Friday, April 28, 2006

The Hecklers

This week, we witnessed an angry Chinese woman who heckled President Hu Jintao as he spoke at the White House. If that incident had occurred in China, that woman would have been shot immediately. In the Philippines, a similar episode happened while Mrs. Arroyo spoke before a graduating class. There also was a heckler who unfurled a banner urging her to resign.

Mrs. Arroyo ended up awarding this young woman her diploma while both looked separate ways.

In my middle age, I am still awed by this exhibition of raw courage. I want so strongly to believe that I have not lost any of the idealism that I once had and given the same circumstances, I would have unfurled an exact banner that would have politely asked the President to step down.

I am reminded of an episode in the Godfather when Sonny Corleone made sure that his brother Michael did not just have his *ic* in his hands and instead had a loaded weapon that had been planted beforehand in the watercloset to shoot Sollozo and the corrupt cop.

I want all these idealistic youth to know that like the Count of Monte Cristo, you need to prepare for this one chance. I would truly hate for this idealistic young woman to be picked-up in the middle of the night and never be heard from again. That had happened many times in our recent past. I remember taking part in my first mass action at the University of the Philippines in 1980 and talking to a fellow skinny youth named Leandro Alejandro who was all raw courage and shining idealism. He was mercilessly assassinated years later. In a sense, it is to the memory of heroes like Leandro that I am making my way home posthaste. Ellie Wiesel said: "What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we shall not be forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled, we shall lend them ours."

Hang in there because I am on my way to provide you cover.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Kathryn Lauren

My lawyer-friend stopped me this afternoon and asked when a man was unmistakably getting older. I did not know the answer and he said "when his oldest daughter turned 13".

I remember that day so clearly, shortly after one in the afternoon at the Our Lady of Victory Memorial Hospital in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn when I carried Kathryn in my arms for the first time and I was dancing in the delivery room, part of the perks of being a physician I guess. There have been many sad moments in my life since but I don't think that there has ever been a time when the happiness of that day ever faded enough to make life seem hopelessly sad. My priorities and my perspective permanently changed that day and I continue to live primarily for my four daughters.

Yeats wrote in "Prayer for my Daughter":

"In courtesy I'd have her chiefly learned;
Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned
By those that are not entirely beautiful"

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

After Work

The poem for today is by Richard Jones who totally gets it:

Coming up from the subway
into the cool Manhattan evening,
I feel rough hands on my heart -
women in the market yelling
over rows of tomatoes and peppers,
old men sitting on a stoop playing cards,
cabbies cursing each other with fists
while the music of church bells
sails over the street,
and the father, angry and tired
after working all day,
embracing his little girl,
kissing her,
mi vida, mi corazon,
brushing the hair out of her eyes
so she can see.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter Sunday

What a beautiful day we had today in the Oklahoma panhandle. Warm weather, clear skies and not much wind. The children had a great time hunting for eggs and the two little ones spent almost the entire afternoon playing with a sprinkler contraption. Both girls are now sound asleep.

D-Day is less than 2 months away. My wife and I are so excited. We gave ten years of our lives to Guymon and we intend to give at least ten years back to the Philippines. We hope that with our return, we will be able to prove that it is possible to go back home again with a little downsizing as well as with a serious review/reflection of what truly matters in our lives.

There is an indecent number of " Overseas Filipino Workers" in every part of the world and it may be wishful thinking to hope to get a lot of my countrymen back should the conditions in the Philippines improve sufficiently. But having been an "OFW" these last 17 years convinces me that this is a goal worth fighting for.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Black Saturday

Howard Nemerov (1920-1991)

A long time ago, when I was a child,
They left my light on while I went to sleep,
As though they would have wanted me beguiled
By brightness if at all; dark was too deep.

And they left me one toy, a village white
With the fresh snow and silently in glass Frozen forever.
But if you shook it,
The snow would rise up in the rounded space

And from the limits of the universe
Snow itself down again.
O world of white, First home of dreams!
Now that I have my dead, I want so cold an emblem to rehearse
How many of them have gone from the world's light,
As I have gone, too, from my snowy bed.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Good Friday

Thomas Merton was a Cistercian monk who wrote this poem for his brother whose plane was shot down and died at sea. Appropriate reflection on a hot April Good Friday.

For My Brother: Reported Missing in Action, 1943

Sweet brother, if I do not sleep
My eyes are flowers for your tomb
And if I cannot eat my bread, My fasts shall live like willows where you died.
If in the heat I find no water for my thirst
My thirst shall turn to springs for you, poor traveler

Where, in what desolate and smoky country, Lies your poor body, lost and dead?
And in what landscape of disasterhas your unhappy spirit lost its road?

Come, in my labor find a resting place
And in my sorrows lay your head, Or rather take my life and blood
And buy yourself a better bed—Or take my breath and take my death
And buy yourself a better rest.

When all men of war are shot
And flags have fallen into dust,
Your cross and mine shall tell men still
Christ died on each, for both of us.

