My brother will always have me to hold his hand, even if not physically.A couple of months ago, my brother faced some eye-opening experiences. But as many of us know, when our eyes are opened, it doesn’t always mean we know where exactly to finally look. He needed his older sister – authoritative enough to guide him, but young enough to be able to see things from his perspective. I regret that I was only reachable through the powers of technology, where silence is rather distancing and sometimes deafening, when in fact he needed the kind of comfortable silence that happens only when two people share a singular space of affection and quiet understanding.

I tried my best to supplement the distance and the wistful silence with what I felt was the two greatest tools I have always had (and yet I feel I need to make a disclaimer – I mean that they are what have been most effective for me from experience, but not that I have mastered either or both of them completely): I used my heart and my words.

This weekend I realised I needed to heed my own words as much as I hoped my brother did. One of the many tricks to life is that we recognise how we are our own worst critics, but hardly see how we are also our own best advisers. So I place my words here, in a place (insofar as you can consider the internet a place) where I can easily look back on it, and in a place where, if anyone should need it, it can easily be found. (Needless to say I’ve excluded some things that were more personal in nature.)

 

Hi Kuya,

 

I can imagine how much you must be going through, and although I cannot say that I know exactly how you feel, I can say at the very least that I understand.

You have dreams, I know how this feels. I am a dreamer, just like you, and it makes all the sense in the world, because we were raised by two dreamers. But those dreamers have also been very hard workers. And although dreaming came to us possibly inherently and genetically, hard work is something we must do on our own.

Remember that you are human – this will determine many things.

Being human means that you have a great capacity for intelligence, for strategy. That you have been physiologically made to be able to withstand pressure, stress, challenges that are emotional, mental and physical.

That you have been given biological and psychological traits to accomplish great things, to survive, and also to evolve, always learning new ways to adapt and go beyond those before you.

But being human also means limits. You have been given intelligence, but you are not all-knowing. You have been given strength, but you are not invincible. I suppose what matters most is that we humans have been given a capacity for change.

And it’s up to us, to take that capacity for change to make us better, or make us worse. To improve our lives and the lives of others, or to be insignificant or worse, unhelpful.

Everything you are going through now, all your frustrations, your sense of limits, is a sign of growth.

Just think of shoes and how you outgrow them. This is how you know you’ve come to a point for new shoes – when your old ones pinch your feet, and make it difficult to walk.

And you can buy the exact same pair, or a completely different one, but in a size larger and more able to accommodate how you have grown.

You are frustrated and uncomfortable about the situation because you have outgrown it – you have surpassed the mental capabilities of those who have started this project. You’ve grown so much that all you can do is think outside of the box, while they still think inside of it.

And that’s okay.

My main concern is that you end up letting the success of your dreams ride solely on the success or failure of someone else’s.

It’s okay to be helpful – of course it is even encouraged. But remember that you are most helpful when you are whole.

And by whole, I mean fully intact with your hopes, your dreams, your determination and will.

Others can gain from your wholeness. You become more of a help, an inspiration,

But both parties only lose when you become divided – you go about things with just half of yourself, and others have very little to gain with just little parts of you.

So don’t forget to take care of yourself. This is the best way you can help sometimes. Take care of yourself and become someone whom others don’t have to worry about.

And then because you are so well taken care of, you will find you are able to offer more.

Sometimes what we think are our weaknesses are actually our strengths in disguise – we just haven’t mastered our will to turn it into our ally rather than our enemy.

Another way to look at it, I guess, is the way they say monks train to be ninjas (haha).

They run with iron shoes, heavy andpainful. They master the pain, and the weight.

And when they try to run without the shoes, they find that they learned to run much faster, although while running with iron shoes, they weren’t running fast at all.

Sometimes the journey towards the goal looks or feels nothing like the goal itself, but when you get there, you get to appreciate everything that brought you to it.

