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.

Buhay Makulay 003: Season Ender

And just like that, it’s over.

For many days over the past few weeks, I would fall asleep or wake up with the Buhay Makulay song playing in my head. I would think of our children and the joy in their faces as they sang. I would look ahead toward the big surprise we had for them – our special culminating activity! But the day before yesterday, I woke up with children and the song in my mind, this time harmonized with sadness. The Buhay Makulay’s first Likha season had come to an end.

On Saturday, December 7th, Buhay Makulay had it’s first Likha Showcase! The showcase was a celebration of children and the arts! The showcase consisted of an art exhibit and a short program, all featuring the work of the 31 children we had been blessed to work with throughout this season. It was a private event, really more for the children than for anyone else. Each child invited one guest from their family, while we invited a few of Buhay Makulay’s and Precious Jewels Ministry’s closest friends and supporters. We gathered to honor the children and praise God!

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The invite I designed, featuring the beautiful and colorful paper collage made by the children who focused on visual art for majority of our program.

This was the most ambitious program I’ve launched for Buhay Makulay so far. In my mind and heart it has been years in the making. The vision for the showcase I have held so long, I cannot believe it has already come true, almost exactly how I had pictured it! This was the first art exhibit I’ve ever really curated and installed, and I certainly hope it is only the first of many. It was small in scale, but gigantic in story.

The activity was not just an event, but part of a larger narrative. Though us volunteers and partner staff could see the growth in the children during our time together, we were not sure that the children could yet grasp the weight of their discoveries and accomplishments. The activity was meant to help see how far they had come!

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This was a special day for them. These children live in cramped quarters, some under a bridge and some in relocated communities, all from the poor corners of the city. They do not have room in their homes to dance, or large spaces on their walls on which their artwork can be displayed and appreciated.

This was a special day for them. All the fun and learning they had with us could finally be shared with the people that raise and care for them on a daily basis. Most brought their mothers, others their fathers, and a few their older sisters or brothers. We were sharing with family. We were making known to them their own incredible value that so often gets lost behind poverty line.

This was a special day for them. The kids walked around the exhibit, pointing out to their mothers which drawings or crafts they had made. Mothers watched on bright-eyed, as their kids danced onstage. Little kids came up to our volunteers, with a wealth of smiles that many weeks ago were so hard to wedge out of them. And I watched, in disbelief and wonder, at the sweet celebration taking place around me. As we knew from the beginning, all our hard work is worth it.

Buhay Makulay - Hope
The banner of Team Hope (ages 8-10) -a collage made entirely out of recycled paper, fabric and dyed eggshells. Our children learned that beauty can be made of the scraps. God makes beautiful things out of us, out of dust.This was made on our third workshop day, before our children chose to focus on visual or movement arts.

I’m not huge on television series’, but thanks to online streaming I have become dedicated to a few.  I can get through a whole season of a show with much excitement, watching episode right after episode. But I have a tendency to hold off watching the season enders. Nearing a season’s conclusion, I slow down. Sometimes I put it off for longer, until the following season already starts so I won’t have to wait in agony between stories. (At this moment, I have yet to watch three season enders of three different shows whose seasons ended months ago!)

I’d rather wait in willing suspense, than just have things be plain over.

Perhaps this is the feeling that I woke up with the other day – wishing we were still looking ahead to the big surprise for the kids, rather than knowing that the celebrations had been celebrated.

In the weeks to follow, I hope to continue to process the experience and share incredible stories of learning and blessing. Thankfully, there is much to share!