Of Endings and Beginnings

 

IMG_20190422_174428I’ve been thinking about death these past months. It doesn’t have anything to do with the desire to end my life. It’s more of me, reflecting on how much time we have here on Earth. It still freaks me out that it is something we have absolutely no control over.

Thoughts on Death

Tomorrow is not guaranteed yet we continue to plan for it. We carry our past on our backs and we neglect to live in the present.

Everyday, before I go to bed, I think about how it will be like if the time for me to meet my Maker finally comes. Is it going to be painful? Will my friends miss me? Will it even matter? I shudder at the thought.

I’ve long accepted I won’t live forever and I really need to let go of my past pains. I want this to be my last reincarnation so my soul can finally move on. It is not easy, but it’s something I’ve been working on. I want to make the most out of this life while I still can. I want to lie on my death bed knowing I did the best I possibly could given the time I borrowed.

Some people find it weird that I’ve become more assertive in saying things that I want to say. While most of the words that come out of my mouth remain filtered (for fear I’ll be misinterpreted), I try to make it a point to be more expressive of my thoughts.

The Earth Moved

We experienced a strong earthquake here in the Philippines yesterday. It was around 5 in the afternoon. I was working on something when I started to feel dizzy. I’m on one of the top four floors of our building and I really felt the haunting, fast, shaking, stomach-churning movement of the tall concrete. The doors were swinging and the only thing I could think of was “Lord I can’t die yet”.

I read about excarnation in theory, but I felt it yesterday. I was not in my body. I do remember switching to auto pilot mode. I changed my clothes, packed my bag, then stood in the middle of the room. I froze. I watched the Earth move. I stood still, unable to process everything. Is this really happening? Am I gonna die now? Is this how it’s going to end?

I wanted to cry. I couldn’t. I wanted to scream. I couldn’t. So I stood and watched everything move. The bathroom door kept swinging. Liquid in the bottles dances, as if confirming that there was indeed an earthquake. My body turned ice cold and my stomach started to hurt.

A Montage 

People say your life flashes before your eyes before you die. I realized it wasn’t my time yet yesterday when the flashback did not happen. What I do remember is seeing images of the people that I love. I remember thinking that I really need to exert more effort in telling my family and friends that I love them. I remember telling myself “hey, we got this okay, we’re gonna live”. At some point I think I even heard a dog cry. Perhaps Marley and Roxy were with me yesterday, too.

I had jelly legs when the movement stopped. I messaged my mom and checked up on my friends. It’s silly I didn’t bother to see if I was okay. I had to make sure everyone was fine first. I packed my stuff and went out of the house. I had to use the stairs and I swear my knees hurt so bad. There was no adrenaline rush. I just remember telling myself that if it’s my time to go then so be it. I even managed to stop and take a picture of the sunset.

Speaking of sunsets, I found security when I saw the beautiful painting on the sky. I somehow felt that it was a reassurance that everything will be fine. The colors present were interesting too. Golden yellow, cobalt blue, magenta, orange, and a hint of red. I had no time to break each color down. All I know is I felt peace when I saw all of them dance together.

Waking Up to Another Day

I’ve always told my friends that I don’t want to just live. I want to experience life to the fullest and leave a dent when I go. I want to contribute to change, and make this world better. We owe it to the generations that will come after us.

Yesterday’s event is a reminder that we need to make the most out of every day. We need to let go of things that don’t really matter, and focus on the things that do. We need to be more conscious of how we use our time here. We need to value those who value us, and let go of those who don’t. Life is short.

We need to tell people how much we value them before we lose the chance to. It makes sense now why I put premium on goodbyes. When there are gatherings, it is important to me that goodbyes are done properly. I thought it was just about Venus being my ruling planet, but no. It had so much to do with closing/ending things properly because you’ll never know what can happen in the future.

Perhaps Mother Nature was reminding all of us that we need to be more aggressive in taking care of our one and only home. She’s the real boss. Once she gives up on us, we won’t have anywhere else to go.

I’ve been thinking about death these past months. Yesterday, I believe I was given a sneak peek of the moments leading up to it. I’ve never been this happy to have the chance to open my eyes one more time to see the sun rise.

I’m thankful that I get to live one more day. I’m grateful to be alive.

