Creative Nonfiction

[rambles] Turning

Not to me.
Not to me.
Not for me.

Éponine, Les Misérables


Your skin burns.  It is morning.

Lately you’ve been learning not to listen to your instincts.  Instinct.  Such an animal word.  You aren’t an animal, despite all evidence to the contrary.  Your eyes glow darkly and your smile is feral and sometimes, sometimes (often) your body sings with wanting but your fine leash of control has worked against all temptation.  So far.

So far.

Today, temptation is a story.  You have a story.

You have a story. It itches to pour out of your fingers, bubbles like soda pop behind lips that want to smile and laugh and tease.  It is a small story.  A funny story.  A story that would do no harm, except the first person you think to tell—want to tell; could tell–is someone you promised to stay away from.

Someone you should stay away from.

So far, control is winning.  Later, you promise yourself.  Later.  When the infection burns out the last of your blood. When you heart learns to stop beating.  When you don’t feel the instinct (that word again) to turn up your lips, reveal teeth better suited to things other than smiling.

When you aren’t quite so blindsided by the way they make you laugh.

Your fingers hover, still longing to make contact, dancing over the letters that spell out a name.  But the urge passes, as it always does.  Your willpower wins again, and by now you’re used to how it never really feels like winning.

Once upon a time you made a choice, or maybe it was made for you.  Once upon a time, you taught yourself to live without sunlight.  You don’t need it, not anymore—the years have taught you to see just as well in the dark—but sometimes you long to stretch your hand out and hold the yellow glow in your palms, pretend it would warm instead of burn.

You think they might be sunlight.  You think you might burn.  Moth to flame, delicate and easily consumed.

Later, you promise yourself.  Later.  When they don’t seem to shine quite so bright.  When your eyes adjust.  When the tides completely turn.

Later, you promise.

Never, you know.


History Has Its Eyes

They buried the dictator today. It was sudden.  It was swift.  It was definitely not a rushed affair.  In the same day edit so laboriously prepared by his doting, despotic family, we see a precise, perfectly choreographed set of rites.  This was planned, all of it.

They’d planned to lie.

The burial at Libingan ng Mga Bayani was supposed to be scheduled on November 25—after the 15-day provision of appeal had passed, and then some.  By law, we were supposed to have those fifteen days to make our last, heroic appeal for human dignity.  But even the law let us down.  

Lately, it seems like that is all the law has been doing.

We’d planned to mobilise on November 25th.  Ours would have been an organised, orderly assembly.  Instead, a rushed, slapdash protest was all we got, scrambling to answer marching orders seven days too early.  The other side, old men proudly comparing student shoes to their everyman tsinelas and worn caps, had free food and merchandise.  We had torn signs, hostile police.

We did not become violent.  Before our friends marched to Taguig, to UP, to White Plains we warned them, do not be violent.  Do not let history repeat itself.  Days before, our President warned that he would consider suspending the writ of habeas corpus if the state of lawlessness continued.  Based on historical precedent, our government has always been inclined to see our protesting of their misguided decisions as unlawful.  The man we buried today built his dictatorship on the backs of silenced student protests and planted bombs.

Violence would be all the excuse a demagogue needed.  History repeats.  History is the definition of insanity: doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different outcome.

History has its eyes.  It watches.  What will it see?  Will it see a never-ending cycle?  There are too many parallels between 2016 and those dark days of the 1970s.  A charismatic man of the people—a lawyer—coming to power with a promise of peace and order.  A major social threat—then, communists; now, drugs—that had to be stamped out.  A controversial decision leading to student uprisings.  A declaration of a state of lawlessness.  A slippery slope growing more and more familiar.

Perhaps, perhaps, it was not a coincidence that our Commander in Chief allied himself with the dictator’s son.    Perhaps that is also why he made that promise: “I will bury the father in the Cemetery of Heroes.”

Perhaps they believe that by laying him to rest in ground consecrated in the blood of better men would somehow declare him to history as a better man.

The dictator is no hero.  Not even a military one.  His stellar combat record has been proven time and again as an invention, his daring deeds of derring-do appropriated from other, braver soldiers.  He might not have been dishonourably discharged, but history has proven him to be dishonourable.  And yet there, in the final resting place of heroes, he lies.  He lies.

They all do.  They twist the dates to prevent dissenting voices.  They simper in press releases, asking for “privacy.”  Once you assume the Presidency, your life becomes public domain.  Why bar the people from speaking if you had nothing to hide?

It is clear that the dictator—dead and buried though he may be—and his family still have things to hide.  Only, it is not from us, but from themselves.  We know the truth.  It is not buried six feet under in the Libingan ng Mga Bayani.  It is not buried at all.  The truth is a matter of public record, a fact to which we have erected monuments: 3,000 killed, 35,000 sexually and physically tortured, 70,000 imprisoned, billions plundered.

The truth is a matter of public record, recorded in a list of the dead and still missing.

History has its eyes.  We have our voices.  A man may be buried, but the story of our revolution is not over.  Not until justice is done, and justice is not done, because no apologies have been made.

“Why do you stand?” they ask, mocking, “What’s done is done and cannot be undone.”  They accuse us of living in the past, not understanding that we are fighting for the future.  History repeats, and so it is up to us to write it into a pattern worth repeating.  

