There are short chapters. There are places we don’t linger in for too long. Shoes we take off when it’s not the right fit. Square pegs to round holes. The piece of the puzzle that you thought belonged here but really somewhere else. They are not wrong turns. These chapters matter to the story, for the lessons they teach and for the choices you end up making in their wake.
Running into a familiar scenario in today’s Gospel. (Mark 9:14-29)
When you have done everything you could.
When you have followed all kinds of advice.
When you have read all the information you need to.
When you have asked all sorts of people for their opinions.
Still, the problem is there.
Still, you are sick.
Still, what you’re asking for doesn’t come.
Still, you don’t have the answer.
And, still the bad spirit doesn’t go away.
Why can’t we drive it out?
What is the last thing you haven’t done?
The one thing you should have done.
The most powerful you can do against any kind of spirit.
Pray. This kind can only come out through prayer.
It’s when Grace, when He takes over.
I love the Gospel of Mark not because it’s the shortest but because it packs all the punches. Today’s Gospel has another snarky biting verse where Jesus said — “If you can? Everything is possible for one who believes.” right when the person asking Him for a miracle presented his doubts because they have done everything by then, and they don’t know what to do anymore.
So, that’s the other thing, maybe more important than the prayer, and what goes before the prayer — faith or belief. Prayer works when you believe. Check your heart or soul. Does it believe?
In a time of sorrow.
When everything is uncertain.
When everything feels lost.
When you feel unanchored — free but no direction.
He can. He did. He will.
So can you. So did you. So will you. With His grace. When you believe.
“I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.”
How are you doing?
This question has become the hardest one for me to answer
In its routine, it should be a mindless reply
Truth is, these days, I really don’t know how to take that one
Especially when I was crying the entire drive in the car
Or that I had to take a sip of water before that call
To drown the tears that managed to take over
All the crying proves how waterproof my eyeliner is
It’s the only thing still on point
There’s a lump in my throat
From all the that I have choked back
So I can maintain a straight face
Because that’s what strong people do
And these days, these days
Being strong is really all I got
Although days like today
I wish I had something else
Like maybe silence
Like maybe a time traveling machine
Where I get to go back to February
Or the Summer of 2015
When heartbreak meant
Leaving fields, colors, sounds and smells
I’ve learned to love
When dreams shatter to pieces
Broken by an unwelcome stranger
Not this disease gnawing at her mind and body
Bound to take my soul
Basically anything that makes us whole
How are you doing?
You ask again
I know you mean well
Yet, I pretend to not hear it
I move on to the next sentence
Because the silence in my reply
Is how I am doing
It’s the only thing that makes sense.
What makes for THE right outcome?
Oftentimes there are more factors
Than you can possibly imagine to get there
So when they say the universe conspires
To get you to the outcome
You dreamed of
They are simply saying
That finally the right variables are at play.
The next time I touch the Sky
I’ll remember the dreams that carried you
The joy you made present in the waiting for you
The next time I touch the Sky
I will remind myself
That I must always look up to the direction
Of the light
Bravely face the brightness
Because there’s a soft glare there
Right where you are
You who I never met
But always loved
The next time I touch the Sky
Will be the closest I get to you
And I will smile
At the glimmer behind that cloud
The sparkle in that star
The brilliance on that sun’s ray
Because I know it is you
Smiling back at me
I’ve always been a voracious reader, but as I became a more voracious media consumer, reading became a thing that I do last as I divvied up my time between social media, TV, music, video, news and literature. In 2017, I resolved to read more and so I did. And I thought it proper to end the year with a tribute to the books that opened up new worlds and stimulated my mind this year.
Drum roll… and the winners are…
Fiction – Novel
My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry
There’s so much to appreciate with Backman’s storytelling skills. In this heartwarming prose, Fredrik Backman takes us back to the imaginary worlds we create when we are afraid, lonely, sad and defeated — whether as children or adults. He does this while keeping readers grounded to the reality and even the dysfunctions of the communities and relationships we live in, and how our imperfect humanity still makes for the perfect story of belonging and even forgiveness.
In this story, a little girl, named Elsa, loses the Grandmother she adores and considers as her best friend. As a parting gift, grandma gives the girl a mission to deliver her letters while also unlocking the mystery behind a fantasy kingdom and its brave knight. As the stories unfold in relation to her grandma’s letters and mystery being solved in the fantasy world, we journey with Elsa as she comes to terms with her own grief, with a little bit of help from unexpected friends.
