Sunday, May 31, 2009

watching a lifetime

It was rather appropriate watching "Up" tonight, the latest Pixar movie.  There's an opening sequence that fast forwards through the main character's life with his wife.  It is a sequence that is succinct and effortless that shows a man who once experienced joys and adventure and even now alone attempts to continue on this journey together.

I had spent most of the day at the funeral for Uncle Cef.  He was 81.  He and his wife were one of numerous families part of the Barkada.  Many of them lived in Oakland, and many of them were nurses.  They raised their children together and many of their children's children consider each other cousins even though there are no blood ties.  For many years, I thought us and the Barkada were the only Filipinos in Oakland.

When my parents arrived in the US in 1970, they were met at the airport by my dad's uncle, the first cousin to his father.  When they arrived, they stayed at his house, and for a time next door at Uncle Philip's.  They were adopted by this Barkada.  My sister's first babysitters were these women.   Auntie Esther, a nurse at Kaiser, had been there the day each of us were born to welcome us into the world.  My sister and I called most of them auntie and uncle.  Their children, about 6-7 years older than us, were our cousins, though technically they would have been 2nd cousins once removed.  In a time, when my parents had left their parents and complete social structure in the Philippines, the Lomuljos, the Monteclaros, the Prados, were the family parties we attended on a regular basis.  The graduations, the weddings, the baptisms and now funerals.  Mostly funerals now.

With my parents out of town, and my sister pregnant, I was left as the lone representative of our family to pay our respects for Uncle Cef.  The "old" family as I called them.  It's been some time since we last saw them.  Uncle Cef and Auntie Esther had come to our wedding 3 years ago.  We had seen him and his family all together for their 50th wedding anniversary 2 years ago. 

Yesterday and today, we listened as family, friends and their grandchildren, memorialized him: his humor, his strength, his helpfulness.  The priest had gathered the family at the casket for the final prayers.  I flashed back to their wedding anniversary, as the same priest had the family gather around them then too.  A moment of great joy juxtaposed with great sadness in my mind.

I re-acquainted myself with the aunties and their children, who of course all knew me way back when.  I learned the names of their children and their spouses.  Their children's children seemed confused by all the strangers that knew their family.  Where did these people come from?  How did they know their family?  Even though, I could say to many of them, I remember when your parents were married, and when you were born.  I remember.  I know.

I came to discover other people I had known from other circles, connecting again here.  A fellow from work, a student from kali class.  They were friends of the grandchildren, the newer family.  The grandchildren were strangers to me.  I was connected to the earlier years, their grandparents, their parents before we had all moved on with our lives.  The circles that repeat and reconnect were palpable.  

I had brief conversations about where I am now.  It was just a sight to recognize faces and remember when we were all a bit younger.  That seemed like enough, to see that we were still here.  To remember a time when life wasn't complicated.  

When I left the reception and greeted Auntie Esther, she seemed smaller than ever, impish now, but still always with the loving sparkle in her eye.  "I remember" she tells me, "I know you.  I know you when you were a baby and your sister too.  And now all of you so grown up. I remember. I know. Thank you for representing your family.  Regards to your parents."

I looked around the room with a mixture of sadness, joy, and gratitude.  Those who I had known and who had known me were now passing.  I would no longer know their grandchildren as those lines grew thin.  Yet, I was grateful to them for what they had given my family, for us.  How they had opened their doors, their guidance, to a young couple separated from what they had known to provide the example how the values of family, community and barkada played themselves out on this American plateau. 

I don't know much about the aunties and uncles of the barkada.  I was too young to learn their last names, or know about where they originated in the Philippines nor how they came here.  I only know of the family parties in orchid and rose filled backyards and how I had to mano po a line of elders in the dining room.  I am anak ni Rebecca at Narcing.  The second daughter.  How tall I had become from the baby they had once held in their arms. 

The cycle of this "family" is coming to a close as the memory of our connections disappear with the Barkada generation.  The elder children in each family will complete for their parents the last of the obligations and tributes to the other families when their parents pass and this will close the circle.  This is the way of things.  We have already gone on to form our own barkadas and families that are still growing.  Those too will come to this moment of goodbye.

"Up" seemed to reflect this day.  What memories do we take with us?  What do we hold on to?  How do we continue on?  How did that life teach us how to live this one?  

Thank you Uncle Cef for what you brought to this world. Goodbye.

