I believe that whenever something bad happens to me, it could be worse, had it not been for my angels.
I try to surround myself with people who attract the same positivity so that every step forward will be light as hope, not heavy with a crowd of the darkest shadows.
The truth is that we are all born as eventual orphans. One of the most painful experiences in my life was losing my father. Everyone refers to him still as Ka Blas, the statesman, the writer, the Bulakenyo who made good. He passed away at 75 years old.
The day he died, I was waiting for him to arrive in Bahrain. Mid-air, the plane had to do an emergency landing but it was too late. The hospital in Taipei declared him clinically dead after suffering cardiac arrest during transit. Heaven, literally, claimed him home.
It was a devastating loss because I was with him every day but not on the very specific day when his hand went limp, his eyes closed forever.
I dealt with my pain by writing. It was Alex Fernando, editor of the Philippine Star and a dear friend, who asked me to write about Ka Blas. It took several drafts before I finally felt the text was right, the tribute as it should be. The first draft was the hardest. Until the tears came and then I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop.
Sitting down to write about my father made me confront desperate emotions from a place of stillness. The words poured and the emotions found a valve. That is what writing does very well: serve as a valve. Open it and the pain ebbs as words flow.
A weekend ago, Fort Jose and I went to Hong Kong upon the invitation of Labor Attache Jalilo dela Torre, one of the best labor attaches I know. Labatt Jali, as we call him, is also a good writer. He wrote several articles on successful overseas Filipino workers (OFW) that should be recommended reading for those aspiring to work abroad.
Using Facebook, the labor attaché posted an open invitation to OFWs in Hong Kong who might be interested in attending my first-ever writing therapy workshop. The event was free but seats were limited to only 20 writers per session.
What transpired was a magical infusion of hope and forgiveness, love and faith, in a boardroom filled with OFWs bearing pens and notebooks. They read their pieces out loud. The first writing exercise brought them to their first love, that youthful encounter, the first “kilig” moment in their incandescent lives.
Sixty-two year old Terry brushed away tears from her cheeks as she sought to capture her first romance. Jo, a Hong Kong veteran with 30 years invested as an OFW, shared with us a poem she wrote long, long ago. The first time that she opened an old, thin, notebook where poems were scribbled in secret. She shared her poem and we felt so privileged.
Marilou sat in front of me, and she giggled whenever other writers would talk about loves lost and present. She said, “I am so glad that I went to this workshop!” It was high praise from an OFW who kept writing and listening until our four-hour workshop ended.
Dr. Maya Angelou once said: “There’s no greater agony to bear than an untold story inside of us.” Our participants have a multitude of stories. During discussions, I heard the phrase “for good” several times. What does “for good” mean? Ma’am, it means coming home for good. Oh, I said. It was a powerful realization. No matter how short or long their stay was in Hong Kong, these two words contained the future: “for good”. Heady stuff.
As part of the workshop, I requested the participants to bring a quote, prayer, song, or poem that enables them to get through difficult times. One of them read aloud the quintessential religious poem, “Footprints in the Sand.” Another read a poem she wrote about being strong. I shared “Still I Rise” written by Dr. Maya Angelou, one of my favorite writers.
Labor Attache dela Torre recited his favorite quotation from the movie, “The Last Samurai”. In that scene, Emperor Meiji asked about the courageous samurai, Katsumoto: “Tell me how he died.” The American swordsman Nathan Algren replied: “I will tell you how he lived.”
The last writing exercise was meant for them to be their best cheerleaders. I asked our OFW participants to write a letter addressed to them. “Dear Me”, it began. They wrote it free-flow style, without raising their pen from the notebook. Just let the words flow. Grammar should be the last thing on your mind. They wrote, and some were smiling while the pen scratched paper.
Writing heals, and I’ve known this all my life. We will be holding another writing as therapy workshop in Hong Kong in November. My dream is to be able to do this in other places as well. Writing heals, and one needs only a pen and a notebook and a heart open to all possibilities.