Cluttered

Words fail me. I could hardly make sense of my emotions. I’m numb.

I wish I were like the great poets. Unlike me, maybe they were able to make sense of what they we were feeling, and they were so good they even put their thoughts down in pen and paper.

But I have no logical thoughts right now. My mind is a clutter. A clutter of questions generated by disbelief, shock, and pain.

* * *

Why?

* * *

Right now, I’m still thinking of you: bursting with that horribly infectious laughter, beaming with your signature smile (yeah, it's your angle!)…your hair tossed by the wind, your face caressed by the gentlest of winds.

***

If you saw our blockmates right now, their eyes bags are the size of bean bags.

Oh, I know you’ll laugh at that silly joke. A good, hearty laughter the world will never hear again.

Fresh from Albay

My friends Koji and Kito just got back from the mission trip to Barangay Balading in Albay. Higher Rock Christian Church has been sending small teams to that area since the onslaught of typhoon Milenyo.

Koji writes:

This was a truly blessed experience. The last time I went to little Barangay Balading was with the pioneer mission team almost exactly a year ago. Milenyo is long gone, but the need is the same: the rescuing of people dead in the storm of sin. It's awe-inspiring to see God's continue to work in the hearts of sinners like me. The growing interest and unending questions about the Bible, Christ, life, hardship, truth -- all telling of deer panting for streams of water. Grabe. How God works to satisfy us as we see our need for Him!


Here are some shots I found in Koji's album.

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To the mouse I shall be dissecting this afternoon

Hey.

We’ve known each other for more than a week now, 11 days to be exact, and I know this because you’re special.

I remember visiting you on that lazy Saturday morning and you looked at me with your red, searching eyes, as if to say, I’m pregnant. You weren’t mistaken.

I don’t know if you were excited as I was—or I was excited as you were—but knowing that you were conceiving half-day old kids thrilled me to pieces. I told my friends all about it, and they were wishing you all the best.

From then on, I kept coming back to you, talking to you, handling you by the tail to see if everything was alright. Thankfully, you seemed to be in perfect health.

But right now, I, who glaringly and openly professed to be your friend, will do to you the two most despicable things one could ever do to a friend—one, I’m going to kill you, and two, I’m going to kill your babies.

I’m not even going to ask for your forgiveness, but all I ask for is that you hear me out one more time because what I will say is true.

Your death will not be humiliating as the deaths of those who ate Racumin for breakfast and drooled moments later. It will not be useless as the deaths of those who craved for cheese and stumbled upon a painful trap. It will not be cruel as the deaths of those who happened to see a cat and got teethed by it.

Instead, yours will be glorious, filled with celebration and dignity and honor because, yes, people will learn from it.

I will never forget you.

Archies? Cookies?

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The world will be watching the battle between the two Davids. Except for the names, the characters almost resemble those in the Biblical account: a kid fighting against a man. But in this modern-day story, no slings or stones are involved.

And there's no guarantee that the kid will be strong enough topple the big man down.

I'm talking about American Idol, of course.

After weeks of competition, the show is down to two contestants. On one side, there's David Archuleta, the 17-year old balladeer who likes licking his lips when singing. On the other side, there's David Cook, a twentysomething rockstar whose hair looks appropriately uncombed.

The two of them clearly have talent. No doubt about that. That being said, the question boils down to who has the greater following. Next week's competition will be a popularity contest. And it's going to be a tough one.

Now, as the final battle is about to begin, I wonder if I'll be with the Archies or the Cookies.

23 things you don't really need to know but would like to know about my dear brother Manong Ralph

1. He's extremely careful about his books. The sight of one crumpled page is, to him, as horrible as a 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

2. He writes like an old man. And he writes painfully slow. But if you're his friend, you'll probably dismiss him as a laureate of sorts.

3. Sometimes, it seems that, to him, a grammatical error is worse than adultery.

4. He thinks that anything mainstream is replusive. But he still went into blogging.

5. Among us in the family, his nose has the greatest surface area, second only to my father's. Go, look at our family albums, and you'll know what I mean.

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6. When he was in high school, his face was a rich mine of pimples and blackheads.

7. Nobody can stop him from singing anywhere. He often mistakes the library (or the grocery store) for the bathroom. It gets awful sometimes I just have to cover my head in shame, as if to say, "I don't know him."

8. Except for Tatay, he's the only one in the family who has the patience to accompany Nanay on her sandals/shoes shopping spree where my mother doesn't purchase a single pair until she's been to all the stalls.

