Posted in friendship, Nursing, family

Overwhelming acts of kindness

I was going to write a post of all the things I can no longer do because of the coronavirus pandemic, until I realised how shallow, counterproductive and self-indulgent that would be.

I an far luckier than most: young enough that the risk to my personal health is low, a profession that will pay me even if I have to call in sick in the event that I show symptoms, having the means to get treatment, and a home with access to internet and Netflix.

Other people are barely getting by. People who earn daily wages or who have been forced to go on unpaid leave are now wondering how they are going to support their families through this. The elderly population, who are most at risk, face the likelihood that if they get this virus the mortality rate is about 9%. That might seem small on paper, but it converts to thousands of deaths, thousands of lives lost, and one of them could be your loved ones.

Sometimes I read the news and its enough to send me into a spiral of hopelessness and fear. I have trouble sleeping most nights because I keep thinking of my friends, mostly nurses, who are running out of PPE; and my family, scattered all round the world, some of them with limited access to proper health care.

But there are things that keep me going, daily reminders that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that if we all stay calm, sensible and united we will get through this. So rather than indulging in reminiscing about things I can no longer do, or things that I don’t have (or indulging in a nervous breakdown) I’ve decided to make a list of the overwhelming acts of kindness that have seen me through these past couple of weeks:

A chatgroup of fellow nurses and close friends, created initially to plan parties but have now become a place to whine, vent and generally keep each other sane.

A colleague, offering to print and laminate things for me when I seem overwhelmed with the things I need to do at work.

An unexpected ally, telling me I need to be supported because I’m so busy doing teaching, and offering to do my coordinating shifts for me so I can just focus on what I need to do.

My boss telling me to go home early so I can rest and take care of myself.

An unexpected text from a rep I work with closely telling me to stay safe on the frontlines.

An offer from another rep, asking me to let him know if things get too busy so he can deliver food for the staff to eat.

The nightly salutes and tributes to health care workers in France, Spain, Belgium and other parts of Europe.

Daily texts and messages from family and friends telling me and my sister to keep safe.

Pret, Carluccio, Leon and other restaurants offering free drinks and/or 50% discount on all items for NHS staff.

A reply from someone who means so much to me, someone I’ve unintentionally let down and been out of touch with for almost a year, a reconnection that has made my world spin on the right axis again.

And finally, a close friend sending a care package to my parents, who live in a remote area in the Philippines where access to health care and medicine are limited. Thanks to her and her partner, my parents – who own a grocery store and who are staying open so people can still buy essentials like rice and canned goods – will have a supply of masks, Vitamin C, paracetamol and a thermometer. The sheer generosity of it makes me want to cry.

Sometimes you think you’ve never achieved anything great or meaningful in your life, that you’ve made the wrong choices, and have made far too many mistakes. But I don’t know. Somewhere, somehow, I must have done something right, to have people around me that I can count on when the going gets rough.

My only aim today, as I go through yet another day in the hospital, is to pass on the kindness I’ve received. Let’s make love and generosity a pandemic, and may it continue to be so long after the impact of Coronavirus has been forgotten.

Posted in family, Health and Well-Being, Medical

Home is where the heart is

As the Philippines goes on lockdown I find my thoughts straying to where it usually goes these days as news about the spread of coronavirus pile up daily: my family.

I’ve adjusted reasonably well to being an overseas worker, living far from home and being away from my parents and most of the people I love. But its times like these when the reality of being an OFW hits you the most, when you are helpless to do anything except give your parents advice through Facebook and hope to God they’re keeping themselves safe.

There is nothing more I want to do right now than take my dad’s vital signs and check if mum is taking her daily dose of Vitamin C. I want to make sure they have supplies of paracetamol and face masks. I’m torn between telling them to stay in the remote area where we live, where the risk for contracting the virus is lower but where medical care is laughably rubbish, or telling them to go to the city where I have more confidence in the health care system but also where the number of tourists (and the sheer number of people) makes me really twitchy.