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Ode To My Kids

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The sun will rise once more tomorrow,

It will paint the sky in blue and gold

In my heart are emotions I dare not let go

For fear I’ll regret it a thousand fold

Our journey began with you asking my name,

And then you asked if I want to play a game

T’was the beginning of a beautiful story, something I hold dear

The world is a much better place whenever you are near

My task was to help you know more about the world

Some days I doubted myself, my toes would curl

You were always generous with your words of affirmation

I, on the other hand, had to make sure each of you had my undivided attention

It’s funny how the world works once you learn to let go

A lot of things manifest when you go with the flow

Like me and you meeting for five times each week

And me and you missing each other whenever we’re sick

Time does fly by so fast when you’re having fun

Because just like that, we are already done!

You have bloomed into beautiful beings and you’re ready for chapter two

All I can do is watch you spread your wings and promise that I’ll always be here for you

The healing education works; it did wonders for you and me

I was supposed to teach you but I learned more from you three

This world will be a much better place because I know you’ll share your light

The areas filled with darkness will glow beautifully once you’re in sight

I am grateful for the time we spent together, both the highs and lows

I’m taken back to that Friday morning when I gave each one of you a rose

I will always be your Binibini even if I become a Ginang one day

I know you think about this too, but I just say “come what may”

My heart is a lot bigger now because I made room for you three

Wherever I may be in this world know that you’ll always be with me

I get to give you one more hug before we say goodbye

But promise me when we see each other, you’ll come over and say “hi!”

— For T, A, and V. Mula sa kaibuturan ng aking puso, maraming salamat.

I Am Not an Accident

I can finally write about it.

This is something I wrestled with for years; each attempt a roller coaster, the highs beating the lows and vice versa. I’ve attended several workshops and therapy sessions, every single one ending with a validation, a trip down memory lane, and a colorful series of expressions.

But some days I find myself haunted by those words and I go back to square one.

Seven

My family setup is different from what our society is used to, but in no way do I consider it broken. I grew up seeing just one parent and the only time I learned about my story was when I was in second grade. It didn’t make a lot of sense back then, but life has its way of unfolding mysteries with each birthday candle blown. It also has its way of hurting you, and that came in the words “you are an accident” uttered by a relative I looked up to. A person I loved and admired deeply called me an accident. I was seven years old.

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Thesis, 2009 | (c) Aliya Agbon

Twenty-one

The Bible was quoted, and I was forced to look at Ecclesiastes. I argued, I am not an accident. This went on for years. At 21, I talked to her again to tell her that she’s wrong, that I’ve read every single book in the Bible but none of it says that I am an accident,  that I’ve worked so hard to be visible, and that I have every right to claim my space on this planet. More painful words came, and I began to realize I won’t be receiving an apology from this person anytime soon. I found comfort in writing the words “to my mom, who turned the world’s worst accident into the world’s best blessing” on the dedication page of my thesis. That was my truth, and that truth felt good.

Soul Work

For years, her words shaped my reality. I wanted to be a celebrity. I wanted to make it big and have people know my name. I can sing, dance, act, host, I’m a Jill of all trades. I reflected on this and I realized, I was not really into the limelight. There were several opportunities in the past and I did get my feet wet when I hosted a kiddie show, but what happens behind the camera did not appeal to me. After several backward reviews and scribbles on my life chart, I came face-to-face with the reality that I wanted to be seen. The neglect made me want to be more visible and that’s when I realized what my real intentions were. It was one tough pill to swallow.

The questions are more important than the answers, they say. My soul yearned for healing and it lead me to people who understood what I was going through. Colors, movement, gestures, speech, and tone revealed memories I tried to so hard to hide, forcing me to meet them once again. Some memories were pleasant, some made my stomach churn, but every single one made me understand myself at a deeper level. Removing an event in the past does have an effect on the present, and it takes a lot of inner work to accept the good and the bad.

Full Circle

The seven-year cycle comes in full circle as I’m now on my 7th year of soul work. I have come to realize that the wisdom of the soul is something we should never underestimate. Watching everything unfold before my very eyes still gives me chills and I just feel honored that I get to witness  and experience it in this lifetime. This healing is something I owe to my past and future self. It’s a tall order, but someone has to do the dirty work.

It’s quite interesting to note as well, that I received the greatest affirmation from two doctors just some weeks ago. One told me while exchanging goodbyes: “I’ve been meaning to tell you that in embryology, it’s the egg that allows the sperm to enter which is why it’s impossible that you are an accident”. The other one told me “see, you are not an accident, I’ll hit you with a book the next time you say that you are” when I showed him the line “the egg descends to meet its destiny” from Dennis Klocek’s book, Esoteric Physiology.

My memories are important to me, and those moments of affirmation have been playing in my head for weeks now. My mom has been working hard for years just to let me feel that I’m not an accident and I can finally embrace that now. I can finally end the story that started when I was seven. Call on the Bible or any Science book and both will agree that I am not accident. I never was. I never will be.

