For the love of the written word

Defending your STRAMA paper

PB_Defending your STRAMA

Source: School Retool

This is a logical part 2 of an article I earlier posted in 2012 titled THE CHALLENGES OF WRITING A STRAMA PAPER, which I wrote during the time I was preparing my own Strategic Management paper. I’ve earned my MBA degree since then, joined a development bank and took on other interests.

But for MBA students who are still at it, after you finish the paper and your adviser gives the thumbs up, the next proverbial question is: HOW DO I DEFEND MY PAPER?

For some who are good presenters (I find marketing and sales people exceptional at this), it’s a piece of cake. Not so for others who are, in fact, aplenty. Preparing for your STRAMA (or thesis) defense is a whole new ball game which requires preparation and dedication. I’ve heard stories of students who completed their papers without any difficulty, only to chicken out at the last minute because they are too nervous to face the panel.

Facing the members of your thesis panel can either be a liberating or daunting experience, depending on your confidence level and mastery of your paper. This is why, early on, your STRAMA professor and/or adviser may have urged you to select a company which you are familiar with and not just any company for the sake of completing the requirements for graduation.

Here are some hacks as you prepare for your defense:

  • Master your paper from cover to cover. There is really no better way. Remember that your thesis panel’s job is to dissect your paper and look for gaps that you might have missed out. It is your job to know your paper very well from start to finish.
  • As much as possible, know the members of your STRAMA panel. This is another important area to keep in mind. It pays to know who the members of your panel are. Are they academicians or practitioners? Do they come from your field of study? Is there a financial guy in the team?

In my personal experience, I found this very helpful. I learned early on that one of the members came from the oil industry (which was the topic of my paper), so I knew I had to firm up on my bullets about it. I knew that any wrong or sweeping statement could lead to so many questions that could derail me from my defense presentation, which is not a good thing. And believe me, practitioners know if you’re just winging it.

I had to give financial guy a different color to highlight this area. If you know that one of the members is a finance person which you’re not (that is to say, that you’re not a finance person), you have to be ready to take some blows on the financial part of your paper. Be ready to explain your projections.

  • Make your presentations concise and short. Remember that you are just one of the many students that they will have to listen to, so focus only on the essentials. Some advisers/schools have a template which will guide you on what topics to put in your paper. Be mindful of that and the time allotted for your presentation. Also, give some time for the panel’s Q&A.
  • Do not make the mistake of saying anything that’s not written in your paper. Like I’ve said, panel members might be able to spot that right away and ask you where they can find that in your paper. That can lead to very serious issues with your panel which your adviser may not be able to help you with.
  • In everything you say or do, your adviser will always be your proponent and guide. Take advantage of your adviser’s free time for consultations. Make each moment count and take everything down. He will always know more than you do.
  • Rehearse your presentation, if possible with somebody for an audience. It is always a boardroom setting during a STRAMA defense. I remember my STRAMA professor Dean Albert Buenviaje explaining this to us in class. Imagine yourself presenting before the Board of Directors. You have to have that air of confidence in presenting your topic defense.
  • Try to anticipate questions and answer them. Again, I found this very helpful. I always made a mental note of possible questions that panel members may ask me and prepared short answers for these. In the 10 questions that I was able to think of, 4 questions came out–which is not bad at all. So it was a good feeling that I was able to answer straight away without stressing myself.
  • Finally, come ahead of time for your defense. You don’t want to be late catching your breath while your panel eagerly waits for you to begin. It will never look good.



How to Polish It Off in Front of the Camera Without Really Trying


Going viral recently is an interview of this famous sexy actress turned senatorial candidate by a veteran journalist. Reading the transcript of the interview was not as awkward as watching the footage of the exchanges between the actress and the journalist. It makes people think: What kind of candidates are we exactly getting?

