May 17, 2007

No longer missing the missing piece

Last Sunday, May 6, my essay was chosen as the weekly winner of Philippine Star and National Bookstore's "My life as a book" contest. To those who couldn't access the link, here's a post of my entry ;-)
No Longer Missing the Missing Piece

As a preschool teacher I have used many books to teach young children important lessons. From the basics such as the days of the week with Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, to life lessons like embracing one’s uniqueness with stories like Leo Leonni’s Swimmy and the importance of sharing with Markus Pfisters’ The Rainbow Fish, the books I read to my kids made values more than just an idea. Rather, these life lessons became real to them, in words they understood.

It was no surprise that when I started teaching psychology at the undergraduate level, I took with me stories such as The Giving Tree, Seven Blind Mice and William’s Doll. While my older audience initially scoffed at the thought of their instructor story-telling, they quickly changed their minds. From neuroanatomy to human development and social norms, the once technical concepts became facts they actually remembered.

If my life were a book, it would definitely be a children’s book, not too long, not too short, colorful and simple yet full of lessons that matter most. If there was one, however, that most represents my life, it would be The Missing Piece by Shel Silverstein.

Growing up I always used to feel that my life would be so much better if only I had the missing piece of myself that would have completed me. Very much like the Circle who couldn’t go places quickly because he had a part missing in the story, I felt like there was something wrong with me, that there was something missing which was holding me back from being the best possible me.

While I cannot say I had a bad childhood nor can claim no good opportunities came my way, I always had a nagging feeling that there was something more, that there was a life out there that I did not have because I was not “perfect”. I felt that if only I was prettier and thinner, or perhaps smarter, life would be so much better. I even believed that if only my parents were still together, everything would be great.

In my fantasies I imagined finding what it was that I was missing. I’d close my eyes and live in a make-believe world where I was a princess who knew no sorrow, pain or longing. When morning came, I held on to my dream and tried to make it reality by filling the void I felt with things I thought should be there.
In my quest to find it, I came across different people, places and things that looked like it would fill the vacuum and make me whole. Like the wedges the Circle in the story picked up, these pieces were supposed to complete me. So that’s what I did: I took on these roles, responsibilities and wrappings with the fervent belief that with my missing piece found, I’d be okay.
However, not all these pieces fit perfectly. Nonetheless, I tried to make them fit. After all, you make do with what you’ve got right?

Once I picked up the “be-the-best” piece. This piece held the belief that being the best at something would make me happy, I strove to be in the honor’s list and to have the nicest things in class, and to be everyone’s best friend. However, that didn’t fit right. While I was proud of my accomplishments and recognitions, I grew so tired of trying to outdo myself. With the resolve that I do not need to be the best but to just do my best I let it go.

Being a true-blue daddy’s girl, I used to feel that with him around, I’d be whole. So at thirteen, I decided to live with him in the States. I even got a job and earned money a thirteen-year-old in Manila would never be able to. The shopping, the freedom, and the independence…that was great! But then it was too much for the adolescent-me to handle. Pretty soon that wedge felt overwhelmingly large and I was consumed by it. So I took it off, called my mom and came home. 

Back in Manila, I decided to take on the role of the family caretaker: the responsible one and the one who took charge of everything. I went out of my way to provide for my siblings in all possible ways. I took care of my lolo as his health failed and spent many Sundays by his side watching basketball while tending to his needs. But when lolo died and my brother’s stopped needing me, the hole returned and I was left with that lost feeling again.

So I tried filling that empty space with lots of nice things, from beautiful clothes to the coolest trends. When Sweet Valley High was the teen Bible, I had a complete set. Before the cellphone era, I was one of the first to get my own pager. I did love all my nice things, however, these things didn’t love me back.

One day, I finally found it. I was finally whole! The funny thing is, I found it just as I stopped looking for it. 

Out of the blue, I found it there lying in the strangest place: my doctor’s clinic. At first I ignored it, denied I wanted to try it on and went on with life as I knew it. Eventually I caved and tried on that wedge which, to my surprise, fit perfectly. With newfound confidence, I went off and loved every moment of it. Life was good! And yes, I was perfect! I lost eighty pounds, got a new job I loved, went to graduate school and aced it. I even made amends with my father. More so I finally felt secure enough to let my guard down and let others see the real me. To top it off, I fell madly in love with a guy I thought I’d spend the rest of my life with. For once in my life, I felt complete.

Now that I was whole, the world seemed brighter. I was finally traveling at speeds once unknown and seeing sights once unseen.

