When 0 was greater than 8

Today, my son and his teammates played their last game at a 12-under summer basketball league. They are a relatively new team of 10- and 11-year-olds who went up against teams from other schools and even against older teams from their own school. But before you even start to think that this might be a piece on their Cinderella story, I might as well tell you that they finished as many predicted—with a win-loss record of 0 to 8.

Every game was hard-fought. Winning margins against them were always in double-digits. While the boys were never outnumbered, they were often outsmarted and outplayed. More often than not, they could not match the physicality and stamina of the other team. They could not outrun, outshoot, outrebound their more experienced opponents, at least, not all the time. Still, the boys showed up and suited up, game after game. They came and played. They played and got played. And in the end of every single game, they lost.

I don’t know what the coaches told the boys and the parents about playing in that league. I just know that, at some point, even I myself started to question the wisdom of joining a league where you’re not just underdogs but something short of misfits. I began to wonder how it might have been affecting the boys not only to lose, but to consistently lose, and by huge margins. I wondered what sort of damage it was doing to their self-esteem and how much self-doubt it was planting in their hearts. They just have to charge it to experience, I often told myself. What doesn’t kill them makes them stronger. Still, I wondered.

Today, as the game clock was winding down, and my son and his teammates played out the remaining minutes, trying to chip away at an insurmountable lead, I found myself asking, “What do you teach a team when you let them play a game they cannot win?” Surprisingly, the answers came quickly to me, as I watched our boys in blue and white continue to push themselves in the dying minutes of the game.

What do you teach a team when you let them play a game they cannot win?

You teach them that winning isn’t everything. You teach them to fight. You teach them that sometimes the struggle is the real battle, and that the greatest battle is always against oneself. You teach them that, often, there is more to be learned from the journey than the destination itself. You teach them that losing and failing and falling short are normal human experiences. You teach them that the numbers at the sound of the buzzer are not measures of their courage or their self-worth, and that their real score is how much of their hearts they have left behind on the court. You teach them that, in any game and in life, the true victors are those who bravely fight, second by second, minute by minute, play by play, day by day.

You teach them humility. You teach them that there will always be others who are greater than they are, no matter how big they think of themselves or how far they may have come. You teach them that they are not and do not have to be the best all the time; they only need to give their best, and to strive to be better persons than they were yesterday. You teach them that life dishes out lessons all the time, and even their opponents can be their best teachers. You teach them to accept themselves, and to respect where they are in their journey, even if it’s not where they want to be. You teach them to look up to something or someone, and to strive.

You teach them to rely on one another. You teach them that the battle is not fought, and will not be won, alone. Out in the court and in life, no one wins without an ally or a brother by his side. You teach them to build on the strengths of others and to accept their weaknesses. You teach them to seek help, when it’s needed, and to offer it whenever they can. You teach them to believe, not only in themselves, but also in others. You teach them to pour out themselves and to trust that, in the end, none of it will be wasted.

I don’t know how much of what I’ve said my son has actually learned. It is something that will unfold in time. Maybe, like the Sixers, I can just tell myself to trust the process, and just be grateful for everything, because sometimes, we win a lot by losing.
21 May 2017



There are some things I keep selfishly to myself.

A year or so before John Mayer launched his first album, a friend gave me an unlabeled cassette tape which I ended up playing over and over again. It was a live recording of a gig in a small cafe. It began with, “Hello, my name is John, and I’m here to play you some songs.” I didn’t even know “John’s” last name until Room for Squares came out in 2001.

I don’t share a lot of things with other people. I don’t feel the urge to let the world in on everything I do, or on my every thought and feeling. Not in this age of social media. Certainly not before its advent.

Yet, I write. Yet, this blog exists. That I even started it was confounding. In the past, I wrote stuff and sometimes showed it to close friends. Often these were bits and pieces of my young (and stupid) broken heart, disguised as poems. Back then, there wasn’t much to hide when the wreckage was there, plastered on the pavement.

It’s because, while there are things that I’d like to—and I should very well—keep to myself, there are others that, I feel, need to be shared. A line from William Nicholson’s Shadowlands says, “We read to know that we are not alone.” Maybe I write for the same reason.

