“Coco” and Remembering the Departed

COCO

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” — Thomas Campbell

I am no longer a big Disney fan, but I watched “Coco” because I wanted to find another movie that my son can watch and enjoy watching. I absolutely loved this movie, not only for its story but for how close it is to my own culture. This movie reminds me again of how similar the Mexican and Philippine cultures are – having both Spanish and American influences. (And this in turn, reminds me of my trip to Canada last year where I met a young Mexican man at the airport in Vancouver. I had to call the travel agency, but my phone wouldn’t work. He offered to let me use his phone, even though we didn’t even know each other’s names. Later he sat next to me on the bus, and we talked all the way from Vancouver to Victoria like we’d known each other forever! It felt like I was talking to my own nephew!)

For an adult to enjoy this movie, one has to employ a willing suspension of disbelief – for example, there’s no need to question (like I did): before the invention of the camera, what was the requirement for the departed to be able to visit the living if they had no pictures in the ofrenda?!

In my hometown (I’m not sure if this true in all of the Philippines), when All Souls’ Day comes, people would write down on an envelope the names of their loved ones who had passed on, and put money inside and offer this to the altar during the Offertory part of the mass. The priest would then read the names of the departed, praying for their eternal repose. (When there are too many names to read, the priest would just say, “All the departed whose names are here on the altar” or something like that.)

One All Souls’ Day years ago, my mother couldn’t find an envelope to use for the offering. She was getting agitated. I finally found an Air Mail envelope with the red and blue stripes on the sides, and said, “Here, Ma, this will get to God faster!” She tried so hard not to laugh, believing it was blasphemous.

Also on All Souls’ Day, we fill our altar with the departed’s favorite things. Just like in “Coco.” I’m using the present tense “fill” because we (my sisters back home, and me here in China) still practice the same. But what we do prepare is nothing compared to what my grandparents did back in the day.

My grandparents had something like a prayer room. There was a big altar with several icons. At the center was that of Christ the King, and then that of St. Michael (the patron saint of my city) and the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima, St. Joseph, etc. My grandfather had a big chair facing the altar where he would sit and pray the rosary in the evening. On All Souls’ Day, there would be different kinds of food, and drinks and tobacco or cigarettes. It was an exciting time for us kids back then because we looked forward to eating those sweets prepared for the dead. We were told to wait until the dead had seen them. To be honest, I can’t remember what time they said it was that the dead came to see the offering.

Since I moved to China, I would make a small altar made up of a cross and a candle on my father’s birthday and on All Souls’ Day. I’d “offer” a brownie or a slice of chocolate cake, a can of beer or a glass or rum, and a pack of cigarettes, and in the evening I’d drink the beer or rum (with coke though) and smoke a cigarette. These are the only times I smoke or drink. I’m allergic to alcohol, but I like remembering him this way. (My father only drunk on weekends after playing tennis. He didn’t drink on Sundays or weekdays because he didn’t want to be hungover at work.)

As my mother has also passed on, I now have two pictures on my altar.

Watching “Coco” made me realize that this practice of remembering the dead is rooted in the belief in the existence of purgatory and that the dead need help from the living for them to move on. I do no really think of heaven, hell or purgatory anymore unlike when I was a kid when I saw the cover of the Novena for the Souls in Purgatory.

So why do I still keep photographs of my dead parents and prepare an “offering”?
If I am to be honest, it is for selfish reasons – I miss them, and I do not want to ever forget them, and part of me wants to believe that somehow they can still see or hear me and help me when I have a burden that’s too much for me to carry.

It is very selfish and immature perhaps, but I think when you grew up having very protective parents, a part of you will always remain a child of your parents, looking up to them for guidance and protection. Just like Coco, who was already a great-great grandmother, yet still calling out for her Papa like a child (she might have had Alzheimer’s, but her memory of her father was not a false one.)

Can the dead see or hear? Will they know that the living even think of them? Perhaps not. But remembering the dead is not really for them to be taken out of purgatory and into heaven. It is for the living that theymay have the courage to live their lives the way their departed loved ones would have wanted them to do.

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Daily Prompt: Overcome

I took this photo this afternoon during a walk with hubby.


On a 12-hour flight to Vancouver and another 12-hour flight back to Manila, I watched 4 movies altogether. I liked three out of 4: Logan, The Accountant and Collateral Beauty. The fourth one was Passengers, which ironically, my friend really thought I would like because I like the idea of a life beyond this planet. But no. 
The three movies all have the theme of overcoming something. I plan to write a review of each one, so I won’t write much about them in this post. 

