Two Fridays ago, I decided to check out a patisserie during my lunch break and satisfy my sweet tooth. It became a day that will stick with me for a while.
When I got there, the sweet aroma and sight of a wide variety of delectable sweets on display made me linger and hesitate in picking out which one to try first. Just then, an elderly woman came and started eyeing those tarts and profiteroles, and she voiced out exactly what I was thinking. Opening my mouth to politely reply end up costing me more than I bargained for. Was it worth it? You tell me.
* * *
I could sense she wanted company.
After a hesitant pause, she asked me if I minded joining her while we each partake a piece of our chosen dessert. It was a lovely, cool sunny day, far different from the drab, rainy weather we experienced during the past Sydney summer. I wasn’t rushing to go back to work and being aware of how much the extroverted elderly people long for conversations, and feeling generous of my time, I obliged. I didn’t expect to stay for more than twenty minutes but she talked non-stop for two hours!
R. turned out to be a very interesting woman! An intelligent, well-read 84 year old, she shared with me her interest in history, travel, arts – living art, she emphasised – including classical and rock music!
Decades back, she left England as a school dropout and, penniless, grabbed the opportunity to migrate to Australia and start out a new life.
In those two hours, she shared with me her life stories that showed an enlightened, broadminded father who taught her from a young age that though people look different, we are all the same underneath; of her adventures in Asia and Europe; her experiences living as a white person in South Africa during the apartheid era and raising a mixed-race son; and dealing with people with narrow-minded views and beliefs.
These days, she spends her time taking walks in Parramatta, where she now resides after living for a long time in Cremorne; reading books she borrows from the local library; watching plays in the local theatre; and watching ethnic festivals when they’re on. She and her husband parted ways and her only son died three years ago. He was schizophrenic.
Her memory is remarkable! She would repeat full names and describe the personalities of people she met on the ship on her way to Australia, during her other travels and those she befriended while living here and the details of their conversations. I can’t even remember the first or last names of most of my teachers!
With my eyes fixed on her while I slowly sip my skim mocha, she recited a couple of poems to me, sung a tune or two, suggested books for me to read, shared her love for the Aboriginal people and people of all cultures, and scoffed at prejudiced people, and politicians and politics.
In one of those rare moments where she paused, I managed to quickly share my newly-discovered interest in chanting, which I thought would impress her. Surprisingly, she then recited a sacred mantra she knew by heart. I listened in amazement.
Under the glare of the early afternoon sun and while gushing at the delicious sweet snacks we were having, we discovered we have many things in common, like the love of:
- Rock music
- Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page
- Bohemian Rhapsody, Freddie Mercury
Wow, an 84-year old woman who loves ROCK! I’m as amazed to hear this as when I hear of rock music-appreciating Gen-Ys, like my friend Fran, as most of these young kids these days generally have no idea what real great music sound like! 🙂
She must have been one cool woman during her time. She still is ‘cool’, actually. She mentioned she watched the unforgettable concert film, ‘The Song Remains the Same,’ which she loved. Not to be outdone, I let her know I watched it three times! She was duly impressed!
I could imagine her musical drummer son, whom she recalled fondly, playing Stairway to Heaven with his acoustic guitar which she bought for him, to veer him away from the hard drumming that he played. She said she encouraged her son when he was still alive to play and listen to higher vibration music, like classical music, to help him with his mental condition.
You could tell she looked after herself. Her facial skin is not that lined for her age and her powdered face still shows a beauty she must have enjoyed at her youth. Her current short, light brown hair becomes her. Spanish gay friends she met and befriended would call her élégante. But she’s no longer that, she says, because she’s now old.
She narrated her love of nature and hearing the sounds of the birds in the morning. She says she was raised an Anglican/Protestant but she had left it all behind and now considers her god as the moon, the stars, the trees.
She survived breast cancer. She has firm ideas about how the female breasts should be regarded and voiced her disapproval of the way men view women’s breasts.
At 16, she fell in love for the first time but it was ‘unconsummated,’ she says. I didn’t dare ask her when and with whom it finally happened, but her mother certainly drummed into her the risks of having premarital sex.
With no inhibition, she casually dropped the word ‘sex’ like we were long-time best friends! I kept asking myself over and over while she continued talking, ‘Did I hear it right, did she really say ”sex”?’ Hence, damn it, I missed hearing what must have been the juicy details of her life!
She’s not wearing spectacles or contact lenses so her eyesight is obviously still good, her hearing is much better than mine, she walks unaided and still does her own shopping, and I’m sure there are other things she ably does by herself.
But I feel a tinge of sadness. Though her mental faculty is still enviably sharp, her physical body is showing inevitable signs of ageing and decline. She has poor body circulation, she says. Her wrinkled wrists and neck, the exposed body parts of which her beige, old long-sleeve winter coat couldn’t hide, are covered with big brown spots. She may not need eyeglasses but her eyes often become watery. She has no family to look after her or to keep her company. She must have friends but most are probably long gone. She might have once rocked it, but at this stage of her life she can no longer be a party animal that I, ahem, still am.
