Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Gift of the Imperfect Holidays

Manila, Philippines-

It is December 30.  There is only one day left of 2009.  As the holidays draw to a close, I sit in the Lanai with a cup of Barako coffee.  The cool December breeze prompts the bamboo trees outside to sway.  Near me, our two dogs, Maki and Snort, are peacefully sleeping.  The usually rambunctious Maki is quiet for a change.  And Snort, my eleven-year-old Shi Tzu diagnosed yesterday with cancer and only a few days to live, enjoys his last moments with me.  I pause to make sense of the holidays. 

For the first time, we have no Christmas tree up in our house.  I returned a few days ago to our family home with Typhoon Ondoy’s savage still evident in our damaged house and belongings.  And picking up the pieces is an overwhelming task. 

A Christmas tree marks tradition. But I sense this is not a traditional holiday season.  The usual cool crisp air of December was there. Yet the feeling wasn’t the same.  Like my own family, many other families are picking up the pieces.  Whether it is holding in their hands remnants of lost possessions, lost lives or lost loves. 

Coming home for the holidays lets me savor flavors I had missed for months. But it is also an essential time to partake of sumptuous moments with old friends.  Not a fan of big parties, I cherish tender moments with dear friends intimately.  Over a cup of coffee, a meal, or bottles of wine, we catch up on events of the past months.  My best friend since I was eight years old recently gave birth to her second boy.  My dear friend recently returned home from Spain.  Finally, he and I find our selves in the same city after two years.  Two friends have happily shed off many unwanted pounds. Both have leaner and healthier bodies.  They also have a lighter and cheerier outlook in life.  I revel in spending ‘ordinary’ moments with best friend in Singapore, who had relocated back to Manila this year.  We are gifted with again wasting time together.  We survey the weekend market, poking and tasting the food offerings.  We shop in a bazaar, in search of good bargains.  We laugh. We talk.  We drink. We eat.  In between bites, in between buying things, we share stories. 

With every encounter with these friends, I marvel at how rich the encounters are.  It is as if we had never parted. We continue the conversations, as if months or years had not passed since we had last seen each other.

A wise friend told me these are holy entanglements, special relationships not wrought by time or space.  Indeed there must be something sacred that binds these friendships.  I get so lost in savoring these grace-filled moments with friends I often forget to capture it in a photo.  But at the end of our time together, I leave overflowing with gratitude.  I treasure how much my friends have grown.  Each one has faced difficulty in the past year, the death of a parent, enduring the betrayal of a lover, starting over, or just surviving the everyday wear and tear of life.  Each one gracefully rises with strength and resilience.  I too become aware of how much I have grown.  But more importantly, I love the person I am becoming. 

I briefly lament to one friend my woes as a struggling writer.  Mingling with rich and powerful people in the Philippines, this man of deep faith looked at me and said, “Maida, you are one of the richest people I know.”  He tells me I get to live my passions and see the beauty of life.  I treasure connecting with people and celebrating our humanity, unobstructed by religion, beliefs, or culture.  I smile in recognition and awe.

At the end of a long animated conversation with this friend, we hugged and kissed goodbye.  He told me, “Maida, thank you for being you.”  At that moment, it dawned on me, the best give we can give each other is the gift of ourselves. 

Indeed, the holidays are not perfect.  I am no longer nourished by big parties filled with small talk, the frenzy of packed shopping malls, or large gifts devoid of real meaning.  Instead, I found joy in cleaning up the house, lending a hand to my parents, giving things away, in painting a devastated school library with friends, and in seeing my family and friends laugh and smile.

2009 has taught me much. It has imparted many lessons in my life. I have humbly learned that people make the place. As much as the attractions, the food, and the scenery entice, it is only encounters with people that gives a place meaning. 

I am slowly learning and embracing how abundantly blessed we all are.  More and more, I deeply believe that I’ve got all I need.  And that is enough.

So wherever, you may be for the holidays, I wish you the best.  I wish you a grateful heart. As Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you. It will be enough.”
Give thanks.  And celebrate the abundant year ahead!



  1. I'm truly touched by your words. Missing you this holiday season my friend! Blessings from the land down under

  2. Excellent ! Congrats ! Welcome home Maidz !
    -- love, Ma and Dad

  3. Thanks Maida. So sorry about Snort. Losing a companion like that is so difficult. I hope your family recovers quickly from the Typhoon. Congratulations on your recent book publication too! Keep smiling and writing.


  4. thanks! for the wonderful comments to my dear friend down under, thanks for the love mom and dad, and Kristin so good to hear from you. Big hugs to all- Maida


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