Tonight is a night of rekindling

The Philippine Daily Inquirer

Season of Goodbyes

Happiness is a choice, I’ve been told. And for a while, I did try to live by this, convinced that it really was up to me to choose to be happy or not to be happy. And as far as I was concerned, everything was fine. My life was quite comfortable, complete and well-ordered. I didn’t understand what it was like for some people to be depressed or, worse, suicidal. I simply couldn’t fathom how and why they could possibly run out of things to be thankful for and glad about, when even just waking up in the morning was already a miracle in itself, already reason enough to celebrate. But after having to go through what seemed to me like a season of goodbyes, I came to realize that happiness is not so much a choice as an opportunity.

There came a point in my life when I was forced to let go of a lot of things even before I was ready. I couldn’t help but feel like something was lacking, like something was missing, although I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what. It drove me crazy just trying to figure it out. Every day was a struggle. I saw my glass as neither half-full nor half empty, but bottomless. I knew I had a good life, but I just couldn’t feel it. I lost my faith, my belief in a lot of things (and people), my natural high. I lost track of what I was living for. I lost myself.

I did everything I could to get rid of such a wretched disposition. I struggled to focus on the so-called bright side, I tried to uncover every possible explanation as to why this and that needed to happen, I forced my life to be flooded with several supposedly effective distractions. But still nothing seemed to be enough. There was never enough reason to stop denying, never enough strength to proceed, never enough pride to stop suffering.

It was exhausting. It was like swimming upstream, going against a raging current, or forcing a drop of water from a broken faucet. I couldn’t simply choose to be happy because happiness wasn’t an option readily presented to me. I didn’t have the ability to manipulate my present circumstances and change things in my favor. I lacked the appropriate resources, so to say. It was impossible for me to provide myself with what I didn’t have, to create something out of nothing.

It all seems so exaggerated and melodramatic, I know, especially for someone as young as I am. Looking back, what I went through was actually nothing compared to what other people have faced and endured. But pains of the heart are great masters of treachery and delusion. They have a way of tricking you into believing that your wounds are the deepest and that the damage done to you is absolutely irreparable. They can have you trapped inside a black hole, where a “bright side” is impossible to even think of.

Up until now, I still haven’t completely rid myself of the melancholy, I must admit. Feelings of sadness still hover every now and then, especially when all the workload from school gets a little too toxic. But despite this, somehow a kind of joy still manages to abound. Simply put, at this point, I feel happy for the most part, but not because I choose to be, but rather because my current state of affairs finally allows happiness to rise naturally.

It has been about five months since I first entered college. For five months, I have been exploring an unfamiliar world of new beginnings and of infinite possibilities and opportunities. For five months, I have been with people who are so steadfast in fighting for things they know in their hearts are right; people who, with seemingly unfathomable courage, willingly dive into the swirling pool of life head first, eager to embark on journeys into the unknown; people who don’t just wait for things to happen to them, but actually make things happen for themselves.

After seeing this kind of scenario every day for five months, my perspective changed. I was inspired. It seemed to me that the rest of the world was finally cooperating to give me every great thing that life had to offer. And so I allowed myself to partake of things that I used to neglect and ignore. I allowed myself to embrace anything and everything that threatened the normality of things, to leave my own comfort zone and just wander in and explore new worlds. I allowed myself to be overwhelmed by the vastness of life, to take risks, fight more battles and seize more opportunities.

The whole “season of goodbyes” thing wasn’t easy to live through. Nonetheless, it’s a phase that I wouldn’t skip, or trade for anything in the world. It compelled me to both learn and unlearn so many things. I have come to realize that happiness is an opportunity that can be seized, not an option that can simply be chosen and forced upon oneself. I have discovered, too, that life’s ventures may at times expire, but they never run out. And the best way to increase one’s opportunity for happiness is simply to just carpe diem all the way through.

Angeline Dellosa, 18, is a first-year physical therapy student at the University of the Philippines, Manila.

First published in The Philippine Daily Inquirer, 04:22:00 11/22/2008



The Sin of Three Dichotomies

Sin of Three Dichotomies

There was a time when I was caught in three dichotomies.

First, the dichotomy of life in the Spirit and life in the world. I treated the two as two different, disjoint spheres when in fact, both function together, with one constantly merging into the other. I sought only individual piety rather than what I could contribute to the outside world. I didn’t concern myself with politics or social issues – I consider them irrelevant in my faith. The dichotomy resulted to detachment.

Second, the dichotomy of love of God and love of neighbor. I considered the greatest command, “Love your God and love your neighbor as yourself” as two distinct commands, when both are one and the same – one cannot function without the other. I was so caught up with “loving God” that I forgot to love my neighbor – I didn’t even know who my neighbor was. I was deaf to the cries of the oppressed, blind to the needs of the victimized. The dichotomy resulted to apathy.

Third, the dichotomy of the justice of the state and the justice of God. I was one of those people who thought that the victims of the EJKs deserved it. I was one of those people who remained unmoved by all the weeping that echoed and all the blood that fell on the streets for I thought that it was all dramatized and staged – a propaganda against the government. I was one of those people who condoned the killings. The dichotomy resulted to injustice.

