Saturday, March 23, 2019

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Spotting F. Sionil Jose and Mavis Gallant

I finally saw F. Sionil Jose, the Filipino novelist, in his bookstore, Solidaridad, along Padre Faura Street, a stone's throw away from PGH. He was handing out books that had just been delivered to his assistants (I saw When Breath Becomes Air), telling them to which section they should be displayed.

F. Sionil Jose

I got Mavis Gallant's Overhead in a Balloon for Php 250!

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Deborah Treisman, the fiction editor at the New Yorker, wrote this about her:

Gallant was sometimes unforgiving, but also compassionate toward the characters she inhabited. I came to her as a reader years before I had any idea that I might one day know her. For a young woman, reading secondhand copies of the collections “From the Fifteenth District” and “Home Truths” was a revelation. Gallant’s characters were so interior one had the sense that they were almost trapped inside their own minds, peering outward through two circles of light. The degree of self-knowledge was painful, the understanding of the moods and motivations of others astonishing, but the moments of real connection heartbreakingly rare. There was isolation, and then there was the acceptance of isolation.

She is a "writer's writer."

Friday, March 15, 2019

Saturday, March 2, 2019

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Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered

Completing my census relaxes me. It requires nothing more than quick eyes, steady hands, and a computer plugged to electricity. It is best accomplished with some music. Kristin Chenoweth's version is beautiful. Do listen.



Love's the same old sad sensation
Lately, I've not slept a wink
Since this silly situation
Has me on the blink
I'm wild again, beguiled again
A simpering, whimpering child again
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I

This song has been playing in the background as I kill the afternoon writing my census, about a hundred or more pages of entries at size 10, Arial. I am "bewitched, bothered, and bewildered" at the opportunity to have taken care of this many number of patients. I don't remember everyone on the list, but I can recall most faces.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Happy birthday, Nay!

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Nanay celebrates her 63rd birthday today. After having been diagnosed with cancer, she did not think she would last this long. She had clear instructions to Tatay as to how her funeral service was going to be, which flowers we were going to pick, which songs we were going to sing, and so on. Tatay wouldn't have any of it, as he could not imagine life without my mother. God's plans turned out differently: He called my father home first. I texted Nanay on the way to church after making rounds at the Cancer Institute, just in time to catch the 9 am Sunday worship service. I wrote that she is the best mother I could ever hope for. Because she never says "I love you" back (it makes her cringe), she replied, "[I'm] Always happy because of the four men in my life. You are my joy, my pride, my satisfaction next to Jesus." It occurred to me that she has never called us her babies but has always treated us as men, even when we were little kids, giving us responsibilities, holding us accountable, ensuring that we behaved accordingly. She didn't care much that we got good grades (although she made sure we made our best efforts in school, particularly scolding me for reading novels instead of textbooks), but she always prayed that we would walk in the fear of the Lord. I thank God for giving me a mother I can never deserve.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Homeland, Season 7

I am a fan of Homeland, largely because of Mandy Patinkin who plays Saul Berenson. I dress like him most times—rolled up sleeves, dark trousers, leather shoes, glasses—this I now realize. Clare Danes is spectacular as Carrie Mathison, her child Frannie now already grown up. I have loved this series and has streamed this even before the advent of Netflix. Season 7 is about the Russian interference in US politics. President Keane is being removed from office by a well-orchestrated narrative perpetrated by social media, to which opposition politicians fall hostage to. It is fascinating, almost like a commentary of the present day. In the final episode, the US President addresses the nation and cites the Philippines (the last in her list) as one of the countries where democracy is dying.

Monday, February 18, 2019

The purity of God's Word and its impact on my life

I had the privilege of sharing a short testimony during the church's anniversary. I'm sharing it here.

There is so much suffering in this fallen world. Just this week, I met a 19-year old girl with salivary gland cancer, a 30-year old man with an advanced facial tumor, a 50-year old single mother with stage IV breast cancer, a 60-year old farmer with prostate cancer who could no longer afford his medications. These, and many more.

It is exhausting.

By four o’clock in the afternoon, my mouth is dry, my throat is painful, my hands are numb, and my heart is tired. There have been times when I would rather have just walked out and gone home to sleep it all off. But it is during these moments of exhaustion when the neediest patients arrive, and the urge to become distant and mechanical is the strongest. It is, after all, easier to think of them as pieces of DNA that have undergone mutations or as human bodies whose cells have become dysfunctional, instead of as human beings who have souls.

