The Pain and Beauty of A Rebuke

“Those who disregard discipline despise themselves, but the one who heeds correction gains understanding.” (Proverbs 15:32)

I will admit that I used to be one who was often late for dates and appointments. Not by a few minutes, but by half-hours, sometimes more. The excuses, not reasons, were constant and consistent: I got waylaid by a sudden corridor meeting, the boss called, one of my team members came into my cube to consult me just when I was getting ready to leave. Then on top of that, I got held up in unexpectedly heavier-than-usual traffic.

But I say “used to be” because I will also declare that I have managed to correct this many years ago. It was after I was to meet a friend for our usual get-together and I was close to an hour late, and he just about had it. That time around, he did not spare me his words: “Look, I work farther than you do from this place but I managed to make it a few minutes before our appointed time. Can’t you respect my time as I do yours?”.  The mood was ruined even before I could sit and settle myself for our much-anticipated lunch and conversation.

I made all conscious efforts to change since then. Not only because of that messed-up lunch appointment, but because I suddenly became self-aware of how often I had turned up late for client meetings, family gatherings, friend get-togethers. If I weren’t late, I’d be feeling harassed upon arriving at where I had to be, having left from where I came with no minute to spare. Sure, I wasn’t late, but I might as well have been as I would struggle to settle and compose myself while the meeting started. Among friends, I developed a reputation of one who was perennially tardy.

And yes, I succeeded. I changed. For years my batting average at punctuality was so good that I believe my reputation changed from a perennially tardy attendee to a stickler for punctuality.

Until the other Saturday.

My best friend and I had a date with a couple of friends at the Polo Club. We were to introduce two other friends to each other so that they could play a few sets of tennis. We reside a few minutes from the Polo Club, so I was taking my time getting ready and for some reason, slipped into my old, long-forgotten habit of leaving without any minute to spare.

Patty, my best friend, peeked into my room and, with that familiar exasperated tone, urged me to hurry. I remained relaxed, moved in slo-mo as I had one last glance at the mirror, switched off the lights, picked up my shoes from the shoe closet, slung my bag on my shoulders.

I heard the car start, Patty revving the engine and palming the car’s horn. My mobile phone rang, insistent and angry. I knew it was Patty calling to ask me what on earth was keeping me. I ignored the ringing and dumped my phone in my bag, went down the stairs, sat on the bottom step to put on my shoes, patted my dog, went out the door, out to the street and boarded the car where Patty, with lips pursed, almost jack-rabbited the moment I shut the door.

We were quiet. I knew she was upset. And I was… defiant.  Defiant!

Patty broke the silence. I was expecting her to rant at me the way she used to whenever she was angry. But she was different this time. In measured tones and words carefully chosen, she said, “I don’t want us being late. It is embarrassing. And it’s disrespectful. I found it disturbing that you were not moving with urgency when we were getting awfully late. I hope you understand why I am upset.”

I was quiet. I did not want to argue. And then I wanted to. Pride started getting in the way of my ability to think rationally.  I so much wanted to tell Patty that this was the first time in so many years that I caused us to be (almost) late so can’t she cut me some slack? Why can’t she see that?

I did what I learned to do when irrational emotions start creeping inside my heart. I did not count to 10.  I could have forced myself to think and feel the oft-repeated phrase “good vibes”, but I needed something else out of the way. Instead, I prayed a silent prayer.

And at that moment, I felt pride leave, almost physically.

I realised that my pride was killing me not so much because I knew she was right, but more because I had to admit I was wrong and was an idiot. Being rebuked by my best friend, or anyone else, is not a pleasant experience, but one that is necessary. Better her than the mute criticism of acquaintances or strangers. And I suddenly appreciated her effort to choose her words rather than berate me as if I were a little kid.

Before I could even speak, Patty continued, “Can we be friends now? I’m sorry, I had to tell you off.”

I was chastised. Pride had no place among my reactions. “You’re right… having improved all these years does not change the fact that I am causing us to be late today. I’m sorry.”

I recall a human resource training course that I attended in a previous job; it was about the importance of feedback. The lesson that struck me the most is that: “Feedback is a gift. Its beauty depends on what we do with the gift.” Pride often prevents us from appreciating the gift of negative feedback especially from those who matter to us and to whom we matter.

And just like any gift, a sincere feedback, most especially a rebuke, deserves at least two words in return: thank you.

 

 

For Whom My Heart Beats

I recall that a few years ago, I watched a movie where, in a scene, a soon-to-be mother was having her ultrasound conducted. Her husband and soon-to-be father of her baby was beside her, and their eyes were fixed on the monitor’s screen in front of them. The obstetrician had turned the monitor at an angle so that they can see the image clearly. It was a huge blob of grey, black, and white, distorting and pulsating one moment, then pausing to reveal the odd shape of a fetus’ head or limb the next.