I was caught up in the sin that these three dichotomies brought – detachment, apathy, and injustice – until I saw that one’s life in the Spirit ought to manifest in one’s life in the world, that the love of God ought to translate into the love of neighbour, that the justice of the state ought to operate according to the justice of God.

There ought to be no distinction, there ought to be no dichotomy – not ever, not at all.

The Voice of Silence

Though I did see grace, comfort, hope, I first had to see me.

It set me off inward, looking to myself – my past experiences, my internalized others, my own incapacities, insecurities, inner contradictions. What I came to was actually already an explosion. The spark that set it was the previous hurdle – I found it unsettling because I felt that I was being forced to be sure about something I wasn’t sure about.

Sure, I have hopes for the future. Some days my image of a future self inspires me. On most days though it gives me a picture of how much of a long way I’ve yet to go. On most days I forget the “yet” and rigidly settle with “I am not.” On most days I am overwhelmed by the seemingly abysmal gap between who I am now and who I want to be. On most days I am plagued by self-doubt – a healthy dose of self-doubt is needed as it helps anyone to be grounded and to be realistic and to grow, but my self-doubt seems to be the kind of self-suicide; the kind that paralyzes and brings all hopes and dreams to perish.

What if nothing comes out of all this hard work? What if I will never be ever good enough to be who I want to be? What if I don’t have what it takes? What if everything I’m doing are just attempts to prove something? To prove that I can, to prove that I do have what it takes, to prove that I’m worth something? Then if that’s the case, it’s all just a defense mechanism. It’s not all real. 

What if they’re right in saying — their lips don’t say it but their eyes show it — that I’m wrong? That this is a mistake? A lost cause? A futile endeavor? A waste of time and energy and resources?

In the moment of this discovery though, it felt like you sat with me. You were beside me on the grass, looking out to where I was looking, listening as my heart spoke, and listened all the more even when my heart could no longer bear to speak. A friend who thought it best to simply sit with me in silence. To not offer any advice. To not say anything. Because it was only in so doing that I could feel accepted. Assured.

I was trying so hard to hear your voice, but what I actually needed to hear was your silence. A kind of silence that silenced all other voices. A silence that made me not do or be anything else. A silence that made me feel accepted for who I was, just as I was. A silence that reassured me of grace, comfort, and hope. Just when I thought I had lost much of it. 

I am incarcerated,
 Imprisoned in the Fortress 
 Of the False Self.

I look inside,
 I don’t like what I see.
 Too much of this,
 Too little of that.

I come up with all sorts of
 Pretensions, pretenses, defenses.

I ask,
 Where do I go to escape from myself?
 You say,
 Come to Me. Come to Me. 

How beautiful it is to be able to
 Come to You just as I am
 When I cannot even
 Come to me just as I am.

A non-splitting borderline

I cannot bear to be caught within those gaze.

It is a gaze that bellows with contempt, condescension, and disgust, void of any fondness, affection, or tenderness.

It is a gaze that instantly reduces me to a school girl at age 6 who had just been caught during Math class for snacking over popcorn bought for singko pesos from the canteen at recess, instantaneously thrown into and whelmed in a sea of horror and humiliation – horror to be caught by those pair of angry, dreadful eyes, and humiliation to be caught only to have everyone else know of my naïve defiance, and be judged and labelled as an all-bad-no-good, inadequate disappointment.

It is a gaze that pierces the very core of my soul with shards of my own once fragile yet now shattered ego; penetrates the deepest parts of my being that I’ve learned to make every attempt all my life to bolster; infiltrates the self that I had tried so hard to protect, that I had long since hidden it deep into a labyrinth fortress; yet all in one single instant, suddenly I am vulnerable, exposed, laid bare, found out.

It is a gaze that tells me, in a split second, all that I am not; tells me that I am not – never – good enough, that I don’t know what in the world I am doing with my life, and I am utterly incapable of living life the right way; tells me that I’m far too young for everything and anything, hence far too foolish to ever make one single good decision; utterly incapable.

I cannot bear to be caught within that gaze.

And so to avert that gaze is to hide myself. To evade that gaze is to protect what is left of me. To avoid that gaze is to preserve the parts of myself that I have not lost, yet.

Because I am afraid. Terrified. I am terrified to lose myself, to be obliterated, to be engulfed, to lose all at once all the pieces of the person I have tried thus far to piece all together.

This is how today’s conversation went

I keep making a mistake, I say.
I keep falling down.
I keep having a hard time.
The standards are too high.
I’m not enough.
I’m never enough.

But in Me there is no condemnation, You say.
Only love.
And this is how and why your inadequacies
Cease to be just about your shortcomings,
But about My Grace.
Your righteousness is not of your own ability.

The righteous shall live by faith. 
-Romans 1:17

Forget Not

I remember a dream I had a few years back – it had to do with witches and an abandoned building. The witches were injecting some kind of potion in me to make me forget – everything – forget who I was, everything I knew.

I remember trying to fight it. I remember telling myself again and again, over and over my name. So that when I had forgotten everything, I would still remember one thing.

And today, I am reminded of how quick and easily I tend to forget. Of how I easily let go, and immediately, allow myself to remember not even one thing.

Not even who I am.