Mum goes to church every day, it is an essential part of who she is. I want to advise her not to do that anymore until this passes, but at the same time I can’t help but feel like, at this point, prayers along with sensible hand washing will get us through the day. I found myself this week going to church every day after work. The other day there was an elderly couple there praying the rosary, the only other people apart from myself in that cavernous house of worship. I stayed a bit to join them. The whole time I can hear mum’s voice in my head telling me I’m doing the right thing.

This is a really rambling post, I know. It’s mostly borne out of worry, and this really strong urge I got this morning to jump on a plane and just be with family. I used to revel in my independence, and I loved the thought of being in the big city and making it on my own. But when push comes to shove, and the world goes to hell in a hand basket, home really is the only place where I want to be. And at the moment that is not a geographic location, its a facebook messenger group where all the members of my family gather to share bits and pieces of our separate lives.

At the moment that will have to be enough…

Posted in bloggers, family, Feminism, Lifestyle, relationships, women

Mind Your Own Business

We live in a society that is ever more conscious about being politically correct. We use gender neutral pronouns, we try and respect other religions as much as our own, we recognise that men and women were created equally and that the latter deserves as much respect as the former. Its an enlightened world where people have rights, they said.

Why then can’t the rest of us who live in this so-called enlightened world not enjoy the right for people (under the guise of concern) to butt out of our business?

One of my friends tweeted a few rules of politeness once, and I have never agreed with a tweet more. It said that one should never ask questions of a sensitive nature unless the other person opens up about it first. These sensitive questions include, but are not limited to, the following:

a. how much they earn in their jobs
b. marital status
c. if married, whether or not they ever plan to have kids
and other questions that are just damn intrusive, nosy and rude.

I personally feel fine and content with my lot in life, but there are a lot of people that struggle with not being able to fit into the mould that hundreds of years worth of tradition has created for us: mother, homemaker, wife. I struggle with it sometimes myself. Its not a very pleasant feeling to sit around a dinner table and have your friends talk about their respective partners and all you’re able to contribute was your latest trip to Croatia.

I get so angry about it sometimes. When people get together its like there’s a list of questions that they have to tick off to assure themselves that they’ve had a proper catch-up. Real friends don’t do that. Real friends catch up to listen and offer support. The people you should keep in your lives will not make you feel any less of a person just because the trajectory of your life happens to be different from theirs. I am eternally grateful that I still have a handful of those friends who, regardless of the fact that at most parties I am the only one not carrying a baby carriage, make me feel proud of everything else I’ve accomplished anyway. You guys know who you are.

The point is that the world has no right to your heart, to paraphrase a line from the brilliant song ‘Burn‘ from the musical ‘Hamilton’. The world has no right to your struggles, it does not get to judge you. No one gets to define or limit who you are especially if they can’t get past their own narrow worldview to remember that you are a person first. Not a girlfriend, a wife, or a mother. You are you: and that has, is and should always be enough.

Posted in family, relationships, Self-Discovery

Heart In A Box

There’s an episode of Grey’s Anatomy where Cristina Yang is trying to compile a wish list of surgical procedures she would like to learn from her mentor. She drew inspiration from a beating heart that’s been preserved in a glass box through some breakthrough in the field of heart transplantation.

If the procedure she thought of did not even come close to giving her the same sense of wonder that that heart in a box did, then its not worth adding to the list.

My version of this is not as happy and wondrous, I’m afraid. I’ve been under some degree of stress lately. I can’t blame it on anything major, just a buildup of life’s minor irritations that have somehow become unbearable: bills, the return of London’s infamous grey skies, Jon Snow being annoying on Game of Thrones, office politics, people being absolute dicks, just to name a few.

Then I remember that this month my Dad is about to go in for testing to check whether he’s got prostate cancer.

That’s my heart in a box.

You see, we may think we’re having a bad day or even a bad week, and we expend so much emotion on things that we’re not even going to remember five years down the line. I personally dwell far too much and for far too long on things that are so beneath me, its not even funny.

I think about things way too much that the result is that I make more of it than I should, and the molehill becomes a mountain I can’t get beyond. But really, annoying colleagues, unmet deadlines, walking in the rain, a bad date, those are a walk in the park compared to the fear of losing probably the only man I’ve ever loved.