I know that this post, like the others that came before it, will not reach a lot of people. And strangely enough, I do take some comfort in that. I know that it will not be read by my 100 or so followers on twitter, and certainly not by my facebook friends, many of whom do not even know that this blog exists. But if you’re reading it, and I haven’t bored you to death after 310 words, and it sparks something in you that makes you feel like you can see parts of my soul where I had drawn these words from, then maybe I wrote this for you. So you will cease to fear and you will begin to honor those places within you that you do not have words for.

And as I write this, thinking of you and what you might be thinking as your eyes follow my words, this exact moment when my thoughts seek yours, I, too, am not alone. A wonderful rarity that trumps a thousand likes, whether sincere or perfunctory. The singular and the divine puncturing the tiniest of holes in the dark canvas of every day, nothing more than a needle prick, but more than enough to let in all the light that I need.

The H Word

Being happy freaks me out.

When I was a kid, I used to think every good thing that happened to me in a day had a trade-off bad stuff coming my way. Sometimes it was pretty accurate though, like karma trying to be fair or the universe dishing out a sick sense of justice. So in most cases, if something goes right, it frightens me. It frightens me to think of what it could possibly take away from me. Of course, as I grew older, I came to realize that it wasn’t always a one-to-one correspondence. Like this heartbreak for that thrill. These tears for that kiss. Still, it is a truth I’ve learned that joy and sadness go hand in hand. And the pain is always part of the happiness.

Being happy still freaks me out though. And I guess I can say that lately I’ve been freaking out a lot. And I do know whom to thank for it.

And I don’t usually write happy poems. But this is probably the closest thing to happy that I can get.

Here I Drew

On my bedroom wall
I drew a half-moon
Like a smile, and
Stars like laughter
Spilling from a bottle.

On my window, I sketched
Bridges like stories
With words unravelling
Like endless strings
Our thoughts can swing from.

On my door, I etched a keyhole
The size of your balled fist.
Its edges spall and splinter
Where the wood is old.
Still, nothing else fits.

In my palm, I carved
A name not like a pentacle
But like a song
Whose words I do not always need
To know but I will always,
always sing.

9-10 February 2016

In which I made a teacup for my parents and those like them who are brave

My parents fell in love and got married in their late thirties. Yesterday, they celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary.

Some loves do last a lifetime. Even the most unlikely ones. Even the ones that come late. Love is always worth the wait. Never trade it for anything. Not even for all the tea in China.


when I was 8, I stole a teacup
from my grandmother’s kitchen.
when she died, I dreamed of her for a month,
sipping piping hot tea from her cupped hands.
my palms were always sweaty when I woke up.
the first time you took my hand,
you held it behind your back,
like a stolen teacup. I froze,
as though trying not to spill
this delicate yet intoxicating
brew that holding hands
with you is steeping
me in.



Two goodbyes and an old poem

When SY 2014-2015 ended, I said goodbye to Junior High.
Before this new school year could even begin, I find myself having to say goodbye to David Hall as well.
In an fb post that I saw some nights ago, a dear friend wrote, “Oh how do we fit our lives in boxes?” And I was reminded of this poem that I wrote many years ago.

It’s almost magical how a cardboard box and some packing tape can hold even voluminous chapters of our lives. And it’s even more amazing how much weight our fist-sized hearts can carry, especially at a time like this.

I spent many happy years in David Hall. And the last two years were especially memorable because of Junior High School.
Saying goodbye to those two is like breaking up with a great love, twice.

The memories will live on. Not just through the photos and souvenirs, but also through the many lives that had walked David Hall.
I remember in a very special way GS ’05 and GS ’06 who were my PEP students and counselees, 6-Luna (and 6LJ) 2005-2006, 6-Jacinto and Lopez Jaena, 7-De Brito and Regis 2009-2010, 7-Kostka (and 7PRX) 2010-2011, 7-Bellarmine (and 7BnBrCm) 2012-2013, 8GKPR 2013-2014, 8PRRoX 2014-2015, and my Grade 5, Grade 6, Grade 7, Grade 8, and Junior High families.

Hearts are full as David Hall is emptied.