There is no grief, obstacle or  challenge in life that we cannot overcome, if we only persist in overcoming them and not let them overcome us instead. 

I’ve had my share of challenges, and I’m facing really tough ones these past couple of years, but I haven’t given up yet, and I don’t see myself giving up. 

I hope you won’t give up either. 🙏🏻

Have a lovely weekend! 💕

T. 

Daily Prompt: Overcome

On Autism, Motherhood and Tolerance

AUTISMjpg

Three years ago, when I told friends about my son’s diagnosis, a few of them told me about the movie “Temple Grandin.” I kept putting off watching it because I knew I would just cry, and I was tired of crying. I did read her book , Thinking in Pictures after a friend sent me a copy, and it was moving and eye-opening and encouraged me to help my son and believe he will be able to cope eventually.

My husband still has not watched the film and won’t. Like me, he thinks it will just be a painful experience. It was painful when I finally decided to watch it yesterday. It’s perhaps the only movie that had me crying from beginning to end, NOT because it was sentimental – far from being sentimental, I think the writers and director and Claire Dane’s portrayal of Ms. Grandin, achieved  a kind of objectivity in the story-telling – but because there are many details that I could relate to as a mother of an autistic child and as a person who self-identifies as autistic.

One of the most painful scenes for me was the mother’s conversation with the doctor who diagnosed Temple with autism. When the mother asked about the cause of autism, the doctor hesitantly answered it was a form of schizophrenia brought about by a lack of maternal affection. (This was in the 1950’s, and we can understand that back then not much was known about autism.) Temple’s mother cried saying her baby was born normal, and that Temple later changed; that she wanted to hug her, but Temple didn’t like to be hugged.

(I am just grateful that my son is very affectionate. That would’ve really made it worse for me if my son didn’t like to be hugged.)

The doctor also recommended that Temple be institutionalized, which her mother refused to do.

Temple is so blessed (lucky, if you don’t like the word “blessed”) that she had a mother who pushed her to do things that might have been uncomfortable for her but truly helped her to live independently. Had her mother let her be, she would have remained alone in her own world.

So many times I’ve read articles written by supposedly high functioning autistic people diagnosed in their adulthood, decrying the treatment they received from their parents or other carers  or teachers, when, as a child, they were forced to do things that they were uncomfortable with. And now as adults, they just want to be able to do whatever they want; they don’t care what others think about them; and they expect people to accept their autism (unusual behaviors, meltdowns, etc.). They expect, demand tolerance.

To me this is very unrealistic. You live in a society. You may not like the idea, but the truth is – you cannot live entirely on your own. You need people. You need society. Unless you go hide in a cave and live with the bats.

Temple’s mother knew this. Her science teacher, Mr. Carlock, knew this. Temple realized this later on — she had to change; she had to learn to adapt to society.

The world does not revolve around you. You are not special (though you may be to your parents). You are just one of the 7.5 billion people on this planet. Each person has his/her own personality, issues, problems. You cannot demand tolerance for your behavior when you are intolerant of their own. In this world, in our reality, you will meet all kinds of people – not everyone will accept you for who you are, yet you may have to sit next to them in class or at the cafeteria; work in the same office as them; serve them their coffee. You can’t just run away or be angry with these kind of people every time you have to deal them. You have to learn to adjust to different kinds of people because they too have to learn to adjust to people like you.

And this is one thing I hope my son will learn – how to live in society.

Perhaps I am like most parents of autistic children, I worry about how my son will live without me. I cannot watch over him forever. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night thinking what if somebody hurts him at school, and he can’t tell anybody about it? What if as an adult, he will be taken advantage of, and he wouldn’t even know it?

Temple did not begin talking until she was 4, but her mother did not give up on trying to get her to speak. She did not want to go to college to talk with people, but her mother pushed her to do so, and she went on to pursue a Masters and a PhD.

There is only admiration on my part for Temple’s mom, her aunt and her science teacher – people who saw her potential, believed in her and pushed her to be the best she could be.

Not everyone has the financial capability that Temple’s family had, but I think every child can have at least one person who will not give up on them, who will not leave them to live in their own world, and push them to live more meaningful lives.

I have never been very ambitious. My best friend used to tell me I have a small brain because I want so little in this life. As a mother, I do not want much for my son either. I just want him to be able to live independently and be happy. And that’s my only goal.

That’s the only item on my bucket list that truly matters.

 

Film Review: Me Before You 


Image Source

I heard about Me Before You from my friend who thinks the romantic moments in the movie are “right up your alley.” I’m glad my friend thinks I am the romantic type instead of cold-hearted, but the most touching moments of the movie for me, have nothing to do with the love story but the ones in the background. I watched this movie while on a 2-hour flight, and my eyes were red by the time we landed.

