thirteen

Last Sunday was my nephew Paul’s thirteenth birthday. He was the very first grandkid and nephew in my family. Without even knowing it, Ranel Paul, on July 2, 1993, ushered in a new kind of joy to our family. His every move was photographed, every little action spun into stories that were retold endlessly.

And then Time winked. Now that cute baby suddenly speaks in a low voice and talks no-end about basketball, video games, and, yes, girls (three topics on which I have almost-zero knowledge). Puberty has waved its magic wand and now Paul fusses more about his hair, spends more time with friends, and worries he might not grow taller than his uncle’s six feet.

Paul was polite yet warm when I talked to him Sunday. I told him how I couldn’t believe that he’s already a teenager! We chatted about high school and how he is warming up to it. (It turns out his home room adviser is Mrs. Juezan, one of my favorite math teachers, who also taught all three of my siblings before me.) He went on to describe the events of his special day—the gimmick with his barkada, the time with family… It struck me how I missed him, how I missed home. Before we said our goodbyes, I told him that I was praying for him. He ended with, “’Love you, Tito”—and somehow I felt it. “Love you, too, Poloy.”

Paul is a very perceptive and introspective boy. Once when he was nine, he asked me about the meaning of the word “paranoid”. Without a second’s pause, I answered, “Paranoid? That’s your Grandpa!” His eyes twinkled and he let out a little laugh. Honestly, I just didn’t know of a better way of explaining the word’s meaning to him at that time. But then again, maybe my little retort did more than any dictionary could to define the word for his young, curious mind. Now, as a certified teenager, Paul just might add “daddy” to expand the word’s definition.

“So how does it feel to be the father of a teenager?” I quizzed my 37-year-old brother over the phone. Ever eloquent and witty, the minister replied nonchalantly, “Now I know why some animals eat their young.” Hahaha! With that good humor and lightheartedness, I get the feeling that raising a teenager won’t be so traumatic for my dear brother. And I doubt Paul—a good boy, really—will end up on any menu either.

Happy Birthday, Polsky! The Lord make His face to shine upon you…
 

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the way i(t) was

 

In an attempt to order my entropic domestic world, I decided to sort and rearrange old files—clutter, memorabilia, knickknacks—that I had amassed since moving to Manila some years ago. And in the process I excavated some very interesting stuff

Take for example the World Balance shoe box I had years ago labeled “Memory Box.” It contains personal notes, letters, some photos, greeting cards from friends and family. I went through the contents one by one, and began feeling nostalgic. One note said, “You are loved.” And, yes, I did feel an overwhelming sense of being loved as I read—and sneezed—through that dusty pile of memories.

Also in the “Memory Box” were two love letters. I remember writing them in the summer between freshman and sophomore years. Obviously, these heartfelt missives never got sent. (But as a matter of fact, there were half-a-dozen others that did find their way to the hands of the object of my affection then, mind you.) I smiled at my mush and recalled the good times with that amazing girl. Then I came across a small card she had given me, on which she wrote “GLYSDI” (God loves you, so do I). Boy, did that send 17-year-old me on a thousand-and-one daydreams and what-ifs! Today, on hindsight, I conclude that it was nothing but a friendly, non-romantic gesture. Awww, I know…

I found sheets of photocopied readings for some class in college. I wondered why these had made it to the Box. It didn’t take long before I discovered that on the back of these otherwise disposable textbook photocopies were scribbled intimate journal entries. I don’t remember writing them but the penmanship and language were unmistakably mine. Most were soul-baring prayers that detailed many a heavenward plea or cry for help. Interestingly, some of the thoughts I had penned those years ago still ring true today. In many ways, I still feel the same uncertainties and longings: desiring to be a better man who passionately pursues God, dealing with the intricacies of dying to sin and living for Christ daily, the struggles with identity and purpose. Now that I think of it, have I grown to become a better man than I was several years ago? “I see God’s fingerprints on you, brother,” wrote a friend in one of the cards. Are those fingerprints clearer today than they were then? Or have I managed to efface them with my own selfish marks?

Some things I chose to part with after I had rummaged through my decade-old archives. But there are those that I decided to keep and cherish, for they will grow even more valuable—more instructive and insightful—with time.

Now, I don’t know why I chose to keep this ID card from my high school senior year. Maybe there’s something about that youthful, confident smile that I want to remember and draw strength and perspective from. Or maybe I just want proof that I used to have more hair and less chin. For whatever reason, I say this one’s a keeper.