It's Christmas! (It's also my mom's birthday. :P )
Some people have been saying that Christmas this year isn't as "Christmassy" because of the economic crises, the political instability of the world, and the threat of war.
But ... isn't that exactly what the first Christmas was like? Christ was born to a world at war, to a people under siege. His own birth, in fact, was the justification for the murder of scores of first-born babies (an event most people around the world forget in the flurry of "Christmas cheer").
And the irony that the hope of this wartorn world should be THIS little babe, born to teenage parents too poor to wrap him in cleaner clothes, born in a dark damp cave amid the noise and stench of farm animals .... And we who cower in fear today are told, THIS poor dirty child is your Savior; THIS stable, his palace; THIS food trough, his throne .... The irony of that proclamation is so incomprehensible, so contrary to reason, that the sheep-herders outside and three wandering astronomers have no choice but to believe, and to kneel in front of the crying infant, paying homage to him.
And outside the stable, far from Bethlehem, battles continue to be waged, people oblivious to the fact that a child has been born whose blood will someday flow to save us all.
Well, as you know, it's wedding season. I've attended five this year (and had to skip out on one, which was out of town). Next year, a number of good friends will also be tying the knot. Just in the past 30 days, no less than three couples I know have gotten engaged.
Through the flurry of preparations, I've heard a number of engaged friends lament about the weight of wedding expenses and the task of pleasing all parties (especially relatives--invite one, you have to invite them all) .... Just to put things into perspective: I just found out that in the U.S., a guest list of 150 people is already considered to be a big wedding. As most of my readers know, the only way you can cut down your number of lists to 150 here in the Philippines is if you elope (and even then, you shouldn't be surprised if all your second-degree aunts, third-degree uncles, and fourth-degree cousins somehow find out and show up at your wedding anyway.)
But during Saturday's girls' lunch out, Anj shared the brilliant idea that a friend has for his wedding. See, his is one of those unions that straddles several provinces, and he'll be having his wedding in the province where the girl's family is from. Since he recognizes that most of his friends won't be able to fly all the way there to attend, he and his fiancee will be holding a post-wedding Thanksgiving Mass for everyone here in Manila, with a light merienda-type reception afterwards.
I've been cleaning my room these past two days, and I found this poem among some of my old college things. I remember how much it moved me, the first time I read it, back in freshman year .... (Ah, brings back memories of the idealism of youth ....)
(By the way, the "n" in "Paranaque" below is supposed to be an "enye," but I don't remember how to type it, and I'm too lazy to look it up ... heheheh!)
Ang Bayan Ko Ay Hindi Paraiso, Ginoong Jacobson
It is not preposterous to say that we found paradise in your country. -- a tourist
Huwag, Ginoong Jacobson
Huwag sabihing natagpuan
Ang paraiso sa aking bayan.
Sapagkat sa likod ng mga samyo ng dilag
Na nagsabit sa iyo ng mga bulaklak
May sangsang ng esterong
Sumasakal sa mga taga-Tondo,
Sapagkat sa likod ng mga aranya at alpombarng
Naghatid sa iyo sa komportableng kuwarto
May lupit ng demolisyong
Sumusuro sa mga taga-Paranaque,
Sapagkat sa likod ng mga bangkete
Na nagdulot sa iyo ng gloryang kabundatan
May apoy ng tagsalat
Na sumasalanta sa mga taga-Lupao,
Sapagkat sa likod ng himig ng rondalyang
Nagdala sa iyo sa alapaap ng tuwa
May repeke ng digmaang
Pumupuksa sa mga taga-Sipalay,
Sapagkat sa likod ng makikintab na magasing
Nagpakita sa iyo ng kahanga-hangang destinasyon
May haplit ng kakulangang sa librong
Kumakarsel sa mga bata sa paaralan,
Sapagkat sa likod ng mga musmos na korong
Nagtulak sa iyo sa masigabong palakpak
May mga siil ng dayuhang kostumer
Na sumusugat sa mga batang-Ermita,
Sapagkat sa likod ng de-numerong medikasyong
Nagpagaling sa iyong kapiranggot na lagnat
May salot ng mga karaniwang sakit
Na lumilipol sa mga anak ng aking bayan,
Sapagkat sa likod ng busilak na dalampasigan
Na nagpahid sa iyo ng kulay ng araw
May pasaning base militar
Na bumibigkos sa kalayaan ng aking bayan.
Kaya huwag, Ginoong Jacobson
Huwag tawagnig paraiso ang aking bayan
Kailanma't hindi nabubungkal
Ang ugat ng mahapding katiwalian.
I thought I had already written about it. Hindi pa pala.
