Literature, writing and musings

Bayanihan and the Spirit of Cooperation Filipino Style

There are many versions of Fernando Amorsolo’s painting called Bayanihan. A copy of which can be seen here. Museum Collections: Photo Feature – (

The word Bayanihan conjures up the Filipino cultural custom of mutual cooperation or Gemeinschaft as one German sociologist described it.

I don’t often see this spirit in the West anymore. Perhaps the occasional manifestation in rural communities, or when a car gets stuck in snow. But we don’t see this as a dominant spirit. In the Philippines, it is still manifest:

Bayanihan spirit still alive in Legazpi City – The Filipino Times

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Literature, writing and musings

Will the Dead Live Again?

A friend who was a volunteer in a charity organisation that services the interests of refugees and foreigners had a troubled Chinese man walk into his office one day with a question. He could not speak English, so my friend solicited the help of a commercial translator.

“Can you explain to me what happens when we die?” was the Chinese man’s question.

It was not clear why the man was asking, but he was troubled. Perhaps he lost his wife, a child, a parent, or a loved sibling.

There is the expression, “there are no atheists in the trenches.” The meaning being that when it comes down to it, for the most part, our beliefs change in a crisis. Death seems so unnatural. We take in a lifetime of knowledge and experience. Does it all end like that?

The Japanese poet, Chiyo, penned the following Haiku named Dragonfly Catcher:

Dragonfly catcher,

Where today?

Have you gone?

The poem is poignant knowing that the poet has lost a child who would often play in the field, catching dragonflies. But there is a sense of cadence in the last line “have you gone?” I feel that the poet was not convinced that death was the end.

Yes, “death a note unsaid.” Langston Hughes wrote. No one has returned to tell us that those who have passed away are alive, but our lived experience confirms there is future life.

Why do we always feel young inside? Why is it that science and philosophy have not unpacked what consciousness is? Why do we have a deep desire to love forever?

Ecclesiastes 3:11 reads, “He has also set eternity in the human heart.” Yes, we were designed to live forever. Jesus said in John 5:29, “Do not be surprised at this. The hour is coming when all those in the grave will hear my voice and rise.”

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Literature, writing and musings

Who is Your Favourite Character in all Literature?

A friend asked me, “Who is your favourite character in literature?”

          Oh, that’s a difficult one; it’s like deciding who your favourite child is,” I replied. “But, let me think… there’s Lucy Pevensie in Narnia, Boo Radley in Mockingbird, Hans Huberman in Book Thief and then I read Striped Pyjamas last year and was taken up by Bruno.”

          “Your favourite, Jim?” my friend pressed.

          “Okay, Prince Myshkin.”

          “Prince who?”

          “Prince Myshkin in Dostoevsky’s, The Idiot.”

          “Why him?”

          “Well, he was too good for this world.”

          “Come again?”

          “The story centres on Myshkin, who returns to St Petersburg after years convalescing in Switzerland with severe epilepsy. Although he’s a native of the city, he feels like an alien on his return; compassion was absent throughout the self-indulging society, and under his breath he uttered the sardonic smite, “Pass us by and forgive us our happiness.”

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Literature, writing and musings

A Strange Archaeological Find


I’m often sceptical about hunter-gatherer stories that display our ancestors as of little intelligence or artistic flair. After reading a Henning Mandell’s essay in his book, Quicksand, my distrust of popular science is not without its foundations.

In the late 19th century, roadworkers dug up a street in the Czech Republic and found the skeleton of a man. When archaeologists were called on to the scene, they took samples and assessed that the skeleton was 26,000 years old.

The archaeologists became astonished by what lay beside the man. At first, they thought it to be a statuette broken into three pieces, but close analysis revealed the ivory object – also 26,000 years old – to be a doll, marionette, a puppet on a string. Albeit damaged it was clear what the object was. The head could turn almost 360 degrees like that of an owl and it had strings attached.

It is housed in The British Museum where the caption reads the following: 

The time and skill required to shape and articulate potentially movable limbs on an ivory figure make this a remarkable piece of craftsmanship.

It sends a message to us living 260 centuries in the future that our so called hunter-gatherer forefathers enjoyed entertainment, shadow plays, children’s theatre or the like. They were human, just like us.

