Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sins of the Father

Last week was catch-up week after returning from California, after laboring remotely; trying to continue my job after 2 weeks of working on the fly, catching moments in the hospital waiting room or at the lodgings to do work, attend meetings and make phone calls.  I had arrived Saturday on the 19 of October in the morning fog after nearly missing my plane from LAX the night before, the nurses scrambling to find a way to get me to the airport, finding a web site in the Internet, finally booking a ride  on a shuttle bus powered by natural gas. I had spent the day praying, sitting beside him and reading from the Bible, happy to see improvements in the early evening, allowing the doctor to finally pull the tube from his mouth, my time in the chapel and at his bedside had provided comfort. But I left Los Angeles without seeing him conscious although great improvement the next day as he was no longer sedated; he was sitting down and standing up, listening to the therapist and exercising; small steps in the difficult journey of rehabilitation. After arriving in Charlotte, I rented a car and went to IKEA to do shopping; retail therapy to reduce stress.

During the week since I got back, I was reading my mail and working on many outstanding requests,  but I was able to watch a movie (‘Gravity’ in IMAX 3D) the night after my arrival and going swimming on Sunday morning; trying to get back to normality. So I felt good but tired back in the office but there was a lot to do, following–up people and responding to email. A lot of work had piled up and I had interesting but stressful exchanges with the customers, while dreading phone calls from California in the evenings after work, fearful of the possible bureaucratic and legal mess aside from his health problems, feeling pressure because of the urge to help but unable to do anything else; the well is dried up and one is running on empty. I prayed to God on my last day, trying to make sense of the tragedy hoping for a second chance, for a different life from the one that burdened him, oppressed by decisions of the past;  the sins of the father coming to haunt his sons despite the urge to do good for his children but created a nightmare decades later.

I had also neglected my duties in Toastmasters, missing the deadline for the payment of dues, nearly failing to attend the conference last Saturday, 26th October, but managing to scramble for a place but ending in shame as my wife called during a speech contest; my reaction was like a fool scrambling to get away in front of many people.   I had thought that I would forget my troubles by doing a speech at our meeting and attending the conference, but there is no escape from my everyday problems, rising up to contribute their own stress to the already filled container. Suffering happens because of desire, and I wanted so many things, to be healthy and go to the gym, to do my duties as an officer of the club, to do well at my new role in the office, scrambling to lead a model life but deep inside the memory of him recovering in the hospital;  I wanted to run but came to face more problems in one’s own world. There is too much stress that one escapes from it, watching movies and being self-indulgent, to fantasize and settle into some drug induced stupor like sleeping in opium dens in the Singapore of the past, to escape the harshness of life. But there is no escaping one’s trouble even those committed long ago by an ill informed father trying to help his children have a better future. Instead, resulting in tragedy and heart disease.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Shutdown End

Most people were relieved that congress finally agreed to open the government last night, tired and fearful that it will all occur again next year when the budget talks begin or when the debt ceiling needs to be raised again. One concession was to verify eligibility of those seeking medical insurance under the new health care act. I did not know what it meant or what the details would be but the message filled me with dread even though I did know the details yet. What is the law’s implication to my relative, without insurance and legitimacy, what hate or cruelty exists that would prevent care and compassion be given to the sick. There is too much hate around, afraid that the nation’s wealth is squandered to the undeserving; unlawfully present despite their contribution to the local economy, working hard, paying taxes, raising families. Their only crime is to want to live in a better world from whence they came, similar to the people who came long ago from the old world, carving the land like cake to apportion to their needs. But the modern day descendants have not the same opportunities.

Yesterday I called the lawyer but he was unwilling to accept the case, aware of the past impropriety, thinking we are all criminals, afraid and, rightly so, that the state would come down and penalize them. But it was done long ago, when one were innocent children, unaware of the implication in the future, when the box would ensnare us like a cage, driven by a father who knew no better except to escape the old life and prosper in the new.  Now the reckoning has come, when fate entwined together from different streams to culminate here in this place, and what a beautiful place, where the sunlight never seemed more magical, the brisk air, blue skies like paradise, the bare hills and the near desert landscape and high snow-capped mountains surrounding the valley. I would not like to be anywhere else, loving the old run down towns surrounding Lake Elsinore, surrounded by mountains that concealing the Pacific Ocean, where Spanish friars and conquistadors built churches and haciendas. But such incredible beauty did not come without a brutal price, where the state wields its hand like some unforgiving god.

