Twenty and one

“You can now go to jail,” my friend Kino tells me as I hang my lab gown in the locker.

“And suffer the complete sentence,” I quip, smirking. We burst out laughing, partly in recognition that we’re no longer bratty children or irresponsible teens—we’re adults about to venture into this dark world.

I leave the lab and go to help out finish some things for a party that my class is hosting. It’s getting dark, and I have things to do.

My right pocket is vibrating. I grab my phone, a cheap Nokia model that thieves wouldn’t find profitable, and realize that it’s packed with unread messages, many from friends I haven’t seen in weeks, even months. I read the messages, one by one, slowly but surely—warm greetings of Happy Birthday, Lance!, some with edifying Bible verses, still others with wishes for a good life and a more intimate walk with the Lord. It feels cozy inside me.

***

I head for home as fast as I can as soon as my brother texts me. “Where are you? We’re waiting for you.” It’s only 7:30 pm. I feel there's a surprise coming.

True enough, Kuya John has prepared a meal—pasta with red sauce that has tuna flakes in it, fish soaked in sweet and sour sauce, and two bottles of Coke fresh from the sari-sari store nearby. You don’t know what a good meal is until you’ve tasted Kuya John’s cooking—or maybe that’s just me.

At the apartment, my brother asks, “How many people greeted you today?”

“A lot. It’s a record-breaker.” We burst out laughing. He greets me a happy birthday one more time.

“Oh, have I told you what Nanay texted me?” I ask, although I forwarded him the message 12 hours ago.

“Yes, I got the message. You’re her bundle of joy,” Manong says, laughing.

I tell everyone what Nanay told me that early this morning. It really warmed my heart, her telling me that I am God’s blessing to them, my parents, even if I remain their most difficult child.

I call up home and talk to Tatay. He greets me a happy birthday and asks if I’m doing well. “Are you drinking your milk?”

“Yes, Tay, I bought this delicious strawberry flavored fresh milk, and I drink it every night,” I say. I realize that 21-year olds get advice about courtship and marriage from their fathers, not about vitamins or milk. I guess, in the words of David Cook (well, Mariah Carey technically), I’ll always be their baby.

***

I head back to school to attend the Dormitories Christian Fellowship weekly meeting in Molave. A lawyer and his wife talks about the authority of Scriptures and how the word of God must direct the life of the Christian and the Church. The message is a feast to the soul.

My friends then surprise me with a Red Ribbon cake and a greeting card with wonderful messages doodled with their personal handwriting. My friend Jason leads the group in praying and pleads God that may I grow more Christ-like as I journey in this life.

That, in Jason’s words, is my personal prayer, too. To be more like Christ, to think like Him, to act like Him, and to live like Him.

At the edge of my bed that night, I wonder how Jesus lived His 21st year on earth.

The small, yellow bike

I started learning in the summer of 2002, just when I was about to become a high school sophomore. Driving across lawns at my grandmother's backyard, I bumped into trees, rocks, and pits that left my limbs aching. The morning after, I would see dark spots all over my body that felt painful whenever I touched them. The lessons were excruciating.

My younger brother Sean, who, for days that followed, would be my personal mentor, had to bear with my apparent unresponsiveness. "This is how you balance..." he'd tell me. He'd demonstrate the proper way of handling the equipment, the proper stance, and in a way, the proper look, because his face always looked so serious when talking. And I would obey, knowing I had no other choice. Sean is 3 years younger than I am, but learned his lesson years and years before I even began mine. Such is the paradox of life.

I came to realize that the balancing part is the hardest; it took me three days to go on for 3 meters without falling. After that, everything was breezy. It took me less than a day to learn how to make a wide turn, how to pull the brakes, and how NOT to get rammed by a truck in the highway.

Sadly though I went home without finishing the entire lesson: I didn't know how to make a U-turn. I had to descend from my bike and manually re-orient my bike to the opposite direction. I guess I was too scared of falling. You could say it was one of my frustrations.

The unfinished lesson would begin six years after, in a totally different setting, with a taller, more hairy version of me. Out on a whim, I asked my classmate Zi if she'd teach me some lessons. She graciously said yes and agreed to come early before our lab class so she could teach me. With her suggestions in mind, I travelled around Albert Hall, past speedy cars, heavy trucks, and bigger bicycles. It was reliving the good, old days.

Then the inevitable time came when I said, "I'm gonna finish this." I was determined to finish the lesson. It was now or never.

With all the courage I could muster, I made my way to a small alley then turned my bike at a sharp angle. Was that a U-turn? It was incredible!

Suddenly I felt that the warm breeze on my face was cheering me on, and at that moment I felt that I could go on and on...that I could travel the world with my small, yellow bike.

