Optimism

Took my son to the beach last weekend

I had planned to let my son stay with us in China for a month in January but disappointed by my husband’s busy schedule at work, I decided to bring my son home after two weeks. Looking back, I think it was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life — a blessing in disguise. I don’t know how I would have handled the situation if I and my 9-year-old son with ASD were stranded in China or quarantined!

As it is, we have a longer break from work which means longer time spent with my son, but my husband is all alone in our apartment back in China. I try not to worry but can’t help when I read the news or hear about what’s happening from people who are in the country.

Still I’m optimistic that there’s an end to this, and it will end soon.

I am hoping and praying for it, especially because the people I am praying for do not believe in a power stronger than they are.

So much has happened in the weeks I have not posted on my blog, some I am so eager to share but can’t find time to write as I am busy being a full-time mom. I look forward to writing again and also reading posts from blogs I follow, but right now it is so difficult to find time when I’m home and fulfilling my roles as mother, sister and aunt. As always, family comes first.

I hope you are doing well. Thanks for visiting my blog.

LAPC: Nostalgic

Kempinski Hotel, Xiamen

Last night, for the first time in a long, long time, my husband and I went out to attend a party. This time it was at the Kempinski Hotel. It felt good to go out again and relive those evenings many years ago when we used to go out with friends more often without worrying about adult stuff.

But those night outs aren’t what I’m nostalgic about.

It’s Christmas. Kempinski had nice Christmas trees both in the lobby and outside the hotel, and I felt like a kid again excited about Christmas!

Kempinski Hotel, Xiamen

And Christmas always brings me back to my childhood when our Christmas tree was small and simple and the Christmas presents we got from our parents were not expensive, but we had the tradition of getting up at dawn to go to Mass at 4:30 in the morning (Misa de Gallo, literally Rooster’s Mass). Yes, you read that right. 4:30 in the morning which meant waking up an hour earlier before that to wash up and have something hot to drink!

You would think we were unhappy to be woken up that early, but we were actually pretty excited to hear our mother whispering our names to wake us up.

Christmas tree in our house in the Philippines. Picture taken by my sister

We then walked to church (a 10-minute walk from our house) and would see other churchgoers walking. During Mass, my sisters and I often dozed off especially during homily, but would once again perk up just before the singing of the Lord’s Prayer as it meant close to Communion and the end of the Mass.

After Mass, we would walk to the bakery and buy pan de sal for breakfast.

Life was so simple yet we were happy.

If only I could be a child again, and have my parents worry about things that only adults worry about.

Nostalgic.

Tiny Christmas tree in my apartment in Xiamen

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Nostalgic

Books, Language and Autism

E. at the Manila Ocean Park

My son is going to be 9 soon, but in his last appointment with his developmental pediatrician, he was assessed as having the language ability of a 3-year old.

Over the years, I have read articles on how to teach a minimally verbal child like him speak; he has had several tutors, special education teachers and therapists. Though he has progressed much in other areas, cognition and language are areas where he has made slow progress. Yet, I am still very hopeful that one day he will speak. What I keep reminding myself is what I heard from one speech-language pathologist a couple of years ago — for some kids, it takes a longer time for speech to come out. But as parents, we should keep “inputting data” (language) into their brains. Just because they are not speaking does not mean we have to stop teaching them to speak

And this idea is what gives me hope.

For the first five years of his life, I read to my son almost every night and that led to him being able to recite about 20 of his books from cover to cover. I started reading Beatrix Potter’s Jemima Puddleduck to him when he was not even a year old, and he loved the sound of — I’m not sure if it’s my voice, or the flow of the words, or both but he made me read it over and over again until he memorized the whole book. I would intentionally leave out a sentence, and he would say it to me over and over again until I said the line myself!

Being autistic with sensory issues, E. has a habit of chewing on things that he likes. And because he loved his books then, he chewed on all of them. Before that Jemima Puddleduck book became badly damaged from being chewed on, my husband came up with the idea of scanning it so our son could view it on the computer. But it wasn’t the same for E. . And that book was forgotten for a couple of years.