He had protected me when we were children, I would sleep beside him when I lay awake, unable to sleep with nightmares in mind, after watching horror movies while he slept unafraid beside me.  He gave me comfort and we all looked up to him as one would a conquering hero, now struck down by his battle against his demons, his fear slowly germinating in his body, like a snake getting ready to strike. Now I am helpless to save him, exhausted by the myriad rules and paperwork, angry that life is unfair. Poignantly his car was returned by the mechanic yesterday, ready for use, its wonderful engine purring like a tiger; for he loved cars, racing them like a madman, spending his money on their thrills instead of his own legitimacy. But that is how he lived his life and I pray to god that he be given a second chance that this experience will bring out the grace and wonder of those emerging from serious illness. A second chance to see that his children and family will live up to his dreams, and grow to be wonderful people and that we would once again meet with our families and reminiscence on the days that gone by.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

2 Weeks in Hell

A close relative had a serious medical condition last weekend so I had to fly to California to help. It was excruciating, seeing him in bed, hardly breathing and unable to be his robust and happy self, his family still optimistic amidst the dreariness of intensive care. We had to soldier on, trying to work on the insurance and other paper work which he did not have since losing his job a few months ago, wrongly calculating that there would be no medical emergency until he gets a new job. It was painful to see all his plans wasted when one experience a sudden ailment, unplanned, throwing all preparation to the wind, leaving the future in danger including his family.  It was difficult to see the doctors struggling for the right remedy, calling first for his transfer to another hospital for an organ transplant, another doctor giving a second opinion, choosing a risky procedure that is still playing out today after his major surgery but, in fact, was our only option with no medical insurance.

We had to talk to many people in the hospital: financial counselor, case manager, social worker, doctors, nurses and a priest to discuss the various options; not to say one played a big part but under the mistaken notion that one can change things when all is in God’s hands. But it all boils down to money and insurance and residency, which my relative did not have, struggling just to survive with his family, living under a dreadful cloud of fear for many years until his body gave out, without him realizing the danger until it was too late. Coming home in the evening after a tiring day, his house empty of his presence as he lay sedated in his hospital bed, his body split open, I cried in the darkness wondering how his family can emerge intact, the same smiling young faces full of love. In contrast, hate and anger play out in television, the rage of a few against the affordable health care act and resulting government shut down. One cannot help but feel disorganized, unable to act but resolved to move forward, to file unemployment benefits and disability insurance despite the government shutdown and questions on legitimacy. Surely this is a better world despite the turmoil.

I decided to extend my stay for another week, to try to help in the complex paper work so his wife can handle the essentials of caring for her husband and their children, calling people to get their help, filing applications in the internet or filling up paper forms. Relatives back in the Philippines calling for updates, his daughter posting news on Facebook, calling my wife who was angry for staying away from her as she was sick too and handling medical issues of her own, deciding to work remotely so one does not lose his job and save vacation leave for any future emergency, working nearly 10 hours a day under pressure and worry, meeting demands at work and at home plus extra effort like resolving a car breakdown. All things come undone, with problems at work, at home and with my relative’s condition, his body needing electric shock in 2 episodes, I tried sleeping in the room, praying in the darkness to God that all will be well, trying to calculate all the possible outcomes in my fevered mind. I have become new with this struggle, to realize one’s mortality, the preciousness of life, to treasure one’s relationships, to focus only on the essentials and to cherish the wonder of everyday living.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Tibetan Monk

Last night I attended a lecture by a Tibetan monk on the subject of mandalas; on the symbolism of mandalas, as I struggled at times to keep awake during the lecture, the monk spoke in the strange Tibetan (or Hindi) language, while an interpreter standing before a rostrum in a large stage, translated into English, while the smiling bald monk sat in a chair beside him, resplendent in his orange robe. It was an interesting sight, the first time I have seen a Tibetan monk in the flesh where previously I saw them only on videos like some exotic species, although I have seen Buddhist monks in Thailand, also in their orange robes, there was a certain mystery and elegance of monks from Tibet. Perhaps it was the Dalai Lama, his eloquence and level headedness, his humility, twinkling eyes and his epic battle with Communist China or the legend of his escape from Lhasa that gave Tibetan monks a certain mystique and dignity equal to the majesty of Catholic cardinals and bishops. I have watched many DVDs on the struggles of Tibet or the Buddhist religion or even seen Buddhist artifacts in museums that it came like a revelation to see Tibetan monks and their religious artifacts before me.