          All the answers you need are inside of you – some answers just require a bit more bravery to acknowledge.
         Just be cautious in turning to easy ways out – easy ways out come in so many different forms that deceive us
         sometimes into thinking it’s the ONLY way out.         I know you’re strong, that you’ll pull through.

        Take care, just email when you need me. 🙂
        Love,
        Ate
The pursuit of something good is not always the pursuit of something easy: sometimes it is brutal, it’s exhausting, it’s repetitive, it’s boring. Sometimes it’s uneventful, painful, discouraging. But if you cease your pursuit of something good, simply because it ceased to be easy, then you determine for yourself just how deserving you are of that good you wanted to achieve. This is something my brother and I are learning together, despite the age gap, the situational differences, and the distance. And I don’t believe it’s a lesson anyone can ever truly master – it will impose itself on us many times over, in different forms, from different angles, but each time we are faced with it will be a different learning experience from the last. So here’s to more attempts at trying for the good, instead of trying for the easy.
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Staring out into the blue sea.

There, it is
there that space
in which she finds herself:
finds herself stuck between
rocks and hard places,
herself pacing back and forth
strength and weakness,
swaying to the rhythm of her
indecision, marching to her
heartbeat drum.

There, it is
there that space
in which her life unfolds
a dozen, hundred, thousand,
million ways, to answer:
What must I do?
Where must I go?
Whom do I trust?
Caught between the human nature
and that nature of life
that betrays or rises above.

There, it is
there that space
in which she discovers
there would be no wrong,
no error, no Great Fall:
perhaps pain, sometimes sadness,
lack of laughter, but
all choices, all lessons,
wisdom yet to be had.

There, it is
there that space
in which she finds herself.

In the past year, I was lucky enough to wake up with the sunrise.

I’ve been home for almost a month now, but true to my nature, I slip in and out of my retrospection. Repeatedly my conclusion (if it even is a conclusion) is this: Has it really been a year?

Admittedly, it’s been difficult to really keep a clear sense of time these past few years. Having been a student in Manila makes me register the year as June to March, while being an ordinary human being lets me acknowledge the year as January to December. When I began my preparations for London, my sense of time simultaneously shifted and multiplied, acknowledging the year to be from September ’til July, knowing two sets of twenty-four hours, and almost feeling like I was a time traveller. Conversations with my family and friends in Manila – which both occurred in “yesterday” and “today” – often delved into my life and my friends in London, referring to “today” and “tomorrow.”

Regardless of how I look at it, however – London time, Manila time, January to December, September to July – it feels as if so much has happened in the past 525,600 minutes of my life. James, one of my teachers (and I’m now also glad to be able to call him a friend, and a dude) asked me right before the (London) academic year ended: “You’ve changed a lot, haven’t you?”

Fortunately or unfortunately, being at a loss for words is not a frequent occurrence for me, but being faced with that question certainly left me blank. Did he actually mean for me to answer that, or was it more rhetorical? There were so many ways to really understand that question, but I found I was left speechless either way. Had I really changed? Was this a bad kind of change? Oh God, please don’t let me be one of those kinds of people who change after an experience, and then go back home to friends only to be told with a heavy sigh and a disappointed shrug, “You’re just not the same anymore.”

Thankfully, James clarified it for me. “You’ve grown. You’ve become better, you learned.” And honestly, I’d like to think I have. In fact, I appreciate being told I’ve grown (internally, of course, as I do believe my height is pretty permanent at this point), rather than being told I’ve changed. Having “changed” just seems so irreversible, as if I had left some good parts of me behind, thereby making me less “me.”

Being told I’ve grown, and truly feeling it, is more rewarding. It means there was room for me to improve, that someone saw that potential in me, and that I fulfilled it. In 525,600 minutes, I expanded my patience, worked and fought harder, became more daring, did and said more things I probably didn’t ever think I’d have the courage to do or say, and became able to more accurately identify where it is that I stand, what I stand for and what I will not tolerate. It’s strange, but it feels like two things have been happening at once: I’m meeting myself for the first time, but I’m also meeting an old friend that I hadn’t embraced in so long yet have known for ages. How’s that for feeling like I’ve been time travelling?

