It almost the eve of my birthday. I’d like to believe that I am still young but at times my body physically objects to that notion. I know I am getting old. I think of a summer afternoon in the province, the way my grandmother sits on the porch facing the world, her stare deep and focused, though her failing eyesight hardly reveals anything to her, not the height of the sugarcanes or the way the light falls fiercely on the red gumamelas. Maybe she sees without looking, maybe she knows by listening, like the way she knows, by the sound of my footsteps, that it is I who is approaching. This is how I know I am getting old. I can tell time by how my voice sounds in the afternoon, husky and tired as though in need of consoling. Sometimes, lying in bed in the deep night, silence becomes music, and music becomes nostalgia. I see my father sitting on his chair looking out the window, and I cannot help but wonder what sort of world he sees out there; I would like him to come back for an hour and tell me how his heart always had room to love people. Once, a fruit vendor, a woman with a young child, gave me some mangoes for free. I did not have cash to buy it from her. Un regalo, she said. A gift. Sometimes it takes so little to be kind. Sometimes it takes years to recognize that the world you live in has always been benevolent. I want to live in the light of gratitude. Tonight I sit in quiet contemplation. Tonight I am a child of the sky, sea, and stars. Tonight I await the first light that comes out of this cold evening, where the light flourishes and lives and feels like a miracle.
I cannot imagine life without music. I suppose it would be like not having the sea or the sky. It would be like walking in a city devoid of beauty; a sort of emptiness. I listened to music while I wrote The Unfolding. I would like to share a few of the beautiful pieces of music that I listened to repeatedly while I typed all those words.
SPIEGEL IM SPIEGEL by Arvo Part:
FUR ALINA by Arvo Part:
SERENADE by Franz Schubert:
LIEBESTRAUM (lOVE DREAM) by Franz Liszt
SCHINDLER'S LIST SOUNDTRACK by John Williams:
A TALE (PAN'S LABYRINTH SOUNDTRACK) by Javier Navarrete:
PLAYING LOVE by Ennio Morricone:
NOCTURNE OP. 9 NO. 2 by Frederic Chopin:
FATHER KOLBE'S PREACHING (FROM THE TRUMAN SHOW) by Wojciech Kilar:
MAX RICHTER SOLO PIANO MUSIC by Max Richter:
GOOD BYE LENIN! SOUNDTRACK by Yann Tiersen
PIANO CONCERTO NO. 2 IN C MINOR OP. 18 by Sergei Rachmaninoff:
It is a sunny winter day in Los Angeles. As I write this, the sky is a canvass of soft blue; the sky is a nostalgia. It brings me back to the sky of my childhood, to a magical place – Cebu. As I sit on this decrepit chair, a bee buzzes over my head and a fly lands in my drink. I am here, yet, also elsewhere. I shift between here and there, between now and then. Every single thing I chance upon lends itself to a feeling, a memory, a place.
Long before Ferdinand Magellan first landed in Cebu, long before the Spaniards introduced Christianity, the locals had a life of their own. They had a flourishing trade and an organized social structure. They had their own beliefs. They believed in animism and magic and the spirit world. They believed that rocks, rivers, and trees were inhabited by spirits. God was the sky and the sea and the sun. Nature was sacred. They believed that a human being has a soul which was considered the essence of a person’s moral and intellectual power.
I think of home and this blue sky above me now becomes a feeling, a place, a large canvass of history. It becomes the story of my people who first inhabited the island. I see their veins, their blood, their souls passing down the teachings of the sacredness of every facet of life. I feel their strength, their sense of community, their perseverance against all odds. They inhabit my very core for their veins are in mine, their heart is my heart, their home is my home.
As I write this, I think of my beginnings. I smell the sea breeze of my magical island. I hear the sweet sound of my native language. Malipayon ko (I am happy). I see the way the sunlight falls on the old churches. I see a father, mother, and child laughing together, as if walking towards the light, a light that is intangible and yet is the source of hope and abundance and love. As if they and the light are one, as though light is the beginning and end, as though, when the gods said, “Let there be light,” and there it is.
It is late and I am drunk with love for this rain. Most people complain about the rain and the inconvenience that comes along with it. People complain about everything. It is a relief to know that nothing bothers me as much these days. I don’t mind weirdos, losing socks, sadness, odd dreams of my living room being flooded and beautiful fishes are swimming in it. Perhaps there is a meaning to that dream but I shall not bother to investigate. I do not mind my melancholy. I fancy going somewhere with you, say, to some hidden shack with moonlight leaking through spaces beneath the windows, or down the street at a bar drinking a handsome drink, eavesdropping and finding that humans are generally clueless. I love listening to Chopin’s nocturnes on a night like this though at times it fades into the saddest music my heart could bear. I am glad that I have this moment, alive, vulnerable, and meandering.