While I have never ran for public office, it is my personal view that candidates should NEVER attempt to face the cameras without keeping in mind a few pointers:

  1. Remember that journalists may not be forgiving when they punch in the questions, so be prepared to take (hard) questions. Study if you must!
  2. Politics is not acting. You can’t fake it (or you can try to, but it will show). Have personal views on political and social issues. These are one of the most often asked questions by journalists. Mean it.
  3. Draw up your platform. Journalists will always ask this because this is what constituents need to know. Know what your political party’s platform is (of course, Philippine political parties don’t really have an ideology or strict political platform to base their stance with, but that is a different issue altogether). You just cannot show up on the boob tube and radio and simply say you have the heart and willingness to serve. Is this idea still selling with the public?
  4. If you get stuck in a question, just eat humble pie and be simple. Do not look like you are squirming in your seat trying to find the answers. Be straightforward. You the owe the public some decorum for watching you on tv. Try to look smart at least. Study how seasoned politicians like Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama respond to sticky situations.
  5. Talk to the viewers, not just the journalist. In interviews of veteran politicians, you will find them responding to the reporter but are actually talking to the viewers. It’s the whole package—the response, eye contact, and body language. One running for a high public position should exude this confidence and aura of reaching out to the public. You are not just explaining your views to the interviewer; you are presenting yourself to the public.
  6. People are SMARTER now.  The public may be forgiving, but be prepared to become the butt of jokes for weeks.
  7. PRACTICE public speaking PLEASE! Rehearse anticipated responses to common questions. Some candidates get an image counselor and spin doctor for this. If you belong to a political party, see how your party can help you develop this. If not, get help from professional public speakers.

Let me just capture some of the funny remarks on Twitter.



Hope we don’t find a lot of these in the months to come.  No offense to the candidate, but what was she thinking?

Dear John: Capturing Love through Letters

dearjohnnI watched a love story recently, Dear John, a movie adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ novel of the same title. The movie tells the story of a soldier (played by Channing Tatum) who met college student Savannah (essayed by Amanda Seyfried) at a beach during one summer. After spending time together the whole summer, reality bites them as they go their separate ways (he back to military service, she goes back to school). They promised to write each other, promising the other to “tell everything” they can. And so a lengthy correspondence happens between them during a long period of time, until Savannah breaks off. Heartbroken, John burns all her letters, closing a decisive chapter in his life.

What I like about this movie is the exchange of letters between the two characters over a period of time, despite the availability of the internet and mobile technology. But then again, John and Savannah didn’t have a choice, since John’s foreign missions often led him to remote areas where internet connection is poor. And this makes this story very poignant for me.  They took time off their respective duties to write.

As I had written in my past article, the art of writing letters in longhand is a lost art. More people are turning to faster means of communication, and I don’t blame them. Everything is moving faster in this day and age that we want to pass on information quicker than we can lift a pen. Between young couples today, they prefer sending text messages (even icons!) to evoke feelings and professions of love than, you know, just writing it down on paper and handing it to the person you love.

What young people probably do not realize is that writing in longhand shows more sincerity and effort than sending emails. It is more personal, more thought-driven, and for me, sentimental. I will choose a haphazardly written letter every time over a piece of email that has been composed beautifully, font and design included.  Sending emails is a cut-and-paste thing.  Of course, there are emails that may just be as emotional as a letter done in cursive, but then again, it’s something that’s easier to do.

So as much as we can, let’s write letters in longhand. It doesn’t have to be a long composition—a short note will do. It evokes the feeling that you truly care for the person to take the effort to send him a note.

The Way to Eternity


I left this Earth, weightless that I–

Flitted like the gentle wind under the sunlight.

I found myself crossing to the other side—

Eager to find beyond death what might.

Source: Creativefan

Source: Creativefan

On the road side still I find an old man,

Whose face was old as Father Time.

I asked him “Which way to Eternity should I go?”

“You go that way straight and take your time”.

Heeding his words, I trudge along the path

Which seemed narrower and thornier the farther I go.

Even in this state, weary was I

I worked my way as clouds moved to and fro.

Just a while more what seemed ages to me,

A little girl, not quite five, sat on the side

“Which way to Eternity little girl?” I asked.

Thinking that I might go far and wide.

“Walk just a little more, you will find at the end—

what you are looking for. Be happy at last!”

Joyful was I that would finally find—

The reward of all my good deeds past.

But as I walked farther still to the light I fond

The road paved with thorny bushes still.