Literature, writing and musings

Why Do We Crave Justice?

Image by Jeffrey Workmam

As a child, I read many books: Pinocchio, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Peter Rabbit and Tom Thumb to mention a few. I read many books now. One thing every book I have read has in common is that they all have happy endings. Have you ever wondered why that is? We like happy endings. It’s human to see justice prevail.

I was in Manila Airport last month waiting in a long, long queue to get through security. Well guess what? Someone tried to skip the queue. Many in the queue reacted and the perpetrator was sent packing (forgive the pun). As humans, we cannot accept this kind of behaviour, it triggers our ethical alarm bell; our sense of fairness.

You know this, we are led to believe we are in an aimless universe with no meaning or purpose. Mr Dawkins wrote the following:

“I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.”

Maybe that is the case with many religions, but me, I find the answers in scripture very satisfying. The Bible helps me understand the world.

Many years ago when I was a boy, I was searching and searching and searching for answers to this unjust world. It was then that I had one of those experiences you only read in fiction. I was in a second-hand bookshop and looking through the philosophy section. I’m not sure why, but I picked out a book on Scots Law when a piece of paper fell out from between the pages. It had been cut out from another book and placed inside. I read the words:

‘[God] has so inseparably interwoven the laws of eternal justice with the happiness of each individual, that the latter cannot be attained but by observing the former; and, if the former be punctually obeyed, it cannot but induce the latter.’

William Blackstone, an 18th century British jurist, penned this. I found the unpacking of it fascinating. Was there a universal sense of justice? I wondered. Is this gravitational pull towards goodness in my conscience that accuses and excuses me, the work of a wise architect? It made sense. Why form the moon, the stars, the earth, and mankind without a gravitational pull towards what is right and wrong?

Many choose to abuse their God-given free will, but those who respond to God’s direction will find a future life in which justice will be an everlasting paradigm

“let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream Amos 5: 24.”


“…that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;”

If their is a God who nudges us towards goodness, why not approach him?

Literature, writing and musings

A Random Act of Kindness

Every time I hear Rednex singing Wish You Were Here, I’m reminded of you. I had been reading Moberg’s book, The Emigrants, on our family trip over to Gothenburg. I decided that I would like to visit the Emigrant Museum in Växjö. When we arrived in the pretty town the following Friday, it was a beautiful July morning and I approached you and said, ‘Excuse me, can I park my car here?’

‘Sure, welcome, it is fine to park here,’ you replied with a kind smile.

You then continued by saying, ‘You are from where?’

‘Scotland,’ I replied.

‘Oh!’ you said, with a nod of approval.

After a few minutes when we were exploring the town, you came to tell us you made an error, and it was not a good place to park. You took us to another place and reassured us that the new location would be fine. I thanked you for taking the trouble. You looked hesitant, like you wanted to walk around with us, but the owl of Minerva flies at dusk as the expression goes; I would have welcomed you if I only thought.

After our morning at the museum, we went into a cafe and sat with some snacks and drinks. When I went to pay, the waitress said, ‘Your bill is complete.’

‘Sorry?’ I replied.

‘Your friend paid it a small time ago.’

‘Did he have a moustache and light blue striped shirt?’ I asked.


Stranger? Thank you from the bottom of my heart. It was not the gift that mattered so much. It was the human kindness; it restored my confidence in humanity, just what I needed at the time.

I’m sure in the big cosmic purpose that’s in the hands of our creator, we will meet again one day.

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Literature, writing and musings

The Lonely Youth

I was driving from Gothenburg to Stockholm with my family. We stopped in your quiet town called Jo and bought some snacks and drinks. It was a Saturday morning.

Whilst sitting in the town square, you came and joined us on the benches like you were part of us. You must have been twelve or thirteen years-old and you appeared as lonely as a lighthouse. Were you restless or curious? Was being in the shadow of four strangers from Scotland something different?

We got up and left without uttering a word to you and continued our journey. Did you sink in the silence we left behind?

Perhaps you’re married with your own family now. Perhaps the Scottish family that descended on your little town that morning is one of your fleeting moments.

