Sunday, January 30, 2011

starting this new year brave

on the second week of this month, it was i think a monday, after the end of my shift, i decided to drop by the mall. there was this vegetarian food stall in the mall's fast food center and i was craving for some good chinese style of  vegetarian cooking. i was rather hungry. the stall offered what they referred to as a "value meal". it consists of a cup of rice and two viands plus a glass of iced tea. the serving is generous and i guess one order can actually be shared by two but you have to buy an extra serving of rice.
as i was waiting by the counter for my order to be served, i glanced across the expanse of the fast food center. there were many food stalls offering a variety of dishes. one stall offers all-filipino cooking, another has all-seafood; one offers potato based foods and the store was aptly named "potato madness"; the one where i'm buying food from is all-vegetarian; another stall offers grilled-only dishes; there was a stall that caters beer only; and  a lot of others offering pizzas, pastas, gourmet sandwiches, fried chicken, etc.

it's already about 11 am and a good number of people were already eating. probably, many of these folks were also coming from a night shift like me. anyway, i believe all of us were there to seek nourishment for our bodies. i've been a daytime worker once and personally i've noticed there's a lot of difference working at night. the body somehow responds differently.

i was about halfway through my eating when my eyes chanced upon this lady sitting across me. she was about five tables from mine. there was something peculiar about this lady. she was casually dressed. her long black hair was knotted in a bun at the back of her head. in front of  her was a big tote bag. i noticed there's another smaller cloth bag slung over her right shoulder and which she pressed beneath her armpit. what called my attention was the way her eyes darted from table to table especially those tables which sat more than one person. occasionally, she would glance at the food stalls and with her eyes follow the people who have already been served their orders and who were now bringing those food to their respective tables. she just sat there silently looking.

i finished my food. my stomach felt so full i decided to stay for awhile to rest. i kept the lady at the corners of my eyes. i carefully espied on her. the group of students three tables by my left side had finished eating and departed. immediately, the lady across me stood up and went to the students' table. she stood over the table eyeing the leftover food. then, she quietly sat down and started gathering the remnants of the viands on the plates. she opened her shoulder bag and pulled out several small plastic bags. she spooned the leftover viands into separate plastic bags. she gathered the leftover rice as well. she securely knotted the open ends of  the plastic bags to close them. all of these she placed inside her big tote bag.

i thought to myself, "well, this woman is enterprising indeed. this is better than buying food for her pets. she'd be able to save a  lot."  i lingered for a while and watched her more. i don't know if she knew i was looking at her but i don't think she minds me. she is too preoccupied. so every time she sees a group leaving after dining, she immediately visits their table and gathers the leftovers, rice and all. but she does not just merely spoon over the food. she picks on those leftovers carefully. she discards the bones, the mixed up sauces, the chewed up food. pretty soon her big tote bag was bulging.  by this time, it's nearing twelve noon, lunch hour, and people were now pouring in into the fast food center. i decided i had better leave.

before i left, i took another last glance at the lady. and i got a big surprise at what i saw.  she stood up and proceeded to another just vacated table. she looked around. she cautiously sat down. she picked up a paper towel and wiped the fork and spoon in front of her with it. then she started eating the leftover food. she picked up the bowl of fish soup, i think, and spooned the remaining soup into her mouth. she gathered the leftover rice from the other plates on the table into a sufficient mound on a single plate. she ate heartily. she carefully forked over bits, tidbits, and remnants of meat, veggies, etc. into her plate. she poured the left over sauces on top of the rice. i know i was not the only one who saw her. i believe even the food center's busboy had noticed her. but she is not minding us. when she finished eating. she gathered all of the leftover soda into a single glass and drank. then, obviously satisfied, she stood up, slung her bulging tote bag on her left shoulder and marched unashamedly towards the exit.

i stood there thinking. those food in her bag.

they are not for her pets.
i tried to justify why she did this. maybe she got laid off from work. maybe her husband left her and the kids and food got scarce. maybe she is nuts. there were lots of maybe's i thought of. then i remembered there is this saying, "desperate times call for desperate measures."

i believe in Life, one has to be brave, then be creative, if one has to live especially in times desperate.

the lady, she is just being brave. and being creative.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

a pencil, a crayon, and a life

i was browsing over some books inside the mall's bookstore when i overheard this conversation between a young mom and her grade school son.

