Tuesday, June 29, 2010

To Hold a Sunlight

This is the life story of my bosom friend.

"I'm going to die when I'm thirty," she declared for the umpteenth time. Every time she told me that, I would just laugh it off, not believing a word of it. But when she read that disbelief on my face, she would add, "It's true, you don't believe me? You will see." She was only in her early twenties, and for her, life has become a sunlight that faded into spectral gray.

That's my friend, always raving about the what-ifs of her young life, making up an imaginary existence which is diametrically different from her present life. What if she would "die", or erase her life now and take on a new identity and live someplace where nobody knew her? That was real excitement for her.

Her frenzied talks seemed to me like an escape from this world that has turned against her. She has lost all of them, those she held dear in her heart. Her real parents ruthlessly abandoned her when she was a little girl. Her aunt and uncle took up the responsibility to raise her up as their own daughter until death's insatiable voracity swallowed them up. And how many more would she lose in the future? Her relatives, her friends? Why not leave first before they would leave her?

One day, I tried to reach her. No reply. Her cell phone was out of service. For many days, I kept trying to get in touch with her but without success. Then it dawned on me that she was a month closer to age thirty. Meaning? Was she preparing for that big day when she would march out of this world and step into a whole new existence? Or to an unknown non-existence?

A picture of her in her most agonizing moments kept recurring in my mind. She sat in a sofa, clutching an urn against her chest and crying silently. I can imagine that beneath her silent cry was an agonizingly thunderous scream that burst out within the perimeters of her heart, an internal explosion that she could not allow to escape from her soul. She was alone now, more alone than she had ever been. Her only company at that moment was her Mama, who had just turned into ashes and settled at the bottom of that urn that she was holding. Another person she unconsciously cared about had left her again. That was the final blow for her. Resignedly, she let her life start to go downhill, not caring anymore where life would lead her. She admitted that she had no reason to live anymore.

I see her as a little girl holding in her palm a circle of sparkling sunlight that filters through an opening in a canopy of leaves, but could not keep it. For the circle of light must move on, making it impossible to hold forever. No matter how resolutely she would chase it and grasp it tightly, still, it inevitably slipped out of her grip, and she could never possess it. Like the elusive sunlight, something that she wanted to own forever kept slipping away from her. For her, holding out her hand to catch the sunlight was a never-ending task that would always leave her young life in tatters.

The idea of the possibility that she had taken on a new identity was still playing on my mind when I received a text message from her. "Hi there! How are you doing? Are you free for lunch today?" So she was alive and still the same person! That put me at ease. She didn't "die" at age thirty.

But I was wrong. She did die in a sense. Recently, it appeared that she had captured a new sunlight in her palm again, which sparked her to life. And she was able to keep that sunlight until now. However, it is a fake sunlight. It is in reality darkness coated with a shining light, of which she is well aware. That is why she said that she presently lived in a secret place where darkness concealed and protected her from the world, and she was comfortable in that darkness.

So she is gone. Gone to a new life in her self-built darkness. She has stopped chasing after sunlight. The feigned sunlight that she is holding now is just what she needs to keep living in the deathly realm which has become a snug home for her.

And I'm left wondering if she would ever emerge from her home of darkness and live again. I'm holding on to the hope that one day, she will rise to a new life and come out in the sun, bathing in the warmth of divine light. And she will no longer attempt to chase and hold a circle of light because she will be surrounded all over by the living light.

The Endless Journey of a Junk Van

About five years ago, when I was still in the Philippines, I had the chance to travel the Cordillera Mountain Ranges. The following narrative is my story of that unforgettable travel.

It was around 9:00 in the morning. We were seated comfortably in the van, all seven of us, eager to start out on a journey to the heart of the Cordilleras. I was especially excited for this trek, partly because I had never been to Sagada yet and this was my long-awaited chance to go there, and partly to appease the wanderlust that had been recently crawling throughout my body, particularly in the sole of my feet, giving me the itch to go about seeing new places again. This journey would assuage that itch.

The European driver, who owns the car, turned the ignition key. Nothing happened. He repeated the process several times. The car wouldn't start. What's going on? He had just pulled out his van from the repair shop the other day and he paid Php.30,000. for the repair, but still, the van was dead as a stone. He got out of his driver's seat, called up the mechanic and went off to fetch him and check the car. The rest of us marched back to our house in frustration, unsure if we would push through with the trip or cancel. We waited while my wanderlust was beginning to pass out in conjunction with my growing disappointment.