Peak Moments

There are events through the march of time that dance and shimmer in our heads and hearts and rise at unexpected moments. Like the Northern Lights, they are awe-inspiring in their scope. They reach the deepest parts of our soul and emerge unexpectedly. They are left unfinished like the cadence of an A-minor hymn or a Percy Shelley line. Moments that create self-awareness and define who we are. Humorous events that impart wisdom. Spontaneous acts of extraordinary human kindness. Elliptical and incomplete, they interrupt life’s plot. They just happen. And that’s the way it should be.

Image by Geoffroy Hauwen
Literature, writing and musings

The Simplicity of Happiness

Happiness comes from looking after your spirituality. Being kind to others, engenders happiness. It’s cyclical.

 I love the Hebrew word Firgun. It captures the essence of rejoicing over other’s happiness. It prompted me to write the following micro memoir from childhood:

Image by Patrick Fore

1965: Firgun (Hebrew) Taking Pleasure in Other’s Happiness

My wife asked me what was my happiest childhood memory? It was the day my two friends came and asked if I was coming with them? It was a spring morning, and we took the ferry across to Kelvin to visit the museum.

We were there for several hours and on our return, we were rubbing our tummies with hunger. A man said, ‘Here’s a half-crown, buy yourselves ice-cream.’ We jumped up and down singing ‘Chips, glorious chips.’ Then… we stopped…went silent. The man told us to buy ice-cream. But he just smiled, and we jumped up and down again singing ‘Chips, glorious chips.’

And I would have to say, that was my happiest childhood memory; the day the kind man smiled and thought it was okay to buy chips.

Literature, writing and musings

How to write a personal essay

There is a beautiful piece of cinematography in Nikita Mikhalkov’s movie Urga, where one is presented with a vast panoramic field of emerald grass. There’s movement in the distance. The image gets closer and closer and slowly coming into focus. It’s accompanied by the sound of rumbling hooves and snorting. Wafts of agitated dust float in a state of suspended animation which hastens the suspense. The camera eventually centres on the focal point, Gombo,  a vigorous Mongolian equestrian shepherd mounted on his stocky steed fill the screen.

The scene acts as an apt metaphor for the personal essay. One begins with something out of focus. A word like ‘nostalgia.’ A sentence like ‘It happened like this.’ A quote like Soderberg’s ‘People want to be loved, failing that admired…our soul seeks connection at any price.’ An image like Avril Paten’s painting, Windows in the West. Then, my journey begins. I have no maps. I have no coordinates. Just the loose excursions of my mind. My reader joins me on this pilgrimage or saunter; a description that’s dependant on the subject. It’s oftena highway to seemingly nowhere, but the scenery is interesting, occasionally captivating.  It’s worth the effort.

It’s an image of what’s going on in my head, albeit a glass darkly. But the process of pen to paper sparks a chemistry that is leading to a place. The place appears and disappears in a literary eclipse. We appear lost, but in the large vat of editing, the destination emerges.

Image by Bernice Tong

Like a camel on the road to Kathmandu, the personal essay can take the load I have to pack on. My memoirs, musings, my angst, the wanderings of my mind, my peculiarities and fears, my worldview, and philosophies. The introduction to the personal essay was like bursting out of prison and finding a voice for all I have to say.

Literature, writing and musings

Where Are the Kind People?

“People die from lack of shared empathy and affinity. By establishing social connectedness, we give hope a chance and the other can become heaven.” ― Erik Pevernagie

I was watching a documentary last night about the “happiness” paradox in the Scandinavian countries. I say paradox because despite the level of happiness, there is a considerable reliance on antidepressants.

One factor for this is the lack of shared empathy and companionship. Scandinavians by nature are reserved. Look at the following image on Quora and you will see this played out (Enter the link into the search bar):

If there was ever an opportunity to have a social chat, this would be it: when people are standing in a line.

Due to the high suicide rates in Denmark in the past, the nation addressed this by recognising that loneliness was a major factor. Houses are designed to encourage neighbours to socialise. Many Danes are members of several clubs. The work/leisure life is carefully balanced, and suicide is now at a low.

There’s a lesson in empathy for all of us: Say hello to the stranger. Invite them for a coffee. Talk with your neighbours. Put a smile on someone’s face. Give hope a chance.

Image by Toa Heftiba (Unsplash)