The soon-to-be mother tried to choke back her tears, and the soon-to-be father, filled with awe and emotion, whispered, “A miracle….”.

Indeed, it is a miracle. They did not coin the phrase “the miracle of life” from nowhere. But I really did not grasp its full meaning then because these were, after all, actors instructed to shed a few tears and act awe-struck.

A few weeks ago, I underwent my annual executive check-up. After completing my treadmill stress test, the attending physician requested for more cardiac procedures done: a 2D echo with doppler and a nuclear imaging stress test. Earlier, my X-ray had shown a slightly enlarged heart and my recovery time after running the treadmill was slower than expected.

So a few weeks later, there I was, back in one of the freezing rooms of St. Luke’s Hospital, with no help from the thin gown I was wearing. The technician instructed me to lie on my left side while she ran the ultrasound wand along the left side of my chest. I felt myself getting drowsy and decided to nap a bit when a squishing sound filled the room. My eyes popped open.  Then I heard the distinct sound of pounding with a rhythmic cadence. My heartbeats.

My heartbeats… I was in this room with the machine that will tell me if the organ that keeps me alive needs repairing. In another room in the hospital, someone is waiting for a doctor to tell him what is not wrong with his liver, or his brain, or his stomach.

It was then that the oft-repeated cliché “miracle of life” made known its meaning to me.

Someone designed my body to be specifically what it is and to specifically work the way it does. That Someone designed me in such a way that I was formed from the union of my mom and my dad, who were formed likewise. That Someone determined the chromosomes I would have. I seemed to be like the rest of humans, yet that Someone gave me my own set of DNA to define me to be specifically who I am, different from the billions like me on earth – even my twin’s, if I had one. And every single one of the billions on earth is different from the rest.

My heart has its own purpose, as do the different organs of my body. Only Someone infinitely great and powerful could have designed an intricate work of art such as the human body – and everything else that human hands are incapable of creating. My heart is specifically designed to have arteries and ventricles – no other organ has those. Its arteries and ventricles are so designed to have their specific roles to play.

That I would have come from nowhere and out of a mere bang from somewhere is unbelievable to me. For how can a bang from somewhere… nowhere, be capable of such a creation?

And because of this, I cannot believe in a god, a vague god who is “out there somewhere”. I believe in God, the God who designed me to be specifically this way. I want to know more about God, my Creator.

There is a purpose why He designed me the way I am. I willingly will spend the rest of my life fulfilling that purpose. Because I am not an accident.  God is the reason my heart beats.

And it is for Him that my heart beats.

 

 

 

 

A Lesson In Life I Learned From The Fan Blades Of My Aircon’s Compressor

For me, this was another lesson in humility, one of the many that the good Lord has showered me with for the past year and a half. If the Lord were the school principal, His teachers on earth come in many forms and shapes. This time they were an unlikely teacher named Junior…

… and an even more unlikely instrument: the cold, metal blades of my aircon compressor.

It was warm that afternoon.  My best friend Patty dropped me off our house before running another errand. I stepped out of the car into the stoop where our pedestrian gate is.

As I rang our doorbell and waited for Junior, our household helper, to open our gate, I looked up and found myself staring at my balcony on the second floor.  It was small, just enough to house my room’s aircon compressor. 

I frowned, puzzled.  The fan blades of the compressor of my aircon were turning.  I looked to the left to check that of my next-door neighbor’s, whose aircon compressor is likewise sitting on her balcony.  I could not see clearly through her compressor but sensed that its blades were still.

I looked back at mine and willed them to stop turning.  They did just as Junior emerged from our front door.

“Saan ka nanggaling?” (Where were you?)

“Naglilinis po ako sa baba.” (I was cleaning downstairs.)

I was disappointed.  I was hoping he would admit what I knew he just did.  I trusted him to tell me the truth.

Without a word, I went up to my room.  It was still warm.  This meant that Junior had just switched on the aircon but did not get to enjoy its coolness because I had rung the doorbell.

I composed my thoughts.  How do I rebuke him without embarrassing or hurting him?

You see, Junior came highly recommended by close friends for whom he had worked a few years ago.  He is a good man, they said.  Except that we had to be patient with him. He could not read nor write, and it is a source of insecurity and sensitivity for him.  It does not help that he has lost his two front teeth, so he is often mistaken for being mentally challenged. But he is not.  He barely speaks Tagalog, having lived in Pangasinan all his life.  We now believe that his stuttering is due more to his difficulty in speaking Tagalog, because he speaks animatedly in his native dialect over his cellphone.  Common sense, he has.