When our living arrangement changed, I felt bad not being able to read to him at night. Then one day I saw the scanned pages of Jemima Puddleduck and decided to make a read-aloud video of it. When I finally played that video for him, the smile on his face when he saw those pictures and heard my voice reading the book was more precious than a pat on the back anyone has ever given me in my whole life!

I have since made read-aloud videos of his other books, and my sister tells me they can tell when he’s missing me as he would ask to watch those videos instead of his favorite movies.

My husband and I had big dreams for our son — we had hoped he would get a much better education than we did and be interested in learning. We were eager to let him study what we, in our youth, were unable to because our parents couldn’t afford them. We had dreams for him to fulfil OUR dreams.

But life happens.

Those dreams came crashing down with his diagnosis. I honestly do not think any parent can say they left the doctor’s office thankful for the ASD diagnosis of their children. An adult person with ASD can probably be thankful for the diagnosis as it leads to an understanding of oneself. But for a parent of a child with ASD , it is different, especially when that child is non-verbal, and E. at 2 years old was still not talking. So yes, it was devastating.

But as parents, we can only be resilient. Though it took my husband a few weeks to get out of his depression, once he did, he accepted the challenge of raising a son with autism.

Now we have a new dream for our son, a much simpler and more practical one: for E. to live independently and happily.

But to get there, he has to have better language ability. And I have not only hope, but also faith, that that day will come. That with the help of his teachers and therapists, who teach him patiently and his family who love him unconditionally, he will be able to use the language that has been stored in his brain all these years. That my son will be talking to me non-stop; and I promise to God, when that day comes, I will not complain that he won’t stop talking!

Inevitabilities

When I was in my early twenties, I truly understood the meaning of “everything has its end.” Both good and bad. Since then I have always been aware of how the happiness I may be feeling at one time, may turn into sadness any minute. As a result, I’ve learned to treasure happy times, and to look forward to the end of my troubles. This has worked quite well for me over the years.

Yet at that moment when I am going through a difficult time, it always seems as if the end is taking forever to come.

Like it is now.

Though I know I’ll be able to sincerely smile and laugh again, for now faking it will have to do. This is part of the process. Real happiness will come again, perhaps in a day or two, a week or two, a month or two. Or a year.

But for now, patience.

May you have patience to bear whatever burden you have on your shoulders today. đź’•

Week 10 Prompt: Juxtapositions (A Look at “First Reformed”)

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Image source

There are a number of reasons to like this movie: for me, the first three would be Ethan Hawke, ETHAN Hawke and ETHAN HAWKE!!! And for my friend who recommended this movie, it’s Amanda Seyfried.

But if you are a huge fan of plot-driven films, this may not be your cup of tea. My friend thought this movie ran for 3 hours when it’s only less than 2 hours long.

The pacing is a little slow, even camera movements are predominantly slow. As I don’t have expertise in film, I can only say that as a viewer, I find the slowness a reflection of how Reverend Toller (Ethan Hawke) seems to be living his life — one day at a time, hardly any movement or willingness to move on.

Light and Darkness/Shadow

There are several shots of the very white and neat exterior of the First Reformed Church in broad daylight, and probably the same number of shots of the dark bedroom of Reverend Toller. Sometimes there’s only one candle lighting the whole room. To me this  reinforces idea of the duality in his personality in how he presents himself to the outside world (one who has strong faith, knows how to deal with all kinds of people) and how he really feels and thinks about himself. He leads the service on Sundays, even though on his own, he says he is incapable of praying. (To me, though, his writing in his journal is an act of prayer.)

Hope and Despair

When Reverend Toller speaks with Michael, he speaks against despair. Ironically in the end, he fails to rescue Michael from that despair which turns out to be infectious as he, himself, tries to end his own life.

Mary, on the other hand, is the epitome of hope in her own quiet way — despite grieving the loss of her husband, she looks forward to having the baby that Michael had wanted her to abort.

