This, above all:

This, above all: To be God's best for The Coach and for Anna

Thursday, December 13, 2007


I'm on forced rest—a happy conspiracy between The Coach and my OB-gyne to ensure the success of our baby program, launched this month to mounting pressure from the family and the clamor of well-meaning friends (and a maternal instinct kicking waaay this late, Julia Roberts be darned). I am to avoid any possible stressor. I try not to bother with crumbs that fall from the table or remember a beloved niece’s unplanned pregnancy. I have license to laze.

But what the hey. Hotwired in my system is a happy-go-lucky stress lever. It activates even when I am happy or on a vacation. It takes a lot for me to keep still. (I, of course, prefer to call it ebullience.)

I hate working; ergo, in my mind, I am not a workaholic. So when my writer-friend Sandra sent me an email from Korea on how God desires me for me to rest, it jarred me, but only a bit. A workaholic, I thought, is one who enjoys working hard and long hours. I don’t. A workaholic is compulsive. I’m not.

But friends—the good ones—they don’t let us get away with specious arguments. Germaine staged an intervention in her apartment last year.

“You’re a workaholic,” she said.

“No, I’m not.” I said. “I just always have a lot of work.”

Silence. And then laughter: much of it incredulous, much of it from me.

The thing is I feel guilty when I rest. I feel guilty when I’m not productive. Mix that with unrelenting slothfulness and a massive dose of procrastination (perhaps arising from perfectionism?), and we’ve got a Janet waiting to explode.

I get my guilt from my mother, whose love language is service. She has borne much of the burden for the family, and there is never time for her, for us, much less for rest. Six children on a schoolteacher’s salary meant there was much to do, much to finish. Her busyness told me: if she stops, the house, our home, our family, will fall apart.

The laziness is all my own, a shortcoming that has hardened into an attitude because I was, growing up, pretty much left to my own devices. “Suma nimo,” my mother would say whenever I asked permission. It’s up to you—appealing to one’s maturity, one’s discretion—you decide. I guess I decided to be lazy, to not exert myself. It was easier, fun, that way. I was a child. I still am, that way.

The perfectionism—the fear of failing—I suffered from my father. Papa, a closet writer, has elegant, extravagant handwriting, with the curlicues and whorls of his letters all set in a flourish. Mama’s writing was neat and coordinated, like that of a schoolteacher who knew she was meant to be one. There was such a tenderness to her letters. I was ten when my father asked me to write in a card meant for my uncle in Marikina. My writing was still finding its place, my hand unsteady in its youth. He took one look at what I wrote, clucked, and said, “Kabati nimo’g agi!” Your handwriting is awful.

Three years ago I finally understood it was around that time I stopped writing the stories and poems I started when I was seven. I didn’t plan on stopping. I didn’t even realize I did. And I had forgotten that incident. It took me twenty-four years to return to that first love, to acknowledge it as such. I am glad I rediscovered writing, though now I still struggle to allow myself to fail. (I thank Joseph Chilton Pearce who said, “To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.”)

The beauty of God’s love—which I discover in fresher, very real ways each day—is that it allows me to see myself the way He does, unsullied by my own unforgiving eyes or those of my parents. I don’t have to do anything to merit His grace. I give Him joy, just as I am, and there is nothing I can do to add to or take away from that incomprehensible, all-encompassing love. I do not need to perform for Him.

It is true, what Sandra sent my way last year, that God does want me to rest, not just from my labors, but also from my mixed-up conceptions of what I ought to be and what I ought to do. To cut the ties of a past that can torment the present, I pray in the Spirit to break the yoke of guilt, burden-bearing, laziness and perfectionism I find in myself. I forgive myself—are we not often tougher on ourselves than on others?—even for the ways I responded to negative things in my life, and those who allowed those things in my life.

And I will rest.

The lovely cartoon is by the talented and inspiring Inkygirl.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Just like that

Writing here feels strange. I'm not the same person I was since my last post.

How to explain?

My closest friend in law school died on a Wednesday late September. Or a Thursday. We're still not sure when. I rushed to the hotel where she was discovered, but I couldn't go up to her room to help identify the body. I didn't want to remember her steeped in blood and in what looked like signs of struggle. Three days later, ABS-CBN would flash scenes of her and the lacerations, the tangled sheets, the knife, the cord, the cutter, the duct tape. And I couldn't look away. It had been a year since I saw her last, and in the mess of the moment, all I could think of was if her left shoulder was still higher than her right.

We shared the same name. We imposed the same acid test for our dates: their inner thighs must not rub against each other and they must know how to kiss. (Alas, The Coach had cornered me early in my life, so I never had the opportunity to try out the test.) We created our own vocabulary, like twins, and earmarked certain legal provisions (Article 25, Civil Code, on “thoughtless extravagance in expenses for pleasure”; Article 247, Revised Penal Code, on crimes of passion)—it was one of the ways to survive law school. In the summers between semesters, she in Manila and I in Cebu, we wrote each other 20-page letters, back when there was no email or easy access to computers. Then we started working, and this time we shared summers. Each January we'd bring out our Filofaxes, plot the holidays, save money, and on all long weekends we'd hie off somewhere, often to the beach where she’d swim and I’d dive. Even when I married we still kept to a few of our yearly jaunts.

We were easy with the term best friend, back when it didn't seem to require too much of each other. Somewhere along the way, the term sounded high-schoolish, uncertain, like a trend that didn’t catch up with the times. Our differences—did they multiply? were they there in the first place?—caught up with us: she couldn’t understand what she called my “extra long good faith,” and I couldn’t understand why she frowned, hard, when applying her makeup.

Her leaving was sudden—what leaving isn’t? But this, this was all for the wrong reasons, reasons I could’ve gauged had we been in each other’s lives the last year, extending our communication beyond texting and calls and gifts left with the lobby guards. Perhaps I wouldn’t have understood—I still don’t—but I would’ve at least been there.

I'm still saying goodbye, and haven't found the words for it.