9. When we had quarrels during our childhood years, he'd punch me really hard.

10. He'd eat some of the chocolate bars I stored in the fridge without me knowing it. "I've been saving them!" I'd cry.

11. He'd often beat me in table tennis, chess, and scrabble. And patintero, taguan, and tin-tin-bika (I don't know what it's called Manila). Now you know I'm a loser.

12. He'd vote for David Archuleta in American Idol.

13. When watching tv, he can't stay too long on one channel.

14. He likes loafers, suede shoes, and anything that looks lawyer-ish.

15. He listens to music when studying.

16. He's more reserved than me. Which is a fancy way of saying I tend to talk more.

17. His room is squeaky clean, and it's not because my parents told him to clean it.

18. Tell him to do anything--scrub the floor, clean the sink, cut the grass--but don't ever require him to wash the dishes, especially at night.

19. Like me, he's not into the habit of celebrating his birthday. He'd rather spend time with the Lord in his room.

20. He has always wanted to be a lawyer, and now, he's wondering if he'll graduate from law school with his brains intact.

21. In the family, he'd always be the serious type, I the blacksheep, and Sean the sweetheart.

22. He goes to Lamentations 3:23 when he feels downcast.

23. His example led me to knowing Christ personally, and for that I'm eternally grateful.

Catch it if you can

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If not for my joining the lab, you'll never see me handling rats--not here, not ever. But one can learn things--even acquire some form of love or appreciation for these mammalian experimental models--when he is forced to.

As part of my laboratory internship, I'm required to feed and check on the mice on the assigned day. It's usually with a partner, but if he/she comes late, I may have to do it myself. The hard part is not the feeding, per se, but catching those that have escaped from their cages. I don't know how they do it; mice are supposed to be dumb creatures.

Now catching an escapee requires more than just agility. It requires, above all, creativity, logic, and a great deal of patience. You isolate the mouse in a corner, you hold it by the tail, and you bring it to its cage. But, in real life, it's not as simple as that, as some mice (especially the hyperactive ones) may resist isolation by hiding in some rat hole while you blink your eye. And then you may have to start at square one.

Life is painful. But victory becomes all the sweeter after the hardship. The mouse room teaches you that.

(Here's Carlo's experience of the Mouse Room.)

1001 (Fiction) Books That You Must Read Before You Die

I've finished two books last week: Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead and David Bezmogis's Natasha: A Collection of Short Stories. I'm currently reading Kazuo Ishiguro's The Artist in a Floating World. I'll write more about them sometime.

Anyway, I came upon this list of 1001 (fiction) books you should read before you die. (Thanks to kottke.org for the referral.) It's very humbling because while I already consider myself an avid reader, I've only read about 30 of the books listed:

Contact – Carl Sagan
Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel García Márquez
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel García Márquez
Autumn of the Patriarch – Gabriel García Márquez
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway
The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
Animal Farm – George Orwell
The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
Siddhartha – Herman Hesse
Ulysses – James Joyce
The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton
Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Dracula – Bram Stoker
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There – Lewis Carroll
Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
Last of the Mohicans – James Fenimore Cooper
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe
The Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan

Given the daunting number of books I have to finish, I don't think I can die anytime soon.

Reading Ayn Rand for pleasure

I was in third grade when I asked my mother what book she'd recommend to me.

"Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged," she said. "But those are long, hard books to read and understand."

Intimidated by the sheer size of the book--more than an inch thick and about 600 pages or more--I settled for Nancy Drew.

Ayn Rand was born on February 2, 1905 in St. Petersburg, Russia. She eventually migrated to the United States and began her writing career. Her novels catapulted her to success and popularity.

Ayn Rand is a powerful writer, albeit an entertaining one. Her books are never boring; they have a story to tell. But what sets Miss Rand from the rest of the authors is that she is focused in getting her kind of philosophy across: objectivism.

She writes:

My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.


In college, my mother read Ayn Rand for pleasure. Instead of studying her textbooks, Nanay probably found herself absorbed reading about larger-than-life characters like John Galt (in Atlas Shrugged, 1957) and Howard Roark (in The Fountainhead, 1943).

Curious what the fuss Ayn Rand was about, I bought a copy of The Fountainhead (the centennial edition) at the AS Walk, UP Diliman, for Php 200. That was two months ago. In the middle of my lab reports, I read the book gradually, one chapter after the other. I knew one thing: I was going to disagree with her.