I chose my words carefully, spoke in a calm, modulated, motherly tone.  I said something like…

“Junior, kung pwede sana, habang wala kami, huwag mo sanang gamitin yung aircon. Alam mo na… medyo mahal ang kuryente.” (Junior, if I may request you not to use the aircon while we are out.  You know, electricity and all.)

He looked away, then bowed his head, “Hindi ko naman po ginagamit mga aircon niyo, Ma’am.” (I don’t use your aircons ma’am.)

“Di ko sinasabing ginagamit mo nga, pero may paraan ako para malaman kung ginamit mo.” (I am not saying that you are, but I do have a way of knowing if you do.)

I paused, then decided I had to be frank with him, “Alam kong ginamit mo yung aircon ko ngayon lang.  Hindi ako galit.  Paikiusap lang na huwag mo na lang gamitin.” (I do know you used the aircon in my room just now.  I am not angry, but I am just requesting you not to use it please.)

He looked up at me and said, “Paano po ninyo nalalaman, Ma’am?” (How can you tell, Ma’am?) He just gave himself away with the question.

“Hindi na mahalaga kung paano ko nalalaman, pero nalalaman ko. Ganun na lang.” (It doesn’t really matter how I know, but do know that I will know.  Let’s just leave it at that.)

“Opo.”

That was that.  For the next few days, Junior was quiet and distant as he did his daily chores.  He could not look me in the eye. Guilt? 

A few days passed and the incident was all but forgotten.  Or so I thought. 

One morning, Patty and I were sipping coffee in our lanai.  The sun had come out.  I heard the leaves in our garden whisper as a faint breeze passed through.

It was at that exact moment that I knew.

I recall that Patty was in the middle of a story but I left her and ran upstairs to my room. I swung open my balcony door.

I froze.

The light breeze was turning the blades of my aircon.  And not even a minute later, when the breeze passed, went its merry way, and the leaves of the bougainvillea in our carport below fell quiet… the blades stopped turning.

I closed my eyes and uttered, “Forgive me.”

I walked a funeral march back to our lanai.  I stared at Patty.

“What?”

I shook my head, “I made a huge mistake.  A big mistake.”

I told Patty everything.

“I must apologize.  I cannot have him thinking this way.”

Junior was in our kitchen, mopping.  This time, I did not give myself time to think. I went right in and let my heart and my prayer lead me.

“Junior, patawarin mo ako.  Nagkamali ako.  Hindi kita dapat napaghinalaan at inakusahang gumamit ng aircon ko nung araw na ‘yon.”  (I’m sorry.  I should not have accused you of using my aircon that day.  I was wrong.)

As before, Junior looked at his feet, bit his lip, then finally looked me in the eye, smiled, then scratched his nape, “Wala po kayong kasalanan, Ma’am.” (You did not do anything wrong.)

“Pasensiya ka na… ang dami na naming masamang karanasan sa mga kasambahay… ninakawan kami, ginagamit ang gamit namin, at kung ano-ano pa.  Pero hindi sapat na dahilan para hindi ka pagkatiwalaan ng nararapat.  Sorry, nagkamali talaga ako.” (Forgive me. We’ve had so many bad experiences with helpers who’ve stolen from us, used our things. But this is not a reason for me not to give you the trust you deserve.  I’m sorry, I made a mistake.)

Junior continues to stay with us.  He is back to his chirpy self.  Thankfully, that incident even proved to be a turning point.  I have since then felt him become more diligent with his chores, more attentive towards us.  For some reason, he refuses to turn in for bed until we arrive home from a night out with friends, no matter how late.

A cliché, I know, but one and one sometimes don’t add up to two.  What seem obvious are often not what they really are. 

Where does trust begin?  Should one treat a person with a glass full of trust to begin with, or should one start with an empty glass and slowly pour trust into it?

For me, this was another lesson in humility, one of the many that the good Lord has showered me with for the past year and a half.  If the Lord were the school principal, His teachers on earth come in many forms and shapes.  This time they were an unlikely teacher named Junior…

… and an even more unlikely instrument: the cold, metal blades of my aircon compressor.

The Week I Made My Pappy Cry

“…I’m experiencing difficulties living the life of an adult. I have often expressed this difficulty to Mama and it is twice as difficult when you’re the youngest and only daughter. You keep striving to follow the correct decisions made by those who preceded you.”

I was around 24 then.  I fell in love with a car that a friend of a friend was selling. I was unloading my VW beetle to my brother and was in the market for my second car. My friend, Mike, was a body-repair shop owner and he was into collecting cars and buying and selling them.