"why are you holding that box of crayons and those pencils?" the young mother asked.

 "i need to buy new ones, mom, my old crayons and pencils are getting shorter." the son answered.

 "oh no,you won't." quipped the mother as she snatched the box of crayons and the pencils from her son.

 "but they're short now, they're like already this long." pleaded the son as he held up his right hand, the space between  his forefinger and thumb indicating the length of his crayons. his eyes darted longingly at the box of crayons his mom is putting back to the shelf.

 "i've seen them. they're still long enough," explained the mother, "you must know how to maximize the use of your school stuff.. we cannot just throw them away just because you think they're short!".  the young one pouted his lips and ran towards the section where the children's books are. the mom threw a sharp stare at his direction.

a memory flashed through my mind as i watched them. it was so long way back, when i  was a kid myself. it was when i was living with my grandmother in the province. that was the instance when i broke one of the crayons i was playing with. i was in the act of throwing them away when she stopped me.

"you don't just throw things away, even if they're short, or broken," she told me, "someone might still find use with them. or help you fix them, so you can use them again."  she said this as she took the two halves of the crayon from me. she looked at them and gently peeled the paper wrapping from one end of the crayon to expose again a good portion of it. then with a knife she shaped the tip towards a conical form much like new ones. "there, see, you can use it  again." she boasted. i smiled thankfully at her.

then she also looked at my pencils and sharpened them. "the more things get shorter, the more value you have to place on them. a pencil does not lose it's utility just because it is already short. you just have to be more careful in using them and also learn to adapt so you can still maximize your use of them. remember this, because we cannot just keep on buying new ones."

as i stood there in that bookstore, it is just now that i fully understood this. i reflected this wisdom from my grandmother against the life i am living. like a pencil, and a crayon,  my life is getting shorter too. and just because it is getting shorter, i need not just throw it away. nope.

now that it is shorter, i must value it more. live it better. so that, others might find value in it as well. or so that others might help me fix it, that i can live it better.
the Sages had already taught how to get it fixed and be lived better.

recognize the Divinity within. and, with the remaining time, allow this Divinity to full flowering.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

i can hear vasudeva

during these past days i got preoccupied with rereading  my favorite books. one of these is siddharta by that great author, hermann hesse. it tells of one man's journey through Life and how he found Peace, and Joy, and Fulfillment. as i was reading it i recalled one of the poems, inspired by this book, that i was blessed enough to write:

i can hear vasudeva call
calling sweetly you and me 
money and fame's not everything 
i can hear vasudeva sing.  

i can see vasudeva dance
knowing that nothing's happening by chance
every life's been destined to be
that's what vasudeva said to me.

i can see vasudeva smile
inviting us to listen for awhile
listen to the River flow
and try to escape this world of woe. 

River straightens, River bends,
ever flowing, never ends,
River's waters turn to foam,
become clouds in Heaven's home; 

become tears, become rain,
become River once again,
soothing waters make us whole,
let us hear vasudeva call. 

let us hear vasudeva call
Life is One, Life is All
Peace is not in diversity
Peace Profound is in Unity. 

know this River, this River called Life,
know Its joys, know Its strife,
find Its Reason, find Its Meaning,
let us hear vasudeva singing.  

when i wrote this, the thought paramount in my mind is -- there has to be a way through Life other than the usual route of  being born, growing up, amassing material wealth, becoming famous, building a family of one's own, and then, dying. 

i was blessed enough to have been connected to persons with the same questions i had. and we searched for answers. and we found this other route -- 

every one of us is Divine. 