Her philosophy directly opposes Christianity. While she believes that man is the end unto himself, the Bible teaches that God is the chief end of everything. She believes that man's greatest purpose is his own happiness; that Bible teaches that his purpose is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. After all, it is in God where man ultimately finds his own happiness.

But Ayn Rand is a great writer. In The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand masterfully portrays her ideal, embodied in the character of Howard Roark. Roark is an architect who remains fervent in his beliefs, despite the ridicule of the entire world against him and his work. Rand weaves her philosophy into each plot. The philosophy is not just part of the story; it is the story.

Yes, in a sense, man is great because he can build, he can write, he can change the world. But God is INFINITELY greater, and until you believe that, you are no less than a fool.

I shall look upon His vindication

Here's a beautiful verse to lift us up whenever we sin:


Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication. (Micah 7:8-9)



Summer in the lab

What's been keeping me busy for the past few weeks is the lab. There's so much to tell you, like my first experience in the mouse room, or my group's (with Isabel and Checa) failed experiments, or how we repeated the entire experiment at least thrice, and a lot of other things in between.

But here are some photos to give you a clue of what I'm talking about. Oh, before I go, doesn't everybody look smart with a lab gown on?

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That's me with Ate Xy-za. I don't have a clue what to do next.

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From right: Carlo, Zi, Coy, Juanchi, Kino, and I don't know who the owner of that other head is.

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Here's Carlo doing the staining.

I can't imagine being locked up for 24 years

I can't imagine human life without the sun, without the sight of other people walking in the street.

Which makes me all the more wonder what that Austrian man did to his children: he locked them up in a basement cellar, not for a day, not for even a week, but for 24 years. What's even harder to bear is that he molested one of his daughters (who was 19 when she was locked up). As a result, she bore him 3 sons and 3 daughters, all of whom didn't have any iota of an idea what the outside world looked like--or that there was one to begin with.

I know it's sick, but it's so sick I can't imagine it. To lock up someone is to curtail his freedom, not just to go places but to interact with other human beings. Interaction with society is part of the human experience. In a sense, we are shaped by the people we know. Our interactions with others allow us to interact with ourselves. We can't completely isolate ourselves; God didn't design us that way.

But what bothers me now is the question that's most difficult to ask: Why?

Why his children, of all people? Why 24 years? Why didn't anybody notice, not even the neighbors? Why didn't his wife know (or did she)?

In those 24 years, how did he treat his children when they got sick? What did he do when his child was in labor and in dire need of a decent doctor to help her out? What did the children talk about when they were inside? In the absence of sunlight, how did their bodies absorb Vitamin D?

Such is the depravity of the human heart.

May God help the children recover from this traumatic experience, and may His sun don on them finally, after these 24 long, hard years.

Cut and wounded

If you look at me closely, there's a small, shallow cut in my forehead. It bled like a waterfall last night after I bumped into the shower knob in the bathroom; I was too reckless not to have switched the light on. The next time I knew, I was sprawled on the wet floor, the pain so excruciating I still felt it throbbing even before I slept.

I'm thankful my brain's function remains intact. I still know who I am. My name's Phillip.

I Have a Shelter

Here's a song for the weary Christian pilgrim called I Have a Shelter (by Steve and Vicki Cook and my all-time favorite, Bob Kauflin):

I have a shelter in the storm
When all my sins accuse me
Though justice charges me with guilt
Your grace will not refuse me
O Jesus, I will hide in You
Who bore my condemnation
I find my refuge in Your wounds
For there I find salvation


A beautiful, beautiful song.

Congratulations Batch 2008 of the University of the Philippines!

From a corner I saw my friends glowing. I’d never seen them so radiant.

It was clear that something important was going on; it was to be their final day as UP undergraduates. I remember that it was JP Asong who told me that UP then was like a distant dream, something that was too far to be reached. Like him, many of my friends share the same sentiment: that of utter shock. After four years or more, they’re ready (hopefully) to take on new challenges in life. What those will be is a question that they themselves must answer in due time.

I’d like to say congratulations to the UP Centennial Batch of 2008!

Their diploma is a testament to God’s faithfulness. I’m certain that they couldn’t have done it on their own. Every quiz, test, experiment, paper, and report they had to submit couldn’t have been submitted had it not been for God who willed it to happen. It was God who saw them through during their times of failure and disappointments. It was God who provided for all their needs. To God be the glory indeed.