I badly wanted to buy from him his fire-engine red Mitsubishi Celeste. It was a handsome 2-door hatchback with leather seats, wide radial tires, mag wheels. It had a thick leather steering wheel, smaller than the standard issue. It was equipped with seatbelts and automatic windows which at that time were luxuries, if not unheard of by most motorists.  It had that race-car look and feel to it.

Mike was about to strip the car’s paint before repainting it and we felt it a good idea for me to show my dad the car before I purchased it.  My friend wanted my dad to appreciate that the body was free from dents and that he was going to repaint its bare body; it wasn’t going to be a wash over.

So, one Sunday morning I took my dad to see the car and my friend showed him the paint job he was doing. They both slow-moed around the vehicle with Mike pointing out details here and there, my dad squinting and scrutinizing the body like a crime scene investigator. Dad asking, Mike answering. I smiled as I sensed my dad was impressed with the car. Finally, it came down to the price. Mike mentioned what I felt was a reasonable price. My dad bargained for something like 5% off.

Mike said, “Sir, I can let go of the car at the price you want. That would be a real steal for you. But I loved this car, took really good care of it, and your daughter won’t have any problem with it for the whole time she drives this. I would love to see her in it. She is a good friend and I would love for her to take care of it after me. But it will pain me to let go of this car at the price you mentioned that I will not even want to see it again.”

My dad said we’ll think it over. My heart sank in disappointment.

The next day, I rode with my dad on the way to work. I was quiet.

My dad decided to break the silence, knowing how upset I was. “Look, iha, you’re the one buying the car. Why does it feel like you’re the one selling and not him?  Why don’t you even want to bargain? The price I requested for isn’t even a bargain – it’s just 5% off.”

“Because he is a friend. I am not buying the car from some random ad. I am buying the car from someone I trust. I have the added benefit of knowing that I have a garage to run to if I need something repaired. We’re not bargaining meat from a market here.”

I could feel my body tense and heat up in brimming anger.

“So why did you even bring me there when you won’t even follow my advice?”

“I asked for your advice but more than that, I was asking for your blessing. You surely know how badly I want that car. I will be paying for it anyway.”

Our argument continued for a few more kilometers until I could not stand the discussion any longer.  We were in the middle of the highway and I asked my dad to pull over. I asked to be let off the car.

“What, here? You want to get off here?” My dad was shocked.

I was belligerent. “Yes, let me out of here!”

He eased between speeding cars towards the highway toll station. I stepped out of the car and banged the passenger door shut. My dad drove away.

We didn’t speak for the whole duration of the following week. Coming home from work, my dad would slip to his and my mom’s room. I would not approach him or speak with him.

I know I was not imagining this, but I witnessed my dad age in that week we were not speaking with each other. My mom did not interfere nor scold me, but told me that I must make the move to speak with my dad. But how?

I wrote him a letter.


Papa, 

I felt it best to pour my apologies on paper… I know how much pain I’ve caused wth my thoughtless words and I cannot face the pained expression of a father who never deserved the stubborness and thoughtlesness of a daughter. I hope that this letter would convey how sorry I am for unintentionally hurting you. 

I do know that there will never come a time when I will hesitate to approach you for help in whatever matter or when I wouldn’t want to be indebted to you. I can fully sense now that the pain I caused stems from misunderstanding a statement along those lines which I must have wrongly phrased. 

I changed my mind about seeking your assistance for financial help because I know that you, too, are saving to buy a car of your own. At the same time, I figured that I wouldn’t be getting your complete blessing if I paid for a car that costs more than what you felt is right, with part of your money tied to it. I had in mind that if I borrowed money from somewhere else, I could comfortably purchase the car with whatever price I felt was justified.

I badly needed you to see the car I intended to buy because I wanted your blessing. I did appreciate your good intention in advising me to bargain. When we practically settled on the price, I felt that I had your blessing but I must have misunderstood your remark about wishing that we could have further dropped the price as a lack of concurrence. I wanted you to be as sold on the car as I am. And I so much wanted you to see that Mike’s price was justified and the car well-worth it.

I’m sorry, too, for raising my voice. I went beyond my limit. I guess, Papa, I’m experiencing difficulties living the life of an adult. I have so often expressed this difficulty to Mama and it is twice as difficult when your’re the youngest and only daughter. You keep on striving to follow the correct decisions made by those who preceded you.

I consider this as the very first major decision I’ve had to face. I feel that I am making the correct one and it matters so much to me that you approve of it and that I have your blessing. But the way I tried to seek your approval was all wrong, and I am sorry.  