and the other route through Life is to recognize this Divinity in us and nurture it to full flowering.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

old pedro and the art of sweeping leaves

he was unofficially our village's street sweeper. it just happened. well he's really not doing all of the streets of the village, just the few that comprised our block. i knew him only by his first name, pedro. he was,  i believe, about 64 or 65 years old. he's doing odd jobs for some of the houses in our block, but mostly, what he does is to sweep the leaves that fell during the night and had littered the streets fronting the houses. he gathers these fallen leaves into neat piles and if they are dry enough, he burns them. very early in the morning, before even the sun can pierce the morning clouds with her rays, if you happen to take a stroll 'round our block you won't fail to notice the plumes of smoke rising heavenwards from old pedro's burning leaves. and you'll smell the pleasant aroma of burning leaves. in the mornings, if you are an early riser, you'll surely have these little treasures of experience. normally, this is really a task that most house owners look forward to in the morning as part of their morning exercise. but old pedro always beats them to the task and they have to oblige him with a few pesos and free coffee and maybe a couple pieces of bread.. this is why he unofficially became the street sweeper.

he has this look of a man that had battled difficult years. he is thin and his face is shrunken. but he is always clean shaven. his eyes are bright and always smiling. when he smiles you'd see he is already missing some front teeth and the ones that remained were rather crooked. these gives him his unique street sweeper look. he is always clad in an old jacket and an undershirt and denim pants that had obviously gone through a lot of washings. he always had on leather shoes to protect his feet. and he is always wearing a cap, specifically a baseball cap on his head.

i was able to befriend him when i chanced to meet him on my way to work. i was assigned for a work shift which begins at 3 am and ends at 12 noon. i have to be at the jeepney stop at 1:30 am, so i will be able to catch that jeep that plies my area during this early period. if i miss it, i won't make the office by 3 am. i thought i was the only one out during this period but i thought wrong. every day, during that week, i had always met old pedro. while i was on my way to the jeepney stop, he was, in turn, on his way to his first house for street sweeping. he was that early! no wonder no home owner ever beat him to the task. he's not from our village. he just walks from his house and mind you it's not near. but he does it. regularly. religiously.

the streets in our block is his office.

during that encounter with him, as always  i did not mind him, since it's already several days when we have passed each other by on our way to work. yet, on that early hour, something was different. of course, his spade and his brooms were still slung over his gaunt shoulders, he still had his baseball cap on. what was different was that he was coughing profusely. i could not help but speak to him.

"old man, it's still too early, it's just 1 am, why don't you go home first and take some rest. " i advised him. "your cough sounds bad! and it's too cold at this hour."

 "boss," he answered, and he smiled at me. in the faint glow of the streetlamps i could see the crow's feet forming deeply in both corners of his eyes. "i need to do this. this is the only honest job left for me. if i will be absent, these few houses that allow me to sweep their streets might not permit me anymore. i need to earn some money. i'm old but don't worry this body has been through a lot. i always work for my bread, i don't want to beg. my children and their family are still with me and we need every peso we can earn." he explained to me. his smile is warm and confident.

that's how we became friends. from time to time when i chance to see him sweeping the street fronting our house i hand him a 20 peso bill. it's not much but he does not put a price on what he does. i heard some house owners just give him 5 pesos for his unsolicited clean up job. he never complains. he just keeps on street sweeping.

during our conversations, he managed to tell me the things he learned in his work. "like tennis," he said, "there is a forehand sweep and a backhand sweep. you need to learn both so you can alternate these two strokes and not be easily tired. and with brooms, you should use brooms with fewer broomsticks for bigger objects so you can move them easily. leaves, when wet, stick very close to the street surface and it's difficult to sweep them off so one has to have a pointed stick handy to unloose these stuck leaves from the ground or the cemented floor.

the wind is also a factor to always consider in street sweeping. you must know where the wind blows. you must be friendly with her. don't sweep against where she's blowing. and when you're burning leaves, you must learn to call her."  he whistled a tune which he said calls the wind when he needs her.

