Monday, October 19, 2009

THE GIFT OF NOTHING

Noah and I were watching 'Curious George' one morning when I was struck by something that the Man in the Yellow Hat uttered.  He was in the process of teaching George about the concept of numbers when he realized that, though George had successfully learnt so many numbers, he had no idea what 'zero' meant.  The Man in the Yellow Hat said---

"I thought I was teaching you everything.  I forgot 'nothing'".
That was an epiphany for me.  Parents spend so much time, effort and material resources to teach their children every conceivable lesson, whether it's to equip them academically or for practicality's sake.  But then I began to wonder how many parents really do take the time to teach the concept of 'nothingness' in its different facets?  I am not referring to the mere abstract idea of non-existence but instead am more concerned with the concept of being able to live with, and appreciate 'nothingness' in daily life, in the mundane.

Have we been taught how to live with no, or very little possessions, for instance?  In this modern age when most of us are so used to having, so used to accumulating way beyond what we need, have we considered living a much simpler life?  Are we prepared to cope with 'having nothing'?  With the younger generations, especially in the more developed societies, I've observed a remarkable sense of entitlement and insatiability that overwhelm and puzzle me at times.  I often ask myself how such individuals cope when they don't get what they want and think they deserve.  I wonder if they were ever socialized either by their parents,  or some other significant other in their lives,  to be accepting of defeat, of being empty handed and still be able to graciously move on.  Are we teaching our children enough about 'not having' or has it been all about 'something', 'wanting', 'possessing'?  Do our children know how to give and let go, or do they only know how to open their arms when they receive?

Do we teach our children about the value of silence, saying nothing, not speaking?  We often hear about encouraging speech and expression.  We reward and value assertion.  We like making our presence known by speaking out and some equate power or leverage with how much they say and how loud they can say it.  But wisdom tells us that there is also much power in silence.  Sometimes, all we need is a pause, a break in the cacophony that surrounds us, to afford us more clarity.  Sometimes silence also says more than words and sends an even more powerful message.  And sometimes we need to silence ourselves to hear another person's truth and in the process, validate their spirit.  It is in that kind of empowering silence that we find authentic power for ourselves.

Do we teach our children about the value of doing nothing, being still?  I know that sounds contrary to the emphasis most cultures place on productivity.  However, we all know that balance is of utmost importance.  I am just at a loss sometimes when I watch our children perpetually jumping from one activity to the next.  I see families who are horribly beyond exhaustion and yet still flood every hour of their days with countless activities and social engagements as if it were some incurable compulsion.  Do we really need all that?  Do our children really, genuinely thrive in such hectic environments?  Are all these activities and the stresses that go with having to cram all these demands into a child's daily schedule really nourishing them, or are we breeding toxicity?  I am not proposing that children be idle and confined at home.  I am merely suggesting that we keep these things in check and as the adult, that it is our responsibility to ensure that our young ones are not drowning in such a fast-paced life that they no longer know what it means to be still.  We cannot lose sight of our responsibility to also teach the value of slowing down.  Anything that goes too fast, wears out much quickly as well.  And the faster we go, the less likely we are able to see the details in things and appreciate that which surrounds us.

Finally, are we teaching our children enough about the value of being alone, having nobody else around but themselves?  Yes, we teach our children about friendships, being kind, social and pleasant towards others; the value of getting along, forging alliances, building relationships.  But what about one's relationship to one's self?  I believe that there is nothing greater or more important than that.  Each of us needs to be equipped with confronting our own selves.  Believing that someone else will always be there for or around us is an illusion.  Believing that in every second and ultimately, in the end, we can really only count on our selves to be there with us, is clarity.        

There is much richness to be gained in nothingness.  Contrary to the despair and general negativity often times associated with it, I choose to believe that nothingness is replete with possibilities.





Tuesday, October 6, 2009

ALONE AGAIN...NATURALLY







I have always loved airports.  The coming and going of people, to and from different destinations, all with different stories to tell.  I've always found it exhilarating and thoroughly fascinating, as I wonder what story lies behind the suitcases and the hurried foot steps.  To me, they all spell out countless possibilities and I think there's something profoundly seductive in that.  As of late though, I've come to realize that the Chicago airports, the O'Hare and Midway to be specific, have become the valleys of both deep joy and despair for me.