Interior and Exterior

Reverend Toller on the outside, exemplifies calm and composure, just like the ultra neat and white exterior of the church, but inside he is full of turmoil and uncertainty. His soul probably needs as much cleansing as his broken toilet that needs unclogging. And that metaphor becomes literal when he tries to use the drain cleaner to kill himself.

This duality is quite common. How many people do you know whose actions have surprised you as they are “out of character”? With Reverend Toller, however, there is dramatic irony— the audience are amply prepared for his decision to end his life, but the people around him are not.

Perhaps the one idea from this film that I liked best is restraint. Reverend Toller’s attraction to Mary is developed quite subtly. At first he seems to be simply a very dedicated pastor helping out a parishioner. But one scene that made me certain he is falling for her is that of the two of them cycling and, as he writes in his journal, “I had not been on a bicycle, I think, in 20 years. I was afraid I would fall.” And he went to muse on the curative power of exercise. There is a look of pure joy on his face as they bike on the trail.

first reformed

Spiritual, though not as religious as Esther, Mary brings out the spiritual in Reverend Toller. With her, he can pray with words and with his soul. Yet, he has to restrain himself in his attraction to her. This he is able to do for a while, but after Mary appears before him as he is about to drink the drain cleaner, that restraint finally gives way to full expression in an embrace and a long kiss. This last scene is my favorite part — the feeling of finally letting out what you have been holding in for a long time is more than liberating. It’s exhilarating.

first reformed2

For me, this movie is simply another reason to love Ethan Hawke.

A Prayer for Elijah and Every Child with Special Needs

Dear God,

Thank you for blessing me with this wonderful creature that is my son, Elijah, whom I named after your great prophet, in the hope that he, too, would grow to be as faithful and as eloquent in spreading your word. Though, as yet, he has not been blessed with the gift of words, Elijah, just by being who and what he is, still succeeded in converting the ones closest to him from being self-absorbed and impatient individuals to ones with an almost impossible amount of selflessness and forbearance. Thank you for making him an instrument in bringing out the good in people around him.

I pray for Elijah and children like him who are special in their own special ways, that You grant them the ability to one day, live independently, and not wholly rely on other people for their daily needs.

I pray that one day, they will be able to express themselves without being frustrated at the inability of the people around them to understand whatever it is they want to express.

I pray that one day, they will be able to share what it is they sense that makes them smile that sweetest of smiles, what makes them laugh that most infectious laughter that seems to come out of nowhere.

But should this not be part of the plan, I pray that in Your mercy, you send them people who will love them for who and what they are, long after their parents are unable to look after them.

I pray that You bless them with loving individuals who will guide them in navigating the complexities of life in this sometimes cruel world.

I pray that despite all the troubles they may encounter in this life, they will always have that joy that only they, in their specialness, can find in their own world.

And may they always have it in their unblemished hearts and minds that life is beautiful and that it is worth living.

Finally, I thank You, dear God, for the people who have helped, continue to help and will help Elijah and every special child like him, live meaningful and happy lives.

May you bless them a hundred, a thousand fold for their kindness and dedication.

May they be grateful as I am for the opportunity of having such a special human being in our lives.

And may they praise You, like I do, for Your boundless generosity and mercy.

Amen.

Week 8 Prompt: Happiness

Happiness is…

Having the ability to look at the past and be grateful for it;

Living in the moment with the knowledge that it is not going to last;

Being hopeful for the future that the ones we leave behind will have better lives than the one we had.

Happiness is having faith that everything is going to be all right.

Have a happy week!đź’•

Meaning and Purpose in Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go”

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In general, there are two kinds of people according to how they view their life: those who continually search for meaning and purpose in life, and those who don’t. These two kinds of people come to the same end, however. They die. We die. But that time just before death is where the dying differ. Those who believe (even without any real proof) that they have found meaning and fulfilled their purpose in life, pass confidently though sadly, and those who feel they have unfulfilled promises or dreams or tasks left undone, leave bitterly.