"but why do you have to carry that heavy spade?" i asked him

"well, boss," he answered, "from time to time in my sojourn in these streets, i come across dead animals. rats mostly. and frogs ran over by your neighbors' vehicles. sometimes birds. and i have to bury them. the biggest animal i buried was a cat. we'll i figured also that some homeowner might want to move a plant or two, so a spade will come in handy. it's better to be prepared." he looked at the pile of leaves he is burning and rearranged them. he swept the unburned leaves on top of the ones already catching fire. a plume of pleasantly scented smoke escaped upwards. "you know what boss, i love this job. this keeps me i think healthy. and earns me some money honestly."  i can feel he is happy at what he does.

just this december  when i met him i gifted him 100 pesos. not much for a christmas gift. but i knew it made him happy.

then it happened.

i was not seeing him anymore. in our village. it was my brother who broke the news to me. he was banned from ever entering the village. it was said he stole a homeowner's kid's bicycle and sold it. it was an ending i could never imagine happening. i can still picture old pedro's confident smile in my mind.

we will have to sweep these leaves ourselves from hereon.
one has to eventually begin learning the art of sweeping leaves .... but,

what is most important is to learn to resist temptation.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

the empty

after my workshift, i hailed a jeepney to ride back home. it was early morning, just half past nine. there was only the driver and his "backride". here, a bus driver has an assistant that is referred to as the "bus conductor".he is the one that dispenses tickets to each passenger and asks for fare payment. with a jeepney, the driver's assistant is referred to as a "backride". it's because when the jeep is full, this person has to stay at the back of the jeep, by the door, to collect fares.

i sat beside the backride on the front seat. he is very concerned. i listened to him complain to his driver how they are not getting good runs. passengers are few and far between. they try to take everything in stride. at one point he asked his driver to stop by an ambulant vendor and he bought 2 pieces of menthol candy.  "Eat it well," as he handed one to his driver friend, "that's our lunch!". both burst out in laughter. it was just a short break in this otherwise silent trip.

soon after this, their luck seemed to change. the jeepney is rather long. it is a 20-seater vehicle excluding the front seat allotment for two. ten passengers can seat on each side. after some stops here and there, their jeepney is full of riders. the vehicle sort of took a life of its own. although most of the riders do not know each other still their presence took the melancholy out of the trip. now, you can hear animated conversation, snatches of laughter, even the bickering between two young students counting the coins for their fare. the backride asked me to slide over beside the driver as he gave way so another passenger can take the front seat beside me. the backride went to the back of the vehicle to collect fares. most of the people rode only for short distances however. pretty soon the jeepney was empty again except for us three. the backride sat on the front seat again.
"oh, it's so lonely," he sighed, "yes, we have this big vehicle, but without passengers, what is its worth to us?" he asked aloud. "every day i wipe the seats clean, i polish the decorations of this jeep, so we can attract riders, but it really gives me a bad feeling whenever we have empty trips like this." he pointed back at the two long stretches of vacant seats. the melancholy is back.

"we still have him," the driver is referring to me.

 "of course we still have one passenger," the backride answered, "but brod, if you're satisfied with three riders, you should have made this vehicle sit three people only. you should have asked those who made your vehicle to just do this with only front seats. you would have saved a lot."  i could not hide my amusement at this suggestion. i tried to picture a car with only front seats and with the back portion cropped.

"enough of that my friend," the driver said, "there are days like this. what is important is for us to always prepare our vehicle. keep on doing your job of prepping it up before we start our trip. if we always recognize the emptiness of this jeep, then this should be our motivation to try harder to attract riders in so we can fill up those vacant seats. try to innovate. vary the way you invite passengers to board. be lively! " he advised.

his backrider friend smiled at him. he fell silent for a while. i sensed he realized the truth in what the driver said. the empty seats must not be a reason to feel defeated. they must be the reason to try more. to do better. vacant seats must be their motivation to work harder.

he was not the only one who saw a truth in this. i realized something as well. i also often find this emptiness in me. after a mirthful sojourn with family, friends, acquaintances, after enjoying mouth-watering food, pleasant drinks, delightful music, dance, still i am left afterwards with an emptiness. a feeling of incompleteness. things of passing fancy can never fill up this void. this vacancy in me. 

the empty feeling.

this must not lead me to melancholy. instead this must prod me to take further steps. to seek more that which Old Sages avow will fill up the vacancy and bring me lasting joy. and where is this that will bring completeness, They say? It is inside me. i have to go inside more. to know the Divinity within.

i am nearing my stop now and i can see the backrider mindfully cleaning the jeepney's windshield.

and gently he placed a colorful route signboard against the clear glass for all to see ...

