Year of Grace, Day 5. Hope en masse

Since I began writing my daily journal of grace, I have been waking naturally and very early, even before my alarm. Well rested, I slowly awake, nudged by diverse pleasant thoughts and feelings. I’ve just been thinking about what made me feel so good about the conference I’d just attended. It wasn’t just about having my mind stimulated or meeting new friends and sharing ideas.

My mind has been focusing on why, despite the gloomy picture of biodiversity deterioration, I felt it ended on an upbeat note. I believe it was more to do with hope, a collective gathering of hope. I feel that any emotion that links two or more people together amplifies that feeling. The collective sum of that positivity increases exponentially. It is the same with a negative feeling, and the exponentially amplified level of negativity that results would be terrible to behold. I have observed that violent feelings have so much more energy and rapidly gain momentum. I have witnessed the worldwide whirlwind of hate generated quite recently, and it recalled the stoking of hate by one man and one group of people from another time, though not so long ago. It bothered me so deeply –- that particular  toxin once again released into our atmosphere, its energy cumulatively enhanced, spreading its malevolence on a larger, wider, and deeper scale than it had the first time it was released  — that it affected my sleep.

But let me return to pleasanter, calmer, and more peaceful thoughts — to good things, to the many wonderful things to be grateful for. This morning I am grateful to have hope and to share in the collective hope — hope en masse — that we can, each in our own small way, make a difference. No matter how minor.

My day has been graced by a most welcome gift. I am thankful for my friend Bituin, who has just brought back to me so many pleasurable memories of places and things that I loved and still do, by sending me the international edition of Kateigaho. I shall be reading it over and over again, and with each reading, yearning to go back there, back to live to be surrounded by beauty in all aspects of daily life — to my beloved Japan. Dios ti agngina, Bi. ‘Thank you,’ in Ilocano, with its literal meaning — to me with my poor grasp of my parents’ tongue –- ‘God will be the One to appraise [my thankfulness],’  ‘only God fully realises the worth [of your gift].’

International edition of Kateigaho, a journal I used to read regularly in Japan.

International edition of Kateigaho, a journal I used to read regularly in Japanese when I lived in Tokyo.

I have mentioned before that I regard friends as angels sent from above, with a divine mission to offer with much grace just the thing one needs at just the right time. And it has always been so, with friends who have appeared into my life wherever in the world I have landed — a total stranger in strange lands.

So it was with Arcie, Louella, Bituin, and Vivian, and my ‘mother’ Hiroko in Tokyo; Okamatsu-san and family and the Okuyama clan, in particular Shunzo and wife Miyako in Yuzawa in the Snow Country of Northeastern Honshu.  And much later in other countries, Patricia, Rona, Gillian, and now Hanna. And I find that friends with whom one has lost touch reappear, once again with gracious gifts of sensible, calming words and comfort and empathy and companionship. Not to mention inspiration. Thank you to my friend Andy for inspiring me with her gratitude log and, with her appreciation of my first week of gratitude, the encouragement to continue with this one for a year. Thank you to Patricia, my laughter angel, and Norma, my plant-lover friend, for taking up the challenge, and to my cousin-sister Rae for challenging me and starting me on this path to thankfulness. I am truly grateful to all my friends — friends in the widest sense of the word, which includes all my family as well — for being my companions in our lifelong journey of discovery.

Hope and thankfulness and lovingkindness en masse can make a massive difference in our world, and can make a shield effective against the negativity that can consume and obscure with its malevolence the beauty of our pleasant world.



Year of Grace, Day 4. Connections

There is something about the end of a wonderful conference that moves me.  I’ve met some really lovely people with similar interests in different parts of the world. And it does look like we’re preparing the ground for seeds whose fruits will be collaborative research and development work. Today’s priority for thanks goes to one of the conference staff who helped me arrange redelivery of an enormous package. Otherwise I would’ve had to pick it up from the UPS Central Office all the way across the Rhine. I am ever so thankful that kindhearted strangers are prepared to help to the max. Having that sorted took such a great load off my mind.

Next to be thanked are recently met colleagues from Eritrea and Nepal, who share the same passion for indigenous traditions and neglected food crops.  I am all fired up and excited about research possibilities! 🙂

Scleroderma found under pine trees.

And last but not least, I thank the Forest Guides of the German National Forestry Service who led us on an afternoon walk today through the Wahden Wiese, a bit of wilderness between Bonn and Cologne. As always, I got really excited about the possibility of sighting fungi!

Honey fungus, Armillaria mellea, on a stump.

