Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Speech for Sean, our dentist

I crafted a speech for my kid brother Sean's inauguration as president of the local Philippine Dental Association chapter this weekend. Manong and I are going home for the occasion. We got new barongs. My mother said I should craft the speech immediately, so Sean can rehearse it! So typical of mother to be over-prepared in matters like this. As usual, I have a feeling she will overhaul what I've written, but when I spoke to her through a video call, she said the speech was "good."

It begins with something like this:

Dentists, too, have a unique role to play in society, even if much of what we do is hidden from public eyes. Ours is generally a quiet profession. Our work involves our daily routine of opening shop every day, sterilizing our instruments, checking if we have enough dental supplies, seeing, talking to, and reassuring our patients, and doing the actual dental work that our patients need. At the end of the day, we rest, we take care of our families, and we enjoy our hobbies—all these we do in preparation for yet another day. For each of these vital steps, we endeavor to do good and meaningful work.

I love dentists—there are two of them in the family! The smell of dental clinics brings me back to simpler days of my childhood, while we waited for mother to finish before we can head home, dropping by the Rose Fruit Stand near the Round Ball to get fresh mangoes, her favorites.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

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Distractions

Yukio_Mishima
The writer Yukio Mishima

Over lunch, I told my friend and colleague, Berbi, that I read a depressing story by a Japanese writer during the weekend. His thoughtful reply: "Why do you do that to yourself?"

I did not know how else to respond except with the truth. "I don't know. I liked it!"

I avoid series or films that feature death and suffering, with particular aversion to those that feature doctors (as if my life weren't enough exposure to all things medical), but I can only evade these things for so long. I deal with the ill, dying, and grieving in real life, so I figured that my media diet should at least veer away from these depressing themes. I entertain myself with Monty Don's Big Dreams, Small Spaces—a Netflix series on gardening—or some episodes of The Good Witch, Mad Men, the Korean Designated Survivor: 60 Days, Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. My friend Rich King (his real name) watches a gardening show in YouTube before he goes to bed; there's something in plants that takes the stresses away, I suppose.

There have been exceptions. I did find myself enjoying the Korean drama Descendants of the Sun (my mother's recommendation), which has a doctor as a main protagonist. It was a cheesy, well-played love story that was enjoyable to watch. Last night I watched 84 Charing Cross Road, which featured the platonic and academic friendship between Frank Noel (played by the young Anthony Hopkins), a store keeper of a bookstore that sold rare secondhand copies of English books, and Helene Hanff (Anne Bancroft), a playwright and writer from New York. Set in 1949, they used typewriters and fountain pens! Part of the thrill of watching the film was figuring out what pens they used: I'm certain I spotted a Parker Duofold.



During the train ride back home, I read the third Yukio Mishima story, The Priest of the Shiga Temple (read Ivan Morris's translation in full here).

The Great Priest of Shiga Temple was a man of the most eminent virtue. His eyebrows were white, and it was as much as he could do to move his old bones along as he hobbled on his stick from one part of the temple to another. 
In the eyes of this learned ascetic the world was a mere pile of rubbish. He had lived away from it for many a long year and the little pine sapling that he had planted with his own hands on moving into his present cell had grown into a great tree whose branches swelled in the wind. A monk who had succeeded in abandoning the Floating World for so long a time must feel secure about his future.

The old priest was changed when he saw the beauty of the Great Imperial Concubine. The ascetic fell in love with her, and the more he thought of her, the happier he seemed, but the farther he felt from reaching The Pure Land. It was a testament to her beauty, to the overpowering hold of the flesh, and to the futility of self-righteousness.

This story was of a man doing everything in his power to enter The Pure Land. To do that, one must empty the mind. This is a worldview that stands in stark contrast to biblical Christianity. The Bible says we can never achieve heaven on our own apart from God: we are not saved by works, by meditation, or by any human act. Salvation is through faith alone. Until God breathes life into our souls, we are dead, unable to grasp heaven or holiness. Whereas other religions exhorted people to empty their minds to achieve peace, Christ says we are to fill our minds with the things of God.

The story was an enjoyable read, but it was ultimately tragic.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Three deaths during the summer

Death In Midsummer is the first story that appears in the short story collection of the Japanese writer Yukio Mishima.

The story goes this way: while Tomoko is sleeping, her three children play in the beach, being watched over by Yasue, her sister-in-law. When Tomoko wakes up, she learns that Yasue has died from what seems to be a heart attack and her two children, Kiyoo and Keiko, have drowned in the sea. Three deaths in one day—and Tomoko blames herself for it.

Life goes on for Tomoko. Her husband, Masaru, does not blame her for the incident. They both try to move on. During their visit to the cemetery, they are described this way:

While neither of them especially thought about the matter, it seemed that the period of mourning, an relievable parade of the dark and sinister, had brought them a sort of security, something stable, easy, pleasant even. They had become conditioned to death, and, as when people are conditioned to depravity, they had come to feel that life held nothing they need fear.

It is depressing. One thinks that Tomoko hasn't really moved on.

She was living, the others were dead. That was the great evil. How cruel it was to have to be alive.

The story is, to my mind, a stark contrast to an actual tragedy that happened in the life of Horatio Spafford. All of his four children died when the ship crossed the Atlantic Ocean and collided with a sea vessel. His response was neither despair or hatred. He was at peace. He then wrote of my favorite hymns, It Is Well With My Soul—a testament to God's peace that transcends all understanding. I sing it whenever tragedies strike or when things don't go my way.

I hope the next stories in the story collection aren't so depressing! The writing is beautiful and haunting; it also brings back a lot of memories of people I know who drowned during beach trips, including my elementary classmate Jed who used to visit the house to play.

Heart

Heart

Didn't do much this week, save for some household cleaning and working on deliverables for the church's media ministry. I'm sharing this Korean heart-sign, a gesture I initially thought to be related to collecting money.

Here's a beautiful prayer for when interruptions and disruptions happen in our daily lives, yet again from Scotty Smith's Heavenward:

Heavenly Father, I’m sitting here with a confirmed seat on a 9 pm flight for Orlando, but six and a half hours later than my flight was supposed to leave. You know without me telling you, I didn’t exactly receive this delay as “an opportunity for great joy”—to use James’ words. I can give birth to a bad attitude as fast as anyone. I am grateful for your kindness and patience.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Thursday, August 8, 2019

On friendships

What an inestimable blessing to have friends like this, who will not leave our side when the crowd ebbs, but draw closer as the shadows darken over our path, and the prison damp wraps its chill mantle about us! To be loved like that is earth's deepest bliss!

—F.B. Meyer,on John the Baptist's friends who remained with him after he was imprisoned by Herod

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Thursday, August 1, 2019

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Manila in the afternoon

Intramuros, Manila: Old City

This was the view from the roof deck of Bayleaf Hotel in Intramuros. From afar, Manila looked calm and peaceful. If only there were more green and open spaces.

Had a great time hanging out with Aylmer, Harold, and Merv—first year fellows who are so well-adjusted they're coming with up various research ideas as early as this year.
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