***

I’d like to personally congratulate the following people. I’m afraid the list is not exhaustive, and, at the very onset, I’d like to say sorry to those I’ve missed out.

First off, to my friends in the Dormitories Christian Fellowship:

Paul Velasco. Hotel, Restaurant, and Institution Management. His room used to be one of my favorite hang-out places. I often disturbed him when he did his powerpoints. One time, when he failed in one critical subject during our first year, he felt that he wasn’t going to graduate with his batch. But God has been very faithful—Paul was just right on time.

Iris Duhaylungsod. Education, Teaching in the Early Grades. I’m told Es gave the speech during her College’s graduation; she has the highest General Weighted Average (GWA). I’m always blessed because whenever I remind Es of her accomplishments thus far—her national taekwondo championship, her grades, her being crowned Miss General Santos when she was in high school—she would always be quick to give God the glory.

Rapunzel Tomacder. Comparative Literature. Being one of the most emotional creatures I’ve seen in this planet, I’ve witnessed Razel during her times of happiness and sadness. She writes extremely well. She also recommends the best books to read. I remember this one time when we memorized a poem together. By God’s grace, she has emerged as one of the top students in her class, and is set to teach in the Department of English and Comparative Literature. Wooohooo Ma’am Razeru!

Lavinia De Velez. Chemical Engineering. As our ate in the fellowship, I usually seek for her advice when I have questions. I’ve always been amazed at Ate Vinz’s faithfulness to God’s word. God has gifted her with insight in leading the dorm fellowship. She has been a source of blessing, not just to me, but to the rest of us, younger ones.

John Dasmarinas. Industrial Engineering. He’s almost like my brother. God has finally led him to the end of the road that is college. After his second year, he applied for a Leave of Absence because he felt that he didn’t want to pursue engineering but veterinary medicine instead. However God, being true to His word, helped him through his uncertainty. I can tell that he’s very happy with his IE degree and is set to work in May!

Sarah Balbuena. Education. She calls me her favorite person in DCF. We’ve had a great time together in the Missions Trip in Antique. She laughs like nobody does. I’ve been blessed by her closeness to Christ—I can tell by her words and actions—and her love for the Savior and the brethren.

Hazel Sobrepena. Business Administration. It was at the end of our first year when we were praying if we were going to shift courses or not. She wanted to go to Business Ad and Accountancy; I wanted to go to Molecular Bio. We prayed hard for it, and God, gracious as He is, allowed us to shift. So much has happened after that; I'm sure Hazel learned a lot from God's classroom.

***

To my friends in the Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Society (MMBS), congratulations! This year’s batch is a record-breaker: 3 summas, and 17 out of 19 students with honors. I was beaming when I learned all about it.

However, I’d like to especially mention these people:

Andrea Salvador. Biji Leyson. Glaiza Tan. The summa-cum-laude ladies who have—take note—very active social lives outside of their laboratories. I’m just so proud of them, especially when they were called one by one to the stage.

Schubert Malbas. I met him in Kalayaan; he was corny then—still is now. He’s taking time off working at the stock exchange, applying his knowledge on cloning to the Dow Jones.

Jade Lasiste. Clearly a celebrated writer, Jade is also my editor for Scientia, the College’s magazine. She’s very strong-willed and strongly-opinionated. Say anything rash about her friends, and you may not see the light of dawn again.

Joshua Yabut. One of the most gracious persons I’ve met. He’s very humble, kind, and unassuming. As the org’s president, I’ve never heard him utter an invective or show irritation at anyone or to anything.

Roxanne Ramirez. She’s very straight-to-the-point, never wasting any syllable at sheer nonsense. I hope she works in the lab where I’m currently involved in because, come on, she’ll do well.

***

I'd also like to congratulate my other good friends I've met in UP:

Brylle Baluyot. Economics. I got absolutely giddy when I heard that Brylle was going to graduate summa. He's clearly one of those people who never flaunt their brains out. I was dormmates with him for years, and he's always been kind and gentle and acommodating.

Olive Dyoco. Tourism. We had great laughs during our class together in Comm 3, even in our Kalay days. I remember interviewing Atom Araullo (the Milo kid-turned-host) with her, and it was the most hilarious, unforgetttable interview I've ever conducted. She's a wonderful groupmate, never losing any idea or hope that, yes, things will work out.

***

Sa mga kaibigan kong next year na gagradweyt, pag-pray natin na makakapag-march tayo, friends!