Parallel Reality

Haven’t all the breaking hearts at one point considered the existence of a parallel universe where things go right? We find consolation in the thought that somewhere else a grief-stricken chapter of our lives ends in rejoicing. There is balance, peace restored by our alter egos, all of whom are conveniently better versions of our selves. Wealthier, better looking, content, unbreakable. 

We seldom admit it in so few words, but we hate to be on the side of reality that loses. Perhaps it is a soothing balm for the sorrowful to imagine some other world where it all breaks even.

We hope, even in the most trivial moments of anguish: it will all break even. 

I pause in that thought, remember what we often try to forget, that our honest world is profoundly broken. And isn’t that more important than a reality that exists only in hypothesis?

We dare to dream of a place where our poor hearts are ever-mended, but today my heart is fixated on a different parallel reality, more real than any science fiction multiverse. In the world there are alternate versions of us that live a life of less.

Sorry to disappoint, I write not on love or heartbreak, but on the daunting divide between rich and poor, wealthy and wanting, luxury and scarcity. This is the parallel reality. IMG_6093

Recently I had the moving experience of walking through one of Manila’s poorest neighborhoods, the community world-famous for the tons of trash that created it, Smokey Mountain. The place is dense with people and activity. Under our feet the ground has been levelled to allow for housing to be built, but you don’t have too look far to see the still mountainous remnants of the significant waste, accumulated over decades. They form the facade that welcomes the locals to their homes.

Every few streets or so sit fresh mounds of garbage waiting to be sorted, moved or stolen. Families sift and pore over the trash as I might nonchalantly sift and pore over a pile of my clothes ready for the wash.

Later, back at my apartment I tie up my supposed biodegradable garbage bag and painfully wonder whose hands will tear this bag open some days later, looking for something good to eat, sell or save. Out of my discarded mess, a family may build a moment of living.

This is not news. It’s the way it’s been, the way it is. And yet today, I criticize it with fresh eyes and my heart breaks continuously for this reality that coexists with mine.

We are not shocked it exists. We are shocked when it is front of us, when none of our comforts can conveniently tuck it away.

Consider that parallel reality.

Christmas Eve

I think I’ve felt it more this year than any other year – the cheery distractions of society’s Christmas traditions. The world points us to every other thing during the season – even good and beautiful things – to take our minds off the moment in history that started it all. God’s bold move to change the fate of the broken spirit.
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It’s been hard to find a moment to think and reflect this holiday season. There is visitor after visitor, friend after friend, task after task, deadline after deadline, Christmas tradition after Christmas tradition that must be attended to.

This happens every year. And although I had made all the preparations to make my Christmas season as warm and bright as possible – an (almost) only Christmas music diet this whole month, decorating my very own little Christmas tree for my first apartment, hosting a holiday party, among other things – all these welcomed the Christmas spirit, but distracted me from sitting by the manger, eyes on the little Baby who would mend all the broken hearts of this world with Life. That’s where my Christmas warmth and light comes from.

Earlier this advent season, I opened up a large book sitting among my coffee table books – a hard bound collection of poetry, bought a long time ago at a second had bookstore. In its pages I found a Christmas poem that struck me, one I have read and re-read over the past few days to reflect on the light of the advent season. May it also lead you back to your Bethlehem.

Merry Christmas!!!

 

Nativity

What do you know about hope?

There are so many things I have been aching to share about my experiences with the Buhay Makulay Children’s Project this year. Each activity with the children leaves me in awe – of the resiliency of every Filipino child I’ve met, the gift of service so many kind hearts are willing to provide, but most of all of the steadfastness of God. I am bursting with stories, anecdotes, personal revelations. But I fail to carve out time to write them out, to find the right words that will sustain the power of the things I’ve seen, heard and learned.

In the past eight months alone, we’ve worked with thousands of children and hundreds of volunteers in five different communities, in as many different provinces of the Philippines. There are three more communities and hundreds more children lined up for the rest of the year. This is all in celebration of the eight years we’ve been facilitating the Children’s Fair for underserved communities. Even more than that, this is all in celebration of the enduring hope we have in God. Buhay Makulay’s vision remains: children at risk transformed into children of hope.

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Two girls eating their lunch in front of one of our three hope trees. Children’s Fair in Calauan, Laguna. August 23, 2014. 

Yesterday’s Children’s Fair in Calauan, Laguna, stands out for many reasons. Here are a few: We had the boldness (and spiritual whisper) to invite 1,500 children to the fair. (The most we’ve ever done was 500, and that felt like a reach!) Unlike some earlier locations this year, I have a professional and relational history with the community, and feel deeply invested in their growth. Close to the fair day, we also felt stalled by fences in our flow of finances and the lean-ness of our confirmed team of volunteers. The night before the fair, I was still greatly overwhelmed by the basic idea of managing thousands of people. And on a very personal note, I’ve been going through some private hurdles that have made the season coming up to the actual fair more challenging perhaps than any other point in my life. It has made this present season the most stretching, breaking and disorienting of all.

And perhaps all of that’s what made yesterday even more meaningful. Since traveling to Leyte in May, and understanding the depth of the super typhoon’s impact on the locals’ everyday life and oncoming future, a giant shadow of a question has plagued me: What do you know about hope, Tanya? What do you really know about hope?

