Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Victorian Adventure and The Strange Feeling of Happiness

There was one night recently when I suddenly thought that I was being prepared to die. I could not sleep, so I prayed, i.e., talked to God. I said if my time here on earth was up, then I would embrace it wholeheartedly. I was ready to see Him. I would not cling on to the what-ifs and should-have-beens.

No, I was not diagnosed with a fatal disease; at least, not yet. In fact, I seemed to have become healthier than ever. No, the morbid but slightly appealing thought of impending death crossed my mind because I felt I was deliriously, and undeservedly, happy.

Yes, you read that right.  I was happy, blessed, treated royally, served lavishly, loved unabashedly. Ergo, I thought I was going to die. Because it was such a strange circumstance and I did not know how to deal with it.  I could not make sense why people were being good to me.  I could not understand what I had done to deserve such treatment! I was a little bit deranged probably, but that was another story.

These thoughts about my life and how it surely was coming to an end occurred while I was staying in a charming bedroom in a friend's house in Melbourne.  It was the third house I had been welcomed to in the same number of days.  A couple of days before, I had flown to the state of Victoria, to a city named Avalon, a beautiful name for a place that could considered to be the middle of nowhere.  A friend, a different one, fetched me and instead of bringing me directly to her family's farm, offered to give me one night's rest in their holiday home.  On the beach.

The beach?! I gave in to momentary panic, regretting why I did not bring my Speedo gear and flattering black swimsuit. She calmed me when she said that it was a Victorian beach, and we were in the middle of winter, so instead of balmy weather, I should expect a Wuthering Heights scene, and I should be covered up.  Not long after that, I found myself in the middle of a setting for one of my favorite novels as a teenager.  Heathcliff could most likely have been born in such a place where waves splashed harshly on unstable cliffs and the chilly wind bit faces and fingers.  I was awash with emotions I did not have time to process.  They were within the vicinity of happiness.

And then, this First Friend asked if I liked fish and chips. I said I did not - because I loved it! Due to my enthusiasm, she decided to cook it instead of buying. So she left me to rest my tired feet in their warm holiday home and went to buy provisions - the necessities of life: salmon, shrimps, scallops, ice cream, chocolates, and wine. The conversation that flowed out of this abundant feast for two was life-changing. First Friend had pastoral gifts among many other things, and ministered to me spiritually aside from seeing to it that I was nourished physically. I was blown away.  The fact that the house had Italian tiles in its bathroom was just a bonus for me, a girl who liked bathrooms.  I also saw black swans while I was there, and I hummed the Tchaikovsky ballet, which was quite perceptive of me apparently, as the place she took me to was actually called Swan Lake. Oh, that house. The bedroom was exquisite. The view was marvelous. The garden was lush and majestic. I am not exaggerating.

The next day, I had a prior appointment in the city with Second Friend.  He took time off from his busy schedule to show me around Melbourne. We started with the Monet exhibit, which I suffered through because of a migraine attack. I lost him as I tried to manage the multimedia effect of the Impressionist colors, the audio narration, the exhibit texts, amid waves of nausea. The last part of the beautiful exhibit was a glimpse of the artist's actual garden through actual footage displayed on huge surround screens.  People prone to motion sickness were warned not to continue.  I was determined not to let any migraine mar my experience so I sat at the very back, leaned my head against the choicest seats in the room, and let Monet's vision for his garden, his lilies, his roses, and his house surround me.  I felt opened up to my own art and gifting, and an idea rested in me - that I, like Monet, should not be afraid of being overtaken by what I needed to share with the world. My canvas was my paper.  My brush was the pen.  My lilies were words. I was meant to write, and who knows, my voice could be preserved, just like Monet's work.

I know, I could be labeled as deranged and delusional, but I was not fully myself that day. I made it to the museum shop and splurged on the master's work in the form of key rings, book marks, playing cards, and a single reprint of "Taking a walk in Argenteuil," to inspire me when I went back to my ordinary life. As I was paying, I massaged my aching forehead. The cashier had to ask if I was all right, and I confessed that I was having a migraine attack and could pass out any minute. An old lady who was next in line quietly offered Panadol Osteo.  My mother had warned me not to accept medicines from strangers, but desperate times called for desperate measures. I accepted the drugs and let the cashier lead me to where I could drink water and sit down. It took Second Friend a few minutes to find me, and I saw a stricken look on his face when he finally did.

And so I walked the streets of Melbourne's Arts Centre with Second Friend constantly asking if I needed to be taken to the hospital. I kept saying no but could not shake my head - too dizzy. I still managed to smile in front of the camera whenever we were near famous spots like the National Gallery of Victoria, the Flinders Street train station, and the old and charming laneways. A Third Friend rang me up to ask if I wanted to have coffee, and I said yes because I was looking forward to experiencing Melbourne's famous coffee culture.