The cobbled road barely fit my feet

To climb the narrow road uphill.



Lo up top, I find a well at the end of the road.

And sat on the edge to search what I can find.

Is this Eternity for me, to find a well?

Is this my reward for the life I left behind?

Not a second to lose an image appeared

The Gentlest Soul appeared to me.

“My son, have you failed to see Eternity–

As you head along the narrow way?”

“You’ve met Peter I see, to whom the Church I gave

And the child you met along the way

Is the innocence you’ve set your heart during life

To lead you to the reward you say.”

For an instant there I realized that—

The Soul who met me on the well was Christ!

I kneeled to the ground and kissed His feet

Realizing finally that I had hit the prize!


“My son, I was with you for ages since–

And waited for this day to come.

Eternity is here, with Me, and now.

Receive your reward as you are home.”

As I tell you in your dreams dear friend

What eternity has been like for me.

Build your blocks of eternity on earth

And be joyful what on the other side you shall see.

Hard Confessions of a Doctoral Student

As I write this piece, I am sick in bed nursing a a fever while grappling with a paper that’s way past due.  It’s not just any paper, but an assignment that requires me to propose quantitative tools (that’s MATH for the rest of us) for analysis.  It’s not easy, but I do it because: 1) it’s required under the course outline and 2) heck, I’m enjoying it!

Welcome to the life of a doctoral student.  And I guess, everyone who is at this level has the same predicament.  Juggling time can be a challenging exercise.  Unless you are in it full time, mastering time management is something you have to deal with on a regular basis.  For students who work full time like me, it can be excruciating to meet all work and school deadlines.  But hey, no pain no gain, right?

Welcoming DCOMM Students at the orientation

Welcoming DCOMM Students at the orientation

When I attended the UP Open University (UPOU) orientation for the Doctor of Communications course in July this year, we met Rey Ardamoy who was one of the 2 students graduating this year.  He spoke about his experiences as a doctoral student at UPOU and as an expat in China.  His experiences during the whole course of the study helped give me that frame of mind which I needed.

It’s all about reflection,” he said, something was passed to him by his adviser, Dr. Jean Saludadez.

Dr. Jean Saludadez (photo copied from our group's FB page)

Dr. Jean Saludadez (photo copied from our group’s FB page)

So here I am, several months later, reflecting on my proposed dissertation paper, thinking about how I am going to relate all my chosen variables for the topic.  And with quantitative research, I need to correlate and test these variables to look for strengths, weaknesses and what have you.  For a person who finds Math a challenge, it can be a real difficult exercise.  But then I know the concepts well enough to understand how they work, and that is good enough for me.

Taking higher studies (a doctoral degree at that) requires you to read lots of literature.  You really have to, so for those who hate to read, then it is simply not the course for you.  A doctoral degree is basically research work, and that means sifting through scholastic papers and studies of related literature.  There is no substitute for it.  Google and a host of search engines do make life easier, but it doesn’t mean that you can cut-paste everything you find.   You have to learn how to discern which paper makes it to your paper and which doesn’t.

Participating in discussions.  Again, no substitute.  Somebody else’s idea will always be better than yours.  At UPOU, there is no spoon-feeding.  The courses are structured in such a way that the learnings are based on the student’s exchanges.  It is student-centric, so you are expected to contribute to forum discussions.  I admit some personal challenges here, because I only feel the need to participate when I’ve read enough of the topic to contribute something to the forum.

Some of my DCOMM batchmates who attended the orientation

Some of my DCOMM batchmates who attended the orientation

Consulting with peers and advisers.  Another sound advice we got during the orientation.  You really have to touch base with peers and your adviser to fine tune your topic.  You can’t know everything, so you have to get help.  The professors at UPOU, for instance, are very approachable and will be very agreeable to give you sound advice.  Never be afraid to take the opportunity.  If you have to set up an appointment, do it (I have yet to set up mine though, since I still need to polish my paper before I seek advice).  Get all the support you need.  Attending the orientation was very helpful because it gave me an idea of what the people were like face-to-face, a real take-off from the mostly online instructions we have as a distance learning student.