Fiction – Novel
Turtles All The Way Down
Admittedly, this novel is a late addition as I picked it up as airplane reading for the Christmas trip home. And, although I read a lot of John Green being the YA-novel fan that I am, I am partial with his writing. (PS I really wanted to like The Fault in Our Stars but found it to be too much drama) I was pleasantly surprised with this book, enough to have had it contend with my book of the year. That says a lot about this piece. What made me love it?
Here, John Green tackles mental health, complex as it already is, in such a simple unassuming, and unpretentious manner. He lets us in the mind of the protagonist, Aza, as she struggled with her obsessions, compulsions and anxieties. He sets that tone in the bittersweet memories of high school where you experience your first love, your friendships get tested and you question your own existence.
The romance here is so subtle yet heartwarming — of two broken young people who understand each other really well, yet also misunderstand the signals they send, that the right time seems to never come (Yes, I know, boom!) Yet, John Green delivers their story in a way that makes you believe in the certainty of their love for each other and the forces or circumstances that they let stand in the way, whatever that means.
Deserving an honorable mention in the story is the arc around Aza’s friendship with Daisy. It was honest and refreshing, even in its handling of how Daisy (the normal friend) sometimes escapes from the stress brought about by the drama surrounding Aza’s neuroses, through her Fan fiction writing. I’m sure we all can relate to having that one friend we love and truly care for but would badly need to escape from every now and then.
I appreciated the simplicity and lightness of the story even as it takes on very complex ideas from psychology to astronomy, from grief to first love and even social class divides. It was a good authentic read.
Excerpts and Quotables from “Turtles All The Way Down”
“When observation fails to align with a truth, what do you trust — your senses or your truth? “
“We started talking to each other like people who used to be close — catching each other up on our lives rather than living them together. (By the time he paid the bill), I knew that whatever we’d been, we weren’t anymore.”
“You never really find answers. Just new and deeper questions.”
“The problem with happy endings is that they’re either not really happy or not really endings.”
Fiction – Short Stories / Anthology
In The Country
I will give Mia Alvar credit for resurrecting my love for short stories and anthologies. Now, that we have that taken care of, let me tell you why “In the Country” made the cut in my 2017 list. Mia Alvar is an up-and-coming Filipino writer who penned the stories of Filipinas all over the world and their adventures, struggles and dreams. She creates believable and relatable characters while also shining a bright light into the Filipino reality. She tells the story of the Filipina as OFWs, working mothers, housewives, sisters and girlfriends. In short, she tells MY story, and the story of my mother, my aunt, and my friends.
Mia Alvar writes in such honesty and candor, yet not irreverent. She doesn’t wade in stereotypes and cliched perspectives of the Filipina, and instead chooses to tell their story in a real way as possible, including writing about illicit affairs, gossip and in a subtle way, even the colonial mindset and crab mentality. The book does not pretend to sugarcoat the Filipino experience, and instead presents it raw – even if it stings or gets uncomfortable.
Her style is much less indignant, but Alvar’s writing reminds me a bit of Jessica Hagedorn (Dogeaters, Gangster of Love) and see her rising as a prominent voice in the weaving of the Filipino global narrative.
Milk and Honey
Kaur’s first book of poetry made me wonder how books of poetry should be read. In the two hours and one sitting I completed this book, I wasn’t exactly sure if I should be reading a poetry book like that from end-to-end or to split them across time like in tiny bites or sips for maximum effect. However it is enjoyed doesn’t change the power of Rupi Kaur’s words. Here, Rupi weaves beauty into the wisdom we all know deep inside — partly confirming, partly agreeing, partly empathizing with our own experiences of hurting, loving, breaking and healing. Some of her themes may feel repetitive but the emotions they convey are always new and refreshing even in their simplicity.
It is a beautiful read, teeming with sage advice at times and at other times like hearing your best friend speak of heartaches and triumphs.
Excerpts and Quotables from “Milk and Honey”
“You are the faint line between faith and blindly waiting – letter to my future lover”
“If you were born with the weakness to fall, you were born with the strength to rise.”
Non-fiction – Business, Biography
The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds
Reading and listening to this book is what happens when you have multiple esteemed mentors and professors sing its praises and recommending it as non-class reading. Technically, the recommender pool makes it an unofficial class reading. I heard about this book first in Leadership class and downloaded it as an audiobook just to check it out and see what it is about. After finishing the audio book, I found myself with a paperback copy, so I read it again and then again. I usually read authors back-to-back, and this would be the first trade book title that I have read multiple times nearly back-to-back.
