Sunlight on a Far Shore

I missed the silver anniversary reunion of the Philippine Scouts Heritage Society earlier this month, but our chapter president sent me a few highlights.

Even with Memorial Day 2009 officially over, I still think about my grandfather, Arcadio Mabanglo, his story of surviving the Bataan Death March and bringing his six daughters to the US in the mid-50's.

Lolo retired before I was born, but the US Army was in his blood. He believed in the Army as if it was his religion, and perhaps it was. I'm still trying to know who he was as a person, a dreamer, a father, a traveler. He's been gone... too long now, 15 years maybe? But his straightback, gud'dam, no-nonsense sensibility lingers like Aqua Velva aftershave tinged with Irish Spring soap.

I've got his discharge papers for every stint he finished from the time he enlisted in the Philippine Scouts to the day he retired, but no pictures of him during his service. I remember seeing a black and white picture of him and his buddies sitting in and around a jeep, taken I think during the Korean War. I've looked for the picture, but haven't found it. So much was lost when they moved from the house on Atlantic street to their condo.

Stories flash like sunlight on a far shore, snippets of memory - the roundness of his voice, his sharp pointed finger like a whip in the air when he spoke, his shoes all polished and in a line stretching from one side of his small room to another. He liked to sleep alone, he said of the bunk covered in a green Army blanket. Too used to sleeping alone even with Lola in the next room with her double bed. The blue ink of his signatures, the hand from an older time when penmanship was taught. The tall greeness of his corn crop, white twine strung in careful triangles to give pole beans a chance to climb. The rabbit my grandmother insisted he keep when it wandered into his garden. And how much he loved the color green. He said it was because he was born in May and the stone for May is the emerald.

I search for my grandfather still, the memory of him, the unspoken stories I didn't know to ask about when I was a teen. I find him among the stories I hear from veterans still alive and their children, and from people who research the Scouts in present day.

Here's Joe Calugas talking about his father, the only Filipino Medal of Honor recipient and I wonder, did Lolo know him?

I'm grateful to people like Victor Verano, history buff and reenactor, who take the time to interview folks like Felipe Fernandez and publish their conversations. I'm ordering Memoirs of a Philippine Scout Cavalryman to read Felipe's words and try to see how my grandfather lived those days before and during the Japanese occupation. They're not my grandfather's words, but Felipe remembers Arcadio and told me how hard he worked as a Scout.

I just remembered that my grandfather wrote letters often. I wonder where those letters went and what did they say?

It's too easy to get discouraged realizing that I'll never know the whole story of my grandfather, but I know I need to at least write what I do know, talk with my parents about him, keep searching for the photos and letters just on the off chance their in a box somewhere forgotten.

It's not just about honoring him, though, it's about recapturing the stories that were passing me by without my realizing it. That's the treasure for me, the finding of the stories, and weaving them with the memories I have of him still.

Listening and remembering, telling the story. Letting the ancestors live again.


Dancing on the 'Net

It's been said that writing is a solitary art at it's core. Audience is important - writer's write for someone usually, even if that someone is themselves. But solitary is lonely and isolating, and I've discovered that community is something as needful as words for me.

I joined Twitter tentatively, shyly, and mostly to get my fix of Neil-Gaiman-Wil-Wheaton-isms. These guys are as entertaining in 140 characters as they are on blogposts and in books. Like the proverbial paperclip often used in visualization and manifestation practices, suddenly everyone I knew was on Twitter and had been for a while. So I friended them, finding that many posted more often to Twitter than to their blog. Makes sense, 140 characters is easier to bash out on the fly than a long, composed post.

Twitter became my gateway drug to Facebook (yah everyone was doing it anyway, right?) and, what started as an experiment in social networking designed to exercise my inner geek-fangrrl, rapidly became my way to find and connect with writers and entrepreneurs and visionary artists and social activists and just generally cool and interesting people. I got swept up in FB games for about a month, then when one crashed, I realized that what I really wanted from FB and Twitter was community, people who were doing stuff like I was doing, usually more successfully, but always with heart and humor.

I was getting comfy with my small circle (blob? network? web?) of friends, but then the The Center for Babaylan Studies started a FB group. I became one of the editors of the Babaylan Files a few months ago, but it didn't quite capture my attention right away. It seemed like a vast project for a very small group of people. With the FB group, though, I discovered hundreds of people interested in babaylan practices, who, like me, had trouble finding good resources for understanding babaylan concepts. I had a purpose as editor and thankfully at the same time, new material about babaylans was emerging - the 2010 conference was taking shape. Video and text conversations were happening. Books and CDs were being reviewed.

On top of that, there were people who I'd 'met' in passing through that babaylan Yahoo group who were actually online when I was online. I could chat with them about concepts I didn't understand, practices I wanted to explore, and how to live a spiritual heritage. I 'met' new people who wanted to know what I thought about babaylan practices and the response to my offering the Tao Po! writing workshop has been incredible. I found community. I found connection. I found a place opposite of isolation.

Ironically, this has lead me back to the core, back to the solitary nature of writing, back to creating and sharing the stories I've been given to share. Balancing community and self will be tricky -- wait, let's reframe that -- it will be a dance to a rhythm I'm hearing once more.

I've learned a lot about social networks these past few weeks, what I like about them, who I enjoy being connected with, what the strengths and weaknesses of each site. A person could spend all their time leveraging social networks to do amazing things, but I never want to lose sight of the fact that for me, it's a dance between self and community, offering and receiving, and making things that were never there before through the power of story.