All posts by gemmarie2014

The day I couldn’t make the sign of the cross

If you read my previous posts, then I don’t need to remind you again how I am as a Christian … a Roman Catholic to be specific. I am not pious in any way, but I have faith. I am not a prayerful person but I pray. I am not someone who owns a pew in the church but I do go to Sunday mass.

I would say the “most”  Catholic moments I have every day is making the sign of the cross. To me, it is a prayer that I do in all sincerity and solemnity, however hurried life is. I make the sign of the cross as I get up in the morning, I make the sign of the cross while driving, I make the sign of the cross when I pass by a church or any place of worship, I make the sign of the cross whenever I feel like I need to.

Bert Ghezzy of OSV Weekly, in one of his articles, said, “The Sign of the Cross is a profession of faith in God as he revealed himself. It serves as an abbreviated form of the Apostles’ Creed. Touching our forehead, breast, and shoulders … we declare our belief in the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. We are announcing our faith in what God has done — the creation of all things, the redemption of humanity from sin and death, and the establishment of the Church, which offers new life to all. When we sign ourselves we are making ourselves aware of God’s presence and opening ourselves to his action in our lives.

Very well said I say … because to me, making the sign of the cross means more than a gesture….it is a means of communication.
Imagine my anguish when one day I couldn’t make the sign of the cross. I felt crippled … literally, emotionally, psychologically, and most of all, spiritually.

It started off on a Wednesday with a slight pain on my upper arm. I ignored it and told myself that I just need to rest since I’ve been tirelessly working on my laptop. Thursday, the pain started radiating through my right hand making it difficult to operate the computer mouse. I applied my trusted Amrutanjan before going to bed hoping the pain would vanish. I had an early morning meeting on Friday and so I drove off to work unmindful of the nagging pain. That fateful day, I could do no work on my laptop as my fingers were almost frozen. The pain increased every time I try and force myself to press my keyboard. Ignoring my colleague’s advice to leave the car in the office garage and take the cab, I struggled to drive back home. Switching the ignition was an ordeal, and to make matters worse, traffic congestion was at its worst. An ambulance passed by, and that is when I broke down.

One practice that I do conscientiously is to make the sign of the cross when I see an ambulance or hear its siren. As I lift my fingers to execute the gesture, I utter a silent prayer for His saving grace, that the person inside the vehicle may be spared from pain.
When I tried to lift my hand as the wailing of the siren blasted through my car window, I realized that I just couldn’t. Tears started flowing, the throbbing became unbearable, my spirit crashed. As I traversed the IT highway’s five kilometer stretch in pain, I came to the realization that I am lost not because I couldn’t use my hand, but because I couldn’t make the sign of the cross.

It’s carpal tunnel, the doctor diagnosed. My tendons were swollen and the tingling of the nerves caused by constant handling of the computer mouse has to be treated. I was advised rest for the next couple of days, which fortunately were weekends.

Two days of retrospection and the words of an old friend, who died a few years ago, kept ringing in my ears, “Why worry when you can Pray?” And as I prayed, healing began… and I could make the sign of the cross once again.

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Nuestra Senora de Candelaria

Today, more than any other days, I wish I am back home.

The 2nd of February is the feast of Nuestra Senora de Candelaria, the patroness of Silang, Cavite. A place that holds numerous memories and sentiments for me.

People close to me will tell you that I am not a religious person. I am not a prayerful person. I am not a devout catholic. I am not pious in any way. But — I have faith, and I am a believer.

Growing up, I was taught Christian values that I sincerely adhere to. Educated in institutions that stressed the basic tenets of ethics and morals, I have become the person that I am today — certainly not a saint — but someone who respects and cares for every individual, no matter who they are or what they are. I look up to saints who inspire me, and I remember them and their teachings every step of my way.
Nuestra Senora de Candelaria is one of those saints who guided me as I traversed the winding ways of life. The light from the candle in her hand has helped me conquer the fears of darkness and steer myself clear of any wrongdoing. Visiting her abode in Silang, built in 1595, located adjacent to where I studied high school, is always the highlight of my trips back home. I cannot count the number of times I wept in silence inside the church, asking for her guidance. I cannot describe the wide grin I had when I married the man of my dreams, in the very same church. And I cannot contain my happiness when I presented my daughter to her, in thanksgiving.