For in the wreckage of your April Christ lies slain,
And Christ weeps in the ruins of my spring;
The money of Whose tears shall fallInto your weak and friendless hand,
And buy you back to your own land:
The silence of Whose tears shall fallLike bells upon your alien tomb.
Hear them and come: they call you home.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Jewels of the Pauper

This was written by Horacio De La Costa, SJ many years ago and I offer his timeless words amid all the hopelessness:

Jewels of the Pauper

There is a thought that comes to me sometimes (the old captain said) as I sit by my window in the evening, listening to the young men's guitars, and watching the shadows deepen on the long low hills, the hills of my native land.

You know, we are a remarkably poor people: poor, not only in material goods, but even in the riches of the spirit. I doubt whether we can claim to possess a truly national literature. No Shakespeare, no Cervantes has yet been born among us to touch with immortality that in our landscape, in our customs, in our history which is most vital, most original, most ourselves. If we must needs give currency to our thoughts, we are forced to mint them in the coinage of a foreign tongue; for we do not even have a common language.

But as poor as we are, we yet have something. This pauper among the nations of the earth hides two jewels in her rags. One of them is our music. We are sundered one from another by eighty-seven dialects; we are one people when we sing. The kundimans of Bulacan awaken an answering chord in the lutes of Leyte. Somewhere in the rugged north, a peasant woman croons her child to sleep; and the Visayan listening remembers the cane fields of his childhood, and his mother singing the selfsame song.

We are again one people when we pray. This is our othertreasure: our Faith. It gives, somehow, to our little uneventful days a kind of splendor: as though they had been touched by a King. And did you ever notice how they are always mingling, our religion and our music? All the basic rites of human life-the harvest and the seed-time, the wedding, birth and death are among us drenched with the fragrance of incense and the coolness of music.

These are the bonds that bind us together; these are the soul that makes us one. And as long as there remains in these islands one mother to sing Nena's Lullaby, one boat to put out to sea with the immemorial rowing song, one priest to stand at the altar and offer God to God, this nation may be conquered, trampled upon, enslaved, but it cannot perish. Like the sun that dies every evening, it will rise again from the dead.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


The root of all the poverty and misery in the Philippines is the pervasive corruption that permeates every level of society, that looms behind every transaction, that is behind the mind of every citizen who sincerely desires to contribute to the common good.

Our various governments have never hurdled this seemingly insurmountable obstacle that will always prevent us from forging ahead.

Instead of enabling the people to unite and work together for a common cause, our leaders have consistently betrayed us and divided us and the general feeling of hopelessness and cynicism is a direct result of the example we see each day from the people who are supposed to govern us.

This is one good reason why I think that being away for 17 years will turn out to be an advantage because I do not know anybody and I am not working for anyone else's agenda.

Before we expect the citizens to clean their yards and pick up trash and pay taxes and obey traffic laws and engage in civic action projects and plant trees and vegetables and walk to work and refrain from bribing public officials we will need a complete change in leadership. There is no other way.

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

In Memoriam

This week has so far been a brutal one. We have already lost four patients. Becky, Peggy, John Wayne and Goldie. Another one is in the launching pad. The practice of medicine is such a profound privilege. Your patients place their lives within your hands. Each good bye teaches you lessons that no other profession will come close to providing.

Patients come and die and only valuable instructions on why we need to lead meaningful lives remain.

At the end of each day, I am so grateful at the opportunity to live in a free and clean and prosperous society. I will always be grateful for these blessings. But we need to move on and become a part of a movement that will hopefully make life better for many others.

Sunday, April 2, 2006

The Garden

Our familial rite of spring, my wife and I and our four daughters began cleaning up our yard. As we have done, annually, in the one house we have occupied in Guymon these last ten years, we began by clearing the infinite-seeming pine needles that littered our back yard. Then we raked the entire lawn and because there was a state-wide burn ban we could not conveniently place the detritus in our trustworthy chiminea-burner and instead deposited all the dead leaves and grass and flowers and twigs and roots at the back of my Chevy pick-up and I proceeded to dump the entire load in the lake dumpster as my now deceased 89 year old neighbor had instructed me so long ago. Then we painstakingly placed mounds of compost around each trunk of the myriad plants and trees that we had planted in our ten years of occupation (by the way, I brought my two younger daughters to the cemetery later in the newly sprung forward evening hours to see where our 89 year old neighbor was resting and my five year old asked if we should dig him up and quickly recanted as she did not want any zombie encounters).

Force of habit, rite of spring, we knew what we had to do even if this may be the first summer that we might not savor the beauty of our garden that has been twice voted "yard of the month" and has been a perennial selection for the annual garden tour. One of these days, when I get the technological know-how, I will post a video of our garden, with its fountains and music and trellises and pergola and you will understand why it has become an oasis for my wife and I as well as for others in the community. I wistfully thought of my neighbor as sweat streamed from my brow that he was not going to be a part of this spring.