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Buddha

I bend down to give her a kiss but she moves her face away, pulling my head down to look at the red slippers.

She looks nothing like the iconic Buddha.

She sits, not crossed legged in a lotus pose, but leaning back against a soft cushion propped on a rattan armchair. Her plump figure is not draped within the folds of a monastic robe but by a loose housedress bearing faint traces of flowers that had long been washed off the fabric. Her head, not bald, is covered with soft fluffs of white hair. Her eyes are not cast down in a meditative mode. In fact, right now, her eyes are focused on the pair of slippers on her feet.

The slippers are a pair of flip-flops fashioned from straw and held in place by bright strands of cheap red silk. I had hurriedly purchased the pair at a market stall in Hanoi , as a last minute pasalubong for her, my 95-year-old mother.

Look, she tells me. Look at my red slippers. They are so pretty.

I look and, yes, they are pretty. They look specially pretty on her feet, which are surprisingly shapely, even dainty. The red color of silk, set against the paleness of skin, make it look like gumamelas have blossomed on her feet.

We both smile with pleasure at the apparition.

Five minutes later, she looks down at her feet again. She breaks into a broad smile. Look, she tells me. Look at my red slippers. They are so pretty.

But I cannot spare the time. I am running late for an appointment and squashing stuff into my tote bag, ready to run off. I bend down to give her a kiss but she moves her face away, pulling my head down to look at the red slippers.

I look. And the apparition of red gumamelas causes me to gasp with the suddenness of insight.

For those few seconds I am there, fixed by the apparition in a time and space that is NOW.

Not in the past, which in this case, was a near vehicular accident on C5. Not in the future, an urgent meeting with the company's external auditor.

And whatever that present is, it is meant to be fully experienced. And in the instance of which I write, to be fully enjoyed.

For those few seconds, I am caught in the proverbial story of a man caught between a growling tiger and a deep precipice. As he jumps off the cliff to escape the tiger but before he falls into the rocks below, he grabs hold of a branch bearing one ripe red strawberry. He reaches for the fruit, puts it into his mouth and smiles with delight.

For those few seconds caught between one danger and another, between one anxiety and another, between one problem and another, there is the present. And whatever that present is, it is meant to be fully experienced. And in the instance of which I write, to be fully enjoyed.

It is a lesson that is repeatedly being taught me by my 95-year-old mother. Afflicted with Alzheimer's, she lives only in the present. Her illness mercifully protects her from the regrets and recriminations of the past and shields her from the dangers of the future. For her, there is only the present moment.

Look, she will say, breaking a long silence during a ride in the car. Look at the tall trees. They are so green! I look up from the yellow ledger marked with columns of figures that I have been reading. Yes, there shooting up the skyline of Makati 's urban jungle, are the green palm trees. Instinctively, my lungs take in a large gulp of air.

Biting into a piece of mango speared at the end of a fork, she says. Taste the mango. It is so sweet. To please her, I interrupt an on-going conversation with my brother about the stock market and take a bite of the fruit. For a few seconds, my brain goes blank and my palate takes pleasure in the sweetness of mango.

The weather being a bit chilly, I put a shawl over my mother's shoulders. I am about to stir a spoon into her cup of chocolate when she tugs at my hand. Feel this, she says, as she pulls my hand over the rough texture of the knitted shawl. It feels warm, she says. And yes, the shawl does feel warm to the touch.

Look. Listen. Taste. Smell. Feel.

That is how to pull one's self from retreating into the unretrievable past and from venturing into the merely imagined future. That is how to live fully in the present, into the NOW which is all there is at any point in time.

It is a wisdom lesson that has been taught through the centuries all over the face of the earth. By lamas in the craggy mountains of Tibet, by monks in the dense jungles of Sri Lanka , by gurus in the humid ashrams of India. By a 95-year-old woman afflicted with Alzheimer's.

Look, she tells me again. Look at my red slippers. They are so pretty.

This time, I look, really look . And yes, oh yes! The red slippers are very pretty.

December 2007

© Edna Z. Manlapaz

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