As a young child, Silang fiesta meant attending the mass and going around the plaza to frolic on the wide array of toys on display. I can never forget the bright red horse, made of paper-mache, my mom bought me in one of those trips. As a teenager, the fiesta meant going out with friends to the perya, a local version of a carnival. The last time I had the privilege of attending the fiesta was more than 18 years ago, and I am hoping to be there again and join the celebrations soon.

The color and festivities of the season is an added attraction to the beautiful celebration of her feast day today, but simply seeing her regal image and feeling the warmth of her blessings is more than enough reason to want to be there right at this moment.
Viva Nuestra Senora de Candelaria!

Realities of realities

Time indeed flies. Before I realized that another year unfolded before my very eyes, its first month rolled so fast that not even the appearance of the “Super Moon” made the slightest difference. But is it really no different at all? Apart from the fact that my days became busier than ever, and my weekends more and more unrecognizable, life seems to be the same.

Three months and fifteen days of not chronicling how life has been … that’s not the same me. I am known to be someone who has to write, someone who has to keep a tab of what’s going on, and someone who keeps a record of those memories, good or bad.

The recent past slowed me down. The last few months, though full of vivid memories, changed me. Events and goings-on made me realized that with a blink of an eye, life can be something one would not expect it to be.

Well, forgive my ramblings but becoming a mess after my little one went off to college gave me the license to do that once in a while.

The last two months of the year were nothing but a blur now and all I can remember is the hustle and bustle of office work – recruitments, trainings, endless meetings, tons of projects, toxic schedules, deadlines, and deadliest deadlines! Travelling the 14-km stretch to DLF was (it still is) a nightmare with the chaotic traffic condition in Chennai, whatever the time may be.

In the middle of all the office pandemonium, I allowed myself the feeling of delight in anticipation of my little one’s coming to spend the winter break with us. But, tension overcame my excitement when she got stranded in Dubai due to a delayed flight from Manchester resulting to a missed flight to Chennai.

Anxiety attacked me like a monster that I didn’t sleep until I was certain that she’s safely settled at a comfortable hotel in Dubai and has a boarding pass (for the next available flight) on hand. I have never been so impatient in my life until we stood at the airport arrival area stretching our already overstretched neck to check if she’s coming. Lo and behold, she came — tired and flustered after all the unfortunate events during her flight, alone.

And then, everything suddenly lit up… our Christmas gift arrived! Seeing her again after three months was more than enough gift for the season.

We had to compromise on Goa after all the planned trips abroad that was not meant to be, thanks to my work … again! With only a couple of days of break, we flew to this land of marvels to spend the holiday season. And my of my, we were surprised as to what this state, which was once a Portuguese settlement, could offer. We had one of the most memorable and meaningful Christmas in Goa.

Back home, the thought of my little one leaving us again looms at the back of my mind. Amidst the shopping frenzy for things she wanted to take back to the university, I was feeling the pain killing me softly, slowly…again. People told me it gets better, but I disagree. As we dropped her off to the airport, it hurt like crazy. And as we reached home, it hurt even more! I say nothing can measure up to the pain of being away from her.

Then it’s back to the realities of realities. It’s me and my husband … in a house that can accommodate plenty, in a city where we are comfy, in a situation just like twenty-…  years ago.

 

I blinked

Descending from the stairs leading to the underpass where we had to take the bus back to our hotel, my eyes (and I could see my husband’s too) welled, and then we could no longer control the tears. We were actually leaving our baby behind! And as the bus rolled, we allowed ourselves to feel the pain of letting go of a massive part of who we are, as parents … as human beings.

For eighteen years, she was always with us. She was part of us. She completed us. Coming back home, the house looks empty … dreary even. She is missed in our every move. Breakfast is no longer fun without someone asking me to make her favourite “Koka”. Ordering from Swiggy is no longer exciting because I no longer have a partner in perusing the menu. Going for spa treatment is not something I look forward to anymore because I don’t have my best buddy to go with. Shopping has become boring because my best friend is not there with me to comb the shops at the mall. Watching our favourite telenovela is no longer entertaining because I don’t have anybody to play the guessing game as to what is going to happen next.

Seeing her room instantly brings back tears into our eyes. Going through her things makes us wildly emotional. Thinking about her is all that we do now. Hearing her voice has become the highlight of each passing day.

No one ever told us that the hardest part of parenthood is when your child goes off to college.