Friday, January 14, 2011

two puppies in a morning cold

these are the puppies that got me preoccupied last december. of six that were born, these 2 were the only ones that survived till now. the brown one is a female and the other, smaller one, white, is a male. he was the one i thought i also lost but found him pressed against the storeroom's wall and a plate of glass. he is weaker since his sister pup is able to get more milk from chelsea, their mom. but he's a tough guy.

their eyes are opened now and they look around inside the storeroom. trying to be aware of their surroundings. both are very mobile. in a few weeks, they'd be able to get out of that cramped place and explore the "world" outside.  they'd be real dogs soon.

in a way, they'd be doing precisely the opposite of what the Sages of old wants us to do. these Masters taught that to know the Self more, the Real us, we must go to our "world" inside. so we must close our "outer eyes" and let the "inner eyes" lead us to find that  Divine Spark within us all. Know the True Self. right now, we are preoccupied with the trappings of the material, outside world, which make us, of course, happy. yet, the happiness, the joy, is incomplete. we are still left wanting. man's lot is to be eternally happy. and it is his paramount mission to seek where he will find this. Old Sages say, that which you seek, is within you ...

they laid there, the puppies, crumpled on the floor
a brown mass and a white mass 
their shaking hearts  hoping this cold morn would soon pass; 
and i, on my solid bed 
wrapped in cozy blankets warm 
unmindful of their chilly plight 
assured that these newborn are far from harm; 
from what i knew the only problem lies 
on the children playful 
who with giggling fingers poke them -- 
o, how i wished they'd be quite careful! 
this cold morn is just Nature's way
of telling them they're alive 
and so, ever must they strive 
to live.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

starting this new year happy


january 2, 2011, morning. just got off from work. boarded a jeepney. the morning's chilly but sunlight is already starting to part the fleecy clouds overhead. but i thought they could also be smoke from the other night's merry-making, welcoming the new year with fireworks and firecrackers and noise.

i was sitting behind the driver. we are only 3 people in the jeepney. the other one is a fat lady, sitting opposite me, with a very big plastic basket. obviously, she's on her way to visit the market early. she's probably one of those people who do not want to brave the heavy traffic late in the day.

suddenly, the driver started singing. no, there was no radio or stereo or mp3 player in this jeep unlike most of the rest. i know he was singing to himself but it was loud enough for me and the lady to hear. his voice was not bad either. it was one of those lively filipino christmas  songs --" bagong taon ay magbagong buhay, ng lumigaya ang ating bayan ", which roughly translates to -- "here comes the new year, let's turn a new leaf, so that our country will be happy". it's probably one of those songs he picked up while attending some local new year's eve party or drinking joust. he still might have been caught in what others refer to as the "last song syndrome".

i smiled to the fat lady and she smiled back. we are both amused. the driver might have seen this silent exchange between us while looking at his rear view mirror because he explained himself to us.

"i'm sorry if i'm inconveniencing you both with my singing. it's just that i'm really happy this morning. i ended the year right and started the new year right. not one in my family got sick. i've got a lot of good runs last december that i was actually able to earn some good money."

"well, good for you!"  replied the fat lady, "i have had some good sales myself. lots of people ate at my food stall. that's why i have to do some marketing early so i can cook food. we have to do it while people still have christmas money left in their pockets. go on, please, you can actually sing!"