I’m now ready to remove my boxing gloves. The wrestling match is over. With one last bell, what has been twenty-three years of non-stop punching has finally come to an end.  I wear my battle scars with pride. I may be tired, but my soul is happy. Very happy.

It’s time to bury her story six feet below the ground. It has to die so my story, the real one, can finally blossom and meet the beautiful chapters of its destiny.

I can now say in full confidence that I have every right to be here, and it feels hella awesome.

05.23.18

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Suli, a Creating Sinag Within volunteer, shows a young survivor how to do the cortices. (c) Aliya Agbon, 2017 | Canon 550D

“Are you coming back?” asked a little girl when she saw me gather the volunteers of Creating Sinag Within. “I don’t know”, I told her. It was a hot afternoon in October, and we were on our last day for the second mission of the Waldorf-inspired initiative. I’ve learned long before that it’s best to be honest with children. Never make any promises, and be courageous enough to tell them that you may no longer see each other in the future.

She hugged me. “You’re so fluffy… like a pillow”, she said.

I’m all for hugs. I love receiving hugs and I can distinguish the happy “hey-it’s-nice-to-meet-you” ones from the “please-don’t-leave-me” kind. It is heart-wrenching and I wish we didn’t have to say goodbye. But we had to. I kneeled down and told her “I don’t know if we’ll see each other again, but I do know that you are strong, courageous and beautiful”. She beamed and gave me one more hug before joining her friends.

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The need to be found. (c) Aliya Agbon, 2017 | Canon 550D

It’s always the same. When you go to an evacuation center, kids will scrutinize you. Can they trust you? Are you there to genuinely help them? Then, once the activities begin, the kids warm up to you and even if you don’t want them to, they will start caring for you. They will run towards you whenever you arrive and cry when it’s time to go. Eighteen years in this kind of work and nothing has changed. It’s always that heartbreak at the end of each mission, you flash your biggest smile in the hopes that the kids won’t feel your pain (they will) and cry your eyes out once you’re inside the van. But you’ll do it again anyway because you know that you can’t just sit there when you are capable of doing something.

Post-mission, you begin to wonder what life will be like for them. Will their parents continue to hurt them? Can they move forward and learn from this experience? What were they supposed to learn anyway? What does the future hold for them? Do they already have “sinag” within them? You may never know the answer.

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Tutubing Bakal (c) Aliya Agbon, 2017 | Canon 550D

Time as of writing: 10:26 and in less than two hours, Marawi siege will end it’s first run around the sun. Some anniversaries are worth celebrating, but this one I’m not so sure. All I know is in less than two hours, it will be one year since the siege and the residents are still in the process of rebuilding the city, themselves, and their community.

My thoughts right now are with the siege survivors I met before, during, and after the Creating Sinag Within mission. The lone Islamic city in the Philippines will always have a special place in my heart. If you’re reading this and are aware of what 05.23.18 means, please send healing thoughts to the people and the place they all call home, Marawi.

New Year, New Header

Each new year comes with the promise to change for the better. I was not prepared to dive into the first few chapters of this year, and several times I found myself speechless. In an attempt to cope, I found myself scouring through storage boxes of planners and sketchpads filled with poems, songs, illustrations and paintings I worked on since I was a kid.

Yes, I still keep them.

These are imprints of my soul, and as I looked through each one I found myself asking what stories are behind each body of work. Some I still remember, some I no longer do. My trip down the colorful memory lane led me to a painting I did back in 2011. At that moment I decided it was time to tweak my old header and add portions of the painting.

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While I love the simple, classy, and elegant feel of my old black and white header, I feel like this new one is a much better representation of why this blog exists. It may look simple, but behind each stroke and color is a healing story. There’s depth to the painting, and it takes openness and a keen eye to see that.

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I preserved all the elements. The girl on the right is lifted from a sketch I did before classes back in 2006. I call her “Aliya”. Wahine Wanderlust is about a woman who loves to surf and wander about this wonderful life while she still can.

While I still can.

 

 

 

 

I Am Not My Weight

I gained weight. Big time. A whopping additional 30 pounds is distributed all over my body. My cheeks are fuller, my arms jiggle, and most of my clothes don’t fit anymore.

 

See, the past months I’ve been dealing with people who take it upon themselves to comment on my body weight. “Mataba ka”, “healthy ka”, “chin up, all of it”, “girl papayat ka ha?”, “ang taba taba taba mo na”, bla bla bla. It’s supposed to be okay. I’m supposed to be fine with all the snide remarks but the thing is, it hurts. It takes me back to my elementary days when some of my classmates would call me names just because I was not as slim as most of them.