The coffee did not disappoint and so did the sticky date pudding that I hungrily chowed down, and I instantly felt better. Third Friend took over being my tour guide, and we waited for a brief hail shower to end - that was Melbourne's Four Seasons in a Day for me - before he showed me to some of the best malls in the city.  We also had a restful stop at the St. Francis Church, and I felt at home with Francesco and Clara of Assisi, two of my favorite saints. I lit some candles and said a prayer of thanksgiving for all the blessings for this magnificent year.  And then we had to make our way to the bus that would take me to the farm, and Third Friend masterfully led me through trams and trains to make it just in time for boarding.  Before that, he insisted on buying a gift for me: T2 tea, something I had always wanted to taste, as their shops were very colorful and inviting. I said it was my birthday earlier that week so I was allowing such expenditure.  No, I didn't say that. I just thanked him for giving me chamomile and lavender - and giving me some rest.

I made it to the farm in the dark, thanks to my iTunes music, mobile phones, a very vigilant bus driver, and First Friend who still had many surprises up her sleeve. It consisted of steak for dinner, medium rare; some red wine that tasted like golden liquid through my throat; lively conversation with her and her brilliant father whom I called Tito (Uncle in Tagalog); and a quaint little attic bedroom that had floral pink bedsheets. It was winter but I was warmed not just by the fireplace, but by the hospitality of the people around me. I was dangerously falling into happiness.

I woke up to the sounds of a Victorian farm. I had a rich prayer time and I told God how excited I was for that day ahead, as I was going to see some old friends who were going to the farm for lunch. First Friend prepared a banquet of food. Old Friends hugged me and reminded me of our bond even with the distance and time that separated us. After lunch, we took a walk around the farm. It was the coldest day of my life and my nose proved it. Yet, I enjoyed the walk. Young Friend accompanied me, making sure I did not slip and slide, taking my photos, entertaining me with his stories. Back to the farm house (which looked nothing like the farm houses of my imagination, for it was much more beautiful, straight out of a Donna Hay cookbook, actually); my friends sang a Happy Birthday song. I protested in my head but outwardly expressed giggly thanks. I was only protesting because it was too much already. Like icing on the cake! First Friend baked that cake, and some quince which I had never tried before, which we ate with ice cream and pure cream, not counting calories. At last, it was time to leave the farm, and I was very sad. But the thought of the friends waiting for me in the city allowed me to be cheerful, and on the road I enjoyed my catch up with my Small Big Brother, and we were each convinced of what to pray for the other.

I was treated like a princess, imagine that, me, the servant, by the MGL brothers, my old friends. Their tribe should really increase. That night I was dropped off at Fourth Friend's house by my adamant Young Friend, who already knew how to drive it made me tear up! I knew him when he was still an awkward, lanky teenager. He was maturing before my eyes. Fourth Friend had the central heating ready, and we shared a glass of wine before going to bed. She spruced up the guest room even if I said I only needed a bed. Clearly, that friend was an artist and her home was surrounded by her work and the inspiration that went behind it.

It was that night, on that lovely bed, that I wondered if I was about to die, for surely I was not meant to experience such happiness on this earth. It had a heavenly quality to it, like angels were planning my trip and I was just meant to receive everything with open arms. What a struggle!

The rest of my stay in Melbourne was equally magical: breakfast with Filipino brothers in an Italian cafe, lunch with Fourth Friend and her mom ("Tita"), afternoon tea and catch-up with another friend in a Jane Austen-level cafe (she knew how to pick them, and this was easily the prettiest cafe of all that I had visited on that trip), dinner with friends and a movie screening of "Of Gods and Men," which again made me remember heaven and earth and all that we are meant to do while preparing our hearts for God's kingdom.

On my last day, my hosts took time off again from work to show me around. I had brunch at yet another Italian cafe with Second Friend, with whom I never seemed to run out of things to share and process; and then Fourth Friend and Tita drove me to St. Patrick's Cathedral, where I paused again to pray and be grateful.  Third Friend came around (Melbourne was like my hometown, where everybody knew everybody), and we met up with more friends at yet another Italian coffee shop. Afterwards, we went home and Tita cooked her special spaghetti Bolognese! Then it was time to drive me to the Avalon airport. Fourth Friend had become like a younger sister, and she and Tita convinced me that I had to go back to Melbourne, for there was so much to see. I told them that what was important for that trip, rather than sightseeing, was catching up with old friends. I had that, and also made new friends.

To make this long story short, I did not die immediately after the Victorian Adventure, for I still had things to do on earth. But I surely had a taste of heaven, my friends. Enough to sustain me and let me deal with the ordinariness of life.

Okay, my life in Sydney is not ordinary at all, but you know what I mean.  A holiday is still a holiday, even if it feels like too much generosity and hospitality was showered on me. I am learning to deal with it comfortably, and without a trace of guilt.