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Spring-cleaning in October

NEW BEGINNINGS (The Philippine Star) - October 13, 2013 - 12:00am

When October started, I found myself doing some spring-cleaning, an activity I normally do after the Feast of the Epiphany in January. But one day, I couldn’t wait to take out some clutter in my room. I was surprised at the worth of wisdom I discovered in my closet.

In the place where I live in Makati, my room is cozy. Even without turning on the air-con, my room is cool, perhaps because it is made of wood planks and outside the window are robust and mature chico and mango trees. A plant box below my windowsill is teeming with fortune plants and dwarfed hibiscus in pots. I have been waiting for years for the hibiscus to bear flowers but my hope is yet to be fulfilled. In the absence of flowers outside my window, I every day find flowery words instead in the literary books I keep in three woven baskets. For years, these baskets have been in my room, as if fixed or nailed to the floor.

I sat down on the floor and started to sort out the contents of my baskets. As I unloaded each tome, I had a great debate with myself whether to keep or give away this or that book. I knew in my heart, I loved all those books because I spent a good fortune collecting them; I spent sleepless nights and sleepy days reading them. But my heart also told me that it would mean more to give something that is still of great value to me. So, I put back in the baskets all my small collections of Italo Calvino, Shakespeare, Paulo Coelho, Pablo Neruda, Deepak Chopra, Amy Tan, Nick Joaquin, F. Sionil Jose and others. Those books, including the baskets, are now properties of a high school in Cabuyao, which I adopted in 2007.

Now, the books and the baskets are gone in my room. In their wake I find fulfillment. The activity taught me that there is such thing as joyful detachment.

***

Spring-cleaning sometimes takes time not because we run out of energy but because our energy is diverted to some distant past as we clean. So in the middle of sorting clothes for disposal, we are sidetracked by ruminating on the past. 

While spring-cleaning my closet, a stream of memories flowed inside my room. I wanted my closet to have a semi-existentialist feel so the only solution was to get rid of those clothes I have kept for posterity sake.

In the thick of turning my closet upside-down, I rediscovered the highly emotional part of me. I knew exactly the story or history behind each piece of apparel that I kept in my closet. No skeletons. Only recollections.

The first black shirt I bought when I first worked in Manila in 1995 was still a resident of my closet. It had survived the many spring-cleaning activities I did in the past. But this time, I really thought it had to go. It would still fit me now but it would surely be someone else’s gain. So I put it in the black plastic bag for donation.

A long-sleeved shirt in stripes of white and blue reminded me of days when I used to go out with this person who made me smile the whole day. I also put that shirt in the plastic bag for donation. Ditto with the red shirt with the flag of Switzerland that always elicited a good remark from my late father who apparently was partial to the color red. It was the same shirt I was wearing when I was holding my father’s hand when he breathed his last.

My favorite staple shirts also found a new home in the plastic bags. Even the pairs of pants I bought a few months ago but were still unworn by me landed in the plastic bags, too.

By the time I finished editing my wardrobe, I had about two big black plastic bags filled with clothes and memories. I only gave away the clothes — even my favorite ones. The memories attached to them are still etched in my mind.  

***

The lower drawer of my closet is home to my belts, handkerchiefs and bow ties. Under those articles is where I keep my journal for the year. I keep a journal each year. It is my intimate companion on days when I am most vulnerable; even on days when I am alone yet still feeling ecstatic.

Among the recent entries in my 2013 journal, this one got me into deep introspection again:

05 Sept. 2013, Thursday, 9 p.m.

“Wash a dish not just to get it clean but because you love the person who will eat from it.”

It was an original quote by Mother Teresa. It was the quote that ended my “Thursdays with Michelle” activity this morning. Michelle is my dear friend and loving “sister.” She’s actually the sister of my BFF Christine. Every Thursday morning, while we are having breakfast in her house, Michelle and I exchange our thoughts about God, about our faith in Mama Mary, about our lives. She has always been spiritual. She became more spiritual when recently she survived cancer.

“It’s the simple love that gives meaning to our lives. Not the extravagant ones,” she said while putting eggplant bistek on top of the brown rice on my plate.

Our lesson this morning was about living a joyful life. “And when you love the person who will eat from the plate you’re washing, you will make sure it’s thoroughly cleaned,” she said.

The lessons I learned from Fr. Gerard Deveza, my spiritual adviser, are also immortalized in my journal.

12 March 2012,Tuesday,11 a.m.

Today, Father G. inculcated in my mind that God gives us the things we need in life. He also mentioned that it is not only the poor that need charity. The rich also need charity. Not money but other things.

People need to keep their lifestyle simple, Father said. He told me that many problems of people now are rooted from their self-centeredness.

“Everything is borrowed so when we go to Him, we bring nothing but ourselves. We covet so much — good position, nice car, an expensive bag, a good-looking boyfriend, a beautiful girlfriend. In the end, we don’t get to bring anything with us when we die,” Fr. Gerard said.

At the end of the day, I learned from Father G. that it is more important to be fruitful than to be successful.

(For your new beginnings, e-mail me at bumbaki@yahoo.com. I’m also on Twitter @bum_tenorio. Have a blessed Sunday.)

AMY TAN AS I CLOSET DEEPAK CHOPRA EVERY THURSDAY FATHER G FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY GERARD DEVEZA ITALO CALVINO
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