A friend emailed the news of the death of arguably the world's oldest pupil. Joseph Stephen Kimani Nganga Maruge was 89.
The story reported, "Maruge accomplished his biggest goal—being able to read the Bible—but he remained shy of completing primary school." The line stood out of the screen that I just had to pause to read it again.
In his old age, his sole motivation was to be able to read the Bible all by himself, letting the "word of Christ richly dwell within [him]" (Colossians 3:16). He devoted what remained of his strength to study God's word. Now I don't know his spiritual condition, but I could only hope that he did it out of a desire to know God more.
That's the ultimate purpose of education, I guess—to know God and His greatness. We study medicine to appreciate the glory of God in how our bodies operate. We study law to marvel at His justice. We study nursing to be amazed at how He cares for us. We study science to marvel at the intricacies of of His creation.
So we must approach our books, homeworks, and reports with a God-glorifying perspective: I want to know You more through the things I study.
The old fascinate me. Perhaps that's among the reasons why, apart from other people's nudging, I watched Up, a Disney-Pixar animation about a man rediscovering the joy of adventure and fulfilling his childhood promises even in his old age.
I love the storyline and the way it's told. The characters act like genuine people; the events are almost true-to-life. Never mind the fact that a bundle of balloons can defy gravity and lift an entire house up. Or that a boy can stay far too long from his house without getting an angry call from his parents. Or that an old man can walk for miles without breaking his knees.
It's Up's story the captivated me—its depth, color, and ultimately its message. Live your dreams. Remember the ones you love. Fulfill your promises—don't hesitate to make new ones.
This is what makes Pixar great—the movies it makes can be enjoyed by both young and old, but at different levels of interpretation.
There are films that move me for reasons I can't fully explain: this is one of them. Whenever I see balloons, I see an old house flying with it, and an old man who did not forget to live his dreams.
I've been on vacation for the past three days. That means that instead of slaving away, studying for the upcoming Friday exam, I decided to take a break—no matter how short-lived—because, well, it's about time.
August 21. I went to Star City with good, old friends from DCF. Most of them are already working, and it's been a blessing hearing how the Lord has worked in their respective workplaces. After the exhausting rides, we ended the night with a dinner, then we shared our prayer requests and other concerns. We prayed thereafter. What refreshment for the soul their company has been!
August 22. I spent the whole day at home (in my Manila apartment, that is), and alternately flipped through the class transcriptions in between sleep.
August 23. I met up with Dianne and Wegs at the SM Mall of Asia. Di treated us to the Time Traveler's Wife, the movie. We've all read the book by Audrey Niffenegger, so we knew what the story was about. My friends haven't changed one bit. All in all, it was a great time catching up with them. Di is enjoying her research work with shrimp, while Wegs is trying all sorts of neat things.
I don't believe it myself, but for these past three days I've felt like I've been on one, long semestral break. I feel so revived, so energized, and I thank the Lord for this undeserved rest.
HT: Razel for the photo.
From right: Hope, Clare, Bon, Cons (below), Isabel, Carlo and Aries (back), myself, Xiomai (that's what she's called, seriously), and Schubert. HT: Gino Gomez.
We try to sound convincing even if we're not sure of the answers, and we try not to laugh when someone concocts intelligent guesses. These meetings are more fun than they are stressful.
The fact is, two of us have quit. For the meantime, at least, but we don't know if they'll ever come back. From the 160 wide-eyed members of UP College of Medicine Class of 2014, we're down to 158.
And, I'm sad to say, more and more people might follow suit.
I suppose that to be a doctor, more than anything else, is a calling. Which is why, as early as the freshmen orientations, we were asked to evaluate our passion for medicine. If we didn't see ourselves as doctors, we might as well quit. It's not an easy life, they said, so we had better be sure this was what we wanted.
Clearly some of us were unsure. Torn between pursuing a PhD or an MD, this classmate who quit told me wanted to "give med school a try." Just before he left, I asked him if he was at peace with his decision. He said yes. I'll miss seeing him around.
I haven't talked to my other classmate, but she was so kind enough to send me a message that she was sorry she didn't say goodbye. I've always had the impression that she'd make a good doctor: she was smart, emphatic, and she seemed to really like what she was doing. Little did I know that she, too, didn't see herself as a doctor in the long run.
To many, what they did might seem like a waste. To have entered the UP College of Medicine was a feat in itself, and they let a wonderful opportunity pass. But, looking at it from a different perspective, I'm amazed at their courage. They clearly knew what they wanted—or did not want—and they pursued it. After all, what's the point of doing something that you're not passionate about? That would amount to nothing short of a punishment.
