despite the tyranny of suffering, He was there with gifts that would tide him through this. Things were as they should be, and every moment, including this one had its own blessedness.

After awhile, he closed his eyes and seemed to calm down. We stayed in silence, my hands still holding his. When he opened his eyes and looked at mine deeply, purposefully, the way only a dying man can, and with great effort, he took a deep breath from his cancer-filled lungs and mustered a loud ‘thank you’, loud enough to sound like his normal voice. It was moment frozen in time. I was touched. I pressed his hand, and whispered back an “I love you, dad’ to him. That was my last conversation with him.

Lydia, Dad and I

Dad, I thank you for the gift that you were in our lives. From you , I learned a lot about integrity, decency, strength, and many other aspects of what being a good father and a husband ought to be. I love you, and even if I never had a chance to say that to my own father, I know you are equally deserving of it. I hope that even in a little way, I was worthy to be some sort of a son to you.

The 5th, the 4th, and the One and Only!

The first time was during my childhood in the early 1950s. The second time was 1981. The third was 1985, the 4th in 1990. And now it’s happening again for the 5th time. I am talking about my first introduction to letters and numbers and the 4 other times I went back to it as a teacher to my kids, and now to my granddaughter.

I discovered early in their young years that what helped calm them down when I got tired of running after them was opening a book and reading to them. Maybe it was primarily the pictures that got them hooked. But soon enough, they must have begun to notice that the letters meant something since I always ran my fingers on them as I read them aloud. I would read every letter and word on the page from title to author to publisher in the hope that they would see that letters signified something!

As an over-doting dad, I read tons of Dr. Seuss and lots of poetry to them. It must have paid off because almost the moment after they began to talk, they could recite poems by heart! I would get such a kick when Erica, Ala and Mio around the age of 2 1/2 years old could be left alone by themselves as they read. And I would get a bigger thrill when they would recite the poetry of Robert Louis Stevenson or even William Blake’s Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright, or portions of Mark Anthony’s speech admonishing his fellow Romans in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. I would repeat poems all the time because they loved listening to them. Try to imagine 2 1/2 year old kids reciting these:

Tiger, tiger burning bright
In the forest of the night
What immortal hand or sight
Can form thy fearful symmetry.


You blocks, you stones
You worse than senseless things
Oh you hard hearts
You cruel men of Rome.
Knew you not Pompei
When many a time and oft
Have you climbed its walls and battlements?

Ha ha! I took pleasure in hearing their young voices reciting literary stuff even if they knew nothing of what it meant!

It’s no wonder my kids are readers, writers and artists. Now it’s also happening with Ananda. I’m starting to read to her and sitting with her at different times of the day. We often sit in front of the ref and I also try to get her interested in identifying magnetized letters and figures. I tell you, by the time I’m 70 years, I would have gone through grade school and high school 4 times, and college 5 times! I still hope to be around and be the walking dictionary, thesaurus and general reference to Ananda as she goes through school just as I was to my own kids. And oh, I wouldn’t mind going through all of these a few times more with more apos. It goes with being a grandpa! Heh heh!.

I’ve finished my 4th book! Or at least I think I have. I am now going through the editing phase where I read and re-read what I’ve written down and see if I’ve expressed what I wanted to say in the best way I can. Sometimes as I read the pages, I hear a voice saying ‘write me better’, and so I redo the entries. It’s a never ending thing— rewriting and improving. And yet I know that sometimes, I just have to stop before I obsessively edit my work to death. No book or work of art is ever really finished anyway. In a real sense, it can always be improved— but sometimes at the risk of making it ‘perfect’ yet lifeless like some insect in a killing jar. You just have to let it go, release it and allow it have a life of its own, however ‘imperfect’ it is. I take obliquely to heart Billy Joel’s advice when he says we must sometimes ‘leave a tender moment alone.’ Things should be allowed to be left undisturbed ‘just as they are’.

I am hoping I can get my publisher still interested considering that in this age of deepening economic crisis, no one seems to have the money to spare and buy books, much less those about zen and transpersonal stuff. The biggest sellers in the Philippine market (in the Filipiniana section) have generally been cookbooks and cheesy romance novels. Would anyone be interested in buying stuff that deals not with the needs of the body and emotions, but with the soul and spirit? Hmm.. I may need to compromise a bit! Maybe I should be writing stuff with titles like The Zen Chef, or You are Everything, And Everything is You: A Story of Love and Passion Between Man and the Universe! In this way, I may yet feed both body and spirit–both mine and my publishers, and yes, my readers! Ha ha!

My one and only beloved son Mio with whom I am generally pleased is home at last from his Oxford experience. He flew in from Paris after he completed the 10 day Paris Connection part of the program. Still wearing his trademark hat that he left with, he got into the car from the airport and he excitedly talked about ‘the best experience yet’! Aside from meeting so many cool people his age, he loved the whole program including his philosophy and art history classes. But I think that what made an indelible mark on him was his traveling alone to Europe and discovering things by and about himself. He discovered the thrill of being independent. He has been through a watershed experience which I think has changed him, the way Erica’s and Ala’s Oxford stints transformed them into the free persons they are today.

As a father, I notice that I so readily give what I never had for myself in my youth to my children. Maybe that’s really how it is.

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