I am grateful that the rain didn’t come bucketing down while we were in the  forest, and that my knees and legs behaved themselves on the two and a half-hour brisk trek through. The last bit was up a slope as well.  (One of our group, much younger than me, had trouble with her knees and had to be helped out of the forest by car. Poor thing.)

Wild heather (Calluna vulgaris) meadow.

Heather, Calluna vulgaris.

It was a fabulous, warm, early autumn afternoon through pine, oak, and beech trees; some truly magnificent woods untouched for over 70 years; the remains of a Celtic castle mount from which stone and bronze spear heads are still being unearthed; and meadows full of flowering heather. Most of all, there were lots of what really makes a walk in the woods special for me — fungi! It’s been truly a very productive three days focusing on biodiversity, and I am truly thankful for having attended and participated.

Year of Grace, Day 3. On Biodiversity and Beautiful Patterns

Today was the second day of the International BION Conference, Biodiversity Today for Tomorrow.  I am so grateful to  be able to attend this conference because places were rather limited. Among the monitoring technologies presented  was identifying bird species through their song patterns. I was truly delighted to learn that birds have dialects, just like whales :-).  Astounding! Even within the same city: the same species of bird living in northern and southern parts of a city will have a distinct variation in their song. I am extremely thankful to be able to hear about these amazing scientific developments from the researchers themselves. The most wonderful aspect of this multi-, inter-, and trans-disciplinary conference is being able to meet people concerned about biodiversity and the environment. I deeply appreciate what they are doing to conserve biodiversity in their particular fields and in different countries. The presence of so many different nationalities and scientific disciplines at this conference also reflects the wonderful cultural and intellectual diversity in our world.  Despite the sobering fact that biodiversity is on the decline, I felt a sense of collective hope and deep dedication towards working to improve our stewardship of this wonderful treasure, the earth.

Patterns of birdsong. Source: R. Bardeli, Fraunhofer Institute of Intelligent Analysis & Information Systems.

Year of Grace, Day 2. Love and Rejection

Most people understand the words “to love and to be loved in return” in yesterday’s thank-you note as referring to a relationship primarily romantic. Well, I wasn’t. There are all sorts of love: the love of a parent for a child and that of a child for a parent; I was referring to these actually. There is also the love for plants or gardening or beauty, or for a pet dog or cat or parakeet. Someone else may love sailing or extreme skiing or marathon running. There is as well the love between friends and relatives. As I age, the love of my family and friends and relatives is what sustains me and comforts me and invigorates me more and more. As a mother, I can be overly sensitive and regard disapproval from a child as rejection. But all is well, as I mentioned yesterday. All is indeed well when a child apologises for inconsiderate behaviour and through various ways shows his or her affection.

Today’s words of gratitude come from an event I attended at Bonn University focusing on plants, hosted by the Biodiversity Network in Bonn, also known as BION, which is holding its first international conference this week.

  1. I am thankful for ideas that stimulate my mind, particularly when they showcase some intrinsic property of plants. Yesterday I listened to a brilliant talk about biomimetics or biomimicry, specifically about the Lotus Effect, by its foremost exponent in Bonn. This property of the self-cleaning surface of lotus leaves is being used for self-cleaning exterior paints and work clothes. Plants have truly amazing structures and qualities!

    The Ooga Lotus, germinated from 2000-year-old seeds found in Chiba Prefecture, Japan.

    The story of the Ooga Lotus, named after the discoverer of the seeds, Prof. Ooga.

  1. I am grateful to have had a substantial conversation with a neighbour, whom I was surprised to find at the biomimetics talk, as she was as well to find me there (probably more surprised than I was). We’ve only exchanged greetings before as she passes by while I am gardening.
  1. What I am thankful for about that conversation is getting to know that, as a retired person, she volunteers at the children’s clinic here in Bonn, assisting with children undergoing chemotherapy. Many come from all over the world, as well as other parts of Germany, and so there are rooms provided for parents to stay. This is truly something to be grateful for, to have this kind of facility for the care of children and their parents here. I am also grateful that I have come to know this lovely person better; she has always spoken very kindly to me, and now I realize that the gentleness and kindness in her eyes reflect the compassion inside.

