Musing on mornings

Jimei has a beautiful campus. I walk to work around 7 in the morning four times a week, and each time, I walk slowly so I can enjoy the scenery.

I am a morning person. I get up at 4:30 in the morning most days and do my ritual of making coffee, reading the news, mopping the floor, doing a 20-minute workout, grabbing a bite, then taking a shower. If I miss one of those in the list, I get a little disoriented.

These days the morning air is so cool that when I open the kitchen window and hear the rustling of the leaves and the merry chirping of the birds, and feel the cool touch of the breeze on my face, I am reminded of two poems: one by Wordsworth and the other by Hopkins. (I’m serious. If you have ever been taught Poetry by a professor as poetic and romantic as Dr. Anthony L. Tan, and lived in a convent — trying to become a nun– for a few months, then you’ll understand my way of thinking.)




Composed Upon Westminster Bridge 

By William Wordsworth

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky,
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!




God’s Grandeur
Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.


Even though I am no longer so certain about the existence of God, the beauty of the morning somehow brings back my sense of gratitude to the creator of such beauty, and since in my simple brain, there are no other candidates for that position, then let it be God for now.

Early morning, I find, is much more beautiful than night time. (Or is it just that I am getting old and can no longer appreciate the beauty of darkness where sweet words are whispered and gentle touches are felt?)

When I take an early morning walk, and see the dew on the leaves and feel the damp earth, and hear the birds sing, and smell the grass, I am always filled with that kind of bliss that makes one want to love the world and to desire to be a better person deserving of such wonder. For someone who has been waiting for death since she was 20, this is one of the very rare moments when I am actually happy about life, one of my Sisyphus-reaching-the-top-of-the-hill moments.

The awareness of the ephemerality of these moments is probably what makes people, like me,  appreciate them more.

Like everything else in this world, they come to an end, sometimes too soon, when I start hearing the honking of vehicles and seeing people push and shove each other to get on the bus to get to work.

But this is life. I am just grateful to know that there is time, when I need it, for nature to refresh me and make me ponder on how good it is to be alive.

The Cake and the Sea

The Cake

A young woman sees a piece of luscious-looking Black Forest cake on a dish right in front of her. She doesn’t know whence it came from, or who owns it, but she knows for sure it is not hers. Black Forest being her favorite cake, she is very much tempted to taste the cake, but having been taught since she was child that she cannot take what is not hers, she dares not touch it.

Yet she sits there and stares at the cake, imagining what it actually tastes like. One might say it is a total waste of time to sit there and just stare at it. Why not pick up a fork and just eat? Perhaps the owner has forgotten it. Or maybe it was really intended for her. Or why can’t she just leave and buy her own cake? Surely that is not a difficult thing to do?

Yet, the young woman stays and admires the cake and enjoys the taste of it in her mind.

One might say what a silly thing to do. Yet it is human nature to linger long after the ship has sailed.

So why do humans linger? Why do we linger when, for some, the chapter has come to a close?

Could it be the young woman is hoping that someone is going to come and tell her that without a doubt, this cake was baked especially for her, that the baker had no one else in mind but her when the cake was baked. (A little self-absorbed, wouldn’t you say?)

Or could it simply be that in her mind, and in her mind alone, the cake is doubtlessly luscious and doubtlessly hers alone, not to be shared with others, because a truly good cake is not to be shared but to be savored only by oneself. (This time our heroine has imagination, no matter how pathetic.)

“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter.” John Keats knew the power of the imagination.

Without actually eating the cake, the woman can imagine its texture, its sweetness, how the chocolate melts in her mouth. If she does taste it, there is a huge possibility she will be disappointed. (So true about Chinese cakes!)

So our heroine sits and stares and sits and stares. She sometimes sighs. But she is somehow satisfied with sitting and staring, much like an old lady sitting on her rocking chair staring at nothing, but in her head reliving the joy of living like she experienced once when she was a young vivacious woman.