Of course I wasn’t just knowing myself. I was meeting and getting to know all sorts of people, too. A year ago I never would have thought that I’d meet a brilliant mathematician from Bahrain who’d help break me out of my shell and make adjusting to a new city just that much easier, or that we’d form a bond akin to adopted siblings (who get along, clearly, not the kind who hate each other’s guts). A year ago the idea of meeting an older brother figure in any place other than in Manila was ridiculous – people elsewhere would just be too different! – but I believe I’ve found a friend for life in a rather-culturally-hybrid-and-confused-yet-down-to-earth dude with whom I can be so brutally honest, and from whom I can expect the same kind of honesty in return. I’ve met girls for whom I expanded my sisterly concern, my older-sister instincts pushing me to want to see them be better, be happy.

I’ve met Italians who so graciously adopted me into their tightly-knit family and made me feel at home, an intelligent and creative soul who speaks the language of music with so much passion it’s sometimes intimidating, writers, filmmakers, readers, law students, account managers – it would be

impossible to really enumerate comprehensively. And just when I thought I’d seen ’em all, and had every possible conversation I could, life surprised me like it knew my mind still had that itch it still longed to scratch, knew that there were still parts of me that felt unengaged, and I made a good friend who helps expand my mind and constantly teaches me that there’s always a way to do things better, and that there’s always something I don’t know yet (as if my mind weren’t hungry enough).

As I write this down, I wonder why some people come to mind more fondly than others, and why their memory resonates (and hopefully continues to resonate) much more strongly in my life. I recall what I told my sister one time: “The cool thing about London is that you can stay in one place and all these people will be the ones coming and going. Everyone’s in transit.” But with everyone in transit, who sticks, and who doesn’t? Do I just chalk it all up to connection and chemistry?

Maybe connection and chemistry is part of the work. Connection and chemistry, I think, help identify

where a bridge would be good to put, where it could be sturdy and useful. But I think what really keeps it together are dreams. In the past year, I’ve found that the people I feel closest to are the ones who shared their dreams with me, and to whom I’ve confided my own dreams to. The more I know about their dreams, the more connected I felt, the more passionately I felt for their goals , the more sincerely I hoped to see them happy and successful. I felt more woven into their story, and they felt more woven into mine. Anyone could talk about last weekend’s party, and it’s fairly easy to talk about how  hectic everyone’s been with their exams. Trust me, it’s how I survived those elevator rides up and down my building. Knowing someone’s dream, however, and truly believing in it and in him/her, helps to make clear just how far people have come, how much further they have to go. The best part? From the very moment they tell me what it is they so desire out of life, I feel privy to this wonderful story that has yet to be told, and it feels, to me, a privilege to be able to see it unfold. It’s almost as if I, at the point of dream revelation, am transported into the future, where I suddenly become sure that this person has a place in my life, and that I have a place in his/hers, and that I will see dreams come true, even if the dreams won’t always stay the same.

Has it really been a year? Chronologically, yes. But in my retrospection, it feels a lifetime, and I am grateful. This gratitude is a good sign that tells me I’ve not yet tired of it, that I’ve more to learn from it, and that none of it was a waste. In the remaining weeks, I find I am letting home, family and friends envelope me in the familiarity that I will always hold dear, and at the same time I am taking deeper breaths and looking forward to returning to what’s become my second home.

Roughly 525,600 minutes of my life have been spent there, where laughter has echoed, smiles have been shared, hugs have been given, tears have been shed, grumbles of frustration let out, eyes widened in awe and in disbelief. It all leads me to realize that yes, I have been living there for the past year. But who says that makes it less of an adventure? I have always been under the impression that time travelling is an adventure indeed.