Any kind of learning can be difficult.  To say that distance learning is easy is utterly FALSE.  In fact, it is all the more challenging because you have to brace yourself with the situation of studying at your own pace, your own resources, and with little detailed instruction on how to go about it.  So whoever said online learning is easier has simply not tried it yet.

Learning is a journey–enjoy it!    Learning is a process, not a cross or burden.  So enjoy every minute of it.

As I bring my article to a close, I am back in my zone.  The fever is down, but I still have joint paints everywhere.  I’m back to my reflections again.


The iconic UP Oblation at the UPOU Campus




Years back during college, our professor asked us to introduce ourselves in class. It was the first day of class and we were freshmen at UP. I had a classmate who audaciously introduced herself this way (I am removing the name of the person as a respect of her privacy):

“I am __________ from Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University. I graduated with 9 medals!”

It caused a lot of whispering (or maybe uproar!) inside the class, some in awe and some in plain jest. Nevertheless, everyone had a sheepish grin on their faces, me included. It caused another classmate of mine to introduce himself as somebody “with no medals”.

Fast forward into college and into graduation, it is still one of the most often-talked about moments in our student life. I remember her name but hardly remember what she was like as a friend (she was my dorm mate for a brief period of time). One thing for sure was that she was branded for most of our college life.

Making introductions is like selling yourself to people. When you introduce yourself you put your best foot forward no matter what. An expert introducing himself before distinguished guests puts his foot forward by telling something about his professional credentials that will be of interest to the audience, but he cannot do the same introduction before a group of grade school students who might be disinterested by what he does. Similarly, a student speaking before peers should introduce himself by mentioning interests that may connect with his peers’ interests (and hopefully, not sounding like a braggart about it). Although listing down all the medals and achievements attained may be quite impressive to most people, it takes an amount of warm and sincerity to pull off a talk that may be intended to connect with people in a personal way than an introduction that’s intended for a conference of a hundred distinguished people.

Keep in mind the following things when introducing yourself:

  1. KNOW THE AUDIENCE – is it a big crowd or small one? An academic community or a group of peers? Board room or classroom? You want to connect with people, not put them off. Knowing who your audience are should give you an idea how to tailor fit your introduction to them.
  2. KNOW THE CONTEXT – is it for a professional conference? Is it for a classroom introduction? For media release? If the event is for professionals, you’d want to introduce yourself as someone who’s been in the field for quite some time. That lends you credibility to be talking in front of people. But if it’s just a simple introduction within a classroom setting, you need to project yourself as a warm and approachable person. To give people your resume-like achievements will tend to drive off people from you.
  3. KEEP IT SHORT AND SIMPLE – follow the K.I.S.S. Rule (Keep It Short and Simple). People do not want a long list of introductions, especially introduction coming from the horse’s mouth. If there is another person introducing you, that is acceptable; if you’re making your own introductions, it tends to turn off people. Keeping it short keeps people’s interests up. It gives the other person the idea that “this person is not simply thinking about himself”. And guess what? People who keep their introductions short and simple get more people to know more about them.
  4. DO A FIRM HANDSHAKE IF POSSIBLE – A firm handshake is what business contacts do to seal in an agreement. A good grip is always a sign of sincerity and trustworthiness.  But doing a handshake doesn’t always apply. You don’t do a handshake before a audience of pre-schoolers, do you? Again, always determine the context you are in and do the correct practice.
  5. MAINTAIN EYE CONTACT – Do not lose eye contact with the person you are introducing yourself to. In a bigger audience, maintain that sticky eyes and move your eyes from one person to another slowly. Looking people straight in the eye is always an indication of warmth and sincerity. A person who doesn’t look at you at all doesn’t deserve to be looked at all.

Making introductions doesn’t have to be difficult at all when you know when to use the right introduction. Connection is always the key, and when you know how to do that you’ll be branded–for life.