Administrations rise and fall, but people remember revolutions.

Tonight, somewhere in the city, we are assembling.  Tonight, we take back the history that was stolen from us.  Tonight, we stand for the truth that cannot be buried.

Tonight, and all the nights to come.


Scattered Thoughts of a Sinner in Church (Come As You Are)

When I was a kid, my cousin Charlie introduced me to the comic book character “Spawn,” a man who, from my limited understanding, was “too bad for Heaven, too good(?) for Hell.” Lately, I’ve been feeling that same internal tension: too “Christian” for the world (or so a friend called me, not entirely as a compliment) but too much of a sinner for church, too riddled with doubt and disbelief and anger to fit comfortably into the padded seats of the airconditioned assembly hall. Even the way I talk and act runs counter to the poised prayerfulness and doe-eyed Christianese of the girls in Friday Youth Group, where I stopped attending after my barnacles got too obvious to hide.

I am a Christian sanctified, but far from sanitized, and honestly, I feel that the slight whiff of “worldly” about me marks me, to this church, as imposter, a wolf trying to live under the blood of the Lamb, but my teeth are too big and my claws are still sharp and oh, how I howl.

(Church, could you love me if I wasn’t perfect? Because I’m not. I am so not. Please don’t judge me, but I don’t always feel “on fire” for Jesus. Sometimes I doubt if he hears. Sometimes, my faith is in shambles. Sometimes (a lot; I even have a tracker in my BuJo), I stumble. Sometimes, I don’t pay attention to the sermon. But oh, Church, how I could not live without Christ!  Surely, that is enough?)

I’m a small group leader. I still do not understand why, and my group meets less regularly than I think is ideal, but since my name is on the roster, I get invites to the regular Leaders’ Huddles our church holds. Since my mum is a leader too, I sort-of have to go, regardless of what I feel the state of my soul is at that very moment. Two huddles ago I spent the entire meeting on the verge of tears, calligraphy-ing my frustrations in my sermon notebook: a Christian on the fringes, on the outside looking in.

Today was a good day. Today, I felt my social anxiety and situational depression was at a low enough level that I could function as my Sunday self. I sat through the leader’s huddle, convinced I could fool my church into believing that I was a model leader…and then I was unmasked.

Well, not actually. The pastor–one of my favorite pastors; I want him officiating my wedding–didn’t suddenly summon me to the front to be rebuked. Instead, he preached about Zacchaeus, that familiar story of the wee little man in the sycamore tree. Since this was a leader’s meeting, the insights were about ministering, and one point struck me:

“People, not process.”

I have this habit of building up monsters in my head. Maybe it’s the pessimist in me, but I’m always expecting the worst, waiting for the axe to fall because I am not changing fast enough. Over time and familiarity and, okay, disappointed expectations (Who knew Christian millennials could be just as cliqueish as non-Christian millennials? Duh, Frankie. Christians are people too.), I guess I turned the Church into one of those scary monsters, another self-policing institution in a world full of self-policing institutions. But with three words, that terrifying image shattered, and I was reminded of why I believe. See, as my pastor exhorted us leaders to be sensitive, kind, and compassionate with people who, perhaps, did not fit our preconceived notions of what salvation–what the desire for changed life–should look like, all I could hear was “You are welcome here.”

Zacchaeus was a tax collector. In the Bible, tax collectors are mentioned separately from sinners, are their own brand of outcast. As turncoats who aligned with the colonizers, they were considered social pariahs, and it was not kosher to associate with them.  Here was a person who longed to change, but for whom the door seemed shut.

But then Jesus asked to stay at Zacchaeus’ house, and in that moment the nature of what the church should be was established: a place of open doors, where sinners of all sorts belonged, could find acceptance, could become saints by virtue of accepting one man’s sacrifice.

My two best Christian friends–really, my two best friends–are probably the two people I know who reflect this best. Together, we three form #TeamHumanChristian, and when we get together and talk about the journey of overcoming our sins it is so easy to see God’s grace. Painting on a Sunday face makes sense, but when you come in your Monday blues and Tuesday baggage, your Friday failings and Saturday sins, it becomes so easy to discover “I am not alone.”

Everyone is growing here.  Everyone has a ways to go.

I love meeting Christian sinners, people in the trenches, fighting their flesh; those for whom the words “His grace changes everything.” are not just lyrics but a daily reality. The struggle IS real. It is. And how beautiful is the honesty.

“People, not process.” This is a home for humans, not a factory for churning out cookie-cutter models of holiness. I’d forgotten that home is where you take off the mask, not put it on, but thank God for the reminder: “Who does the Lord receive?” In Luke 15:2, the Pharisees said it so clearly, voices strangled in self-righteous horror: “SINNERS! He eats with sinners!”

The church is His dining room, and I am a sinner. I am a Christian. Those labels were always meant to coexist. Every Christian is a sinner, every saint has a past. The armor of God maybe doesn’t fit just right, still sits uneasy on my shoulders, but it has always come with the reassurance that I will grow into it, should I choose to keep walking.  That everyone else in His church is fighting to grow into it too.

People, not process. Christ met Zacchaeus at the foot of the tree. I smell of the world. I howl like a wolf. Church means come as you are, because this is where God meets you.  This is where hope resides.

“You are welcome here.”