And here’s what’s come to my attention: that jumping to conclusions is perhaps more dangerous than anything else, especially when it concerns other people. What makes it worse is that the bigger you feel your conclusion is, the higher your jump, or maybe vice-versa: the higher your jump, the bigger you feel your conclusion is. Here is the danger: the bigger your conclusion that you jump to, the stronger the desire to tell someone else.

And then it just spreads like wildfire.

You tell someone else what “it sounded/seemed like,” and “sounded/seemed” gets lost in translation, and all the other person hears is “it was.” The whole idea of “benefit of the doubt” goes out the window – it jumps out just as you jump to a conclusion – regardless of the truth.

The only thing that can spare anyone from this catastrophe is the idea that you have forged a bond stronger than the conclusion that screwed things up. Without that, you find no reason to hear the truth. You feel you are right, and hold another guilty, as if whatever it was, was done with full intention. 

But I suppose, if you are ready to believe that, the bond wasn’t that strong to begin with. All that will be left after the wildfire of a conclusion is the ground in between that has been razed, and the smoke that will never seem to lift. And all that’s left to do is to get out and save yourself.

Why does gratitude make us feel uncomfortable? Have we become alien to the feeling that we have done something good for someone else? Maybe we’ve become accustomed to preferring that people return the favour instead. Or perhaps we are burdened by all our other flaws, that we think our good deeds are not out of charity, but a subconscious balancing of scales, of penance.

How often do we even hear people say “You’re welcome,” anymore? We say “No problem,” “Don’t worry about it,” “No worries.” Why? Are we afraid that people actually feel welcome to expect charity from us? Is it a way for us to ensure that they understand that we intended it to be an occasional occurrence? Maybe we like the idea of assuming that they think it was an inconvenience to us, but that we were so kind to have indulged them. So semantically we emphasise that it wasn’t a problem, that it wasn’t a cause for concern – it could’ve been for another individual, but not to us, because we are just that much more generous.

I long to be comfortable with being shown gratitude, not because I expect it, but because maybe it will make me more grateful in return. Accepting someone else’s gratitude switches a light on in me, showing me the way to choose to see the sincerity in an expression of thanks, and allowing me to be so humbled by it that I, in turn, become more comfortable with showing gratitude myself.

Last September, I left home to come here to sometimes-literally-but-always-figuratively vibrant London. I felt a kind of guilt that went in circles – I was guilty that guilty was all I felt about leaving. Surely I would miss home, miss people, miss food and miss tons of other things, but my emotions and my mind had some kind of blinders on them, because I looked forward to everything I was going to, and only occasionally looking back at what I’d left behind. The guilt ensued. I knew I was supposed to be feeling more than this, but I like myself a good challenge, and I had become so absorbed in the challenge that faced me then: relocate, adjust, come into my own in this new city that was, to me, a symbol of anonymity and fresh beginnings.

Three weeks ago, my brother Patrick and my youngest sister Mackey flew the same fifteen hours and 6,850 miles that my sister Lace and I had flown, to visit us here for what we predicted to be the noisiest, craziest, funniest, warmest (both literally and figuratively) time any of us had ever experienced here in London. Lace got her roommate back (she and Mackey had been sharing a room since birth, no matter how many times we’d moved houses), and I found myself having a sort-of-new one (because sometimes we all liked to sleep in one room, but Patrick and I were not roomies like Lace and Mackey were).

It was as we predicted. My small student flat heard laughter it had never heard before, and it smelled like a different kind of food every day. For portions of their visit, it pretty much looked like a hurricane had come, brought my brother’s things with it, and decided to scramble all the contents of my flat and leave it all over the place. (However we were actually quite neat and tidy, and I blame the size – or lack thereof – of my room for the amount of things that were in it for 21 days.)