In class, we prayed for them. They're practically at the crossroads right now, and they need all the guidance they can get.
Tomorrow, when I go back to the classroom, I'll be missing the people who used to occupy those two empty seats.
We had our last dinner with Kuya Dave tonight. Although I've already written a blog entry about him, his leaving the Philippines hasn't sunk in on me yet. Which is probably why I am, to this point, still making sense of the sadness—or whatever lonely emotion it is I'm feeling presently.
Why do our loved ones have to go away?
Over dinner we asked him what he'd do when he gets back to Wales, UK. He's continuing his ministry there. With his wife, he's going around the churches that have supported him as well as the universities he's affiliated with.
"Are your friends still there?" I asked. After all, he's been out of Wales for more or less 40 years, having begun his cross-national ministry work in Japan first and then the Philippines. He speaks fluent Japanese, by the way, but can't manage to do Filipino.
"They're either dead—or dying," he said. "But I'll be meeting their grandchildren."
We said we'd come visit him when we have the money.
"Don't come during winter. The beach there is wonderful during summer," he said. Right, Kuya Dave, as if we can manage to go there. We can't even find enough funds to go to, well, the hypothetical island Bongga-bongga.
He said he'd annoy the Welsh by pretending he's American. The Welsh hate the Americans. He'd say, "Hey, guys" (as opposed to the British version, "Hullo, lads") and that would make their blood boil. Ah, dear ol' Kuya Dave.
He gave me a desk pen holder and a copy of his last preaching in Yakal Christian Fellowship.
Over dinner, I took note of the last words he said to me:
"I thought you were coming as Angel Gabriel, all dressed in white," referring to my school uniform.
"When you get back [after tonight's dinner], will you be studying how to cut people up?"
And he referred to me as a "surgeon," to which I wanted to say, "It might take a while for that to happen."
We all prayed, the entire gang, and bid him goodbye. Have a safe trip, Kuya Dave, and may the Lord be with you always.
Photo: Yakal Christian Fellowship, 2006. From right: Paul Velasco, Riza Leonzon, Es Duhaylungsod (sitting), Remrick Patagan, Jaylord Tan Tian, Dave Griffiths, Shean Chiva, myself, Jason Enriquez, Razel Tomacder (sitting)
I've been to UP Diliman again three days ago to attend Kuya Dave Griffiths despedida—a farewell party of sorts hosted by the Dormitories Christian Fellowship (DCF). Now retiring, he's going back to Wales, United Kingdom with his wife after more than 20 years of missionary work in the Philippines.
After he gave his last preaching, people from DCF from different generations gave their testimonials of Kuya Dave. One recurring theme was how Kuya Dave became a father-figure to them. It was all very emotional, very personal, and that's the way it should be, I think. Kuya Dave didn't do campus ministry for the sake of doing it: he did it with a passionate love for the glory of God. And in the process of doing so, he has touched different lives.
Oh, I'll dearly miss his slaps on the back, his witticisms, his deep, baritone voice that resonated whenever we sang in worship, his type-written handouts, the Talking-Tagalog-Times, and of course, that delectable English dessert called the trifle.
I can only wish that, like Kuya Dave, the Lord would allow me to be spent for Him, even in my old age.
I intentionally didn't do any studying this weekend to attend the much-awaited wedding of two of my good friends from church, Kuya Moncie Casas and Ate Rae Rivera.
They're the first couple in my close circle of friends in Higher Rock to marry, so imagine our excitement from the moment we learned they were a couple up to the time they announced their marriage date. My radar for romantic love is as slow as my internet connection during typhoons, so when I heard about the engagement, it fell right smack into my face—they're so right for each other!
I arrived just about on time in Higher Rock in Timog Avenue, Quezon City, and when the elevator doors were opened, I saw Kuya Moncie, dressed in a smart brown suit. He was smiling, looking terribly tense, with beads of sweat on his face. Only two of us were there, and so I asked if I could take his picture to commemorate the happy end of his single blessedness.
Everyone was busy in the registration, taking guests to the correct tables. The great thing about this wedding is that it was largely a team effort: people in church helped out gladly. These pretty smiling faces are my ates in church, and during the reception, they would sing a Broadway version of Mama Mia for the newly weds.