What is it about? Put simply it is a story of a meeting and collaboration of brilliant minds, namely Nobel winner Daniel Kahneman (Thinking Fast and Slow) and Amos Tversky. That story is wrapped in case studies around their research and work on behavioral economics and big data, proving that in how they asked the questions they have changed our minds. At the end of the day, this book is not just about their genius, but about their phenomenal partnership. Kahneman and Tverksy’s partnership is one that seems to be of polar opposites yet also strikingly equal and like-minded people. It is a gift to the sciences because in their individual authenticity Kahneman and Tversky were each able to lend unique perspectives that would change the way the world thinks.
During a time I was in my own journey of metamorphosis (look out for my 2017 reflection post), having my identity meshed with someone else as our work together have blurred lines can be baffling, at times even unnerving. How do I be myself while also doing good work with someone else? And, Michael Lewis, in his capture of one of the greatest partnerships in history is enough to draw inspiration from. Each time I read this book, I am reminded of these truths I will always know to be true: 1) great work is better done together; 2) the strongest partnerships are made up of unique individuals who are confident enough in themselves to share and collaborate with others; 3) the only person you’re competing with is yourself, everyone else has their own race to run.
Excerpts and Quotables from “The Undoing Project”
“People’s intuitive expectations are governed by a consistent misperception of the world.” – Kahneman and Tversky
“Regret was sufficiently imaginable that people conjured it out of situations they had no control over. But it was of course at its most potent when people might have done something to avoid it.”
“It was seldom possible for Amos and Danny to recall where their ideas had come from. They both found it pointless to allocate credit, as their thoughts felt like some alchemical byproduct of their interaction. Yet, on occasion, their origins were preserved. The notion that people making risky decisions were especially sensitive to change pretty clearly had at least started with Danny. But it became seriously valuable only because of what Amos had said next.”
2017 Favorite Author
Fredrik Backman is high up there amongst writers whose storytelling I look up to. I discovered him in 2017 when I read “My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry” and found myself picking up his other books. They would have all made this list. I understood why he is a bestseller. Backman, in his work, maintains a certain consistency and voice that makes his voice familiar, yet also new. I believe that one of his secrets is that he kept a parallel universe between all his works wherein the setting and/or the characters transcend their own solitary stories into all of the other works. For example, you will find Elsa’s neighbors again in either “Ove” or “Britt-Marie”. Even with that parallel universe, each individual piece stands alone strong, weaving complex concepts into simple storytelling. Backman’s descriptions are always vivid — taking the reader into the world he spins and making it their own. It is easy to grow attached to the characters in his stories. I can’t wait to get to know the next one.
My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry
A Man Called Ove
Britt-Marie Was Here
And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer and Longer
That rounds up my notable books of 2017. Leave a comment for suggestions on what I should read for 2018. I am keeping my 40-book goal for 2018, being that I was 10 books shy of that in 2017.
Also, what were your favorite reads this year?
The genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew definitely seems like a trivia read. But, once you realize the special mentions (other than David and Abraham), in the likes of Rahab, Bathsheba, Ruth, Tamar (wait why are they all women? I guess Matthew may have been a misogynist), it shows a very human lineage. Humanity with all its weakness. Family with all its dysfunction.
In the opening to the New Testament, Matthew established a link from BC to AD. To show, that He who is coming will not only be with us, but also be like us, in order to approach us, and reconcile us.
I’ve always thought that the Prologue of St John’s Gospel was the beautiful key to the Mystery of the Incarnation. I guess Matthew’s prologue actually does a good, albeit trivia-heavy, job of it too. By showing where Jesus ‘came’ from, we would understand what He is of.
And as we get into the Christmas season’s full gear, I am thankful — for being human. So that I may experience Jesus in all of you, amid all our imperfections.
(Also posted on Facebook, as Thursday Testimony, aka Day 2 Dawn Masses)
I have been told that there are a few events in life when you are allowed a free wish.
When blowing out your birthday candle
On a wishbone
When you see a rainbow
When you visit a church for the first time
On a fountain
When you chance upon seeing a shooting star…
Why am I listing these things, you ask.
Just in the past few weeks, as I went on a trip halfway across the world, I was given way too many chances to make a wish.