The mechanic tried to fix the "newly-fixed" van again, and it took him until past two in the afternoon to get done with it. We all assembled back to the car and started out at 3:00 pm. My sinking excitement resurfaced, and I started to visualize the mountainous panorama along the way, though at the back of my mind, I doubted if I would see anything on our way there since it would be dark soon.

Off we went, the trip uneventful except in some instances when we had to slow down and just let ourselves be enthralled by the gargantuan mountains somewhere in Sayangan. Somehow, the awe-inspiring grandeur of those mountains made up for our earlier frustration. When we reached Abatan, Buguias, the van started to break down again, some defect with the clutch and gear. Wow, that would put us all in danger, huh? Good we found a mechanic to fix the problem again.

It seemed an aeon for him to finish the job and once I voiced out that we might spend our first night right then and there in that van. It was already dark by the time he was through with it. And raining. In a way, the driver was undeterred, and he gunned the engine, driving through the meandering road into the dark recesses of the mountains. The night was pitch-black and was occasionally illuminated by fingers of sky fireworks that would slice across the black sky. I kept my gaze before me and watched the headlights playfully pointing to the right and to the left alternately while trying to resist the darkness that tried to swallow us. Everyone fell into eerie silence which was only broken by the sound of the engine. I noticed that my companions closed their eyes and seemed to retreat to their own worlds. I followed suit and let myself drift into an unpleasant world that prevailed in my mind at the moment.

I saw people, scheming people who would go about deceiving their fellows in the name of money. I saw them, the two sheepishly-looking persons who tried to cajole this European guy into purchasing this junk van which they presented as a newer model than what it really was. And it already broke down several times just a week after the date of purchase. When one problem was fixed, another would come up. Those dealers took advantage of this foreigner's innocence concerning Asian cars and violated his trust in them as reliable salesmen who had his best interests at heart. It turned out that they were nothing but deceivers who posed as caring and dependable friends and would pounce at their unwary prey and fleece him when their moment would come. And that's what they did. They took the money and ran, never a care in the world what would happen to anyone who would get into the car. By slyly selling that junk van to an unknowing foreigner who trusted them, they would send all his passengers to death. All for the love of money. And I was filled with loathsome feelings for such a sinister ploy. How could men who claimed to be good do that to their fellowmen who trusted them? Really a crazy world!

I was still wallowing in that crazy world when a sudden jolt took me out of my reverie. I drew the curtain down on that unhappy scene of man's insanity and came back to the present. The road had gone bumpy and the driver kept on revving up the mountain, into the darkness, into the dead of night. It seemed like we were winding endlessly in the middle of nowhere. We've already passed two eternities and yet our destination was nowhere in sight. I slipped in and out of my slumber which would soon come to a halt as I began to see electric lights scattered around us. The car's headlight beams hit the pine trees alongside the road, and the rain that washed the pine needles caught the light and sparkled at us. Not long after, we finally reached our destination.

When I got out of the car, the first thing that caught my eyes was the sky, covered all over with millions of stars hanging low as if I could just extend my hand and be able to pick them. And I was awash with cosmic pleasure as I gazed lingeringly at my celestial "friends". So this was Sagada at midnight. Serenely sublime! We proceeded to the nearest inn that we could find and I had a deliciously uninterrupted sleep. When morning came, I looked out through the window and was greeted by a refreshing mountainside scene where the pine trees stood majestically and the fogs that had blanketed them were beginning to lift off and seemed to settle on the treetops.

Later in the morning, we headed to the famous Sagada cave where we had an adventurous exploration. It was a dark and risky descent to the bottom of the cave but the beauty that awaited us there was worth the effort. The golden stalactites, stalagmites and some other rock formations, and the refreshing streams cascading all around had been waiting to fascinate us with their splendor, which was etched forever in our minds. After drinking in the sight and splashing and taking pictures, we climbed back to the mouth of the cave where a circular light overhead was a welcome sight to us.