The monks were building a mandala in the lobby, carefully laying out the sand with their esoteric instruments, seeing for the first time an actual mandala in construction, where previously I had seen the exotic patterns in the internet, using several images as computer wallpaper in Singapore, enthralled by the mystery of its geometric shapes. Watching the image in the sand was like a meditation, the mind in wonder that so much time, delicateness and focus is devoted to make an image in such a difficult medium and, finally, sweeping away the work in an instant, challenging the mind of its concepts, to just throw away what one has labored for several days like it was nothing. I had already watched a fast motion video of the creation and deconstruction of a mandala in You Tube, but the actual spectacle in front of one’s eyes provides a true cachet because a video does not capture the full spectacle and spiritual significance. Tomorrow I plan to go back during my lunch hour to catch the deconstruction ceremony; an event that I had understood as an intellectual concept but which one needs to actually see and feel as a mystical experience, similar perhaps to attending a Catholic mass in Latin.


But the true significance is to understand the impermanence of life, or that the result of labor does not need to have monetary value, or attachment to physical objects is folly and so on. Watching the mandala ceremony is like undertaking a lesson in spirituality, one need to be present to understand its meaning. In the evenings at home, I have been watching videos on the ceremonies of Tibetan monks, about the Book of the Dead, about Drepung Loseling Monastery and Buddhist chants that I have learned more this week than all the time spent in the past learning about Tibet, their art and religion. I have also been listening to the audio book Secret Millionaires that there seem to be a connection: one needs to live a simple and frugal life to be wealthy; not only in monetary resources but spiritual resources. In fact ‘real’ millionaires do not focus on material objects, spend little of their wealth in large homes, luxury cars or expensive clothes but invest in assets that gain value over time. I wonder if going to the Tibetan ceremonies or watching videos is a waste of time, but, in fact, there does not need to be a payoff but the participation in a trans-formative experience (or the possibility of it) to give life meaning.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Shut Down

Yesterday I went home early, worked on my yard for about an hour, laying insecticide on ant hills and placing compost on the trees and shrubs I planted. I should have done this work earlier, noticing that one plum tree had lost its leaves and turned yellow, thinking about the comments made by the master gardener in the library last week that placing fertilizer before planting a tree would burn its roots. I am not sure if this is what happened or if it’s just the tree turning colors early for autumn. But there was an ant hill nearby so I wonder if this caused the problem, nevertheless it did not seem the tree was dying; its main trunk seems strong and sturdy, so I followed the gardener’s advice to place compost; something  that always helps a plant. I hope to water my plants after work today and place mulch later this week. I wonder what else I need to do to prepare my lawn for the coming winter, and I may plant more shrubs like cypress for privacy. The gardener said that it’s not too late to sow in the fall. After dinner, I sat out in my yard, enjoying the night sky which seemed much clearer today though I did not see the moon.

Last Friday, I went to the local planetarium and observatory, struggling to keep awake during the show, enjoying nonetheless the lecture on the night sky, afterwards walking to the observatory to peek at the huge telescope, glimpsing only 2 tiny stars through its lens. But I learned a lot, especially the times when Jupiter or Saturn are visible in this part of the world, admiring the ancient telescope which used to be in Princeton during the time Albert Einstein was teaching; the guide remarking  the great physicist would have peeked through its lens. The show ended at about 8:30 pm and I went home to watch the 2nd season of Homeland, watching the whole series to take advantage of the weekend promotion, which ended last Monday.  I also watched some DVDs about the moon that I borrowed from the library, enjoying the film after recently observing the harvest moon through my binoculars several evenings past in my back yard. I decided to learn more about astronomy especially about the moon since it’s the only object I see clearly in my circumstances and equipment. I don’t think I will spend more on telescopes but night watching is a good way to enjoy my patio.

Last night I wanted to watch the news about the government shutdown, but I felt tired and read books instead, my mind doing a ‘shutdown’ of its own, sick and tired of the posturing and inane bickering by clueless politicians. I debate this subject often with my colleague at work, breaking the taboo of avoiding the discussion of politics, religion or sex; where I take on the role as a liberal leftist while my neighbor as a Tea party libertarian, enjoying our discussions in a purely sporting fashion, to keep awake during the day. The discussions proved stimulating and fun although I fear that I should not be talking about this subject being a recent transplant. But I can’t help myself with all the excitement generated by media. I wonder what happened in the first shutdown, though it seemed to be quieter today than in the Clinton years, possibly because the public is jaded and tired of the circus in congress. I think the public resignation will be the true lesson of this event, despite what the president had said that the one does not cause a shutdown since the US economy is the foundation for the world economy and the US dollar the worlds’ reserve currency. Reasoning falls on deaf ears especially since the debt ceiling and Obama care have no connection at all.