 "yes sir, if you feel like singing, we don't mind." i told him. he smiled at us. this time he just whistled a happy tune. i was singing inwardly myself. because i also ended the year right and started the year right. i have some few hundred pesos left saved in my bank account and i was able to save 2 newborn puppies from dying.

why does he need to apologize to us? he is just being happy. in fact, he is just being himself. i remembered what my Master often says-- "Man's lot is to be happy. Eternally joyful. this is the Creator Father's Grand Design for each of us."

lasting happiness is assured by knowing who we truly are.

lasting joy is knowing we are not separate from that Unbending, Unyielding True Love.


january 2, 2011. evening. on way back to work for my midnight shift. the jeepney is full of passengers. i got seated among a bunch of young people. i believe most of them know each other. they're a bit noisy. everyone still excited with the mirth of the parties and get-togethers they went to. they were exchanging stories, reliving the amusing events that happened.

as we were passing by a drugstore by the side of the street, suddenly, one of these young people, shrieked, "HEY MISTER GUARD!" he was shouting at the top of his voice at the security guard standing by a dark corner of the building, several meters from the doorway of the store, "HURRY UP! SOMEONE IS STEALING THE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS OF THE DRUGSTORE!"

the jeepney stopped and everyone craned his neck to see where he was pointing at. indeed, two boys were atop the store's roofing and were busily removing the christmas decorations and the lights. it was hard to see because the store's closed and the area was unlighted.

the guard pointed his flashlight at the roof and he saw them. immediately, the guard waved us off, he shouted back, "nope, no worry, they're the guys the owner hired to bring down the christmas decorations. they're not thieves!" the two boys atop the roof apparently realized what's going on and rained invectives at us.

"FOOLS!," one of the boys shouted, "mind your own business. next time, be sure of what you're saying." the other one appears to be preparing to throw something at the jeepney. the driver hurriedly drove off.

the young lad inside was red faced. he was too embarrassed at his mistake. there was this sliver of silence. then someone snickered and there! the whole jeepney was bursting with laughter. well, i did not control myself. i joined in in this funny moment. the driver was scratching his head and shaking it at the same time.

"why did you do it?" one of his friends asked.
"i don't know. i just thought they were thieves and i wanted to help." he explained.
"good for you the guard did not shoot them right away." his friend commented with mocked concern.

the whole jeepney burst out in laughter again.
then i realized, wait, this last one does not sound funny at all ...

Saturday, January 01, 2011

the firefly and the glow-worm

a firefly and a glow-worm met
on a dark and gloomy street
bodies glowing and tails afire
faced each other with heated ire.

spoke the firefly with fiery wrath,
"dare you walked on my holy path?
i am the guardian of the night
who sets wayward travelers aright."

the glow-worm answered, mouth afoul,
"how well you wear that impostor's shawl,
but i could tell the wrong from right
i'm the true watchman of the night."

lightning-fast, their blazing swords unsheathed,
they fought, the truth they'll know in death,
but in the midst of their rumble wild
they saw this crying little child.

at once their anger they forgot
each one hied to the little tot,
"oh, dear, i'm lost and i can't see,
this darkness hides my home from me."

the firefly spoke in honeyed words
"child, be calm, in this i'm lord. 
i'll light your way, you'll be alright, 
for i'm the guardian of the night."

the child arose and walked t'ward home
but then he stumbled on the stones,
that from the firefly's golden light
have remained hidden, out-of-sight. 

the glow-worm laughing, full of glee,
said, "little child, come here to me.
my light will guide you on your way,
while walking home we'll even play."

the child arose and walked t'ward home
but then he stumbled on the stones,
that from the glow-worm's golden light
have remained hidden, out-of-sight.

the child cried loud and wailed with fright
he seems imprisoned in the night.
the firefly, silent, thought worriedly,
the glow-worm crawled in a quandary.

then, glow-worm smiled, and firefly too.
both said loudly, "now, we know.
oh, child, we'll surely take you home,
you'll not stumble on a stone."

the Child arose and walked t'ward home
he'll never stumble on the stones,
for now, the Glow-worm's golden light  
merged with the Firefly's and all was bright!"