In my lifetime, I have seen enough number of dying people to see this. It is always sad as I know it is the fate of each and every one of us.

Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go” reminds me of that sadness I feel when pondering on the fate of human beings. At first I found this novel disturbing and then extremely sad; and only today, two days after I finished reading the novel, did I finally realize what I found so sad about it.

It is not that the “students” unquestioningly accept their fate of dying young because they are mere clones, created to become organ donors.
It is not that despite their being more humane than the humans who created and raised them, the latter are repulsed by them.

Rather it is that human beings despite their being “superior” to the clones, are ignorant of the real meaning and purpose of their existence, while the clones aren’t. Hence, the former can face death which they aptly call “completing” without fear or regret, albeit with a little sadness. Ishiguro found the perfect word to call death in this novel. When the clones die from having donated their organs, it is because they have accomplished or “completed” the purpose of their existence.

There are people who are convinced that they know their purpose for being in this world – they have faith or they make up their own purpose, but is it really the real purpose for our existence? How will we know for sure?

This is why I envy the clones in the novel, at least there is no doubt in their heads why they exist. For somebody outside looking in, it is a very sad existence, but the “students” in Hailsham had a happy childhood, lots of fun memories, and there was no question in their head as to what was going to happen to them, how their lives would end. As for us, humans, though we know our time is limited, and we attach all kinds of meaning or purpose for our lives, in the end we are all Jon Snow.

We know nothing.

Daily Prompt: Enlighten 

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Life can sometimes feel like

A big joke — a practical joke

Played on you

Which you don’t find

Funny at all.

And if you’re a believer,

You just feel like asking,

“Really, God? Are you f-ing kidding me?” 

But you go on

Living.

Smiling.

As if everything’s all right

With your world.

Yet deep down you’re yearning

To understand what the hell is going on.

Your heart is screaming —

“Enlighten me or just put an end to it.”



Daily Prompt:
Enlighten

Daily Prompt: Sympathy 


Where were you …

When a baby was crying in hunger, 

A mother was grieving over her dying child, 

A beggar was looking for shelter in the cold? 

You weren’t there, 

And you refused to see

Or to even think of them. 

And now you weep, 

Alone, outside your once happy home, 

Certain that nobody will come

To comfort you in your grief. 

But don’t worry…

Somebody always does, 

And most likely they’re the ones,

You once despised 

For their silly faith 

In love, sacrifice, generosity, forgiveness and sympathy. 

Daily Prompt: Sympathy 

Daily Prompt: Relieved 

This may sound very simplistic, but it is quite true: when I am stressed out, all I need is some alone time (not necessarily a quiet place, but a place where I don’t have to talk to anybody) and a bit of nature to to look at — flowers, trees, lake — and then I can recover. My problems may not be solved, but at least I’d have the energy and the clarity of mind to face them.


When people are unhappy about things, they want to cure themselves of this unhappiness as quickly as possible, and do things that most often just add to their unhappiness. I think we ought to embrace this unhappiness first before we let it go. And then we can look to nature to remind ourselves that everything is being taken care of.

“Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” –Luke 12:27

I believe nature can help heal our unhappiness. We just need to spend time with it and be relieved of our worries by it.

Nature loves patience: always remember that. It is a law given her of God Himself, who has blessed all those who are strong to endure.” –– Gogol, Dead Souls

May you find relief from all your troubles. đź’•
T.


Daily Prompt: Relieved

Stop. Look. Listen. Feel. Be grateful. Move on. 

   

Sunset at Dalipuga, Iligan, Philippines 

One of my favorite poems that I can recite by heart is Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. I kept reciting this poem to my baby when I was still pregnant, and even after my son was born. HBO’s Classical Baby The Poetry Show includes a reading of this poem by Susan Sarandon, and it is now my 5-year old son’s favorite part of the video.

A thought came to mind today as I watched my son give me the sweetest smile when the video clip began. A few months after our son was diagnosed with Autism, my husband wished Eli would not grow so quickly. Today, only for a moment I wished Eli would never grow up, so people can excuse his strange stimming habits, his speech delay and other autistic traits. Every now and then  I worry about whether or not he will be able to live independently, when my husband and I won’t be around to look after him anymore.