Rome, Assisi, Orvieto, Florence, Siena, Padova, Venice. I have lost count of how many new churches I entered. From cathedrals to chapels. Knocking on the doors of heaven each time. Lighting candles at altars. Asking my saints for all their intercession.
Then, I stumbled upon fountains. Spewing and spraying their water at the height of noon, as dusk came, brilliant lights through the night. I even threw a coin in one of them. And a video to show for it. My five second shot at fame, I gamely and jokingly chide my mom who also was my camera crew.
You would think that I have these many things I may be wishing for. Or one thing I want fulfilled so fervently. Many or one that pushes all the silent whispers of my soul in those many moments.
And, as we left for home at the crack of dawn on our last day in Italy, there it was, just out of the blue, a shooting star.
And to be honest, each time I had my chance to make a wish, I thought of him. The memory of summer days spent also halfway across the world.
I just didn’t know what exactly to wish for or how to.
So, I just asked that wherever he may be, he is well.
And wherever I may be now or in the future, I will be well too.
Did I waste my wishes?
Well, each time I got bashful as I made my wishes, I get one audacious moment and mutter under my breath…
Who am I kidding, Lord? You know what is in this heart. This is why you keep granting me all these chances to make a wish. Make them come true, in their rightful time.
And with that, I stand up from the pew, throw the coin into the water, or follow the meteorite’s trail with my eye. And smile.
My Promise Keeper is at work.
It’s been a while since I moved in. Back in February, I was just in a rush to find a place I could call home near my work. But it was not difficult finding one. Like a pampered child, I only went to two viewings and clicked really well with my current landlord.
It’s a place I now call home. Nestled in a slope in between beach shores and a hill, my window opens to more foggy days and beautiful sunsets.
I’ve always wanted a spot near the beach, a place near a college-town, a home near the park. I wanted to experience mornings where the best cafes are by the beach and morning coffee is served with sunrise on a bun. I wanted to have evenings walking and, someday, running through hilly streets with the burning calories masking the chilly night air.
And I got all of that.
Today, I went to get myself a doctor around the neighborhood.
Today, I took a tram to dinner and an errand at the bank.
Today, I walked home as the dusk fell, on hilly streets with my iPod and headphones on.
Today, I finally got my card to the city public library from the branch conveniently sitting on my block.
Today, I came home to the green house with the night door lights on, keyed in the lock to my unit and felt thankful and anxious at the same time.
Because… although definitely not tomorrow… but maybe someday sooner… I stand to lose this dream come true. Because it has a price. And I’m afraid the day is drawing nearer when I could no longer afford it.
Like in a summer night’s dream that began in early spring that I don’t want to wake from, my heart swells to the pool of tears brimming in my eyes.
If I could only have one prayer, one dream…
This must be how grief feels. They come in waves. Ebbs like the tides. Just this palpable emptiness.
I am an only child. My family isn’t perfect. We also had entanglements, dark moments. Because vice tried to gnaw into us.
It’s been over a year since he was gone. Only now do the the tears start to roll. Only now do sobbing fits become appropriate. I miss my father. And he is not here.
I find it interesting how the stages of grief come to me all in one instant. Denial, rage, bargaining, depression, acceptance. All in one instant. Overwhelmed by the emotions taking over me, I turn to this fetal-like ball on my bed beside the wall. Will this pass someday? Do I want it to pass?
You see I was my father’s daughter. The apple of his eye. His weak link, or so I would like to think. That whenever he was about to fall into an abyss of darkness, my presence, my existence helped bring him back to the light, even if temporarily.
He was a good man with a dark vice. So, still a good man. And the suffering he had to endure before he passed must have been redemptive, to rescue a good man from his darkness so he can forever live in the light.
There are days I am foolish and tell myself that I would take his darkness over my emptiness. Then, in a fleeting moment I realize that I will take his peace over his darkness. And this emptiness, the feeling that he really is no longer around, is an assurance of his peace.
So, I must learn to live with this, not simply to move on from it. There is no moving on from the death of someone you loved. To live with it, as though he is watching me get my bearings back. To live with it, and be like who I was when he was proud of me, so I can be proud of myself too.
So, muffled by a pillow I sob a little more. Empty out the tears I could cry today. Later, I will brush my hair, wash my face, attempt to face the world with a smile.
I will and I have to.
Because I am my mother’s daughter too.