I need to turn back to God’s Word—and this I need to do daily. Jesus, in His earthly ministry, must have been exhausted. Matthew wrote that “they brought [Jesus] all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and He healed them” (Matthew 4:24). Jesus was an internist, a neurologist, a rehabilitation specialist, a dermatologist (He treated leprosy)—the best physician that this world has seen. It makes sense, therefore, to turn to this Great Physician’s Words: He knows all things, controls all the cells of the body, and knows exactly what I need.

How has the purity of God’s Word impacted my life?

God’s Word reveals what is lacking in me. I realize that I lack compassion and love for others. The Bible presents the loftiest example of love: that of Jesus Christ, who died for a sinner like me. The Bible is a clear lens through which my otherwise selfish eyes see my sins. It allows me to see God’s highest standard of holiness, which I could never achieve apart from His grace.

God’s Word fills me with compassion and joy. What I lack, God graciously fills up. He is the wellspring of life, the infinite source of compassion and love. I am refreshed and renewed when I behold Him. His words are a balm to my soul. His promises give me hope. When my mind and heart and saturated with His word, they overflow in my dealings with my patients, my family, and my friends. I love how John Piper described love—“the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others.”

God’s Word transforms me daily. God sanctifies me to become more Christ-like. It is often a painful process. Understanding this truth makes me realize that no patient interaction is accidental. Will He give me an opportunity to exercise sacrificial love and selfless compassion to this patient who is about to die? How may I glorify Him the most? As a result, I am drawn to share the gospel by way of gospel tracts or short conversations during multiple consults, to pray at bedside, and to emphasize the reality of eternity, to my patients and their families. The Christian hope, after all, is unlike any other. In this aspect, I am a work in progress.

In what seems like a never-ending battle against pain and suffering, God’s Word settles my heart. In Him alone I find rest.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The hassles and joys of printed books

Last Saturday I came across the Powerbooks book sale at the Upper Ground Floor of SM Megamall. I got three hardbounds for less than Php 1500! The acquisition of too many books (the Japanese have a word for it: tsundoku) poses a subject of conflict between Manong and me--probinsiyanos who live in a small rented space in Metro Manila. Before going home I could almost hear my brother ask me in a serious tone, "Where will you store those?" He wasn't too pleased when, a few days ago, I brought home five volumes of De Vita's Oncology textbook, 11th edition, and stacked them on the dining table. The lack of space is the main reason why I've mostly turned to Kindle for my leisure readings and my iPad for my academic readings (journals, textbooks, and so on). Most of the books I've accumulated since 2004 have been shipped back to Koronadal, where my mother had an entire cabinet installed to house them. (My late father carefully packed them in neat boxes, some of which still exist, bearing his neat and careful handwriting.)

Thus far, the transition to digital has been seamless. I've discovered that I read more slowly with printed books; I'd much rather use my iPad to read DeVita, for instance. It uses the same amount of concentration but less muscular ability: plus, I can read in the dark, which is really how I study. A pillow propped behind my head, my body in a supine position, with comfortable pajamas. Some would call it "getting ready to sleep." The physicality of the reading process is more pronounced when I leaf through actual pages, being able to smell them, crumple them, and write little notes on the margins. Other than that, I haven't had many issues. The blogger Tim Challies said he endeavored to transition to ebooks completely. Just don't remind me of Michael Dirda's Browsings, that beautiful account of a biobliophile whose main hobby is collecting first edition prints of books. After reading Mr. Dirda's essays (in my Kindle, ironically), I had a shopping spree with my fellowship allowance money, where I bought all copies of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels and some more. They're in one corner of the dining table.

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I'm reading David Lebovitz's l'appart, his account of buying a space in the 11th arrondissement of Paris and renovating it. I've enjoyed my time in Paris in 2017 and look forward to going back.

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I got Bulfinch's Mythology for my brother. This pacified him and even excited the English major in him.

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The page edges are in gold. I hope that I can spend entire days with these stories.

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Viet Thanh Nguyen, who wrote the masterful novel, The Sympathizer, edited an essay collection. The pieces are written by refugee writers. What does it mean to be taken away from one's home to live in a foreign land, with a different culture and value system? I always think of Christianity as a life of refugees in a land both foreign and familiar: in the world but not of it. Our home is in heaven, which we will see someday. I'm not sure if the book resonates themes of longing and homesickness (it can be, I expect, extremely political), but I hope it does.

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If you have time, visit SM Megamall. I saw unopened comic books, children's books, and even Stormy Daniel's account of President Trump on sale. No Christian or theological books, unfortunately, but there are many places for those.
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