I blinked and she’s no longer the little baby I drove to preschool, the little girl who owned the stage at every school function, the ten-year-old who hated her braces, the teenage brat who wanted nothing more than to be left alone to read in the comforts of her room, the young lady who slayed every stereotype. Before I could open my eyes again, she has metamorphosed into the young adult who wanted to prove herself.

Parents dream of nothing but the best for our children. And we are no different. We allowed her to choose the path that would take her to where she wants to be, someday. Seeing how she was in the first few days at the university strengthened our belief that yes, our little one is all set to take on the world, spread her wings wide … fly high and touch the sky.

The depression brought in by letting her go is a small price to pay for the bright future we could already see ahead of her. In a couple of weeks, we’ll get used to it. Having said that, it doesn’t mean we won’t miss her anymore, it only means that we have started planning and looking forward to the next occasion we see her again.

Time does fly … and yes, I am willing to blink again for I am sure the next time I open my eyes, she will be with us  wearing a lot more feathers firmly planted on her cap.

Separation Anxiety

The countdown begins, and it is slowly sinking in. Our little girl is now a lady and she’s all set to try her wings and fly away from the nest.

To say that she is our rock is a definite understatement. To characterize our relationship as just close is incorrect. To conclude that I will be alright when she leaves is total crap! I won’t, and neither will her dad…that’s for sure!

The last twenty years was bliss, the last eighteen was a blast!

It’s cliché for mothers to say that the moment their child was born is the happiest day of her life. But I’d still say it  and add that our little one’s birth was the beginning of a more meaningful lives for me and my husband. Each day with her was an adventure, each adventure … a memory that will last forever.

One day, we were browsing through kids shows/movies and it made me happy to note that she went through interesting phases of intelligent watching — from Miffy to Dora the Explorer, Blues Clues to Mother Goose, Barney to Bugs Bunny, Scooby-doo, Powerpuff Girls, Sylvester and Tweety, Dexter’s Laboratory, a range of Disney Princesses, the Smurfs, the Simpsons, the Flintstones … before graduating to Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and then to Raven …. those and more of the likes of Victoria, The Crown, Downton Abbey and other classics.  These shows moulded her into the person she is now – mild mannered, respectful, polite, humble, helpful, and most importantly — a young woman who is not afraid to speak up when she feels the need to, and is courteous to anyone irrespective of race, color, or religion.

The same goes for the book she read — from her 20-volume Time-Life Kids Series to her collection of Dr Seuss, her stack of Amar Chitra Katha to her assembly of Betty and Veronica. From her spy books to her range of Diary of Whimpy Kids, piles of Harry Potter to Games of Thrones, Series of Unfortunate Events, to a more serious Jean Sasson line-up, and now her series of Philosophy, Politics, and Religion! Amazing list I must say. This makes me feel embarrassed that my teenage reading list was mainly made up of Danielle Steele’s and Sydney Sheldon’s.

Just like the shows she watched and the books she read, my little one has evolved. From the little   girl I coached for her first fancy dress and oratorical competition at 6 (where she played Mother Goose and won the grand prize from over more than 50 participants from different schools in the city), to the inquisitive 9-year-old who gave our tour guide in Cairo a run for her money, to the teenage vanity queen who owns every possible shade of lipstick, lip gloss, lip tint, lip liner … she has morphed into the smart young lady who is now ready to spread her wings and conquer her dreams.

A few more days before she leaves for university and her dad and I are already down with separation anxiety. A disorder that every parent goes through when their child leaves for university. I know we are not alone here. Many of our friends went through this, and some are still yet to recover. It’s not easy to let go of our precious little angels. It’s not easy to let go of a part of ourselves. But, a big part of loving is letting go … and allowing them to explore the world and prosper — intellectually, socially, emotionally, and spiritually.

To our little one, fly high … touch the sky! Mom and dad will always be behind you, not matter what. I know you know that .

 

 

 

Teddy

“He’s also eighteen now, Mom!” My little one is referring to Teddy, the Paddington Bear we bought for her at Singapore’s Changi Airport where we transited during her very first flight. She was six months old then. She has had Teddy ever since and she will never sleep without him by her side. He took trips with her, he played with her, he cycled with her, he read with her, he got acquainted with her friends, he became part of the family.

I remember once, when she was around five, we visited my mother-in-law’s house for Diwali celebrations. Playing firecrackers with her cousins, she safely kept Teddy tucked in her Patti’s bed. As we left, we all forgot about Teddy. Closer to home, we got a frantic call from my brother-in-law (who knew how important Teddy is to my little one) informing us about the mishap. Without wasting a minute, my husband turned the car and traveled back the 10-km distance to collect Teddy, past-midnight!