The Sea


I learned to swim only in my 20’s, and it was jealousy that made me do it. My then boyfriend and I had been trying to learn to swim, but he learned faster than I did. Once we went swimming with my friends, who were pretty good swimmers. They all swam to the deep part of the pool, and my boyfriend went to join them leaving me behind. I was annoyed that I let that happen (I was a disgustingly clingy and obsessive girlfriend. Ugh!) So out of the blue, courage came and my limbs became stronger, and I successfully swam to the deep part of the pool.

Sometimes jealousy can be awesome!

Now I can swim, but only in the pool. I have not been waist-deep in the sea since elementary school, I think.

But I love the sea. I love sitting on the beach and listening to the waves. I love the smell of the sea, and the feel of the breeze on my skin. I love the feel of the fine sand and the touch of the cool water on my bare feet. But only on my feet and my shins, no further than those or I will lose my balance and the waves will carry me, and I will drown. That’s not how I want to die (better on a plane that explodes mid-air –quick and no body to bury.)

I truly love the sea; I am in love with it. Its music soothes me; the undulations of its waves hypnotize me; its breeze refreshes me.

But I love the sea from a distance. Its depth terrifies me; its vastness isolates me; its power humbles me.

For a weak swimmer like me, it is best to swim in the pool.

Got it, dear?

3Ds: Desires, disappointments, dreams



At the age of 17 when the thought of boys and dating engrossed my classmates (all three of them), I first heard and truly understood the meaning of the statement: Desire causes suffering, in Professor Ortega’s Asian Literature class. Prior to that the only thing I knew of Buddhism was that Buddha was a big, overweight, hairless man who happily let children climb all over him. There was a hole on his head where one could put coins. Yes, a ceramic Buddha was a popular coin bank when I was just a child. (I went to a Catholic high school and discussions about other religions were not encouraged nor tolerated. And I was raised by devout Catholics who were both choir members in the church. Hence, 17, a little late. )

I no longer remember the story that we were discussing in class then, but my introduction to the idea that desire causes suffering was a catalyst in my life. It has since been ingrained in my brain and has spared me from what could have been disastrous consequences of my giving in to unreasonable desires. The idea taught me to to be content with whatever I have, no matter how little.

Realizing that it was not easy to let go of any kind of desire, I searched for ways to make it feasible. I read, and as happens when sometimes one searches for something, one discovers something else, I came across Stoicism–indifference to pleasure or pain, another interesting thought. Serendipity. I tried to practice it, of course not realizing right away that I was just pretending to be apathetic. Perhaps it is impossible for literature majors to be stoic; empathy is hard-wired into our consciousness.

Later I realized that my attempts at stoicism was in itself a desire, and because I could not be successfully stoic, I was disappointed with myself and suffered.

Then came the acceptance that it was impossible for me, an ordinary mortal, to be without desires. However (yes, there was hope), I thought I could limit my desires.

“Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.” Thoreau could not have been more thorough in his advice.

I never wanted to get married. I thought, what’s the point? We are born alone. We die alone. But I got married, the reason I will not write about, but suffice it to say, I never did want to get married. The comedy of how I ended up married will perhaps be written about years from now. By me, of course.

I never wanted a child. An erstwhile friend once said to me he would never forget how I told him pregnant women looked like victims. I wish he had seen me pregnant. We would have had a good laugh about it.

I got pregnant because I had to fulfill a promise to my husband that I would give him a child. I tried to postpone it a couple of years, hoping it would be too late; but I was meant to be pregnant. I had tried to convince my husband that I should be enough for him. He and our marriage were certainly enough for me. I did not want anything else. I failed of course, especially because he is Chinese. If you have ever come to China, you will know what this means.

Now I am a mother to a three-year old boy who has ASD (autism spectrum disorder).

When Eli was just born, my husband had big dreams for him: study at Harvard, marry a beautiful Norwegian girl (he read somewhere that Norwegian girls are the prettiest in the world.) He dreamed of living in a big house with his son who would have a beautiful Norwegian wife and equally beautiful children. That’s a huge dream.

I chose the name Elijah for my son because I had hoped my son would be a wise man, a prophet or a philosopher. I had also in mind how God had sent birds to feed Elijah while he was hiding from those who wanted to kill him. I hoped for my son to be well looked after even when I was no longer around. I promised God I would make my son serve Him. (But a part of me also wanted him to be a spy like Jack Bauer. Crazy, I know. Dual personality.)