List: rain, mice, Cebu, and the rice crisis

1. After the hot, dry spell, it finally rained yesterday. How cool is that?

2. I donned my lab gown, put on my latex gloves, and entered the land of no return, also known as the Mouse Room. For the first five minutes, the mice inside looked scary. I thought they were looking at me from inside their cages. The smell was assaulting—a combination of poo and pee and rotten mouse pellets—the kind that would stick on your body if you didn’t take a bath after. But miracles do happen. When I saw them jumping in their cages, my heart just melted, for no reason at all. I had, as Paula Abdul would always put it, a connection between them. The fear and the smell vanished like vapor. Oh, didn’t I tell you that I’m going to have to feed them once every week, for the next 12 months or so? That leaves me no choice but to love them.

3. My friends in the Youth Fellowship in Higher Rock left for Cebu early this morning for the Communion of Christian Ministries (CCM) Youth Convention. The theme is Living Life to the Full. I pray that the Lord minister to them through His word. May they also get to know all the other Christian youth members from other CCM churches all over the country. Please pray for their safety as well.

4. Because of the rice crisis, I’m beginning to understand what my parents told me when I was young: that every grain of rice on my plate must be eaten. These days, my plate’s usually clean.

This is American Idol

It’s six o’clock.

Everyone in the house leaves all chores unfinished. The living room is packed. All eyes are set on the tv screen. One each face is an invisible warning, “Do not disturb.”

“This is American Idol,” Ryan Seacrest says, and my friends sigh in anticipation. Then comes the familiar rhythm, together with shades of blue and white dancing about, like comets following the path where they’ve been to before. This culminates in the American Idol logo—something we see spoofed and imitated by org t-shirts in campus. Yes, that’s how popular this show is, not just in this country, but, well, even in Bhutan.

The real show begins.

Beside me is my brother who’s rooting for David Archuleta, the little boy who licks his lips when he sings. Kuya John, not really a rock fan, wants Michael Johns to win. Michael, living in the house next block, doesn’t seem to wonder how Jason Castro shampoos his hair but cheers for him anyway. Kuya Imay is a fan of David Cook, predictable at his being a rocker but unpredictable at how he rocks the stage. Kuya Pido may be a Brook White follower but is silent about it, like he always is in all things. Well, as for me, I’m for Kristy Lee Cook because nobody likes her here.

It’s past seven, and we’re still talking about why Michael Johns was kicked out. I should eat dinner now.

How I went about my first time in La Salle

It was my first time in La Salle yesterday. The greenery—and I’m not talking about the trees—was overwhelming. In one of the buildings, the photos of the alumni/ae with funny hairstyles flanked the walls. In a way, the feeling of walking in a corridor filled with smiling people in black-and-white photos creeped me out—anytime, they could jump out of the frame and kick me in the butt.

I was loitering in the lobby when Monchi said, “Lance, nakita mo na si Lucio Tan?”

“May picture siya dito?”

Then Monchi took me to the exact spot where Lucio Tan, the Philippines’ richest man, was smiling, ready to claim fame and fortune and the Philippine Airlines years after he would graduate. If not for the name below the portrait, I wouldn’t have recognized him. Age does something to people.

Uprepared

I've just finished answering some NMAT reviewers, and I now realize I do not yet know a lot of things, even basic multiplication.

It's funny how the world operates: the more we know, the more we do not know. It's a universal paradox we have to live with, because a single discovery--albeit small--branches out to new nuggets of knowledge.

I don't understand why we have to learn and re-learn organic chemistry, mechanical physics, and all the structures we've memorized in biology. But the lesson is clear: I am not prepared--I do not feel prepared--to take the NMAT tomorrow.

But, I realize, that it is precisely during our moments of helplessness when we are nearest God. I trust that tomorrow, every stroke of my pen will be guided by Him who promised never to leave me nor forsake me.

The Lord shall choose for me

Open my grade school yearbook and look for the little boy with the huge smile. That’s me. Now read what’s written below the black-and-white portrait, and you’ll find a line encapsulating my utter cluelessness about what I’d be in the future. Unlike my classmates who wanted to be priests, businessmen, teachers, astronauts, and pilots, I wanted to be a scientist, a doctor, and a lawyer. Believe me, I listed all three. That made me the most ambitious boy in the batch—but whenever I think of it, it’s better to dream big than not dream at all.

I’m currently in college, and in a year, I’ll be marching to get my diploma. You can say I’ve reached a fork in the road, the spot where I have to choose where I’d go, because if I don’t, I’d go nowhere. It’s overwhelming. Choosing one career path over the others means I can never pursue the others—at least, not in the near future. But who am I to tell, right? After all, if I’d go further, maybe the roads will converge, in one way or the other.

But in the midst of this cluelessness that would otherwise make me anxious, I’m eternally grateful to the Lord because I know—I just know—that He knows what’s best for me. Like a father, He will guide me through this. And so, I’m reminded by the song in church that goes:

The Lord shall choose for me
‘Tis better far I know
So let Him bid me go or stay.

Should I go to med school, Lord? I know that You have the answer.