It was in the middle of the afternoon when we set forth to Banaue because the van went into mechanical constipation again and the driver had to look for a mechanic to fix it again. We took the Bontoc route to Banaue which offered us a magnificent view of cyclopean mountains and dizzyingly deep ravines below us. The jagged road kept jolting us all the way to our second destination which seemed light-years away. It was a never-ending trip once again where darkness and heavy rain found us still snaking through the tortuous road. We got to Banaue late at night and heavy rain welcomed us.

The following day, we proceeded at once to look for the viewpoint where we could see the Banaue rice terraces. We savored the sight for a few minutes and took pictures, after which we started on our way back to Baguio. This time, we passed through Ifugao, which stirred heartwarming memories of my first visit to that place sixteen years ago when the rolling hills were still in their pristine beauty. The van kept on traversing the provinces of Ifugao and Nueva Viscaya. We had looked at the map for the shortest route to Baguio and noticed that the Aritao route was a half shorter than the usual Dalton Pass-Nueva Ecija route, and so we opted for that. It was a smooth glide across the cemented zigzag of Aritao, and the view of the grass-covered hills was staggering.

After a few hours, the road began to be rough as we climbed higher and higher into gigantic mountains. We have been snaking through the mountainsides for what seemed like several light-years again but the road seemed to go on stretching farther into nowhere. Later on, we began to spot huge trucks and road workers and we drove past them. It turned out that the road was still under construction and only the daredevils would try to traverse that perilous path. There were no other travelers there,  no houses, no trace of civilization at all except the construction equipments. What if the car would break down again, especially the brake or the gear, and nobody would fix it? I had that terrifying imagination about the car falling off the cliff and plummeting into the abyss below us, and the thought raised goosebumps on my skin.

But then, this is supposed to be a feel-good story and so, I'm happy to say that we eluded the hands of death waving for us down there in the deep. And the van kept on slithering resolutely through all those mountains that seemed to lead us to nowhere. After almost eight hours of traveling, we finally spotted the green waters of Ambuklao, which was a delightful sight after those risky twists and turns we went through.

A few minutes more, or an hour, and we would be back to "civilization". Soon, I began to see mountains full of lights like sparkling diamonds set in black velvet. My heart burst with relief as those diamonds became bigger and brighter, drawing us closer and closer to them. Home at last! Gradually, all those unpleasant events and thoughts from that endless journey that lay heavy in my heart went off to ozone. What remained were the lovely pictures of those places that I painted in my mind, which I can carry with me wherever my wanderlust would take me.

And the van? I think its journey will end after all because soon, it will go to the junkyard where it rightly belongs. Anyway, the European owner is ready to buy a new car.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Why Keep a Blog / Webpage

Not everybody takes pleasure in keeping a blog. Some say they are not interested, or they have nothing to share. Others say they're too busy to get involved in stuffs like that, thinking that it's non-sense. On the other hand, there are those who are so enthusiastic about the whole thing, and they have their own personal reasons for this.

For me, keeping a webpage or blog is like imprinting our footprints in the sands of time. Our webpage can also be likened to a treasure chest where we store all our prized possessions, which we take delight in showing to our friends and loved ones. I believe that all of us have something to share and leave behind when we're gone. We have personal ideas that we don't like to keep to ourselves. Or we may have gathered some interesting information from our friends or from the internet, which we want to share gladly.

Really, it feels good to share. By putting something to our webpage -  like our personal joys and pains, stories and experiences of others, pictures, videos, guestbook messages, comments and anything wholesome, we are actually affecting others' lives: we encourage and enlighten others, we inspire the hopeless, brighten someone's dark days, make the lonely ones laugh, entertain the bored ones, or we may even save someone's life. We can never tell how much force for good our webpage it can have. Like what a famous poet, Longfellow said in his poem, A Psalm of Life,

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time ;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Passion For Writing

This is an essay I've written many years ago, the thought of which I find still burning in my heart.

Something inside me screams, and I know there would be an explosion inside my head if I wouldn’t heed it. I must do something now. I must let out an inner voice that has been confined inside me for a long time. So many ideas and stories have been brewing in my head, and they lay buried there, only waiting to rot into oblivion. I must write again! But where shall I send my compositions? Some papers that used to accept literary contributions are now filled with fashions and peoples articles, with a novel here and a short story there. No more chance for others who are aspiring to be literary writers.