As you can see my husband and I had very different dreams for our son. I did have a less idealistic dream, a short-term one, that I kept repeating to my husband whenever we went or passed by the nearest McDonald’s. I used to say to him I looked forward to Eli turning three or four and hanging out with me at McD, eating ice cream. As simple as that. There was no dream of him going to Harvard or marrying a beautiful girl (in fact, I always said I would not want to be around long enough to see him have a girlfriend. I would die of jealousy.) I thought he could go to the same state university I went to in my home country. (My best friend used to tell me I had a small brain with very small dreams. Well…)

Fast forward to when my suspicions about Eli’s condition were confirmed, I thought, “If there is a god, then he is probably having a good laugh about this. He is truly one cruel god.” I never wanted a child because I did not want responsibility. Yet, look what I got. One HUGE responsibility.

But god or no god, I brought this child into this world, he is MY responsibility.

I wept for my son and for the difficult life he has ahead of him; I wept for my husband whose Harvard dreams for my son vanished and was replaced by; “I just hope for my son not to end up begging in the streets.”

If there is one good thing that came out of all this misery, it is that my husband became more realistic about his dreams for my son. In fact they are no longer dreams but weekly or monthly goals for Eli to accomplish. The pain of the reality that we have an autistic son will never go away, but it can be dulled by the the slow but steady progress Eli is making.

All parents wish/hope/want/desire for their children to have a happy, comfortable life. That desire can cause suffering, but it is the kind of suffering that a parent would willingly bear for the sake of the child he/she brought into this world.

It is human nature to desire; and it is inevitable for humans to suffer. But we can minimize the disappointment, the suffering, by not desiring too much, nor wanting too much, nor expecting too much from the ones we care about.

Last night when my husband and I were eating a McD sundae, overacting our enjoyment of the ice cream to make Eli want to eat as well, Eli looked at me and smiled. I prompted him by asking, “Eli, what do you want?” And he replied, “I want ice cream.”

My dream is on its way to becoming a reality.


Aging and Memories


Iligan City, Philippines


I like being in my 40’s. Of course people will say it’s because I have no choice, but it’s more than that. I have embraced being 40 something, and am loving myself more and becoming more confident than I have ever been about myself. It’s great not to worry about what others think about what I’m wearing. I think that’s the biggest and silliest thing I ever worried about before. I still worry about whether people think I’m stupid. I know I can be stupid sometimes, I just don’t like it when other people say it. I’ve never really worried about what people think about what I do for as long as I enjoy what I’m doing. Especially now that I’ve been living in another country for the past 11 years, I’m not really bothered by what people back home or even in the country I’m in, think about my actions. Being a foreigner has given me the freedom to be what I want to be without hurting the sensibilities of those I care about back home. (Look, mom, I’m 42, happily married to a good man and have a cute little son! I can take care of myself.)

With age people tend to become forgetful. Sometimes I find myself forgetting what I did just a few minutes ago. I have to pause and think (usually aloud!) “What was I doing earlier?” I find that scary. But with age, too, some memories become even more vivid.

A few days ago I had early morning coffee with a friend. It was a beautiful, clear and breezy Monday morning, and the coolness of the air brought back memories of a certain bittersweet feeling that was so strong back then when I was feeling it, and seemed just as strong as I was recalling it. For a few seconds I was back in that spot where I stood 15 years ago, hearing the rustling of the leaves of the tall, thin trees as they swayed toward each other, the crackling of dried leaves as they were stepped on, and the tiny voice inside of me that was saying, “This is all so beautiful, I don’t want it to end”;and then the voice that ended it all when it said — “You know why this is so beautiful? It’s because we know it’s not gonna last.”

There are memories that we wish we could just forget, memories we wish we would remember forever, and memories that just appear when we least expect them. As we live each day we are creating new memories. We have no way of knowing whether they’ll be forgettable or unforgettable ones, but we can try to make good ones as we create them. October 16