I tried to get up from my seat to slowly say ‘bye, thanks for the chat,’ but she didn’t take notice and continued talking leisurely, not really minding that I was late getting back to work. She couldn’t let this opportunity pass by so easily, I suppose, to share old stories that are still alive in her long memory and are waiting in anticipation to be shared to a willing listener. I slowly eased half of my behind off the chair and poised to bolt. At my third attempt to interrupt her storytelling, I got up to say firmly, ‘I have to get back to work.’
She gave me her number for in case I feel the desire to have a chat with her again. I sensed she didn’t really seriously count on me contacting her ever. She must have offered her contact number to many others, with the small hope that one of them would call one day.
Reality for me is, I don’t get to hang out with thinkers like her too often. People who read to learn and broaden their perspective; people who question established beliefs and biases; people who defy the norm and follow what they feel is the right thing to do, not just believing things are the way they should be done just because the majority think so.
She apologised for talking too much. I replied that I enjoyed our talk immensely and I learned a lot. She paused, looked me in the eye and firmly said, ‘no, you didn’t learn from me; I learned from you.’ I tried to quickly recall what it was that I could have possibly said of value but none came to mind.
‘I must learn more about the Philippines, especially before the time of the Spanish colonisation’, she says. With dismay, I offered the information that the thoughtless Europeans who invaded my country of birth, destroyed most of the ancient and written artifacts that must have depicted a rich life and history of the ancient Filipinos. She replied that they did the same thing in South America.
I made a mental note to re-read Philippine history and silently chastised myself for not taking to heart my history lessons in school.
She assured me she’d let me talk more next time.
Ever since that fateful day, I’ve been thinking about how I enjoyed sitting at a sidewalk café during a perfect autumn weather, discussing life over Lebanese halva with a stranger, a woman of substance.
There’s a lot more for her to share, for sure. Stories spanning more than eight decades and ideas and opinions formed while living a meaningful life, with details too interesting and too eventful to narrate in two hours.
Still, I find myself begging the question, ‘Should I see her again?’
Hmmm… perhaps at another one fine day, I might give her a call to suggest repeating for me over coffee and a baklava the juicy details of her life that I might have missed hearing the first time. 😀
Is there a one true religion?
For many years, I tried to find an answer to that simple question. Approximately twenty years later, I come to a disappointing but inevitable conclusion that it’s not that simple after all. There is no human being alive in the olden days or at the present time, nor any one holy book in existence, who holds and can provide all the answers to everyone’s satisfaction.
Because of this, I no longer have that longing to know. There is no more ‘gaping hole to fill’ or an ‘unending thirst to quench’ for me. After many years of futile searching, I rest… and lose my religion anyway.
I can disregard, cover my ears and turn a blind eye on my other previously-mentioned reasons. However, what made me to finally see the light, so to speak, is:
4. my growing interest in the theory of reincarnation.
Let me tell you upfront: I don’t claim to be Cleopatra, Machiavelli, Queen Nefertiti… or any high or low profile personalities, male or female.
Simplistic my reasons may be for believing in reincarnation, but I certainly don’t believe that just because no one at the present time can present empirical evidence/conclusive proofs of its reality, that it’s definitely not possible or not real.
I first read about reincarnation when it was featured in a magazine called ‘Panorama’ that came with the newspaper that my father used to subscribe to years ago. I remember reading that one could live as a human being in one life and then become a cockroach in the next life. It sounded horrible and at the same time laughable. I remember shaking my head and dismissing the idea of reincarnation outright.
I didn’t know it at the time but different religious groups’ beliefs on reincarnation differ and many don’t believe the above.
It was during my armchair soul searching many years later when I revisited this concept of reincarnation and made an effort to look at it again more objectively.
Why does reincarnation appeal to me after dismissing it initially? Reincarnation, if real, makes absolute sense to me now. If you dare look at it with an open mind and give it some genuine thought, it can shed light to a lot of things.
Edgar Cayce, whose story I read about voraciously (among other numerous books I read that touched on the topic of reincarnation), obviously had a major influence on me. But as this particular post is really just to ‘confess’ my final reason and conclude my ‘Losing My Religion’ story, I will explain more later why I chose to believe in reincarnation (including a continuing belief in a supreme being).
Ask every one of these groups which is the one true religion. Each religion, major and minor, old and new, including their respective denominations, will raise their hand and claim LOUDLY and assuredly theirs to be the one true one.
I ponder this question one last time: Is there a one true religion?
Don’t bother to raise your hand as it’s clear to me now: There is no such thing.
As I disclose my reasons for losing my religion, I remember and repeat an old saying that I heard my father say a few times:
All roads lead to the same place
and, may I add, these include unchartered, unnamed and unmarked roads that are less travelled. One of these roads I may be traversing solely, bravely. Would you dare join me?
Next topic: Holiday!