I was happy. This city has become so important to me, because I’ve discovered a lot about myself while being in it, but I always felt like I had to distinguish between my life here and my life back home. When they visited, it finally felt like both sides could come together – the side I left behind, and the side I had come to. They became part of my life here in a more concrete way, and I could make new memories that included them in this world which, before their visit, I could only really talk about with them.

At 11:30 this morning (or half past eleven, as Patrick would insist on saying), they went home. We had brunch, we said perhaps the longest goodbyes the four of us had ever said to each other (it took four or five times before they went through security), and Lace and I watched them disappear into the departure gates. Lace and I were exhausted – it was the earliest (5:30am) we’d ever been up on a Sunday morning, and I suppose we were thankful that we were both sleepy, because it meant we were too sleepy to feel the separation. I arrived home, she went into her room and I into mine, and crashed into a long nap that I had just gotten out of before I started typing.

And then it kicked in. The moment I woke up from my nap, I stared at the ceiling, thinking to myself: “I never thought London could ever be this quiet.” I thought this through the sirens going off somewhere outside, and all the cars driving down Old Street, sometimes honking at each other. I thought this through students banging doors, running down the halls, where they were holding quite loud conversations. I thought this through the perpetual hum of my small refrigerator, the sound of the water through the pipes that so many have complained about. And I thought it to myself over and over and over again. Somehow, it was the only thing I felt I could really hear: “I never thought London could ever be this quiet.”

I kept thinking it through the lump in my throat that threatened to burst, and the tears that welled up in my eyes, threatening to betray how “okay” I thought and wanted to feel. But down they rolled, down they fell, and down they flowed. Being left behind is a much more complex and different feeling from leaving.

In my memory, I replayed every second of their presence here: every giggle, every hug, every laugh, every rush hour scramble, every fading moment late in the evening that we spent in between being awake and being asleep, resisting the exhaustion we felt after a long day. I replayed them though I wasn’t sure why. Did I want the memories to counter how alone I suddenly felt? If so, it wasn’t working out too well for me. Maybe I was afraid to forget anything.

And then what I was hoping would not happen, happened: I remembered you.

Memory is like a wild animal you can’t really control. It will be around if it wants to be around, and it will disappear when it doesn’t want to be found. You can try to look for it, or try to run from it, but in the end, sometimes the only choice you have is to be around it, and just let it come and go as it pleases.

I started out by remembering the three weeks I’ve just had with my siblings, and I skipped to remember the one week I had with my Mom in January, when she visited me and Lace for our birthday. When she left, I felt her departure, too, but I did not feel it quite as strongly. I think it was because at that time, I wanted to numb myself of anything to do with being left behind. Because before that, the last person who had left me behind was you.

Let’s make things clear: you were not the first time I had experienced being left behind. God knows how many business trips my parents have taken, leaving me in charge of the household. Many friends had come and gone while I was still back home, and they left me to do the same thing I am doing now – pursuing my dreams, starting afresh. But in those instances, I was staying in one place, and although I was being left behind, I knew when they returned, I was also being come home to.

Your departure was different. Your departure was the first time I had felt just being left behind, and I knew for sure there was no “coming home to” me. There was no finality in your departure – I knew with a hundred percent certainty that I would see you again, more than once, throughout my life. But there was also no certainty – I didn’t know when I would see you again, and I didn’t know in what state you and I would see each other again. Would we be the same? Would we be too different when the time came? I had no clue. You had to fly back to your world, as you always called it, and I had to stay in mine, as you always insisted.

You taught me many things, and you still do. Being left behind is perhaps one of your more difficult lessons that, I just realized as my brother and my sister left, is a lesson that I will need to learn repeatedly as I walk this path I’ve chosen. And even if every memory of this lesson is just as painful as the actual encounter of it, I see something I did not expect to learn:

Your departure taught me the most valuable version of being left behind – the kind that hurts. And it hurts because this kind of leaving behind means I am having to let go of something that – or someone whom – I truly wanted to stay.

… I never thought London could ever be this quiet.