Thursday, March 10, 2005

Her Cup of Coffee [Archive]

This article was originally published in the March 2005 edition of The LaSallian, the official publication of De La Salle University as my monthly column as editor.

I never did like coffee. There’s something about its bitter taste that leaves me feeling bad about something. But I know someone who loved coffee not only for its bittersweet taste. It was a love for it that I only recently understood.

Before I end my term as editor, I would like to impart a personal lesson. Something less complex than rules and policies to rant about, or solutions we seek and thirst for, yet can never quite fully quench. This will only be a story to hopefully learn from. But at best, it will be my long overdue thank you.

She was different. A man’s spirit and courage in a woman’s body. A beautiful face carefully hidden with a stern exterior. To those who knew better defined it as strength. To those who didn’t saw it as a product of too many storms and doldrums. Coffee was a staple diet to her. Her husband had awoken to its reassuring aroma. Her first-born had broken all too many of those brownish cups brimming with coffee. Her second child had wiped many of its brown stains on the carpet. And her third had grown to share the same love for it. She awoke with it and retired to bed with the brownish cup by her bedside. But more essentially, she waited with coffee.

She was not like most mothers. When most would readily finish their children’s homework and happily glue their hands together for their tykes’ art class projects, she wouldn’t finish her children’s tasks. But she had her own ways. It was only much much later in their lives when they learned that it was not a gesture of indifference but rather a lesson of independence. There she sat with them for sixteen years waiting for something one could not have directly pointed out, coffee after coffee, after coffee.

At the young age of thirty-nine, she was widowed. While others mourned loudly in grief, she was silent and glass-eyed, almost still. It was only later that everyone would learn of the fear that strangled her—the fear for her little ones, the youngest only eight. She could not have explained it to them better, “Nothing lasts forever,” but in deeper meaning, “I am alone.” And then there was coffee.

Many guessed she was waiting for someone, to have a hand to hold on to again but alone she raised her children. When examinations came, she would sit with them like she always did and willingly memorized the life Julius Caesar or the periodic table. It was easier to learn if the kid asked the questions and the mentor answered, she always said. In preparing for school competitions, she would act as actor or judge, villain or priest. They were learning and she waited for them til the wee hours, with shaky hands, coffee after coffee, after coffee.

When her eldest was ready for college and she was forty-six, her daughter left the province. One after the other, each child left home with heavy hesitation. Always, she would say, “What’s a few months? You’ll be back home before you know it.” And she threw herself harder at work, making both ends meet. At night she would call and wait for all three to be safe in their dormitories. And when they were all safe and sound she would say, “I just also finished my coffee.”

Now I am twenty-one and still, patience is not one of my best virtues. I’ve always wanted for things to come instantly lest I lose interest. I guess it took this long for me to realize what my mother has been teaching me for twenty-one years. When I was four, angry and frustrated for not easily mastering how to write my full name, she was waiting patiently for me to learn it. When I was seven, jealous and angry at the affection my brother was getting, she sat waiting for me to learn to love him. When I was twelve, feeling betrayed for the loss of a father who promised me many things, she was in more pain but waited for me to mature and accept life not only for its bliss but also for the wounds it brings. When I was seventeen, proud and na├»ve, I disobeyed her but found her still full of love and once again waiting for me to heal. When I graduated, ashamed and disappointed of my grades, she beamed with pride and waited for me to be content. All these years, she was patient. She weeped, struggled, and bled. But still she waited. And so now, I begin to understand her and her endless cups of coffee. Perhaps coffee was her way of coping and healing, of saying, “I’m just here. I’m not going anywhere.” To her, “No matter how long it takes, I’ll be waiting for you to come back home.”

I’m not sure what she’s waiting for now. For my brother and sister to mature? For us to go home? To someday settle down? For grandchildren? I don’t know exactly. But what I do know is how my mother so simply taught me that lesson in life—to find joy and patience in waiting. Life may not give you everything easily and instantly but if you must wait, wait patiently and wait gladly…perhaps coffee after coffee, after coffee.

Thank you, Ma. I’m so proud of you. I may not love coffee, but it could always be tea. I love you so much.