Let’s take another break from all the seriousness of ‘Religion’, so here’s something ‘light’ and brief.
I’m back in my childhood…
It was a fun time, living in a place which was only a stone’s throw away from my very first school.
Just weeks before, my family and I arrived from the South, where I was born, and was staying temporarily with my Aunt and her family.
The ‘convenience’ I’ve experienced during my first grade wasn’t going to happen ever again during the rest of my school life. You go out the door of your place one minute, and the next few minutes, you’re sitting in your classroom. It’s almost like ‘teleportation’. 🙂
I remember my very first teacher. She was elegant and always had her hair in a bun. She hardly smiled but she wasn’t strict. Of all my teachers in all my school years, hers is the only name I clearly remember – ‘Mrs Lavastida’.
Mrs Lavastida spoke to us in ‘Tagalog’, the lingua franca in Manila, which isn’t my mother tongue. It is at this school in my first grade that I was taught the English alphabet. As I mentioned before, I first learned to read and write in English, before I learned to read and write in Filipino, our national language. Not only that, I first learned to write using cursive handwriting, not manuscript handwriting. This is significant for me because these two occurrences were to put me in trouble in 2nd grade and diminish my confidence (but more on this in one of my future posts).
At six years old, I wasn’t that fluent yet in my mother tongue. At the same time, being new in Manila, I was just starting to pick up ‘Tagalog’. To make matters worse, in school I was being taught to speak, read and write in English. No wonder I ended up not fluent in any of these languages!
I noticed a handsome boy, as you do at six years old. I still remember his name: ‘Florentino’. He was the most handsome in my class, possibly the whole school. He was also the most intelligent and the smartest, both in brain and in wearing his school uniform.
Cupid’s little arrow struck my young heart many years too early. It wasn’t quite a bull’s eye, but it was enough to awaken the beginning of that feeling that every one of us experience at least once or even many times in our lifetime. Picture me at six years old: innocent, ignorant and already having a secret crush on a very good-looking boy.
But I wasn’t the only one. Not surprisingly, he caught a lot of girls’ attention. Perhaps from other classes as well, who knows? The girls were unabashed in showing their crush on him, while I kept mine to myself. This is a typical Scorpio trait; we like keeping things secret.
You could count on your fingers those who didn’t have a crush on him in my class. I think you could put me in both lists: the long list of girls who had a crush on him—even though mine was secret, I still qualify as I had a crush on him; and the short list of girls who didn’t have a crush on him—nobody knew so I fall in this category too! Am I confusing you?
Anyway, the girls gush over him and once during our recess and he was nowhere in sight, I observed them giggling and queueing up, taking turns in sitting and sliding on the armless chair he sat on earlier. Each of them had a few rounds, presumably to feel what it feels like to sit on his chair. I don’t know what these girls were thinking! I’m talking about little girls who could barely dress by themselves.
I must confess I wasn’t any better. When those girls were gone and only a few of us were left in the room, I sat on his chair demonstrating to some clueless few what those ‘shameless’ girls were doing earlier. 😀
I had some spare cash and lots of free time so off from work I went. For a “measly” A$25 and “only” 4.5 hours of my time, including travel time, I had a reasonable expectation that I was going to enjoy myself.
The play already started when I got there. I found a seat and then quickly scanned my surroundings. It was a small hall, filled with less than 100 people.
The play turned out to be the most boring thing since [fill in the blank with whatever is the most excruciatingly boring thing for you]. The performers were reading from a script, were overacting and still managed to be unconvincing.
I won’t bore you with details about the play or the group, not only because it bored me to tears but I was overcome with disbelief that I tried to forget this ever happened. I just remembered the incident out of the blue.
To make this short story shorter, it turned out that I was watching a play by a CULT, trying their hardest to convince their audience and themselves that they are not in any way, shape or form, a CULT!
Apparently, a few individuals and groups have accused them of being so. Don’t ask me how I knew those accusers were right. You don’t spend a whole hour—perhaps the whole play—justifying why your group is not a cult.
It’s embarrassing to admit to you what sort of things I sometimes find myself in because:
I’m being too nice, silly, gullible, naive, plain stupid, sleep-deprived, got up from the wrong side of the bed, depressed-and-unaware-of-it, uhmmm… dumb, or all of the above reasons.
What’s doubly insane is I actually paid money so I could waste my time, make myself out of pocket and bore myself to death. I could have wasted my time for free, or at least spent less doing something less stupidly boring.
After a longer-time than was necessary, I got up and left. When I was out of the hall, I rushed outside, trembling and fearing they were going to stop and try and brainwash me.
Of course, it was only my imagination running wild but my heart was racing. I only calmed down when I realised no one was following me.
In my eternal quest for enlightenment, I almost plunge myself deep into the world of the silly. I had my closest brush with a cult, or… well… at least a cult-like group.
Note to self: Please spend your time and money wisely, ask a lot of questions and use your thinking skills coz that’s what the brain is for.
You are welcome to berate me. 🙂