Then one day, my friend suggested I submit my compositions to a certain local paper without pay. “A literary contribution without pay is worthless,” I told her. But now I’m going to make a retraction. I made the colossal mistake of zooming in to the monetary value of such compositions and pushing aside the therapeutic effect on myself and the vital benefit that they can impart to the readers. Maybe my erroneous viewpoint sprang from the fact that I got used to being paid for my contributions to some national magazines. Now the shroud concealing my good judgment has been lifted, liberating me to write, with or without pay. After all, writing is not only a means to bring food for the table, but it is also a passion that needs to be nurtured, to such an effect that it sets our spirits soar in blissful state, and it stirs aglow emotional embers that would give life to these stories.

To me, writing is a kind of liberation, a self-expression by which I can bare my innermost thoughts and emotions. It’s my refuge whenever I’m in abysmal sadness, my wings when I’m floating in happiness, and my soft cushion when my days are hard. Now that I can write online, I can start out on a new writing trek. I can shake my mental kaleidoscope again, forming multi-colored snowflake-like shapes of stories and ideas.

The memory of that moment when I had my first contribution published is still vivid in my mind. I can even see my feelings when I heard about it in vibrant colors. And to think that when I was young, it never crossed my mind that I would like to be a writer. I didn’t even appreciate books or any other publications, let alone reading them. What I wanted was to be an artist, and I engrossed myself in the field of art. When I got to college and took up my major subjects, my professor required us to read a lot of literary works, classical and contemporary alike. That’s the start of my intellectual journeys where I discovered different worlds and galaxies I never knew existed, and it was all so wonderful for me. From most of what I read, I also underwent catharsis, which purged my emotions to such an effect that I would feel lighthearted afterward. I often found myself toying with the thought of how exhilarating it must be to create such realms for mental and emotional festivities and to be able touch others’ lives with my stories. Those playful ruminations gave birth to a passion that was never in my heart before, a passion for writing. Yes, I started to feel a profound urge to write.

For a start, I plunged into journal-writing, where I put all my day-to-day experiences, thoughts and emotions. Then I ventured to writing poetry, essays and short stories, which I kept only for myself. A few years after finishing college, I came across an invitation from one of the country’s leading magazines to contribute some viewpoints on certain topics. Should I give it a try? Did I have the right tools for writing? I had self-doubts. But my passion for writing coursed throughout my bloodstreams, urging me to do it.

I finally completed the essay, mailed it and waited. After a month or so, somebody told me, “I read your contribution in a magazine!” I almost forgot about that, thinking that it didn’t make it to the paper. I felt a wave of exhilaration. Yes, I could write! But that’s not the end of the story. A month after the publication, I received a check from that magazine in payment for my contribution. In my innocence, I never expected that I’d be paid for that. Another element of surprise!

That’s the start of a career that I wanted to pursue. I was determined to improve my writing and so I immersed myself into the works of some bestselling authors, voraciously poring over one book after another, and I kept writing at the same time, occasionally sending inspirational essays and personal experiences to a couple of popular magazines. It was so amazing how my mind brimmed over with ideas, though sometimes, some of them were left unwritten because of time shortage. There’s so much to write about but so little time to spare.

Sadly, for many years, my writing career hibernated, like a seed covered with a blanket of snow in winter, and during all those years, I felt as though the poetical river inside me that kept me animated got drained, making my life dry. But amid that aridity, that passion kept burning, though it remained confined within me for many years. Surreptitiously, it tried to sustain itself, slowly generating some power within, a force to start writing again. It’s like the ice thawed away and spring began to sing in my blood. It’s a rejuvenation, a rebirth of a long-neglected mental activity. I must listen to that song once again and heed its message. I must satisfy that passion. I have to let out the whirlwind of emotions that are locked up within myself. I have messages to tell the whole world, messages of hope, comfort and inspiration derived from my own experiences. I must not allow such beautiful thoughts get dispersed among the cosmic dusts of the universe without having a chance for them to settle within the human hearts and breathe life to them. They should not be hidden away like in Thomas Gray’s


Full many a gem of purest ray serene,              
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear;
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness in the desert air.

I must take the lovely flower and sparkling gem out of their place of concealment and scatter them around for everyone to see. Yes, I must let out those buried treasures of thoughts. I must write again. And I will write some more.