Thursday, June 29, 2006

Sharing coffee and stories

Speaking before priests, seminarians, nuns and members of religious congregations this evening was like going back in time. I could see myself a few years ago sitting in the middle of the hall, awed at the personalities in front, intently listening to every word they would utter.

Being with my brothers in the seminary is like being with my family. We all know we commit mistakes and we all understand. We understand and forgive after the one who commits a mistake makes amends.

I talked about the media situation in the country. I shared tales of my life as a journalist. I told them that being a journalist is like being a priest. Our vocation is the same: to spread the good news to everyone who would care to listen. We journalists also want our world to change into a better one. We also want all the killings to stop. We want also want justice and peace to reign in our land.

I sang and prayed with them. I shared coffee with them. They gave me a certificate of recognition. They even provided a stipend. They said they would pray for me. I said I would do my best in my profession and not fail them.

Years ago, when I was as young as the seminarians who listened to me speak this evening, I used to go to the chapel after every symposium. I would pray that despite the difficulties I encounter daily in my studies I would become a priest and put into practice all the ideas I learned from the speakers.

This evening, while I tried to negotiate the traffic back to the office, I silently murmured a prayer that somehow I was able to touch a future priest’s heart. I prayed that I did not do an injustice to those who listened and I asked for forgiveness for the mistakes I made.

* * *

Coffee, like beer, tastes sweet when one shares it with someone one is comfortable with. It doesn’t matter what kind of coffee one is having, be it brewed or instant coffee. Anyway, nothing compares to the coffee Lola Tinang and Tiya Sensyang used to prepare.

We used to have coffee trees around the house. We picked the ripe fruits, dry it under the sun and, days later, roast it until it turns black. Our grandmother would then bring out the grinder – how do you call a galingan? – and order us kids to grind the black beans. The ground coffee is then put into a kettle to boil. Then we have to wait until the coffee sinks on the bottom of the kettle before Lola Tinang and Tiya Sensyang pour the liquid into our cup.

When I was a kid, drinking coffee was not done to pass time. Drinking coffee was a ritual. I only drink coffee in my grandparents’ house. We didn’t have coffee in our house. My parents said we could not afford it. What we had was “corn coffee” or coffee from ground roasted corn. On special occasions - a death in the family or during birthdays - my mother would buy a glass of Nescafe. (We’ve collected these empty glasses for our daily use. My sister and I used to share a glass while my father and mother another because there were not enough for the whole family.)

Coffee for me has become synonymous with special occasions like weekend visits to my grandparents’ house, Christmas, Holy Week. Later in life, when I stayed for several months in the hinterlands of Basilan and Zamboanga, I was always honored when Muslim families offer me coffee. There were times, when I made home visits to at least ten households in an afternoon. I had to drink ten glasses of coffee. Yes, that’s ten big glasses!

These days, drinking coffee has become a fad. Lovers quarrel and reconcile over coffee, deals are sealed over coffee, plans are hatched over coffee and people mask and unmask themselves over coffee.

I have lost my passion over coffee. These days, I drink coffee because others offer me a cup or, out of courtesy, I offer guest, friends and acquaintances. Many times I have coffee just to pass time and accompany someone who loves to drink the beverage. I prefer water.

I still for my grandmother's coffee. I still long for the special occassions when drinking coffee was a ritual. I dream of that day when I will drink coffee with someone willing to share a cup. What matters most would be the sharing. What matters most would be drinking coffee not with misty eyes after illusions appear and disappear with the white steam that, for a few seconds, linger in front of one's face.

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