The Art of Letting Go

letting_go_by_fallinginpanic1

In the midst of the silence of every breakup, one person will always find a reason to break that silence. Mine came in the form of a letter. A few days after I had stealthily dropped off Cris’ things in a box in front of his house, I received a letter in the mail. Somehow when I got it, I wasn’t surprised. Putting together that box was hard for me, I could only imagine what it was like for him. I took a moment and a deep breath before opening it.

He began by saying how the sight of his things had greatly affected him, so much so that he wanted to begin communicating again through letters. He of course said that it was up to me whether or not I wanted that to happen. Cris always had a knack for writing letters. Through the course of our relationship, he’d write me these cute love letters, decorated with tickets stubs of movies we’d seen, fortune cookie messages, any little knick-knack that was part of our time together. As our relationship grew harder, the letters became less frequent. I had to beg him to write me more. I should’ve known that we were slowly dying and there was nothing he or I could do about it. And now through this letter, I could see what he was doing. He was trying and my heart ached. Where was this overflow of emotion when we were together?

He went on to describe how he’d imagine looking at my smile, or looking into my eyes, hear my laugh or even daydream about how I’d react to something. He even went so far as to compile a list of songs that were special to him and our relationship and think of a way to give it to me. This was too much. It was an awful thing to read and realize that he was in effect, torturing himself with the memory of me. He bore the tremendous guilt of breaking my heart and he had to live with that. The way he was dealing with it was not healthy and he was clearly not trying to move on at all.

He went on to describe our last night together in vivid detail. How much I cried, the prolonged goodbye, how I grabbed onto his shirt while we hugged as I desperately tried to hang onto his shirt and simultaneously try to let go. He marveled at how hard I was trying to be strong and admitted that whenever he thought of that night, it would always bring him to tears.

I can’t remember much else of the letter, other than the fact that I knew that there was no way I could re-establish contact. The person who wrote the letter was not a healthy individual. If anything, this was a selfish attempt at trying to bring me back into his life, regain control, and perhaps see if there was a chance at rebuilding our relationship.

As I read it, I realized that this was someone who didn’t care for me at all. He knew the letter would hurt me, but he did it anyway and for his own selfish gain.

I took a couple days to reply. The more I thought about it, the more I felt sorry for him. He may have broken up with me the same way John had, but that didn’t mean that I wasn’t a stranger to the guilt he was feeling. In the months leading up to our breakup, I knew that our relationship was failing and still I hung on, even though he’d expressed a handful of times that he wanted to let go. I felt the guilt of hanging onto him and shaming someone who clearly didn’t love me.

I searched my heart and although I was hurt, there would always be a part of me that would care for him. I knew that the best thing I could do for him was to free him of that guilt and misery. I replied back to his letter with this simple note:

“Cristern, please stop. It’s not time for us. Your friend, Virginette. P.s. I forgive you.”

A few days later, on April Fool’s Day, I woke up to a bunch of trash on my car. There were candy wrappers all over the hood of my car. The night before I had heard voices outside, but figured it was the neighbors talking. I examined the candy wrappers and realized they were Hi-Chews, his favorite candy.

I remember that day clearly and how angry I was. I knew what he was doing- he was inciting me to react. He was hoping my anger would be so great that I’d break my silence. I was seething with rage and came very close to actually doing that. But if I did that, I knew that he would win. He’d have the satisfaction that a child only knows when they’ve gotten what they’ve wanted after throwing a fit. Did I want a child or a man in my life?

Looking at the trash on my car, I realized that he would never grow up. He couldn’t see that I was trying to help him and he reacted so childishly. That act alone let me know that he wasn’t capable of maturing into the kind of person I’d always hoped he could be. In hindsight, that was always the problem, Cris was just always a child. He had aspirations of making it big but lacked drive to do the hard work. He was always playing.. with his toy trucks, his friends, and ultimately with his life. Was it any wonder why I was so frustrated with him and showed so much resentment? In everything he was doing it was clear that he didn’t want me in his life. Being with me would have to mean getting his act together, and he simply wasn’t ready or willing to do that.

I remember a few weeks before my breakup, I was so desperate to keep my relationship together that I went to visit a family friend who’s a priest. I sat alone in a beautiful church for a long time before I met with him and contemplated how I would keep from crying while I told my story. I told him that every day I had grown so desperate for help, that I would get down on my knees at night and in the morning to plead with God to make my relationship work. I could see pity in his eyes and he asked me to kneel at the pew and tell him what I saw. I told him that I saw the altar and the cross. Then he asked me to stand up and asked me again what I saw. Apart from the altar, I told him that I saw the tabernacle, the statues of the saints, candles, the lectern and flowers all around. He smiled and said that life was exactly like that.