Frost’s poem talks about how we, once in a while, encounter something that makes us wish could last at least a lifetime, but we all have other things to do — duties, responsibilities, roles to play in other people’s lives — so we have to move on, continue living our lives.

The speaker in this poem though was truly in the moment. He   noticed his surroundings: the snow-covered woods, the frozen lake; he heard the sound of the harness bells and the wind. He also used his imagination (“My little horse must think it queer…”), and was quite aware not only of the lack of danger (…He will not see me stopping here/ To watch his woods fill up with snow), but also of his responsibilities and of the life he had to live,   (But I have promises to keep/ And miles to go before I sleep/ And miles to go before I sleep.) 

Oftentimes I look at my son and wonder what life will be like for him. Will he ever be able to speak like a neurotypical person? Will he be able to read by himself the books that he loves for me to read to him? Will he be able to write down his own name?  But then I stop myself from doing this, and instead do things with him. Not much use wondering about the future when so much of it depends on the present.

What I liked most about Frost’s poem is the idea that though we can (and we should) live our lives — face our responsibilities, fulfill our duties, find our way in the darkness — we can stop once in a while and just enjoy what we have in our lives: food on our table, clothes to keep us warm (or cool), roof over our heads,  air we breathe, water we drink, family, friendship. And love. And faith that everything will be all right in the end.

Thank you. Salamat. 谢谢。

On Trying to be Good

 

Sunset over Mindanao Sea (Bohol Sea), Philippines

My heart has been “battered” for weeks now, so I’m not praying for more; but these days this sonnet has been like an earworm (brainworm) in my head.

Holy Sonnet XIV by John Donne

Batter my heart, three-person’d God ; for you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me. 
 

People raised to believe in heaven and hell, or just raised to be a good person and to be sorry for doing bad things,  most likely feel guilty for being bad and continually endeavor (and, perhaps, still fail) to be good.

The sonnet expresses that desire to be good (to be with God) again, and the supplicant is willing to be cleansed in any way (by God) just to become pure again.

Perhaps because it’s the Lenten Season, or maybe it’s just because somebody reminded me of this sonnet, that it’s stuck in my head, but it’s been awhile that I have not prayed like this.

Arrogance? I don’t think so. Too busy living? Maybe. Had enough? Well….

A time to weep and a time to laugh

  

   

I read something this morning as I was sitting on a bench facing the lake on campus. It said, “Being grateful protects you from negative thinking.” I read those words after shedding tears. Over life. 

I was, and still am, grateful for the time and place for quiet that I  had this morning. For two months I had neither, and I felt like I was drowning. 

Some people like to be around a lot of other people when they are going through a difficult time. I just need peace and quiet. And I finally had both this morning. 

I know that there is a time for everything. That the weeping will pass too. And that I will laugh again. I’m already grateful for that time. 

I can’t wait. 

Laughter and Pain

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Beautiful Mindanao

In this life I think we all have good years and bad years. Sometimes when we are having a good year, we ask (like I often do), “Do I really deserve this? Have I been really that good to deserve all these wonderful things?” And when we are having a bad year, we ask (like I ALWAYS do), “Seriously. What have I done to deserve this?”

And I’m having a bad year. It has gotten so bad that now I could laugh at an unfortunate incident my husband and I found ourselves in yesterday. It struck me that my life these past few months has been a black comedy.

The other day while I was doing the dishes, I thought of Job and how his faith was tested. I hope this is just a test as well, and that my husband and I will pass this test with flying colors. And that we will be laughing a real laugh, not the one tinged with pain.

I have always believed, and I know from experience that it’s true that “this too shall pass.”

There’s always light at the end of the tunnel. 🙂

Interstellar and the Self

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Interstellar

 

(photo source)

First off, if you have not seen the movie yet, then stop reading.