Stitching the hole-filled hat of Teddy, sweet memories of her childhood came flooding by. Pictures of her clutching Teddy in her arms came like flashbulbs. She wouldn’t exchange him for a nice Minnie doll at Disneyland, she wouldn’t give him up for a fluffy Hello Kitty from Sanrio Puroland, she refused to let go of him when offered a nice big bear from Hamleys, and she wouldn’t even exchange him for a much newer version of Paddington Bear we saw at Harrods.

Today, Teddy is showing signs of aging. After having traveled to several countries, moved cities, changed schools, tossed in the washing machine and tumbled in the dryer several times, fallen from the car, pitched like a ball … the thread on his signature red hat is giving way. I tried mending them but I can only do so much. My husband went in search of a toy maker to repair it, but my little one said no. She said there is nothing like the original.

As she packs before leaving for university, Teddy is first on the list. As he awaits his turn to go into the suitcase, I told my little one how old he is and maybe it’s time for him to retire. “We can always stop by Paddington (an area within the City of Westminster, in central London) to buy a new one,” and she was upset! “How could you even say that Mom!” So there goes raggedy Teddy … ready to take on university life.

Teddy was, is, and will always be part of her. And as I leave her room … I thank him for being the sibling she never had, a friend he always is, and a cuddly buddy …our little Teddy! This S$26 endearing Paddington Bear gave our baby and the entire family … priceless memories!

Sing your Praises

“Qui bene cantat bis orat”, one of my favourite quotes, is greatly attributed to Saint Augustine of Hippo whose feast we celebrate today. This Latin phrase when literally translated to English means “He who sings well prays twice”.

A catholic forum also published the un-abridged version of this: “For he that singeth praise, not only praiseth, but only praiseth with gladness: he that singeth praise, not only singeth, but also loveth him of whom he singeth. In praise, there is the speaking forth of one confessing; in singing, the affection of one loving.” (St. Augustine, Commentary on Psalm 73, 1)

As a child who loves to sing, I have always believed in this dictum. I love to sing my praises. And I, somehow, feel closer to God when I sing my prayers instead of just saying them.

As early as 12-years-old, I became a member of the church choir. The group was composed of young boys and girls whose dedication to singing was evident in their commitment to attending the practice every Saturday — rain or shine … unmindful of the tedious walks, long sessions, and the simple merienda of nilagang saging (boiled banana). Our choir master was very skilful in bringing out the best in these young voices that the singing in the Sunday morning mass always turned out to be outstanding.

I loved singing with the group, and I loved it most when one day, I was given a solo part. I remember being so nervous that Sunday morning that I refused to eat and talk to anybody. I vowed to give it nothing less than my best… and, as our choir master gave me a quiet thumbs-up after my part, I knew I did well! At a tender age of thirteen, I felt the joy and gratification brought in by not simply singing my praises, but singing them from the heart.

Growing up, I had to leave the church choir as I have to move to Manila for my university studies … but I made it a point to sing my praises whenever I can, whenever possible.

The movie “Sister Act” made a lasting impression on me. Not only because of the outstanding performance of legendary Hollywood actress Whoopi Goldberg, but more so because it presented how music can bring people back to the church, and even reunite a community that ceased to exist due to the lure of modern life. Some of the traditional and conservative members of the church may have categorized this movie as profane and sacrilegious because it diverts from the conventional way of praising — the solemn and almost inaudible utterances read from the book of customary prayers voiced for centuries — but let’s be honest … what works for the modern world is the always the unconventional.

“Songs are prayers wrapped in wonderful melodies,” this is how a good friend of mine puts it and I completely agree with him. The melodious sound when sung sincerely and beautifully, to me, is a more powerful prayer than parroted litanies of the rosary uttered again, and again, and again.

Call me finicky, fastidious, or fussy … but I am not embarrassed to say that I only go to a church that has a good choir. For me, a good choir is an aid to a more meaningful service or mass. Of course, how the priest delivers the homily is another one of my criteria in choosing a place of worship to go to, although I tend to compromise on that aspect because I believe that if I intently listen to the gospel, I can relate to it in my own way. The Lord speaks to us beautifully through the gospel, why can’t we pray the same way to Him … by sincerely giving thanksgiving and praise though the beautiful melodies of the songs.

***All images are borrowed from the net.