Life’s sorrows can bring us to our knees, so much so that it obscures our view. If we take a moment to stand up, we’re able to see the opportunity and the wonderful gift that God is giving to us in that moment. He gently told me that he hoped things would work out with my boyfriend, but to remember to stand up to see what else God was giving to me. I look back on that time and I realize that God was giving me a chance to see what my life could be like.

Next month will make it a year since my breakup. I think about how far I’d come and all the amazing things that have happened to me since then: the jump in my career, the opportunity to be part of a writer’s conference, a growing and healthy love of self and finally, my new partner in crime- the wonderful man who’s privileged to be in my life now. I know that none of these things wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have the courage to let go, let God, and open up to life’s possibilities.

96

light_of_hope_by_afif508

What would you do if you lived till you were 96 years old? What would you do in that time? What kind of life would you lead? Would you look back with pride? Fondness? Or shame and regret? Would you remember anything at all?

Grandma turned 96 years old today. She’s at the point where I can’t ask her such heavy-handed questions. But what I can tell you is that the proof is in the pudding. Grandma has  3 sons, 7 grandchildren and 10 great grand children. She’s survived WWII under Japanese invasion, when she put chicken blood on her clothes and blackened her naturally light complexion with dirt so that the Japanese would keep from raping her. She suffered the death of her first husband, who was woefully murdered over an argument regarding a transaction of water buffalo. After that she somehow, she picked herself up and married again and had her last 2 boys.

She left everything she’d ever known and came to the US in the 70s, working with Dad in the burgeoning Silicon Valley, making microchips in a long factory line for semiconductors. A decade later, she welcomed me and JR to the States not only as full-time grandma, but also as babysitter, cook, and guardian angel. Every morning, she’d prepare our breakfasts and lunches and would walk us to school. Promptly at 2:15pm she would stand outside the school gates with her trusty blue umbrella, waiting to escort me and JR home. My friends always thought it was weird that she’d use that umbrella as we walked in the sunshine. I never understood it either. In fact, I have no memory of ever walking in the rain with that umbrella.

Our family business that put me and JR through school was built on her special recipe of spices for our homemade lechon. To this day, no one knows that perfect blend of salt, pepper, lemongrass and love that makes our lechon the most delicious people have ever had. Every day, she’d go through her chores of sweeping up in front of the house, taking out the garbage and whatever else the house needed. I’d tell her that she shouldn’t be doing such things at her age, but she said she liked doing them because she felt strong. Every night like clockwork, she’d plop herself down in front of the TV and watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.

In my early adult life, she worried about my virginity and questioned my choice in men and choices I made in my relationships. To that end she only offered this sage advice regarding my supposed purity: ‘if the flower is touched, it loses its fragrance.’ Is it any wonder that she’d always try to sniff the top of my head whenever I saw her? She was a born a singer and poet. She’d preface her Happy Birthday songs with beloved Ilocano folk songs. And on every Mother’s Day, she’d recite a poem she learned all the way back from 7th grade, about how very important it was to love your mother.

Her small birthday today made me sad. She didn’t remember me again. But as we made our goodbyes and put her to bed, she insisted on escorting us to the door in her walker. She has always been this way. No matter the hour, she always wants to properly bid goodbye to her loved ones. And through this small and simple act, she begins to remember me again. She repeats my name over and over and I am overwhelmed with bittersweet love. She sings her goodbyes, saying how much she’ll miss me. I’m the last thing on her mind before we part ways again. Perhaps that’s what’s most important. What if this would be the last time I would see her?

I shook the thought out of my mind and did my best to sear that moment in my memory. As she said her goodbyes, she pushed her walker forward, dancing and singing. That’s how I always want to remember her, dancing and singing into the light. And I know somewhere deep inside her memory, she will always come back and remember me.

Of Fire and Faith

Rizal-cell-quote

It had been 5 years since I’d visited the Philippines. All this time, I’d had an aversion for my homeland. My last memory of the Philippines was a painful one. I’d gone there with my then boyfriend so we could meet each other’s families. The trip was all a façade and a last ditch effort at a flailing relationship. On the outside we were a picture-perfect couple who was halfway down the aisle. On the inside we were miserable. We’d grown desperate to keep the relationship going and we planned the trip in hopes it would bring us closer together, but instead it drew us further apart.  In the last few days of our trip there, his love for home was reinvigorated, so much so that he broke down in tears. He confessed that he had no wish to get married and build a life in California with me. His heart was there in the Philippines, where his family was. I flew back to the States alone.

I love my country. I love my culture. But that memory alone kept me away from visiting the homeland for so long. I summoned all my courage and decided to return there.