There are only two areas on which I would limit my review: character and themes.

(Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen the movie yet, then stop reading.) 

Character:

I find the character of Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke) too nice, meaning not very credible. She is too likable. The audience are meant to like her, and I did like her and if she were a real person, I’d wish her infinite happiness. But a part of me is conscious of the manner in which her character is so contrived as to make viewers instantly like her. So, that’s one of the few things that didn’t impress me.

Her boyfriend, Patrick, is just as flat: self-absorbed to the end. There is nothing about the boyfriend that will make us like him even just a little bit. As a minor character, he serves a foil to the thoughtful character of Will.

The parents of Louisa and those of Will (Sam Claflin) on the other hand, though minor characters seem more real than the previous two mentioned.

As one of the two main characters, Will Traynor is fully developed as a character: from a fun-loving, adventurous, successful young man to an unhappy, helpless, hopeless quadriplegic, who finds a reason to smile in Clarke’s quirkiness.

Themes:

Selfishness/Selflessness 

As people we swing between the selfishness/selflessness pendulum. Louisa selflessly decided to keep a job in her hometown to help her parents. But later she selfishly asked Will to forego his plan to end his life in Switzerland, telling him confidently (to me, it’s more like overconfidently) that she could make her happy.

People may not view her offer as selfishness especially when she is willing to take care of him, but I do. She’s thinking of her own happiness, not his pain, not his daily struggle. I believe no one outside ourselves can truly make us happy or comfort us in our deepest sorrows. Sure, there are those who can make us smile for a while, but at the end of the day we deal with our own thoughts and feelings.

Choice

When told that it’s Will’s choice to end his life in Dignitas in Switzerland, Mrs. Clark says, “Some choices you don’t get to make. He [Will] is not in his right mind.” But Will is in his right mind; he made a choice after careful thought. He knows he’s never going to get better. He is in pain every single day. He cannot do anything by himself.

While I admire people with disability who are optimistic about life and fight to live despite all the pain and difficulties that come with it, I also respect those who choose to leave this world and end the pain that they have to bear daily, and no longer see how much those who love them suffer as much as they do in caring for them.

Louisa is confident that she’ll never regret being with Will and taking care of him, but Will is more realistic and says, “You don’t know that.” It is not easy to care for someone who is in terrible pain and who is never going to get better because they themselves do not find it the least bit easy to live on a daily basis.

Will Traynor’s parents at first don’t want to let him go. He is their son. Their only child. The natural cycle is for children to bury their parents, not the parents burying their child. But in the end they have to give in to his wish and let him die, with them by his side. That takes a lot of courage. This is the most touching moment in the movie for me –the parents being there for their son.

As a mother, I almost feel physical pain when I see my son in pain. When he cries because he’s hurt, it’s painful to watch. So I can only imagine how painful it must be for parents to watch their son/daughter in pain on a daily basis, and worse, to watch him die.

Me Before You is a romantic drama, and romantic souls will like this movie. However, the romance part didn’t move me at all. It’s the idea of having the right to end one’s life and parental love that made me think.

Have a relaxing weekend!
T 💕

P.S. One other thing I like about this movie is the soundtrack. I especially love Imagine Dragon’s “Not Today.” Click here for a link to the video.

On Reality

reality

When I was still a child, I often heard my mother tell people about how I liked to look up at the sky —  wondering, (over)thinking, imagining, which was why she didn’t let me wash the dishes. It took me forever to finish.

These days I find myself doing the same thing — taking some time to finish washing the dishes because I keep looking up at the sky from my kitchen window and wondering, “Is there somebody up there watching us live our lives here below?”

I shared this thought with my husband, who simply laughed and said, “Oh, yes! And they are looking down and saying, ‘Oh look at this cute little girl bravely asking such questions!” (Let me be clear on this one: No one else thinks I’m cute except my husband. That’s why he’s my husband.) 

Ever since I read Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” Marquez’s “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World,” and Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” over twenty years ago, I’ve always wondered about the nature of “reality.” I remembered asking the question, what if there was another world where their idea of reality is different from ours?

It was a few years later that I read Bradbury’s stories, and watched “The Matrix” and my idea of “reality” was further changed. Two years ago I watched “Interstellar” and the scene where Cooper was finally able to communicate with Murph (they once thought there was a “ghost”) made me think of what we think is “real” or “imagined.”(Some of my friends who are into science fiction weren’t very impressed with “Interstellar,”  but I’m not a big sci-fi fan, so it was very impressive for me.) 