I spent much of the first day of the holiday with Krn and Anj. We had a girl-lunch (i.e., a very long lunch) at Sweet Inspiration, talking about life, reminiscing, updating one another on our lives. We continued our conversation at Starbucks, and then capped the afternoon with some brief window-shopping at the nearby health and beauty store (whatever it's called). Then, Krn had to begin her long trip home, but I accompanied Anj who had time to kill until her next gimmick. We aimlessly browsed books at National Bookstore, and I ended up getting her a Christmas present there. :)
(1) cellphone technology. My younger brother finally got a GSM phone, so now we can text each other. And of course I'm thankful that M and I can keep in touch easily even while he's in Baguio for Christmas. (sob!)
(2) Christmas get-togethers. Which have all been fun. :)
(3) GW's promotion. :)
(4) the energy to clean my room. :P
(5) Emilie and Myrna who make my life so much easier.
I'm not very thankful that Flo won the Amazing Race 3 ... but I'm glad Zach did (though he deserves a bigger share of the cash prize, I think).
I attended Himig Heswita's Christmas concert yesterday. It's been a long time since a choir's singing has been so edifying, so spiritually moving for me.
What I like about Himig Heswita is that never, never does their singing cease to be a prayer. Some choirs nowadays almost appear to be performing when they sing, rather than praising God ... or sometimes it appears that they're more concerned about hitting that high note rather than offering their music to God's glory. I admit, I too have sung that way many times: sometimes, in fact, being part of the choir has caused me to focus less on the Mass, because my mind is distracted by what the next song is going to be, or by awaiting my cue.
But watching and listening to Himig Heswita yesterday felt like coming home to God's table ....
1. ...sent a handwritten letter? Well, I jut finished scribbling on a few Christmas cards ... and I occasionally write notes to people. But a real letter? I really don't remember. Maybe the letter that I wrote to M when we first got together.
2. ...baked something from scratch or made something by hand? Baked something from scratch ... probably in high school. Cooked something--probably for Jan's bridal shower. Made something by hand: Yikes, I don't know.
3. ...camped in a tent? Oh, this is easy. A few weekends ago. :)
4. ...volunteered your time to church, school, or community? Last semester, guiding a college group of kids.
5. ...helped a stranger? Uhhh ... I held the door open for a maintenance guy who was pushing a cart the other day. Does that count?
Christmas is when we celebrate the unexpected; it is the festival of surprises.
This is the night when shepherds wake to the song of angels, when the earth has a star for a satellite; when wise men go on a fool’s errand, bringing gifts to a king they have not seen in a country they do not know.
This is the night when one small donkey bears on his back the weight of the world’s desire, and an ox plays host to the Lord of heaven. This is the night when we are told to seek our King not in a palace but a stable; and although we have stood here, year after year, as our fathers before us, the wonder has not faded nor will it ever fade; the wonder of that moment when we push open the little door, and enter, and entering find in the arms of a Mother who is a virgin, a Baby who is God.
Chesterton has said it for all of us; the only way to view Christmas properly is to stand on one’s head. Was there ever a house more topsy-turvy than the House of Christmas, the Cave where Christ was born? For here, suddenly, in the very heart of earth is heaven; down is up and up is down; the angels and the stars look down on the God who made them and God looks up at the things he made. There is no room in an inn for Him who made room, and to spare, for the Milky Way; and where God is homeless, all men are at home.
We were promised a savior, but we never dreamed that God himself would come to save us. We knew that he loved us, but we never dared to think that he loved us so much as to become like us. But that is the way God gives. His gifts are never quite what we expect but always something better, something far better than we hoped for. We can only dream of things too good to be true; God has a habit of giving things too good to be false.
That is why our faith is a faith in the unexpected, a religion of surprise. Now more than ever, living in times so troubled, facing a future so uncertain, we need such faith. We need it for ourselves and we need it to give to others. We must remind the world that if Christmas comes in depth of winter, it is that there may be an Easter in the spring.
'Tis the season of Christmas parties, and there was a noisy, happy bash at my house last night arranged by alumni of my college org. Much laughter, much music (c/o three guitars, a rainmaker, a salt shaker, and many feeling-songers), much catching up on old friends' lives .... :) :) :)
In celebration of our anniversary, M and I attended an advanced screening of My Big, Fat Greek Wedding last night. Very nice movie (which brings to a grand total of three the number of chick flicks M and I have watched together--and that's if you consider Amelie a chick flick--heheh!).
This afternoon, I walked into the office after lunch to find a huge, pretty, pretty, pretty flower arrangement on my desk. My initial reaction was, "Now whose can that be?" ... but as I walked closer to my desk, I saw the familiar handwriting on the card and realized .... :) :) :) :) M had dropped them off while I was in class.
The English poet John Milton once wrote, “Those also serve who only stand and wait.” I think I would go further and say that those who wait render the highest form of service. Waiting requires more discipline, more self-control and emotional maturity, more unshakable faith in our cause, more unwavering hope in the future, more sustaining love in our hearts that all the greatest deeds of deering-do go by the name of action.
Waiting is a mystery—a natural sacrament of life—there is a meaning hidden in all the times we have to wait. It must be an important mystery because there is so much waiting in our lives.