What most people fail to realize is the numbers on the weighing scale do not reflect who I am as a person. I’m still the same Aliya and it’s just funny (sometimes pathetic) that a lot of people are obsessed with what I look like.

Have I thought about losing weight? Yes, because I miss wearing some of my clothes. I’m working on it, but in no way am I doing it for other people.

I used to be so obsessed with losing weight just so that people will like me. I’d skip meals, work out until I pass out, and avail of services that speed up the weight loss. While it got the job done, I ended up with a body that had zero curves and worse, people still had something to say.

I’m so over that now. Yes, the words hurt sometimes but I know better now. I bleed, but I’m very much aware that talk is cheap, and at the end of the day I still have a say on how those words will affect me.

Maybe we need to learn how to look beyond someone’s physique. Underneath all the layers of “fat” is an actual human being who has every right to live in this world. We also need to be sensitive enough and think about how voicing out our unsolicited thoughts will affect that person.

I mean seriously, do we really need to point out that a person is fat, or are we doing it so we can feel good about ourselves?

 

Sinag Stories: My Thirteenth Birthday

Each year, I patiently wait for the clock to strike 12 so I can sing a birthday song to myself. Of course, there were times when I’d wish for people to surprise me at 12 midnight with songs, flowers, balloons, and a cake, but reality taught me to manage my expectations.

When I found out that I’ll be celebrating my birthday in an evacuation center this year, I was quite happy about it. For once, I’ll be spending it with the kids I’ve grown close to, along with the volunteers of Creating Sinag Within. People say thirty is just a number, but for me thirty means three decades of existence, loaded with challenges to help me become the person I’m destined to be. I was planning on cooking something for the team so we can have a mini celebration, but little did I know that they already had their own plans.

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Got me some candy and I saw this. What are the odds? (c) Aliya Agbon | Canon 550D

A Few Hours Before Midnight

End-of-the-day meetings are part of our rhythm. The backward review gives us the space to run through the events that happened during the day, to note areas that need to be improved, and to acknowledge situations that are significant to us. I distinctly remember voicing out that we really need to sleep at 9 that night because we didn’t have enough sleep the night before. I was itching for the meeting to finish because I could no longer keep my eyes open. The moment we finished the meeting, I rushed to my bed to sleep. Before closing my eyes, I told Dayang ” I turn a day older tomorrow, isn’t that interesting?”

Lights off.

Yakosinilado Banaha

I was nearing the end of the bridge, the part where I can say I’ve finally fallen asleep, when I heard voices from afar. “Si, si, si, sidolada, yakosinilado banaha!” The voices were muffled at first, like they were from a hundred miles away. I figured, maybe the EP team is still rehearsing for the activities the next day but why? We already agreed that we need to sleep. The voices grew louder and it dawned on me that they were not rehearsing for any activity. I peeked through my malong and I noticed that candle lights danced with the darkness in the room, and that there were people standing near my bed.

I cried.

The Birthday Surprise

It took a while for me to get up because I couldn’t stop crying. When I finally decided to get up, I saw the Courageous Marawi 12 and the Creating Sinag Within volunteers armed with cakes, balloons, flowers, and a cake. They sang their birthday song and I walked around the room to thank each one for taking the time and effort to make my birthday special.

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Love you, Courageous Marawi 12! (c) Louise Far, 2017

I received three black balloons, thirteen long stemmed roses, one birthday cake, and love from all of the volunteers that night.

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Thirteen going on thirty! (c) Louise Far, 2017

I then learned about how they planned the whole thing, and the things that they had to do in order for the surprise to be successful. I was just staring at them while they were talking because at that moment, my heart just wanted to explode with all the love it received that night.

Now, you’re probably wondering why the title says “thirteenth birthday”. Well, here’s why:

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Happy 13th to me! (c) Audi Ibrahim, 2017

This was all Imad’s idea. Haha. Anyway, my heartfelt thanks to all those who remembered my birthday. Special shoutout to the Courageous Marawi 12 for planning the surprise. I definitely felt loved. Thank you! 🙂

Sinag Stories: No Matter the Package

“Whatever happened to humanity?” – I’ve been asking myself this question lately. There are so many painful things happening in different parts of the world, I can literally hear my heart break while watching the news or reading the articles. What happened to us? Why are we hurting other beings? I can go on, really, but I know that it’ll take some time before I can find all the answers to these questions.

See, the downside to being an empath is that you feel the weight of the world and it takes an awful lot of conscious effort to remind yourself that the weight is not yours to bear. You have 99 problems and 89 of those problems aren’t yours to begin with. I’ve been struggling with that and for months, I have been wanting to rant and add to the noise but what for?