Always,
Agnes


I propped the letter on my dad’s pillow that night for him to see before he retired for bed. The next morning, while he was reading the newspaper in his favorite chair, I approached him. He looked up from the paper and stared at me. His crow’s feet were moist. But his glance was enough to tell me that all was going to be ok. I cuddled up to him the way I usually did and have been doing since I was a kid. He kissed me on the forehead, laid my head on his chest, kissed my hair and caressed my head. All was ok again.

A couple of years after my mom passed away, I found the letter among her things. Either my Pappy had handed it to her for safekeeping or she considered it a memory worth saving. I have since then tucked it in the side pocket of my weathered Filofax. I bring it out every time I want to relive this particular moment of my life with my Pappy.

It’s his birthday today, and yes, again, out went the letter. I don’t want to ever forget.

Unpleasant Characters Like Professor Horrible

“Why are you giving up? She’s no more human than you are. We often learn the greatest lessons from the most difficult people and situations. It is too early to give up. Believe me, she is the least among the unpleasant people you will meet in your lifetime, because I guarantee you 100% that there will be more and worse.”

I don’t quite recall what year I was in college when my Pappy taught me a valuable lesson that stuck in my mind.

I had a terror professor in English Literature. Despite her horrible reputation of being a dragon of a teacher, her class was full.  Students in her class, like me, had no other choice – we were in a bucket of those who missed the more sought-after English professors.  But surely, there were among us the courageous and masochistic lot who chose her precisely because of her reputation – a professor whose pointed gaze can pierce like a sword, whose scowl can turn Scrooge to a wimp, and whose words can bite through one’s bones.  Yet one who made sure that her students learned, even in the heart-attack-inducing way.  If there is someone whom I can equate her with, it would be John Houseman‘s character, Professor Kingsfield, in The Paper Chase.  A professor who was not for the faint-hearted.

First day came.  No one dared be absent on the first day of Professor Horrible’s class.  I found myself seated on the last row, next to the last student at the entrance on the left corner of the room.  I was, and still am, barely 5 feet tall.  I could hardly make out Professor Horrible’s pate, much less her face. Not with all the napes and heads in front of me.  Professor Horrible’s desk was on the opposite end of the room, diagonal from where I was seated.

On that first day, she decided to hold an impromptu recitation on a topic that I cannot remember. But I do recall that everyone was frozen, half of us looking down, half of us gazing with a longing expression outside the window, and a handful brave enough to face her.

She flipped our classcards one by one as if she were dealing poker cards and began asking questions. And I prayed to the high heavens that I will not be called.

She hollered a name. A girl whom I cannot see because she was seated right in front of Professor Horrible raised her hand, tentatively. Professor Horrible asked a question, tentative girl answered.

I resumed my prayer. Please don’t call me. Please don’t call me. But she did.  Oh my goodness, she called my surname.  I felt sweat build on my upper lip, my forehead, my underarms.  All within the second I heard my name boom from her lips.

“What is your opinion about Miss X’s opinion?” or something like that.

Miss X was tiny, and she had answered Professor Horrible in what I heard was a whisper.  I was equally tiny, was unable to see Miss X, much less lipread her.  So I had to admit:

“Ma’am, I did not hear what she said.  Would you mind repeating it?”

Silence.  Deafening silence.  Professor Horrible’s nose went on fire, her eyes blazed, and her fangs were ready to mangle me.  She gave me a long, withering stare, and cut the silence with: “Next!”.

I could not sleep that night.  At 15 or 16 years old, I encountered whom I felt was the most unpleasant person in the world I could meet, and I did not like the feeling.  My stomach churned at the thought of having to face her again.  I felt like dropping off the class altogether.

And so I told my Pappy.  Everything.  At the end of my one-sided story, he gave me one of the most valuable pieces of advice I picked from him in my lifetime.

“Why are you giving up?  She’s no more human than you are.  We often learn the greatest lessons from the most difficult people and situations.  It is too early to give up.  Believe me, she is the least among the unpleasant people you will meet in your lifetime, because I guarantee you 100% that there will be more and worse.”

So I stayed, grinned and bore the next 4 and a half or so  months.  But the pleasant surprise was that I earned my first victory in life. I got a grade above 2.0 at the end of the course.

I have, through the years, encountered innumerable challenging characters. Classmates, co-workers, bosses, clients.  And every time I’d encounter one, I’d remember this particular lesson I learned from my Pappy.  But I do choose my battles. Sometimes turning your back and walking away instead of facing the horrible creatures head-on is the only solution. Often you won’t even have that choice.

Be ready.