Everyday is filled with those little moments of waiting--testing our patience and our nerves, schooling us in self-control—paciencia lang. We wait for meals to be served, for a letter to arrive, for a friend to call or show up for a date. We wait in line at cinemas and theaters, concerts and circuses. Our airline terminals, railway stations and bus depots are great temples of waiting filled with men and women who wait in joy for the arrival of a loved one—or wait in sadness to say goodbye and give the last wave of the hand. We wait for birthdays and vacations—we wait for Christmas. We wait for spring to come—or autumn—for the rains to begin or to stop.
And we wait for ourselves to grow from childhood to maturity. We wait for those inner voices that tell us when we are ready for the next step. We wait for graduation, for our first job, our first promotion. We wait for success and recognition. We wait to grow up—to reach the stage where we make our own decisions.
We cannot remove this waiting from our lives. It is a part of the tapestry of living—the fabric in which the threads are woven to tell the story of our lives.
Yet current philosophies would have us forget the need to wait. “Grab all the gusto you can get," so reads one of America's greatest beer ads. “Get it now!” Instant Pleasure--Instant Transcendence. Don’t wait for anything. Life is short—eat, drink and be merry because tomorrow you’ll die. And so they rationalize us into accepting unlicensed and irresponsible freedom—pre- marital sex and extra-marital affairs—they warn against attachments and commitment—against expecting anything of anybody, or allowing them to expect anything of us—against vows and promises, against duty and responsibility, against dropping any anchors in the currents of our life that will cause us to hold and wait.
This may be the correct prescription for pleasure, but even that is fleeting and doubtful. What was it Shakespeare said about the mad pursuit of pleasure—“ Past reason hunted, and once had, past reason hated.” Now if we wish to be real human beings, spirit as well as flesh, soul as well as heart, we have to learn to wait. For if we never learn to wait, we will never learn to love someone other than ourselves.
For most of all waiting means waiting for someone else. It is a mystery, brushing by our face everyday like a stray wind or a leaf falling from a tree. Anyone who has ever loved knows how much waiting goes into it—how much waiting is important for love to grow, to flourish through a lifetime.
Why is this? Why can we not have it right now what we so desperately want and need? Why must we wait—two years, three years—and seemingly waste so much time? You might as well ask why a tree should take so long to bear fruit—the seed to flower—carbon to change to diamond.
There is no simple answer—no more than there is to life's other demands—having to say goodbye to someone you love because either you or they have made other commitments; or because they have to grow and find the meaning of their own lives—having yourself to leave home and loved ones to find your own path—good-byes, like waiting, are also sacraments of our lives.
All we know is that growth—the budding, the flowering of love needs patient waiting. We have to give each other a time to grow. There is no way we can make someone else truly love us or we them, except through time. So we give each other that mysterious gift of waiting—of being present without asking demands and rewards. There is nothing harder to do than this. It truly tests the depth and sincerity of our love. But there is life in the gift we give.
So lovers wait for each other—until they can see things the same way—or let each other freely see things in quite different ways.
There are times when lovers hurt each other and cannot regain the balance of intimacy of the way they were. They have to wait—in silence—but still present to each other—until the pain subsides to an ache and then only a memory and the threads of the tapestry can be woven together again in a single love story.
What do we lose when we refuse to wait; when we try to find shortcuts through life—when we try to incubate love and rush blindly and foolishly into a commitment we are neither mature nor responsible enough to assume? We lose the hope of truly loving or of being loved. Think of all the great love stories of history and literature—isn’t it of their very essence that they are filled with this strange but common mystery—that waiting is part of the substance—the basic fabric against which the story of that true love is written.
How can we ever find either life or true love if we are too impatient to wait for it?
M bought a copy of The Ethics of Star Trek yesterday, and I've read a chapter. Cool stuff; it's like an ethics textbook for undergrads, that uses examples from Star Trek. I think I'm going to find it pretty useful for class. :D (Not the Star Trek examples per se, but the way that she uses the examples, and the clarity with which the author explains things like cultural relativism and the differences among ethical frameworks.) Reading the book already gave me a few ideas for my next lecture .... :)
I awoke this morning with a very intensely painful case of tendinitis in my right ankle. It's a recurring problem that I've had since I was a child studying ballet. This morning's case, though, was more excruciating than usual; I can barely walk.
Now, after a megadose of painkillers, I can hobble along a little (but barely). Sigh ....
A colleague of mine was telling me about his classes' plans for their Christmas party.
It struck me that having a Christmas party for my classes is the last thing on my mind.
These past two years, I haven't been very close to my students--that is, on a friend-friend level. It's quite different from my first two years of teaching, when I had a number of students I considered to be personal "friends."
But perhaps, whether I'm conscious of it or not, it's a matter of personal preference on my part. I find it a little difficult to manage too many friendships with students.
Meanwhile ... a student's comment last month still rings in my head: "Ma'am, I'm so scared of you!!!"
But, well, I may not be chummy-chummy with many of my students this year, but I do love them a whole lot.