An argument at work is not a bad day. A bad day is getting a biopsy result that will change my life forever. That is the measure. Anything beneath that is not worth my time and attention.

Save all that emotion for the things that are worth emotionally investing in. Trust me, you’ll probably need it.

Posted in bloggers, family, relationships

A Letter To The One I Love on Valentine’s Day

Dear Papa, on a day when women everywhere are writing letters and sending cards to their boyfriends, I thought I’d write one to you instead. And not just because I’m single, but because I genuinely want to say a few things which I should have said a long time ago.

Last night, instead of dreaming of Prince Charming, I dreamt about you. It wasn’t a great dream, and I woke up in tears from anxiety and fear because of it. Suffice it to say that you weren’t well in my dream. And the thought of you getting old, and someday having to live in a world without you, these are some of the things that keep me up at night.

We haven’t had a conventional relationship. I get jealous sometimes over random things, like when I see a girl going shopping with her dad, or when I see a father picking up his daughter from school. I don’t have many memories of us doing those every day things, because out of necessity we had to be apart for the better part of every year while I was growing up.

But that’s fine. I knew the reasons why you couldn’t be there for every graduation ceremony or every birthday party. I wouldn’t even have those things if it wasn’t for your hard work and sacrifice. In case I forgot to tell you then, I am very grateful for all the things you did for me.

I suppose this is why I work so hard for us to make up for lost time now. I want to make all your dreams come true, I want you to have every opportunity you ever missed and to see the world you’ve always wanted to explore but never had the chance to because we didn’t have the means before.

It’s been a pleasure seeing the world through your eyes, and sharing those moments of discovery with you. I love that you now have stories to tell of other places apart from the small corner of the world we live in. And I love that we’ve built memories that I will cherish forever, through the passing of the days, whatever those days may bring us.

It’s funny. For the first time in a long while I genuinely am not bothered that its Valentine’s Day and I’ll probably be sitting at home tonight nursing a glass of wine with my equally single sister. I’m happy and content enough to hold out for something that’s worth this extremely long wait (the El Nino drought has nothing on my love life), because I refuse to settle for anything less.

Despite my doubts, I genuinely believe that I’ll find someone someday. And I’m not in any rush because I’m enjoying life far too much to make such a big change for someone or something that’s going to be fleeting. I’m not going to marry some random guy just because society tells me its “worrying” to still be single at thirty-one.

But Papa, today I said a prayer to meet that random guy who I will eventually share my life with sooner rather than later. Not for me, but for you. I know my lifestyle and my persistent lack of a committed relationship is what keeps YOU up at night. I desperately want to ease your worries, but that’s the one thing that I can’t achieve through hard work and overtime. It’s out of my hands.

However, I prayed today in a way I haven’t in a long long time, for me to find that someone. Not for me, but for you. I want to bring someone home for you to meet, I want you to be able to walk me down the aisle someday, and I really really want to have that father-daughter dance with you. If those are bad reasons for wanting a marriage, well, so be it. Other people have married for less, and for worse reasons.

I don’t know pops, maybe some things are just not meant to be. We’ll see. But for now, you are the only man in my life and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. But if it does, you’ll be the first to know. In the meantime, take care of mumsy, take care of yourself and I hope to see you real soon. Happy Valentine’s Day, I love you.

Posted in family, Reviews

Mary Poppins Returns…and so does my childhood

My father used to keep a collection of VCDs (remember those?) that we watched as a family during christmas and summer holidays. One of the movies we had on continuous repeat was Mary Poppins, starring the delightful Julie Andrews and the often maligned Dick Van Dyke.

I grew up learning that a spoonful of sugar will help the medicine go down, and that Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is a magical word that will help me get through anything. When I first came to London and saw the dome of St Paul’s, I remembered that little old lady on the steps of the cathedral that fed the birds, tuppence a bag.

It was such a huge part of my life, and I expect its the same for every other kid out there who grew up in the 80s and 90s. As an adult, I probably appreciate it for very different reasons, reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the movie itself and everything to do with the memories it evokes.

You see, watching Mary Poppins (and any Disney film really) feels a little bit like getting back the joys and wonders of childhood, before cynicism and realism had time to sink their hooks into our consciousness.