Tuesday, February 1, 2005

One Team [Archive]

This article was originally published in The Philippine Daily Inquirer (Young Blood section) in February 1, 2005.

I have attended a number of seminars and workshops. Each of which aimed to instill in me the values of unity and leadership. But sometimes, in the process, igniting a sense of competition, of rivalry, and conflict. Because in the end, only one should emerge as the victor, the one leader in the pack. And then, the main goals of unity and solidarity are slowly broken into sub-groups, into smaller teams, and eventually just one “I” or “me”.

Great people have said that there is no more for two people at the top. Others even go to an extreme extent of saying, “It is not enough that I succeed, others must fail.” One workshop taught me otherwise.

Like everything, it started with a story, a challenge for 47 eager students. We were divided into three teams with each team given 12 golden bricks. Our mission: to let everyone cross the “river of crocodiles” using the 12 golden bricks, unharmed and at the shortest time possible. By the time my team used up all our 12 bricks, we were still halfway down the river, hungry “crocodiles” at our feet, and time ticking away fast. It got us thinking, “Who are we kidding? Unless we started growing gills and fins, there was no way everyone was going to cross this river.” Everyone shared the same dilemma. We were left scratching our heads with uncertainty. One facilitator, Mr. Jojo Alino, boldly asked, “How many golden bricks do you have?”
“Twelve,” came the chorus.
“Count again.”
It took a quick manual count, a number of prudent questions, and a few arguments before someone braved, “Thirty-six?”

Yes, three 12’s made 36. It was unfair that the instructions were not clear, and the fact that we were grouped into three teams had us assuming that we were competing against each other. But then again, it did say that “the team that crosses the river first, wins.” In this case, we were ONE team.

From 47 students, 16 universities, and 10 undergraduate courses, we became ONE team.
It’s surprising how differences can be compromised between so-called enemies and archrivals when the right occasion calls for it. I never imagined myself working (and read: harmoniously, albeit the periodic bickering) with whom we have fondly called “mga taga-Katipunan,”and the “mga aktibista.” Yes, (to my fellow Lasallians) I now appropriately call them by their first names.

One amusing conversation comes to mind. I had daringly and proudly told an Atenean fellow delegate about my newly-discovered “talent” of easily picking out an Atenean from a crowd. Not to be outsmarted, my Atenean friend said, “To be honest, I can easily tell if someone is from La Salle too.” Overheard by a delegate from UP-Diliman, the butt-in came as, “Really? I can’t tell a Lasallian or Atenean apart.” Now, that came as a big blow. But I can’t help but laugh at the frank comment. There we were, boasting about one’s “edge” over the other (whether who’s got the best basketball team, the biggest school grounds, or the hardest subjects), when in reality it’s the “same difference.” This coined term (“same difference”), no matter how paradoxically absurd can’t possibly describe the situation better.
No matter how better or more advantaged we feel over another (especially a long-loathed archrival), one person will always see both parties as equal, as one. This ludicrousness of course, has a deeper implication. Let’s take for instance, our pitiful country. If one may have noticed, we are more than a financially unstable nation. In fact, we are one unstable, divided nation. We fail to realize that people will not see Imelda Marcos (Guinness World of Records’ only woman with 3,400 pairs of shoes); National artist Levi Celerio (Ginness’ only man who could play beautiful music with a leaf); Ferdinand Marcos (the man who allegedly took away the largest loot in history); or Joseph Estrada (allegedly amassed $82 million in kickbacks and payoffs in his 31-month stint as President) as who and what they are. In a stranger’s eyes, they see ONE poor country, ONE desolate nation, ONE wretched people. And in a desperate time when all that’s left for people to cling on to is prayer, there is no room for mere competition.

This story is simple. It’s simpler than most parables, a whole lot simpler than your 800-peso Rich Dad Series but it is something most (if not all) of us forget or perhaps deem unnecessary. Why indeed should one share his glory to 46 others? Why can’t one be solitary in basking under the blinding limelight of fame, success, or wealth? Simple. Because it takes more than 12 golden bricks to build ONE lasting empire.

To the Unilever Business Week 2004 Committee and to my ONE TEAM family, thank you for teaching me life’s better lessons.