Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Renato Redentor Constantino
December 31, 2013
The Family Files

French toast, gouda, doppio espresso cappuccinos, chorizo and an omelette, a great conversation among the four of us.

Our kids are all grown up now -- this was the big thought today. Come August, Rio will turn 16. Holy cow. And Luna will be 12 soon. Caramba.

This year has been one of meaning and loss, a capricious period of achievement, disappointment and unexpected grief. It has been an exhausting, to be sure. The year passed by so quickly it felt like the fastest year ever. But that's how all years feel, I suppose, the velocity of a year coming to a close.

We've moved into a new house, in the place where our old two-storey home was, which we rebuilt into a three-floor structure, which now has a balcony, and Rio and Luna have rooms of their own, and kitchen that can serve far more with greater space to spare.

Apart from loyal Emil, we have Cosmo. In addition to Flowery Moss, we have Kermit the Red. There is okra growing, including alugbati, chile, basil, talinum and lagundi. Benguet bamboo sway high above the grills of the indoor garden. Former tongue-in-groove floorboards are now part of the kitchen island, and what used to be a window grill now hangs from the ceiling, from where pots, pans, chopping boards and ladles are hung. Great slabs of thick ironwood, which used to be the steps of old Kamuning's stairs, now make up the front doors of the first and second floor. Everyone has great big windows from where the horizon stretches out as far as the smog will allow the eye to see. Rows of apartments and houses from Rio's room, and the church steeple and another barangay from Luna's.

Old lamps have been restored, and the dining table, chairs, and sofa have been refurbished. New fixtures have brought some gloss, but the sheen of used, familiar things bring the most comfort. There is love in the house.

Kala changed jobs too. From Oxfam in the Philippines, she's now an advisor in a global team working to develop the ability of colleagues and partners around the world to run better, more effective advocacies.

Rio is thriving in Philippine Science, playing football, writing, playing computer games and chomping on math and science, and reading pretty much everything he desires. He's no longer the best most times, as he usually was with little effort in his previous school; he's now just one among many other incredibly smart students, many of whom have better study habits, so he's struggling and having fun, which to me is great -- it can only bring out the best in him, because he hasn't tapped into his potential yet.

Having held her first exhibit at the School of Blended Learning in late 2012, Luna is flourishing in the new COLF, with its great big building and far greater space. She draws and paints like nothing else I've seen, having a clear style of her own. She is dancing with impressive grace and an intensity that clearly shows respect for the craft, and at the end of it all she will find time to bake with her mum, to watch the silliest of cartoons, to make bookmarks and posters for me while composing poems and creating things from nothing into beautiful pieces of art, with little effort. Right now the girl's imagination is boundless.

This was also the year when Kala's mum passed away. In the world of adults, I'd call her my mother in-law, but she was my mum too. She was a pillar of strength and happiness for her large brood, a storied leader in the town of Anda, which she governed with a caring, firm, moving, selfless, graceful and unique sense of leadership for many terms, including a stint as provincial boardmember in the province of Pangasinan. There was so much sadness when she died, and the weeping was heartbreaking, so great was the space she left behind, because of her unexpected death. Though family knew early that she had a terrible illness that she could not overcome, many felt that her demise was too sudden. It hit Kala the hardest, since she was still in Oxford when Mama died, and the journey over a thousand miles must have felt multiplied a hundredfold, as she endured the long train ride to Heathrow, and the long, terrible flight back to Manila, but nothing could have felt longer than the walk through the corridor of Sanctuarium, then inside the room to give the last embrace to the woman who brought her up to be who she is today. I wept as I held her, because her sorrow was so inconsolable, so deep and so distant no salve would suffice, save for time and the acceptance of our own mortalities.

I lost a good friend too, one I was not fortunate enough to have gotten to know more, but whose friendship stood out largely because of his integrity and the force of his personality, which was anchored on an distinct, innate sense of humor and humility. I hold him as the gold standard of activism, beneath which we are all midgets. Milo Tanchuling, who's qualities stood out because of an unmatched generosity of spirit, who alone showed the way by exercising leadership by listening. I fear that with his passing so many will be lost for a while.

There were disappointments as well, some sadder and more sorry than others. Good friends in government, two in positions of leadership and both coming up short, not for lack of intellect or ability but for lack of respect for their own stations and the unique privilege they have been granted to serve. In almost every other sentence they declare to the listening multitude that there is little time to waste, because the crisis to end all crises is upon us, and yet the timorousness of their actions, the persistent lack of strategy and fixation with incredibly small-minded bickering, have plunged the public importance of the commission they belong to to levels equal to the country's horse-racing association, at a time when climate change, ironically, is on everyone's minds. One refuses to go out of her comfort zone, insisting on leading only her own office while assuming a supplicant's pose when relating to agencies that comprise what should be her commission's main constituency. The other acts as if his main job is to be an inspirational speaker only, to publics outside the very bureaucracy his office is expected to influence, and coordinate, coming to life only when the setting is in an international arena that happens to convene only twice or thrice a year. The two refuse to scale their pettinesses, and thus, instead of esteem, all too many offices in the executive and legislature reward their offices with contempt. Both need one another, and too many communities expect climate leadership from the two, but both are content only to tinker around with the limits of their soapboxes. Perhaps they will rise to the occasion in 2014, or maybe not. They are dear to me and Kala, but they have also so dearly disappointed so many.

The year draws to a close with remembrance, not only of people who have moved on, but also of people who have been constant -- Jenny and the Saulo clan, the grace of Jeng, who despite a few worries remains the person with the steadiest hand on the wheel that I have ever come to know, who must therefore trust herself more and doubt less; Joanna Levitt, who will in a few months celebrate life with even more color, the comradeship and laughter of Ateng and Jasper, both of whom I hope will make real their plans to come home and take root once more -- both were also recently deprived of beloved parents; Sandra, who left behind honey bourbon and limoncello magic, and whose sense of joy and curiosity over life, despite the proliferation of intrinsic meanness, is infectious and humbling; the discovery of like-minded, cantankerous roadtrip buddies from South Africa, Tristen and Trusha, fonts both of base humor and mad thinking, who I hope can enjoy the company of Rico Loco too in the first quarter of 2014; Sreedhar the Wise; Willy, Ravindranath and Anil; and Sze Ping, who is now a Panda. I hope to see more of Mareng Beau, Pareng Romil, Lala, Patty, Jack and Ronald in the new year. I hope to I can spend more time as well to work with and learn from Lidy. And of course, there is the aspect of running to the best of our laughable abilities the best little tavern in town, with Derek and Gina -- without the two, the experience would be so drab and the mirth a fraction of what each week has brought. Together, the four of us -- we've made Fred's a habit to so many, a dandy place with low brow exuberance as atmosphere. And that's just the way we like it.

After a year staying with generous parents, who gave us shelter and company, great mornings and great evenings, and general access to the sunlit house I once called home, we're back to Capers and it feels grand.

The year is coming to a close -- a year of victories and heartbreak, disappointments and daring. Raise yer glasses, folks, on this final night of 2013. Let's make 2014 shine brighter. Let it be blinding, and let us be brash. #

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