The people I had met in Leyte survived a type of devastation I have never witnessed before. To hear of it makes your heart ache and tremble. But still it’s nothing compared to being the very person that has to walk through the devastation, one persistently painful inch at at time. And thus I questioned, what did I even know about hope? Why am I the person called to share this message?

And of course I know hope. I carry hope so preciously in my heart. But I wondered if the heart that carries it has been challenged enough. How would I take the punches, if the devastation had come knocking on my door and not Leyte’s, or Iloilio’s, or Cebu’s? I can’t say.

So once again, in preparation for speaking to 1,500 children yesterday about this very hope that they should carry in their own hearts, I found myself facing this question head on. What do I know about hope? I continue to search my heart. I continue to search God’s.

One thing is certain – that I am the one learning from each time I take the microphone to greet the children at our Children’s Fairs. Majority of the thousands of kids who’ve come to us, have walked (not ridden a car or train) from their homes, in their best (but worn or hand me down) clothes, through dusty streets, days after their last shower, on much less than full stomachs to get where they sit in front of me. That journey alone is one of hope.

More of this in future posts. Stay tuned, speak soon.

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Me at the microphone, sharing stories with 500 children in Leyte. Children’s Fair. May, 2014. 

 

 

The Trees We Lost to Glenda

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A crazy storm hit the Philippines last Wednesday morning. Unlike recent storms, rain was not the leading lady, and flooding not the looming horror. In its place, the strong winds that took the title role, shaking fear into the metro.

Everyone in Metro Manila felt the storm, some more than others. It woke most of us from our sleep with whistling and howling. The power was out. Everything swayed and shook in the wind. From the window, I watched our trees in our yard dance and swing, still graceful in the violence of the wind.

It seems everyone has lost a tree they know, or part of one at least. Either a tree in their front yard, one they know in their neighborhood, one on their path to work, or one from the house they grew up in. Some trees lost branches, or suffered irreparable fractures and splits at their trunk, or experienced complete uprooting from the ground. In addition to the lost trees – people have lost their roofs, ceilings, walls, windows, paint, gates, and fences. The busy cities also felt the disruption of black outs – for days straight, or in rotating breaks as managed by the local power provider. There are areas where power has not yet been restored.

Still, this storm had winds only half as strong as the super typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda experienced by the Visayan regions in November last year.

Over the past months, I’ve spent much time reflecting of falling and fallen trees. I remember riding around the different Yolanda-affected Visayan regions of Cebu, Roxas and Leyte; surveying the change in the lanscape, peppered with fallen trees. There is sadness and wonder.

Now, my own surroundings in the city and home have altered. Everything storm-blown as well.

 

Speak soon,

T

 

The photo above is a fallen tree at the center of a town in Laguna. Below is three-quarters of the beloved mango tree in our front yard. 

 

tree glenda

 

 

Touchdown Tacloban

“Now, this is a place where so many people died,” our friend told us, motioning to the area surrounding the Tacloban airport, “Ang dami talaga namatay dito.” image_1

Mom and I had just touched down in Leyte, the Visayan island ravaged by Supertyphoon Haiyan/Yolanda in November 2013. Six months after, what a powerful experience to walk in these communities now changed by a violent force of nature, and hear their stories firsthand. Unlike the islands we had visited prior, this island suffered a huge loss of life, not only infrastructure. Everyone had lost somebody.

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 We were in Leyte to bring our third Buhay Makulay Children’s Fair this year to a small town called Abuyog, south of Tacloban.

We had arrived in the rain, and were greeted by a functional, but only barely restored airport. There was now a proper ceiling above the stock-still conveyor belt for luggage. (I’m told the ceiling was a recent improvement.) But much of the place was still under construction, and everything around seemed makeshift. Just temporary solutions, stopgaps surrounded by reminders of the brutality experienced.

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As we waited for the cargo, we were greeted by the pool of porters in uniform, standing off to the side. They were backdropped by the more skeletal side of the airport, tarps flying in the wind. Not all with bright smiles, but with a few loud claps, booming voices in unison, they welcomed us to their hometown.  It was not even six in the morning. I clapped my appreciation along with some of the other passengers, acknowledging their greeting with a smile.  I searched the eyes of the porters and wondered if they were happy, wondered what they had lost in the typhoon (more importantly, who), wondered if they walked around their city with an awareness of the shadow of the storm, as I, a visitor, would in the days following.

I searched their eyes, saw lots of story and a taste of the resilience I would come to know in the days following.  But I tried not to make too much out of it all, for I was barely a few minutes in their presence. Perhaps it was the routine of this clap-and-chant welcome, or the fatigue of manual labor, but in their eyes too, was something solemn, something sad. Something altered.

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Much of the rest of the city was like the airport – functional, but only barely restored and in the making. There were varying degrees of damage,  as well as varying developments in the efforts to rebuild. But all around: rebuilding. I could barely imagine what the landscape must have looked like immediately following the typhoon.

Yet, it seemed that everywhere people had decided it would be better to move forward, to not be fazed by the tragedy. The city clapped its hands, and with booming voices in unison, decided to live.

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We got back two days ago, and part of me continues to float, still trying to wrap my head around all I had seen and heard, and all I now envision for the city getting back on its feet. Hope arise.

 

Speak soon,

T