HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes
Sunday, July 22, 2007
From Sunday night till Wednesday evening last week, I had the house all to myself. My son Mio, the only companion I have here in Sydney, went on a skiing trip with his classmates. It is winter here, and I must admit that the idea of being alone in this cold, quiet house in the suburbs was not a thrilling prospect.
The night before I took him to school for the bus trip to Snowy Mountain, I was feeling quite stressed since it seemed that a few things were starting to go wrong for me. For one, the dishwasher door would not open, and trapped inside it were practically all of the plates and utensils we have at home. The only things left for me to use were my granddaughter Ananda’s pink Barbie plate and a small Captain Nemo saucer. As trivial as the inconvenience may seem, I was getting anxious about it. What if I couldn’t get those plates and utensils out in the next two or three days? How was I going to function? Here I was, alone and with little knowledge of how to feed myself, and this had to happen and make things more difficult. I was beginning to entertain worst-case scenarios.
With self-pity beginning to well up, I felt myself contracting somewhat. I was beginning to feel that I had enough reason to justify staying under my bed covers and feeling sorry for myself. But I reckoned that my choices actually boiled down to two: be miserable during the next freezing days ahead, or learn something productive for the time being, until Mio got back.
Life is like that. We all get kicked out of our comfort zones every so often and I might as well not resist it. I could either have a miserable time or I could seize this chance to discover new things.
So I made calls. A friend said he had a friend who would ring me back for the repair of the dishwasher, but he never did. After a few hours of waiting I called another friend and he suggested I check the Internet. Of course! I had forgotten that this country is quite orderly and so conveniently structured that one can find almost any service in cyberspace.
The next day, a dishwasher specialist I found on yellowpages.com.au came over and opened the stuck door. Thanks to him, my prospects for the next few days began to look better.
The following days, I experienced moments of intimate discovery about this house we live in and about myself. I took pains to sweep, vacuum and mop the floors, wipe the tables, arrange the magazines, know what strange uncooked stuff resided inside the freezer, get the lawnmower to work, and be smart enough to figure out that the reason why it stopped was because it needed petrol. I also watered the indoor plants, arranged the beds, cleaned the toilets, threw the garbage in their proper bins, and a whole lot more. And during moments of rest, I learned to stop stiffening and contorting my body to fight the cold but instead to relax and learn to cohabit with this winter season that’s been the coldest in Sydney in 20 years.
During moments of non-activity, I learned to live with the silence and be aware of the creaks and noises that the house makes in reaction to the heater when I turn it on. I also looked more intently outside my window, at the beautiful early sunsets of winter that Sydney treats its inhabitants with.
I was becoming an astute observer. Certain types of birds make their presence felt at specific times of the day. The one that hoots repeatedly does so around mid-morning while the chirpy ones appear in mid-afternoon.
I also learned to pay attention to my own thoughts. During house cleaning, I learned to appreciate the work of every household help I have ever had the privilege of employing. I also noticed that I have this great fascination with entropy, or the doctrine of inevitable decline and degeneration of all worldly matters, especially if left alone. This is the reason why houses and all things have to be constantly used and cared for. And I am also talking here of our physical bodies that need to be attended to regularly.
In many ways, my simple task of taking care of myself and keeping house is a noble one. It is no less important than holding up the sky and making sure this humble abode remains comfortable and sturdy for my family’s eventual return. It is, oddly enough, a counterstrike against entropy, the second rule of thermodynamics. In fact, all these simple things I did when I was alone amounted to the equivalent of death-defying acts!
With regard to cooking, I made the daunting choice of not always reheating food but cooking something special for most meals. On Monday night, after a few consultations with Lydia via text, I took chicken out of the refrigerator and made my first adobo dish. I know that, to most people, it may not be a big deal but for a novice like me, the idea of paying attention to the preparation of food, the actual cooking and the minor intuitive and often commonsensical decisions one must make (like how much salt or garlic to use, or how to compensate when one can’t find bay leaves) are a huge deal. It is an exciting and empowering experience to learn to prepare something that not only nurtures the body but is delicious as well.
I ate my first self-cooked adobo that night with such relish and glee. I laughed when I heard myself go “Mmmm” in genuine appreciation, with every bite I took of the crispy chicken adobo. The truth was, I could hardly contain myself.
There is something magical about taking a sabbatical. In my case, moments like these are like living the monastic life. All I have is myself, and the tasks that I need to do. When I am paying attention, I notice that the seeming “sparseness” is hardly sparse at all. There is so much going on, and all of it simultaneously. The interconnectedness of things unravels before me and I actually witness its divine mission.
Nightfall weaves its charm seamlessly. There is a rhythm to the way the wind rattles the canvas awning near my window and rustles the leaves of a nearby tree. And how wondrously the laws of physics show off when I dabble with heat while preparing food.
While we moderns may think that not having anything new or novel to do all the time, or the idea of being deprived of our usual entertainment make our lives boring and meaningless, I submit that actually plunging into quiet aloneness can be a rewarding — if different — experience. We learn that the self is largely undiscovered territory and there is so much to explore. Our fears, anxieties, our joys, our inner monologues reveal themselves, and when we listen to them instead of resisting, we get a better grasp of who the person that inhabits us may actually be.
We quickly realize that the best surprises are the ones we learn about ourselves.
* * *
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The six-day sessions will be held at 31 M. Jocson St. Loyola Heights, QC on August 6, 7, 8, 9, 11 and 13, from 7 to 9 p.m. Cost is P5,000 for the entire workshop.
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