The candles keep me from fumbling in the dark. I am thinking whether I should go for another chocolate, or have a glass of wine, or put on some socks to keep my feet warm. Well. First things first. Chocolate it is.
There is something that I remember tonight that I want to share with you. It’s about a time that was lonely, and one day, I took the train from New York to Los Angeles. I was fleeing from something, from many things, I suppose. A vague life, unmaterialized dream, some fear or unhappiness that I cannot put a finger on. I took the train so I had time to think. Anyway, what I remember the most about that trip of three nights passing through several states, was that, I sat next to an older man in his late sixties. We were both on our way to LA for different reasons. He told me a little bit about his life growing up as a black kid in North Carolina. I was in my mid-twenties then, and as you know, I grew up in Cebu. From all angles, we had nothing in common. He was pleasant and well-mannered. He told me that he was going to LA to see his ex-wife who was dying, that had she asked to see him one last time. She broke his heart, left him for another man. But I never stopped loving her all these years, he said, so I’m going to see her for the last time. Then tears fell from his eyes. We were passing through Colorado at that time and I looked out the window beside him, wanting to glimpse the sky as he quietly wiped the tears from his eyes. In my heart I was crying too, about nothing, about everything. We all ache for the same things, don’t we? And how fragile we are. How moved I was at that moment of vulnerability, the utter humanness between two strangers who will never see each other again.
I don’t know why I remember this tonight and why I felt the need to tell you. Perhaps it’s because lately it seems that I am encountering a fog. I don’t understand journeys, the human psyche, religion, love. Life is so startling. I am rambling here. I am being utterly asinine.
A sense of elation fills me as I am writing to you using my favorite fine point pen. I am thinking of the travel of this piece of paper, passing through streets and cities, distant lands and foreign sky, from my hand to yours. The world is filled with small wonders.
I’m going to sit here for a while and listen to the music of rain and think of you reading my letter under the skylight.
I send you my love,
I went to the desert and I relished being there, not only for the quality of the silence that does not incite loneliness, but because one is there simply to witness. It is so quiet you could hear the rocks and the sky converse in a secret language. I saw a desert hare (I think it was), walking as if in search of something. Sensing unfamiliar human sounds, the hare paused, looked around, then went away and disappeared. I felt like an intruder, bringing him (I assumed it was male and I named him Waldo) into stillness and discomfort in his own territory. Come back, I said to Waldo in my mind, I’d like to make your acquaintance. I admire the purity of your living. In contrast, we, humans, are often plagued with ambition and bias. Off Waldo went, without fuss and with no comment. There in the desert, you pay close attention. You respect the strange looking bug dragging its feet. You want to investigate those birds flying very low. No smash, jolt, and bang of urban noise. You view the world with a different set of eyes. You could walk the farthest distance and find that you have underestimated your own endurance. Right there in the open space and silence, the hours pass without any ruckus. You are shaken by a rock’s stillness. You are stunned by the sun’s swagger. You meet creatures who do not judge you for your feats and losses. If you pay heed, poetry abounds.
Twilight, going back and retracing the trails, nocturnal animals began their reign. Light slowly faded into shades of gray and amber and left behind a dazed and hopeful world.
Evening, all quiet, the stars at their brightest. In the presence of that wonder, of what use is speech? You are in awe, no sense to ask where the day went. You could lie on the ground and look at the stars forever; you pray for more time to gaze at them. You are a different person in the city; the stars are distant and trivial to your daily affairs. What a refuge to burrow in the desert where one feels free and open to witness the world’s quiet miracles.
The Mormons in the 19th century gave the name Joshua Tree, in reference to the Biblical story in which Joshua raised his hands to the sky in prayer. As a child, I’ve always had reverence for trees. Trees take in everything and do not complain. I looked at the Joshua trees and thought they must ache too, standing there with minimal rain, yet living up to a hundred years or more if they survive the desert’s austerity. There must be a higher being in existence, watching over and taking care of those trees.
I want more of it, the peace and quiet, the still world that bears everything with grace.
This isn't just a chair. It is an empty chair inside an old house. An old house where you used to live. And suddenly you are wearing a blue dress, barefoot in your neighbor's yard. And there is your friend trying to catch a butterfly. You don't even know what year that was. You didn't know this then, but on that street where the old house stood, some marvel took place. God had roots and stems; god was light and shadow. Even your heart had a voice. But here you are, staring at this chair, remembering a time in the past, in a place far away. It is evening in Los Angeles, a city you have lived in for many years and yet you still feel like a stranger here. Somehow you often find yourself lost and then you find yourself again in some vague memory, some nostalgia, some empty chair that seems to say to you, "Remember this time, remember when ..."