A Year of Grace, Day 1. Dakkel ti yamanco

This is my gratitude journal, but before I begin, I wish to introduce my reason for writing it.  I have just finished a seven-day gratitude challenge on Facebook. I had begun it hesitantly.  In my then low spirits, there was at least one thing I could manage to be grateful for — my existence.  I had survived premature birth, as a blue baby to boot. I had survived the same disease that felled the poet Robert Louis Stevenson in his 20s. I am now in my 63rd year and have lived over twice the lifespan predicted by the orthopaedic surgeon who had diagnosed the illness in my teens. My first day’s note of thanks was quite terse: I was alive despite all odds. I had all my senses. I was not ill. I had mentioned beauty in my second point: to be able to see the beauty of this world.  Beauty, I now realize, is central to and defines my diverse interests: in plants, in gardening, in visual arts, in cooking, and more. It is the one constant of my life. Had I not begun the act of writing down my thanks seven days ago, the way that beauty unites my interests — previously regarded by me as scattered and random — might quite likely have eluded me.  In the process of writing my thanks, I had uncovered a part of myself.

There is a saying in Hebrew: Ha te’avon ba im ha okhel, appetite comes with the food, with the act of eating. And so with my writing: those initial, tentative sentences became paragraphs. How could I not explain why I was thankful? One of my high school friends who had enjoyed reading my thank-you notes asked if I would seriously consider continuing to write everyday, for a month, for three months, for a year. If she had been able to benefit from my writing, she said, she was certain others would as well. Once again I was hesitant. After giving it deep thought, I eventually agreed. The act of writing down a gratitude journal had been so beneficial to me, to my own outlook and well-being for seven days. How much more for an entire year? Thank you notes for an entire year could only do me good. This is the first, then, of many days of writing out my thanks. At the outset I cannot know how long I can sustain this effort of documenting at least three things daily to be thankful for. I can but try.  My intention, my challenge to myself, is to go on writing every day for the next 365 days.  A year of saying thanks — a year of thanksgiving.  My year of grace.

My mother, Angela, whom I call Mamang, and who passed away at 99 (officially, that is; her youngest sister, Auntie Anita, had said she was more likely 100) had a special way of saying grace. I only came to appreciate this in her final days. Dakkel ti yamanmi, Apo, Great is our gratefulness, Lord, was the way she began one lunchtime. It was a departure from her usual, which was, Agyaman kami, Apo, We thank you, Lord. I was struck by the poetry in those Ilocano words. I had not formally learned my mother’s tongue. I had absorbed it, as the saying goes, with mother’s milk. I am embarrassed to admit that I would find it hard to understand with 100% certainty literary Ilocano, as with official Tagalog, or Pilipino. (Mine is the generation that was penalized for speaking our native language at school.) The beauty of those words still rings in me the way my mother spoke them four years ago.

1.  I begin with Mamang’s classical Ilocano phrase: Dakkel ti yamanco, great is my thankfulness. Great is my thankfulness, indeed, that the emotional pain that precipitated my low spirits weeks ago is gone. It is amazing how the reassurance by a loved one — that one is loved and liked and thought of — has a tremendous impact on one’s well-being. I love and I am loved in return: this is one of the greatest of things to be grateful for. In my advancing years, I know that mutual affection is truly  rare. Thus, all the more precious.

2.   I am eternally grateful that I was able to spend time with Mamang in her final years and that I was with her during her last moments. That I was present at that time could only have been arranged through celestial grace. (I had been in the Southern Cordillera mountains to begin 6-months’ fieldwork, but my illness, the absence of my supervisor, and that of my research assistant made me return in haste to Manila. Not just one reason to turn back, but three: an unmistakable heavenly command!)

Mamang and me, during the Summer of Song, at Sabangan, my Grandmother Bonifacia's beach.

Mamang and I, during the Summer of Song, at Sabangan, my Grandmother Bonifacia’s beach.

3.  I am thankful that I speak my parents’ mother tongue and that Mamang, who loved to sing, taught me Ilocano songs. Most of them are quite comic.  I thank my dear cousin Manang Norma, Auntie Anita’s daughter, who invited Mamang, my older sister Violeta, and me to spend the summer with her by the sea four years ago. It was a time of much singing with Mamang and other relatives and so much fun and joy. I treasure it and remember it as the Summer of Song.

At Aunt Froncing's fish ponds. From left, first row: Aunt Froncing, Cousin Norma, Mamang. From left, back row: sister Violeta, family friend Jacqui.

At a seafood picnic at Aunt Froncing’s fishponds.
From left, first row: Aunt Froncing (Eufrosina), Cousin Norma, Mamang. From left, back row: sister Violeta, family friend Jacqui.

4. In my daily life, I am grateful to be surrounded by nature. A red squirrel bounding across the lawn; an intense blue morning glory finally blooming in the shade of the bamboo;  another Gloriosa lily opening to join the first, were yesterday’s high points.

Second bloom on the Gloriosa rothschildiana lily.

Second bloom on the Gloriosa rothschildiana lily.

Yes, indeed, not just three today, but more, to be  grateful for.  Dakkel ti yamanco!