The trouble with speed, however, is it leaves no room for control. No time to, as the Circle puts it, stop and smell the roses. Soon, the values and beliefs I held on to began to slip away. I never realized that all the time I thought something was missing I was enjoying a beautiful life. I got so caught up with what wasn’t there that I didn’t appreciate what was actually there.

In the end, the piece I thought had been perfect was actually not. By the time I knew it, though, it was too late. It was stuck and I was going too fast. I lost touch of my thoughts, feelings, and most importantly, to what was essential. I began to do things I swore I wouldn’t, like attach my worth to someone else. My sense of happiness and identity became correlated to a phone call or a text message, or what people thought about me. Worst of all, I suddenly did not know who I was anymore.

It was difficult to let go of that piece, for it seemed to be so right. But eventually I had to. And it was when I gave it up that I realized that I was okay just the way I was. Maybe there wasn’t really a “perfect” me, but a “me” that was perfect. With that, I embraced my being incomplete…from not being thin and pretty enough, to not knowing all the answers, and to still not having a husband, the two and a half children, a station wagon and a house with a white picket fence. It was only then that I truly understood what being whole meant: it wasn’t having all my pieces together; it came with loving what I’ve got right now. It isn’t always easy, I admit. Times still do come when the feeling creeps up, but that’s what life is about right?

And so if my life were a book, it would be amongst my favorite authors in the kiddie section, picked up by preschool teachers just like me. Underneath a brightly colored cover with big, animated drawings, my story will hold it’s own lesson, encrypted in simple text to be read during story time. While they underlying values may not immediately be grasped at age four or five, my story will hold values they will take with them for the rest of their lives. After all, is really where all life’s lessons are truly learned: in kindergarten. to continue reading...

May 4, 2007


When I was a young girl, I used to believe that band-aids were magical. Not only did it seem to take away whatever hurt I felt, it also covered up the scratches and cuts on my skin. Maybe it was not seeing the cut flesh or the angry red line of blood that comforted me, but whatever it was by simply putting on a band-aid, everything became better. Like magic, all the pain, fear or hurt I was feeling would go away as soon as my mommy would stick on a band-aid. She always used to say “let the wound breathe”. She’d tell me to not to keep it covered up all the time. While I may have obeyed many times, I never used to get what it meant. I still insisted on putting on that band-aid so I did not need to see the imperfection the wound brought along with it.

When checkered band-aids came out, it was exhilarating because not only did that mark of imperfection on my skin disappear, I could even match it to my outfits. Even when I got too old for the cartoon character band-aids, I had fun getting them, albeit I never did like the reason behind needing one.

As I got older, wounds progressed from scrapped knees, to paper cuts, and eventually, they moved on to fears and insecurities, bitter disappointments, and even broken hearts. By then, the band-aids I used started taking on different forms, depending on the wound I needed to cover-up. Sometimes, my band-aid could come in the form of a tall, no whip, mocha frapuccino. Sometimes it was a shot or two (or more) of tequila. At times a bit of make-up and a whole lot of attitude worked wonders. For bigger wounds, a new dress or a new pair of stilettos were the perfect answers. When those wouldn’t work, it would be a splurge: a new “toy”, whether it be an ipod, a pocket PC or laptop, even a new car. Some called for impromptu weekends in Boracay, or instant road trips to Tagaytay. But for the really big ones, those wounds that cut so deep and way down to the core, the best band-aids came in the form of chocolates, ice cream and cake…these were the magic band-aids covering my wounds. Those magic strips, in whatever size, shape or form, soon became something I held on to tightly and grabbed at the slightest twinge of pain.

One day, during one of my Grey’s Anatomy marathons, it hit me what “letting it breathe” meant. It meant letting the pain and fear take over, for the time being. I suppose to some extent it also meant allowing myself to cry and be hurt, even for a while.

The thing with band-aids, it seems, is that it stifles the wound. By covering it up all the time, it does not have the chance to really breathe. While it does offer protection against further infections, it does not allow the wound to dry out and really heal.

While I will admit I am blessed to have so many band-aids at my disposal because not everybody is able to afford such necessities and I have an abundance, all they really do is cover up the wound. It puts on the pretext that it doesn’t hurt and that everything is fine and dandy. Healing, however, apparently takes more than just slapping on a band-aid. It should be allowed to bleed and be given patient attention and cleaned with antiseptic. While it may sting and hurt, it allows for healing to begin. However, what it needs more than anything, I learned, is admitting that it hurts. to continue reading...

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