I haven't been to a lot of weddings, but here, I heard the most memorable wedding vows. Kuya Moncie said his in a most creative manner, and Ate Rae in the same way. I was blessed with their understanding of the centrality of Christ in the marriage, and the value of following after His pattern of loving each other as He loved the Church.
Pastor Bob Amigo's message was evangelistic, centering on the fact that marriage is a union of two sinners. He zeroed in on sin and the grace shown by Christ when He died on the cross.
Here's our dear Kuya Lito Sto. Domingo, our youth pastor, who was among the principal sponsors.
I'm not officially part of the wedding team, but I had the joy of helping out in the layout and printing of the wedding programme. Ate Krystal Mercado is the odd (wo)man out, having changed into more casual clothes after the ceremonies.
My brother was in a black suit, while I wore my barong. Filipino-American Friendship Day ba ito?
So that ends the wedding. They're officially Mr and Mrs Jose Ramon Casas. Let's pray for them as they begin their marriage.
And, if ever they read this, I'd like to offer two name suggestions for their first two children, Lord-willing: Do-rae-mon and Mon-te-rae. How cool, right?
Today was supposed to be the baptism of fire, the yearly ritual of subjecting first year medical students to a battery of tests that lasts for the entire day.
Much as I would've wanted to, I didn't get enough sleep last night. At 3 am, there were just so many things I still didn't know. I managed to squeeze a three-hour shut-eye, plus a couple of 30-minute naps in between study periods, but other than that, I didn't get the recommended sleep duration.
I was drowsy the entire time, my sleepiness aggravated by the gloom and rain outside the window. Classes in other schools, I later learned, were already cancelled because of the storm, but hey, this is the College of Medicine—so we proceeded anyway.
In the morning was the written exam on the lower extremities. The dreaded 140-point move type exam was to follow after lunch.
The exam, to a greater degree, relied strongly on short-term memorization and quick association of one information to another. It's hard to do both because there are just so many things to remember in so little time. At one point, I was so drained I practically mistook a nerve for a ligament, a left bone to a right one, among other blunders I'd rather laugh at in sheer amusement and frustration.
Dr. Bundoc, the class's favorite lecturer thus far, told us that after the exam, we'd feel we were truly medical students. Surprisingly, I felt that. It occurred to me that now, I have a better understanding of how the human body works.
I'll probably read this entry years from now, possibly as a resident training in some hospital. During that point, I would have undergone much harder tests that the ones I just took today. But I'd like to think of what happened today as a turning point of sorts, a foretaste of things to come.
I attended my Bible study group after and had fellowship with a few classmates. What a refreshment God's Word was. We discussed Psalm 27 and saw how David called God his light and his salvation (Psalm 27:1). Acknowledging his helpless state, he came to God, pleading for His grace, seeking His will in everything.
The message touched me in many respects. By letting me undergo all these trials, God teaches me to see the end of myself and seek Him. Oh, what grace the Lord has shown me today.
Although I never had the chance to see her personally, I'll always remember her in yellow memories, her hair short, her glasses huge, and her voice like the guidance counselor's back in high school.
Cory Aquino, 76, has passed away. And the country, even most of the world that still remembers the tumultuous eighties, is mourning for the loss of a "great gift."
This tells us something. That the leaders this world remembers kindly are the ones whose loss they mourn for deeply. And these are leaders who believe in their people, who show pride and respect, dignity and integrity, and a sense of being one with them, not separated by hierarchy or the ability to wield political power.
Mrs. Aquino has become an icon of Philippine democracy after assuming the presidency from the Marcos dictatorship. Being the better half of the assassinated Ninoy Aquino, she ascended to the highest position in the land. While her administration was far from perfect, it brought back the meaning of democracy.
She mattered to the Filipino. I don't know of any president—save perhaps, President Magsaysay—who was loved and cherished by the people, to the same degree.
I had the chills when I read the Inquirer editorial on Mrs. Aquino's death, referring to this great woman as a light to the Filipino people:
It was the light of liberty, the unquenchable flame of democracy, the light of optimism and faith in the Filipino, snuffed out in her husband’s case by an assassin’s bullets, but which lit so many more little flames, so that it dispelled the darkness that had engulfed the country since 1972. It was a light that could not be extinguished by coups and natural disasters, by the mocking of those who saw in her merely a woman, merely a widow, merely a person trying to return power where it belonged—in the people’s hands, to do with as they chose.
Now it makes sense why, when I woke up this working, President Aquino was among the first thoughts that came to mind. And I felt deeply saddened.