Friday, May 29, 2009


thank you to everyone who emailed about the post I pulled.  Your well wishes and prayers are well received.  As an FYI, he's out of ICU and into rehab.  Alot of work ahead of him, but he's inspired with the reward of "real food".

Friday, May 22, 2009

pulled one

i pulled a recent posting mostly because I didn't want to be as public as I ended up being.  But thank you everyone for your kind words in reaction to that post.


Over the years we've explored truth.  The school's name uses the Visayan word for truth, Kamatuuran.  And how do you know when you find truth?  Can it be possible to find pure truth, stuff that isn't tainted by the slightest bias?  There are honest emotions, but do they automatically remove truth.

2009 has been for me an exploration of emotion.  Ironic as my training has often been about controlling emotion and keeping it in check to be able to think clearing in times of action.  But this should not be confused with ignoring emotion or believing in its non-existence.  There is always a time to mourn.

I find my emotion rising in moments when it is time, in the quiet moments alone when there is not one else to face but yourself.  There is a difference between the temporary and the permanent state.  That momentary sadness is different from the depression of being unable to experience joy.

It is part of what the body and soul endure to come to a peace and understanding of experiences that have gone by.  It is a new thing to navigate.  And I cannot yet possibly imagine the depths in which this path may go.

But I awoke today with the sincerest of joy and gratefulness in my heart.  And I recall when my grandmother passed, my family had spilled out to the hallway of her room in tears and a nurse comment, "someone was well loved here."  That to love and appreciate we risk the greatest of temporary sadness in order to continue to experience the recurring joy and love.

Love endures.

Monday, May 18, 2009

it's easy to doubt

It's easy to replay the past in one's mind and wonder if you did everything you could.  It's easy to research what you might have done and question everything that happened because it doesn't match the perfect way.  It's easy to be critical when the results are a probability instead of a reality.  It's easy to beat yourself up and feel guilty about not doing enough or not doing something exactly right.  You will always be wrong.  Hindsight might be 20-20, but it shouldn't make you blind.

My training, my training has always told me to be critical, to question, to improve.  There is a fine line between critical study and guilt ridden regret.  The difference is the result.  Guilt is based on what could have been.  Study is about what you'll do next time.  It's a vital difference.

The difference between carrying a burdensome past or building a new future.

Today was a time to reflect on the weekend.  Was tricky to concentrate on work with a play by play re-looping in my mind.  I cried remembering my fear and doubt.  I cried remembering the sadness and my own helplessness.  

Then an email asking, should we have done more?

And the answer is always, "we did what we could do at the time we needed to do it."

How do you know?

Because someone is alive to hug his kids, hear his wife say I love you, and for him to reply, "I'm a very lucky guy." 

This is what really needs to replay in our minds.  This is the proof that we did something right, maybe not perfectly, maybe not exactly the way it should have been, but that doesn't matter.  Hugs matter. I love you matters.  Being alive to experience those things matters.

there's a reason

Correction: Saturday was the 3rd time in my life when 911 had to be called. All 3 times, not for me, but for people who happen to be in front of me.

Saturday was the 2nd time in my life when 911 had to be called.  I guess all those human physiology classes and Red Cross emergency classes have paid off.  I guess that means God had me at the right place at the right time to help my friend get immediate assistance after his stroke.  I pray for his wife who must now be the emotional and physical strength for their family.  She is a strong woman who can endure.

While still cognizant and talkative though slow and slurred, my friend still has a long way to go, alot of therapy ahead of him.  We are grateful for hope.

I was glad to have been there for them.  I wish I could do more, but now we are just in the waiting period as the doctors figure out how it happened and try to find the stroke source to lessen the chances of second one, so he can proceed to rehab.

It is now Monday and the happenings of Saturday morning are just now replaying through my mind.  I must remind myself, that we couldn't have done anything better than what we already did.  That he got to the hospital and was able to get treatment in the first 3 hours and the hospital has a specialist unit in strokes.  To be grateful that it happened the way it did, when the alternatives could have been much worse.

His wife remains at his bedside reminding him how much she loves him, reminding him who's a lucky guy, and that he still has alot to do, alot of things to see.  It's up to him now to find his way back.

It is what he has for years trained in me.  The test of your skill is not in practice, but somewhere out there at a time when you need it the most.  Who you are then, is who you really are.  It is how you live your life.