A Critique of Anthony Townsend’s Smart Cities: Big Data, civic hackers, and the quest for a new utopia

smartAnthony Townsend’s Smart Cities looks at the forces that have helped build the concept of these highly technological communities of today. An urban planner and technology expert by profession, smart cities are the result of the advancements in ICT, the need to decrease one’s carbon footprint and create sustainable communities subsisting on adequate resources. The author takes on a historical viewpoint of the concept, how world events, natural and man-made disturbances, and increasing urbanization have helped (or pushed) societies to move towards embracing technology to make better communities. In the end, Townsend goes on to say that: “The key goal of establishing smart cities is to get people thinking about the risks of letting big tech companies design future cities” (Townsend, 2013).

Townsend gave the city of Songdo as the primary example of a smart city that was recently created by South Korea. Built from scratch by Koreans in 2009, the Songdo International Business District (IBD) sits on 1,500 acres of reclaimed land that was part of the country’s stimulus package to revive South Korea’s floundering economy. The whole city is identified as the “world’s largest experiment in urban automation”, with several sensors installed in the roads, electrical grids, and water system “to precisely track, respond to, and even predict the flow of people and material” (Ibid.). The city is literally run on information that only demonstrates Korea’s technological prowess.

Is it what we REALLY need?

Are smart cities what we really need? Yes and no. Critics have questioned smart city initiatives already developed by other countries today. Besides Songdo, Abu Dhabi is also building its own smart city, Masdar City, which will be completed in 2025. Greenfield (2006) was against the creation of smart cities and proposed the development of current cities instead. Smedley (2013) also supported the view that given the widespread and comprehensive nature of the development of smart cities, the technology used may become outdated by the time the whole project is completed.

On the other end of the spectrum that support smart cities are those who support the view of retrofitting existing communities. Greenfield has advocated the retrofitting movement, explaining:

“We do need a radical new approach, but the radical new approach may be hiding right under our noses. Retrofitting means an acknowledgment of and an adaptation to reality. Habits and patterns of sociability change—we cannot begin to know, when we layout a plan for a new city, what use people are going to make of it. The street literally does find its own use for things” (Greenfield, 2013).

Eames (2013) asserted that the focus should be on building sustainable communities that aim to reduce carbon emissions through the efficient use of water, energy, and waste resources. Smedley maintained that governments should build and support existing cities to respond to technological and environmental challenges.

While most countries have already taken the effort to upgrade its mobile/IT system to compete with world standards, these upgrades are small and are not yet entirely connected. By investing more on these existing communities where population is higher, it will create more impact.


The purpose of creating smart cities is not to build a technological utopia, but rather to build a better community that has less carbon footprint and more efficiency in the delivery of services. It requires a comprehensive ICT master plan that will focus on the areas of governance, policy framework, environment, economy and the community. Underlying these areas include hardware/infrastructure and know-how of people in using such technology.

In the end, one thing is clear: society is changing and urbanization is growing at a rapid pace. Energy, water, and food resources are becoming scarce and will require effective management and utilization of these resources. Smart cities offer a plausible (and ideal) solution to lessening the environmental impact of an increasing world population, however small or insignificant it may be compared to the size of the world population today. Moreover, its perceived success may provide a test bed for existing cities to follow suit by retrofitting or working on small-scale technological improvements that may likewise provide a similar impact on the community. The future is ours for the taking, and the future is now.

Townsend’s book is a fascinating read on how societies are envisioned in the future.  It is much like Disney’s Tomorrowland: “Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy.”  Some societies are already there, some almost there, but most of them can only hope to be there.


Eames, M. e. (2013). Retrofit City Futures: Visions for Urban Sustainability. Retrieved from Retrofit 2050:

Greenfield, A. (2013). The City is Here For You to Use. New York: Verso Publishing.

Townsend, A. (2013). Smart Cities: Big Data, civic hackers, and the quest for a new utopia. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Meeting with Friends: Making Meaningful Relationships

(Source: Anchor.Org website)

(Source: Anchor.Org website)

During a recent wake, I’ve reminded of a wake I attended a few years ago, also with a batchmate. It was even made sadder by the fact that she was a dear cousin of mine, who succumbed to cancer. She was a close friend of mine in high school, and over the years I would see her and we would chat occasionally until the news came that she was deathly ill. I was with her during her last few days at the hospital.