Second, if you are a film enthusiast or a film critic, then pardon my own humble review of the movie. I am often told that I miss the point of a movie, to which I reply (but only in my head), so what? I see other things in a movie that move me, and to me that is what matters. I do not have to have the same analysis as everybody else. Our understanding and appreciation of a movie or even a book is ultimately shaped by our own individual experiences, our knowledge of the things around us,  our values, culture and many other factors.

That may have sounded like an attempt at apologetics, so I will move on.

I watched Interstellar a week ago, but waited until today to write about it because I had to give myself time to think and discuss with my husband (a physics major in university) about one of the ideas the movie presented that really fascinated me.

Cooper (not my dearest Bradley), Matthew McConaughey’s character, left earth and entered another galaxy through a wormhole. His travel with the other space explorers took, for them, just hours, but what was hours for them was years for the earthlings.

I cannot and will not even attempt to explain how the element of time was used in this story, but in my own simple understanding of what happened and in my humble second-language-learner English, let me say that Cooper was able to go back to a certain place in time, specifically that period when his daughter thought there was a ghost in her bedroom that was trying to tell her something. It turned out that that “ghost” was actually Cooper himself, from the future, (future Cooper)  trying to stop past Cooper from leaving his family. But then he was told he could not change the past.

Let me pause here to say something about Biblical allusions or religious undertones of which there is a prevalence in today’s science-fiction movies. Interstellar is definitely not an exception. the most obvious allusion is to the man Jesus raised from the dead, Lazarus. NASA’s mission in the film is called “Lazarus.”

The Bible contains a few stories about how lives had been sacrificed for something new or better to start. Death for some for the birth of new ones, like when God flooded the world and spared only Noah and his family and a few animals; or when innocent children were killed because King Herod was afraid that the child who had been prophesied to become king was born, and he wanted to be certain the child would not live to be king; or when Jesus had to die to save the people.

In the same way, Dr. Brand had concluded that it was impossible to evacuate the whole population from earth, so he formulated plan B which was to start a new population from the fertilized embryos. He was willing to abandon the living for the survival of the species. This is not new or uncommon. I think people are constantly sacrificing other people’s lives for a cause, be they good or bad.

One other thing that I was reminded of when I saw that scene where  Future Cooper was begging his daughter (who, of course could not hear him) not to let him, Past Cooper leave, was hell. Would it not be hell to be able to see our past selves making a decision that at present we know to be very wrong, but we have no way to correct it? The way we live our lives is not like how a movie is made where we do several takes. It is hell to watch ourselves making mistakes that affect not only our lives but also the lives of the ones we love  and knowing we cannot undo those mistakes.

That scene from the movie spoke to me the most — the father’s anguish at seeing his daughter again and wishing he had listened to her and not left her. I love Matthew McConaughey (not the same way I love Bradley Cooper, but yes) I think he is a great actor.

That scene also made me think of “conscience,” that tiny voice in the head that tells  one what is morally right or wrong, the guide to making decisions. I would like to think that our conscience is simply our “future selves” trying to guide us to the right direction. Sometimes we listen to our conscience, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we even feel it is absent. Maybe on a holiday.

I do not like movies about aliens, but somehow I am a little disappointed that in this movie, the human being seems to be alone in the universe, that there are no other creatures out there, that it is just us in the vastness of the universe. Are we truly this special? That we have such a huge place all to ourselves? I prefer the idea presented by Stephen Hawking that there are other creatures apart from us that are way more advanced  than our civilization. I would like to think that there are other beings out there, that it is not just us on this tiny planet in the infinite universe. This feeling is the same as when I stand on the shore facing the horizon and wondering if on the other side, there is also somebody standing on their shore wondering the same about the other side.

I have so many questions about our existence. I used to think the answer was in philosophy, and then in neuropsychology, but as years pass, I feel the answer can only be found not within ourselves, not within our planet, but out there in the universe, which means I may never know the answers to my questions. It is sad, but I am hopeful one day somebody will find those answers. And that hope and faith is enough to make me go on living my life, hopefully not disappointing my future self too much.