I often wonder at what age it starts becoming inappropriate to dream and wish and hope. I know I often get laughed at (good-naturedly) for still getting excited over all things Disney.

I get called out a couple of times a month for having my head in the clouds, and I’ve learned to hide the (many) childish things I still get a delight out of because I’ve been told its no longer appropriate for a woman in her early 30s.

I find that really sad.

I find it really sad that we’ve put a time stamp on childhood and have somehow forced ourselves to grow up and get over the sheer happiness that comes when you still look at the world with wonder.

What’s the use of getting up every day if you no longer believe something magical might happen?

Just to be clear, I don’t expect birds to sing whenever I walk down Oxford Street or for my Prince Charming to come charging down Marylebone High Street looking for me while I’m at work. Nor do I go to St. Paul’s to feed the pigeons, because they truly are the most annoying creatures.

But I still find joy in believing in all the possibilities that life has to offer. I think that growing up is essential, but growing out of imagination and dreams is a crime.

And that’s where Mary Poppins Returns come in.

I know people’s opinions are split right down the middle. Some people loved it, some people hated it (mostly because they kept comparing it to the original). For me, I think if you go into the cinema with expectations, then you’re going into it thinking like an adult – which is the one thing you shouldn’t be when you’re watching this movie.

I think if you go into it just waiting to be amazed, if you allow yourself to be taken back to the simpler times of your childhood, you will find that this is a fantastic movie with very strong themes of love, family and keeping that sense of childhood wonder alive.

It pays tribute to the original in subtle ways that don’t detract from the fact that this is a sequel, not a reboot. The songs, while not instant classics, touched me in ways that I can’t explain, except to say that I had tears streaming down my face at several moments during the movie.

It was like taking a trip back in time to the room my brother and sister and I shared with our parents, in a small town in the Philippines, and hearing Feed The Birds for the first time. With a little imagination, I’m right there with Papa and Mama, singing along to the songs I’ve always loved best.

Sometimes I lose my point when I get so into the topic I’m writing about, but somehow I always manage to find my way back to it. I wasn’t really intending to write a review about the movie. My only review is this: I LOVED IT.

Last week, my orthopaedic boss was telling me a story about his wife and how she wrote a strongly-worded email to their son’s teacher. This teacher somehow took it upon herself to tell the children in her class that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. He’s not real. Grow up and get over it.

I’m not a parent but I am outraged on their behalf. 

No one has the right to shatter a child’s precious illusions. They will find out how harsh the reality of the world really is in due time, we shouldn’t deprive them of the chance to be children for just a little while longer.

I think that this is ultimately my point, and the point of this blog.

Every once in a while we should remember what it felt like to be children.

I know that a return to childhood is difficult, if not impossible. But I think that it is possible to keep the simple joys and beliefs we all felt as children, to still allow ourselves to dream and wonder even as adults. Its possible.

As Mary Poppins said, anything is possible, even the impossible.

Posted in family, friendship, relationships

The Art of Forgiveness

As 2018 comes to a close, I find myself in the position of once again looking back at the year that’s gone: the good, the bad, the things I should have done and the things I could have done without.

Over the holidays, I made time to call several of my relatives and friends all around the world to greet them a Merry Christmas. There was one call in particular that I was dreading, because I wasn’t sure if it would even be received.

You see, my brother and I somehow managed to get into a stupid argument that got blown way out of proportion last Thanksgiving, of all times.

He took exception to the tone of voice he claims I always use when he was asking me a question. I took exception to the fact that he asks questions incessantly and unnecessarily, even when he already knew the answer, just for the pleasure of annoying me.

He spent the last two days of our family vacation barely making eye contact and ignoring me. My questions and tentative peace offerings were met with either disdain or the occasional grunt. I told myself I didn’t mind, that I was grateful for the reprieve from the constant teasing and torment.

What a pile of rubbish. Of course, I minded.

I minded because, first of all, we were on a bloody vacation. It was really awkward having to pose for all these photos and smile through my teeth when I was fully aware that the person standing next to me really hated my guts.