These days there are more and more people talking  about the simulation hypothesis and consciousness and how human beings can suddenly change because of some damage to the brain. Reading about the brain and consciousness and theories on reality and our existence makes me even more eager to know the truth about our existence, our reality.

Just yesterday I started watching the HBO TV series, Westworld, and perhaps this is the reason at 11:31 in the evening I am still up writing this. Hopefully with the popularity of this TV series, more people will be asking questions about our existence and actively seek answers to these questions.

Who are we?

I really want to know.

 

On Reading a True Crime Novel (and Watching a Great Movie about it)

Truman Capote, In Cold Blood

A True Crime Novel

“In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote is the first True Crime novel I have ever read, and perhaps the only one of this genre that I would read. I have no plans to read another novel of this genre, but not because I did not think it was good, rather it was so well-written that I could not forget it days after I read it; I even had nightmares three nights in a row from reading it. So to me, there is no question that it is a good novel, but it simply is not the genre that I prefer to read.

(Just in case someone reading this would sarcastically ask, “Then why read it?” Let me give you a simple answer, “Because a handsome man, hehehe, gave it to me.)

After I read “In Cold Blood,” I watched the movie “Capote” and my admiration for Truman Capote grew. The novel was written in a journalistic style – the narrator was distant, not cold, but reported “facts” as they came to him. Even the description of Perry Smith’s childhood was detailed in  a straightforward manner. However, in the movie (if it was indeed a true account of what transpired between Capote and the two convicts), it was quite obvious that there was emotional attachment between the writer and the convict. Capote, seeing Perry Smith and speaking with him for the last time prior to the latter’s hanging, wept in front of the two men. Was it sadness or guilt or both?

To me that was the most moving scene of the movie, and it certainly convinced of the acting prowess of Philip Hoffman. I cried watching that sad scene unfold. I wept for Perry Smith and for the tragic life he lived; for Dick’s parents who loved him dearly, and for Capote who probably lived with guilt for the rest of his life.

If you are into the True Crime genre, then “In Cold Blood” is definitely a must-read; and if you enjoy a good movie that is not sentimental but can make you cry your eyes out, then watch “Capote.” You won’t be wasting your time.

Childhood Memories

childhood memories

I watched the movie “Lucy” sometime ago and thought the first half of the film was interesting, and then it just got stranger and sillier until the end. But one scene that stuck with me is the phone conversation Lucy had with her mom, where she told her she could feel everything, remember everything vividly, as if they happened just a few seconds ago. She could remember how her mother kissed her when she was still a baby.

Would you like that? To remember everything so vividly? I am guessing most people would like to remember just the happy, beautiful times and not the painful ones. In fact most people would prefer to forget the pain they have gone through.

When I was a little girl, being the youngest, I was very affectionate with my mother. I always liked kissing and hugging her and being kissed and hugged in return. She always smelled of Johnson’s Baby Powder, and I liked that. I went on being like this even when I was already in my late 20’s. My sisters used to tell me off telling me it was disgusting that I still acted like a baby when I was already an adult. But it never bothered me what other people thought.

Those are not the only memories I have of me and my mother in my childhood though. I also still vividly remember the times my mother got angry with me and my sisters. I would not say it was a typical Asian way of discipline, but it was quite common to be hit and scolded in front of family and friends or even strangers. My sisters and I sometimes talk about those times with a little sadness and a lot of laughter, but my mother remembers nothing of those times she was not gentle with us.

Yes, I remember them as well, but those hugs and kisses are the more powerful memories.

So now that I, myself, have become a mother, I hug my son tightly as often as I can, hoping he will never forget how much his mom loves him and makes him feel loved. I want him to always remember the loving look his mom gives him, and how when he is scared or hurt, his mom comforts him and makes him feel safe.

It is useless to wish he won’t remember the times I get angry with him, but I hope those memories will not be as vivid as the beautiful ones.

One of my favorite scenes from Dostoevky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov is at the trial of Mitya (Dmitry) when Dr. Herzenstube was called to the witness stand. He recalled a time when he saw Mitya as a little boy, “barefoot, his little trousers held up by a button…” He felt so sorry for him, knowing that Mitya’s father cared little for the boy, and decided to give him a pound of nuts. After that he did not see Mitya again, until twenty-three years later, a young man came to visit him and reminded him of his generosity. This young man said to him, “I’ve just come to town and I want to thank you now for the pound of nuts you once gave me, because you’re the only person who has ever given me a pound of nuts in my whole life!”

What happens in our childhood may have a major impact in our lives as adults. We remember things that happened to us when we were children as if they just happened yesterday. Some may be good, others may make us cringe or angry.

What’s your best childhood memory?