Nothing. I’ll just be another negative person sharing negative stuff on Facebook and that’s not what I want to be. I want to be someone who sees the light amidst the darkness and that does not mean turning my back on the issues that we have today. I will acknowledge them yes, but I will also acknowledge that there is a positive side to everything.

That’s why I’m writing this blog today. This is an attempt to update this teeny tiny space I have in the worldwide web. I will focus on the happier, more positive things because that is the most I can do for now. That is the most I can do for you, as well, in case you’re looking for a happy nugget that you can munch on amidst the dark and cold that the world is slowly starting to become.

This will be a series of stories, mostly from our Creating Sinag Within activities.

Here’s the first one:

When I learned about the Marawi siege last May, one of the immediate thoughts I had was “how can we help?” Kids for Peace Foundation (KIDS) wanted to rush to Iligan and help in any way possible but we had to assess the situation first. We then started asking friends about the possibility of organizing emergency pedagogy with the survivors of the siege to help them deal with and move on from the traumatic experience. We were thinking of the materials needed for the activities when my mom suggested that we tap Craft MNL and Gantsilyo Guru to ask for help in making the call for donations of crocheted balls.

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Colorful crocheted balls from Waldorf School of Batangas.

Crocheted balls are made of yarn and are warm to touch, unlike the plastic or rubber balls that can easily be purchased off the rack. The details on the balls tell a story – how many times the yarns moved back and forth to create mesmerizing patterns, hours spent to form the sphere, and the struggles in following the instructions. The crocheted balls are full of love, care, and warmth that our eyes teared up when we received the boxes from Craft MNL and Gantsilyo Guru!

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Some balls came with heartwarming notes, too!

Inside the box were paper bags, plastic bags, newspaper,  and bags made of cloth, each containing crocheted balls. What’s interesting is that some even included letters and drawings for the survivors of the Marawi siege. We initially asked for 48 balls, but we received a whopping 353!

We shared the crocheted balls with the young survivors of the Marawi siege during the first mission of Creating Sinag Within. The looks on their faces when they saw the balls tugged at our heartstrings that’s why we are so grateful to those who shared their talent and crafted these crocheted balls for them. Emergency pedagogy sessions became even more colorful because aside from playing with a parachute, the kids also passed the crocheted balls around while singing songs.

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Suli, one of the volunteers of Creating Sinag Within, joins the young survivors in passing the crocheted balls. 

For some, crocheted balls are no more than just balls made of yarn but for the young survivors, these balls symbolize happy times. These balls helped them go back to being kids again. They felt the love, care, and nurturing of the generous makers of the crocheted balls even if they were not present during the activity. They felt that they’re worth someone’s time, that they’re worth someone’s effort, and for someone who had to deal with living in an inconvenient environment far from home, that means a lot.

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Young survivors proudly raise the crocheted balls before the activity. 

If you’re one of the makers of the crocheted balls, this is for you. I want you to know that you made a young survivor happy by crocheting those balls for them. In a few weeks, we will see them play with the balls again as they go on with their journey to creating sinag within. Continue to hold them in the light!

Love-Hate Relationship

I have a love-hate relationship with the Facebook thumbs up/like/ultimate-end-to-the-conversation icon.

There. I said it.

I dunno. I hate it when I’m talking to someone and the next reply is a blue thumbs up. Like… there are thousands of stickers on Facebook, mostly free, and all you can do is give me a thumbs up? O_O

It’s even more annoying when they press on the icon for a few more seconds just to make it bigger. It’s like a capital k, font size 1000 and in bright blue. I actually don’t know what I hate more: the thumbs-up-zone, or the seenzone.

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See? You had to scroll down for a bit just to reach this part. Different folks, different strokes, they say. But how is it that most of the people I know are avid users of this icon? It is so difficult to reply to a thumbs up, I swear. Like, if you want to keep the conversation going, you have to be uber creative and start a new topic or something.

Don’t get me wrong, there are days when I live for all the “likes” I receive, because I take them as affirmation for photos/thoughts/jokes/videos posted online. Put the thumbs up in a conversation and it instantly becomes a “k”, a comma, an exclamation point, a hint of sarcasm, a pause in the conversation, or a sign that both parties ran out of things to say.

And cut.

It’s funny that I’m blogging about this but really. I just need to acknowledge that yeah I have a love-hate relationship with that icon and I need to accept that there are people who just love to use it for whatever reason. May I have more tolerance for that shining shimmering thumbs up icon after this.