I minded because my brother and I are based in different parts of the world, and we see each other once every couple of years at best. It seemed such a shame to waste all that time we’ve been given fighting over something so inconsequential.

I minded because the last time my brother got that upset with me, he didn’t speak to me for two whole years. Yep, my family (especially the men in my family) take passive-aggressiveness to a whole other level. They don’t do shouting matches or throw plates at each other. If you’ve wronged them, you cease to exist for them until they’ve gotten the hurt out of their system.

I minded because I knew I could have done so much better. I could have been more patient, more sisterly, more understanding of his innate need to annoy me because in a twisted way, he really just wants my attention.

I minded because I love my brother, even when I don’t like him very much. We’ve always had a far more complicated relationship compared to that which I have with my sister. I think in some ways the distance works for us because it allows us to only remember the things we like about each other. Its the reason why we’ve gotten along so much better since I’ve moved to London.

In our case, absence really DOES make the heart grow fonder.

Most of all, I minded because this wasn’t the first relationship that I’ve managed to damage in the latter part of 2018. It was only very recently that I’ve managed to hurt a very good friend’s feelings to the point where she’s ignored any overtures I made ever since to make up for it.

That was warranted, to be fair. What I did, while not unforgivable, certainly let her down to such an extent that she is justified in hating me and shutting me out of her life completely. I came out of that experience feeling like I was losing my equilibrium.

I think that may have been the moment when I took a long hard look at the mirror only to realise I really did not like the friend and person that I was becoming.

I have since resolved to do better. And the first step towards healing, the key thing really, is being able to apologise and ask for forgiveness.

Forgiveness. Its such a scary thing, to ask for AND to offer. And the closer the relationship is, the harder it seems to be to say I’m sorry. Its difficult because I sometimes feel, when someone apologises to me, that they’re not as sincere as they should be. That they’re only paying lip service, and apologising out of some societal obligation to do the right thing.

You see, in my family we’ve always been raised to believe that actions speak louder than words (ironic, seeing as how much I love words!). I’ve never heard my dad tell me how much he loves me. BUT. When I was younger and sulking to the point of tears because all my friends had their own mobile phones and I was feeling left out and inferior because I didn’t have one, he saved up most of the money he had at the time and took a special trip to the city for the sole purpose of buying me my own Nokia 3300.

He never held this over my head in the years in between, and I only found out about this story when I was working and earning my own money. You can imagine how small and selfish I felt at the time. Anyway, my Dad doesn’t say much (and when he does he often gets it wrong and inadvertently hurts my feelings), but his actions have always made me feel protected, supported and loved.

So on Christmas Day, I got on Facebook Messenger and made a video call to my recently estranged brother so I can greet him a Merry Christmas and to force him to accept me back in his life. And to be honest, there was a moment when I thought he wouldn’t even take my call. But as soon as he did, I knew we were going to be alright.

He knew how symbolic a gesture it was for me to make the first move. And I knew it was just as symbolic that he took the call. We didn’t need sappy words of apology, and I will kill myself if he ever reads this saccharine and sentimental post, but our actions were enough to get that relationship back on track.

It was the best Christmas present I received this year.

Of course its easier with family, isn’t it? Nothing short of murder can sever the blood ties that obligates them to loving and accepting you and forgiving you time and time again when you mess up.

Its different when its someone who is part of your life by choice, rather than by blood. If you think about it, its a relationship that’s built on mutual understanding, trust and shared memories alone. There’s no binding contract apart from the promise that you will always have each other’s backs. What happens when you fail to fulfil the obligations of that relationship?

I’ve never really thought about it. I think I just took it for granted that there’s no transgression so big that its beyond forgiveness. I’ve always said, rather glibly, that I can talk my way out of anything. This illusion came crashing down in flames as I sat waiting – for three days – for a reply on messenger that never came.

I had hoped that by the time I wrote this blog it would have a happier ending, and that I can put a period at the end of the sentence and say I’ve learned from it and we’re moving forward. But that’s not the case. And its been a really hard pill to swallow.

Perhaps I should take a leaf out of my father’s book and let my actions speak louder than my words. Either way, its been a very humbling lesson to learn this year that the road to forgiveness is a hard one, and some of us may never get there at all.