You see, I've grown to accept that for the most part, my life story now is about leaving or being left...repeatedly.  Since migrating, I've had to adjust to the reality that I only see a few of my family and some of my closest friends once a year, IF I'm lucky.  As such, going to these airports ultimately spell out either eager excitement when picking up family members who come to visit me, OR dreaded isolation when it's time to bring them back for a flight to Manila or wherever home is.  

Just two weekends ago, Mom had to head back home after a five-month visit. She surprised us when she came over in May and her arrival that day remains to be one of the joyous moments in my life.  I thought it was an apparition when I saw her standing in our dining room.  Thanks to my husband, the whole surprise was just perfectly orchestrated!

For the past five months, I had Mom assist me in everything, from plain household chores, to child-rearing, and even with trying to keep my sanity (in more ways than one!).  For five months, I was able to have more breaks during the day.  I was able to enjoy meals without rushing to Noah in between.  I didn't have to worry so much about cooking because meals were always ready and my stove kept churning out delightful home cooked Filipino dishes.  And did I mention that when I washed clothes, they just magically came out either folded or ironed?  In truth, even without all those perks, just her plain presence in the house felt reassuring to me.  It was like being allowed to exhale freely after a long period of having to hold your breath and perpetually rush through everything.  I've been taking care of Noah and with my Mom's arrival, I had my Mommy back to take care of me.  I'm not saying that my husband doesn't look after me.  It's just that in my opinion, a mother's care will always be different.  Mom just feels like home.  The sounds I hear from her are familiar.  The smell of the house with the dishes she makes for us is like a warm blanket you can wrap yourself in.  The conversations are like comforting echoes from the past.

Mourning my Mom's flight back to the Philippines was postponed for a little while because the day after she left, my best friend Fetle came to visit with her family.  We've been best friends for 10+ years now and unfortunately, she's based in Tennessee.  It was a wonderful week just hanging out with them again.  I could only wish for them to move to Chicago or any of the suburbs so that we could hang out every week.  Unlike most people with long time friends living in the same vicinity, and with whom they share a common history, a common memory, I've accepted that things such as being able to call your closest friend/s to go out with you for coffee, shopping or some fun girls' night out are no longer part of my taken-for-granted reality.  I now need to both embrace this new (bitter) reality and reconstruct a different, more acceptable one.  Both are necessary for my mental and spiritual health.    

At this time, everyone has flown back to where they live and goodbyes were said once more.  These goodbyes in my life are much harder than most people's experiences simply because when I take my loved ones to the airport, there's really no telling when I'll see them again.  It's not that easy either for anyone to fly and see one another more often because a plane trip to the Philippines takes approximately 20 hours and almost always costs more than a $1,000.  The need for Filipino citizens to have a visa when they enter the U.S. further complicates the situation.  This is exactly the reason why I have not seen my brother for a long time now.  It's depressing to think that it takes so much effort, time and money just for my family to be complete once again.  It saddens me that Noah won't be growing up with his cousins from my side of the family; that two of his grandparents are not witnessing how he's developing; that he's really only exposed to one side of his family and that my side only seems like a faint shadow that can easily be blurred.

Despite all this brooding, believe it or not, I'm actually much better now than before.  Yes, I still lament about all these things and will probably do so for the rest of my life.  However, the difference is that I have also proven to myself that I am capable.  My parents' physical absence does not incapacitate me as a parent and household manager.  My friends' physical distance has not deterred me from wanting to find new true friends (though I've come to realize how difficult this is).  My sense of isolation, among other things, has driven me to appreciate what I do still have around me and most importantly what's within me.  I've come to realize and more critically observe my own resilience and have learnt to find creative outlets for exorcising my own demons (hence my consistent blogging).  I still have a long way to go and that is an understatement.  And when all else fails and I feel close to diving into that valley of despair once again, I try to find solace in this quote:

"So now, all alone or not, you gotta walk ahead. Thing to remember is if we're all alone, then we're all together in that too." (Patricia, played by Kathy Bates, in the movie P.S. I Love You, 2007)