I de-boarded the plane at Ninoy Aquino International Airport and walked into a wall of heat. The air was thick with humidity and the smell of home. Although this wasn’t my first time as a balikbayan, I knew it would take me a couple days to get accustomed to certain things; lack of warm water, using a tabo, being careful with the water I drank, these were things that I had to consciously account for.

Our main agenda was to go to a friend’s wedding in Boracay, do some site-seeing around the capital, and visit my family near Manila in Marikina. Little did I know that I would also spontaneously find myself in Pangasinan and Palawan!

Boracay was beautiful and fun. The 100 Islands in Pangasinan were enchanting. The Underground River in Palawan, now the newest wonder of the world, is a feat of nature. I had a great time at these amazing tourist meccas. But what I really want to share are the moments that transformed me- and those were the times I spent with the local people.

From walking by beggars and street vendors, to spending time with my own family, these were the times that affected me the most and reminded me about why it was so very important to come home.

Every time we’d see the shanty houses balanced on stilts over the water, I’d think for a moment and formulate a plan about how to stop the tremendous poverty of my country.  Seeing high-rise condominiums literally next to such devastating poverty, would break my heart. Did anyone not see the grave contrast? Maybe people had, but had come to the point of growing indifference or feeling that nothing could be done to change it.

I’d think up various schemes of fixing the country: If we put money into rehabilitating the metropolitan areas then we could pump money into tourism, and in turn the money generated there could go towards bettering the quality of living for the poor. But wait- if we fixed the metropolitan areas, wouldn’t we be displacing all the poor people who lived there?

I’d try again and think- maybe if we developed a better welfare system and educate the impoverished with trade skills, they might be able to find a better life. But wait- what about the corrupt government officials? How could we make sure the money went to the right place?

Every time I’d think of a plan, there was always some factor that I hadn’t thought of and I would get discouraged. My heart ached for my brothers and sisters. But the one thing that I admired most was the uncanny and strictly Filipino ability for joyfulness and laughter. Life is so very hard in the Philippines, but everywhere I looked there was a sense of optimism.

Amidst the shanty towns there are gatherings filled with dancing, food and karaoke.  People make do with what they have. They are grateful for the handful of blessings they can call their own. They carry a joy in their hearts that can only come from deep-rooted faith and hope.

We visited a barangay in Pangasinan where the people there prepared lunch for us. I was so touched; they had spent all day preparing the food and spent the very little they had to make a feast for us. They were so very gracious and wanted to wait till we had gotten our fill before beginning to eat their share. We took some members of the barangay on our trip to 100 Islands and they were so happy and grateful to come along.

Towards the end of the trip I went to visit my family. I wasn’t sure how I would feel after not seeing them for 5 years. I hadn’t even gotten off my cousin’s motorcycle when my uncle rushed outside and lifted me off of it and carried me into the house, singing all the while. It made me laugh so hard and made me feel so humbled that I had such a grand welcome.

They put out a whole spread of food in my cousin’s room, which was the only room with AC, just so that we’d be more comfortable. After we ate, we spent the rest of the night, drinking, laughing, doing karaoke and reminiscing on the last time I had visited. Right then, I missed my own immediate family so much, and wished they could be there to share that moment.

Probably the last and most important part of our trip was our visit to the Rizal Museum in Fort Santiago. All this time, I’d been reading up on our national hero, Jose Rizal, and had become fascinated with his life and his role in inspiring Filipinos to revolution.

We saw pages of his diary and various books he’d written and artwork he’d created.  How any one person was so gifted, eloquent and brilliant was just beyond me. Most chilling of all was when we stood outside his prison cell, his last testament was illuminated on the wall:

I have always loved my poor country. And I am sure I shall love her until my last moments, should men prove unjust to me. I shall die happy, satisfied with the thought that all I have suffered, my past, my present and my future, my life, my loves, my joys, everything, I have sacrificed for love her.

I admired this man who was prepared to die for love of his country.  Like any young imperialist conquest, the Philippines had its flaws, but the ambition to be free from colonial rule was fervent and unstoppable. Rizal had hope for this. He was willing to die for this. And as we walked out of the museum and walked his last steps to his execution – I looked beyond the walls of Fort Santiago to the city and saw his dream realized.

In my short time there, I found myself transformed. My country is born of volcanoes, a shifting and twisting land, ever being re-made. I think back on my last trip here and realized what was once a painful memory had now become a time of wonder and clarity. I marvel at the generosity of spirit amongst family and complete strangers. I see not the shanties and beggars, but a defiant hope. One day I pray my people will no longer be slave to staggering poverty. But no matter the fate of my country, I know that its people will continually adapt and transform to their surroundings. We are a people of change. No matter the circumstances surrounding us, within us is always the fire of hope.