Moving Out

Two years and a half
are packed in a box
that stands by the door
and waits for the movers
to pick it up.

Your letters sit
at the bottom,
in old shoeboxes
worn at the edges,
with tattered lids
I painted with
moon phases.

Some records lie
on top of them–
the ones we sang to
on drunken nights,
off-key, and those
we rarely played.
In a paper bag
are a few of yours
which I meant
to return but kept.

Beside the records
are copies of poems
that I wrote and
books that I love
but you never read.

Pressed in between
the wrinkled pages
are the red roses
that I once found
on the bed and
hung by the shelf
until you told me
to put them away.

The pictures you took
are on top of this heap,
framed in wood and leather
and wrapped in
yesterday’s paper.

There was almost
no room for our
small-eared bear
whose eyes fell off
in one of our rough
and tumble plays,
but I squeezed it in.

When the box had taken
the last of the brown fur
I had buried my face in
on the many nights
you were away,
I threw in your keys
and the plastic ring,
and closed the lid
on everything.

About Time

One of the things I like about being in the academe is that it keeps me from being sucked into a perpetual loop of humdrum activities. A school year ends just as quickly as it begins. One quarter leads to another, and before you know it, the school year is over.
This time next week, my students will be battling it out with their periodical exams. Shortly after that, rehearsals for thanksgiving mass and commencement exercises (for those who will survive) will ensue. Then, adieu. C’est fini. And because these boys are graduating, they move on to another campus, and the reality of it is that I will never see many of them again.
Some of them have asked me in the last few weeks, “Ma’am, will you be teaching Grade 9?” And when I replied, “No, I won’t”, some of them feigned disappointment as though it was expected that I go where they go, as if our time together was not meant to come to an end.
Or maybe it’s just that, for some of them, time is just one continuous thread, whereas I experience it as gnarled and knotted, in hopeless twists in many places. Sometimes I feel so stuck because some experiences keep me from moving forward. Sometimes, fear holds me back, and the spool of time that I have just keeps turning in its place. Sometimes, ghosts from the past come back and pull me back in a downward spiral as if I were reliving a recurring bad dream. Yet, sometimes, time seems to be pushing me forward, not just egging me on, but really applying the force of a steamroller, propelling me as if I had turbo boosters attached to my feet.
In a day, at any given moment, time is warped. It is here and now. Yet at the same time, it is also everywhere, happening all at once. And I find myself torn, pulled in so many different directions, yet standing solidly in place. Right now, I am here, writing down these words, and feeling very much like I’m rambling aimlessly. But at the same time, I am in my past, and I am dipping my toes into the future. I am in places I have been to and in those I have yet to see. I am scattered across time, yet I hold all time—past, present, future—in me. I am time-bound, yet I am boundless and free.
Nine lives (or more), baby.

In which a promise is made (so help me, God)

It’s been months; and if my blog had feelings, we probably would have broken up by now.

This is always the case when school starts. Work just takes over, and leaves little or no time for other things which are just as important.

I read because I breathe. I write because I live. And from now on, I will not let a month go by without posting anything here. Whether anyone else reads it or not.

In August, I was asked to read a poem for the Buwan ng Wika celebration. I agreed to do so, but eventually I gave way to the crowd-pleasers, the more entertaining and popular song numbers. In hindsight, maybe I shouldn’t have. Anyway, here’s one of the poems that I was thinking of reading then.

Pagbati sa pagsinta. Pagbati sa muling pagsulat. Pagbati sa ‘di pagbitiw sa mga bagay na tunay na mahalaga sa akin.

Pagbati sa Pagsinta
Ni Joi Barrios

Nakatindig akong babatiin ang pagsinta.
Hindi nakahimlay at nahihimbing
Na kailangang gisingin ng halik,
Hindi nakaupo’t naghihintay
Na para bang ang kanyang pagdating
Ang kabuuan ng buhay,
Hindi nakatingkayad o lumilipad
Na nakikipaglaro sa hangin at pangarap.
Nakatayo ako’t sumasayad
Ang paa sa lupa,
Pagka’t lagi lagi,
Nakayapak ako kung umibig.