From that time since then, I’ve had schoolmates and friends who have passed on to the next life. It’s sad to meet friends only during wakes and funerals. You talk about the memories you’ve had with the deceased in the past—as in long PAST. It’s the same even with classmates who are still alive. You meet to attend a wake and talk about the good times. After spending a few hours talking, you go home, exchange numbers, and then WHAT? Almost always, it takes weeks and even months before you send a message to your classmate, if at all. That’s it.

I have to ask myself this question: Why do I have to attend reunions like this because somebody’s dead? Why can’t I meet more friends under less depressing conditions?

That changed my perspective. Why meet up with friends just because somebody’s dead? Why not find the time to meet more, during fun times, and make a connection?

It’s so easy to be blinded by deadlines, workloads, and chores at home and at work. One could easily be so caught up with all the world’s distractions. But if we just take a day’s off to bond, to simply touch someone else’s life with our presence, then that will make a whole lot of difference to you and your friend. It doesn’t have to take a whole day to just chat with a friend.

And so it has become my own conviction to reach out, connect with old friends, create new ones, and make these relationships MEANINGFUL. And this means going out more to mini-reunions and other activities. Some may or may not welcome it, but that’s their problem, not YOURS. If you have a family and guilt over the feeling that you are choosing friends over family, why not make it a family affair? The key to all of it is finding balance.

So reach out and touch a friend. He just might touch yours.  You’ll never know until you make that move.

Understanding How the World Works: A Communicator’s Perspective


(This paper was my submission in one of the subjects I enrolled in as a Communication student. I’ve edited some portions of the original paper to make it more discursive and reader-friendly.)

In my personal view, the emergence of social media reflects an open and globalized society. It has allowed man to bridge gaps where ordinary communication could not fill. Technology has made things easier, faster and more convenient to everybody.

Because of the accessibility and wealth of information available (as least, in a democratic and/or market-driven society), anybody can become a source and recipient of information. This is what communication is all about: it’s not one way, it’s not two-way but it’s multi-channeled. Thus, it is so easy to get entangled in a sea of information (and misinformation) that it becomes difficult to identify which information is true and which is false.

In Malcom Gladwell’s book “Blink” (I am a great fan of this author, by the way), he asserts that people do not really need to know the whole picture of a company, but only that sufficient information that will enable a person to make an informed decision. There are people who really on gut-feel and win, while there are those who are more cautious but are consistently deficient. The whole premise of the book is this: the best decisions do not necessarily involve having that know-it-all, know-everything attitude, but rather comes from knowing only the pertinent details to make a wise decision (Gladwell, 2011).

Looking at the World Through Blinkers


For some time, this has been my personal belief. The only information I need is what I can use for my job responsibilities. Everything else is surplus, and what I don’t know won’t hurt me. Even in the workplace today, most companies expect personnel to act according to their particular tasks. This is why job descriptions are designed by management—it also makes it easier for managers to measure employee performance. Employees simply take their cue from management policy and follow what is designated to them.

Do we really want to see the world the way horses look at race tracks?  Probably not.

After taking on this course for my Doctor of Communications degree however, it changed my view of how I ought to see things.

A Systemic Perspective: A Not-So New Idea

Going through the whole semester of information exchanges and online discussions have taught me the relevance and importance of systemic thinking supported by Bartlett (2000), Forrester (1959) and Richmond (2000). As asserted by Mathews (2007) in her paper, “a systems thinker will look beyond his/her discipline, assumptions, and knowledge and search for a holistic view of whatever is at hand” (Mathews & Jones, 2007). Taking on a systemic approach has forced me to see the big picture—an attitude I had done before but outgrew as I logged in years of experience in the workplace.

On a practical note, it has enabled me to look at situations from all corners before coming up with decisions that will be effective and timely. For instance, on deciding whether or not a proposal is feasible or not, I have to look at its applicability from a financial, operational and legal viewpoint. This has led me to go out of my circle and network with other departments for fish out their views on certain points. The result of the exercise has so far generated positive impact.

As a communicator, using this approach has encouraged me to be more methodical and comprehensive about communicating with others. Communication itself requires great skill, and to deliver it is quite another. It is not as simple as others would think, but as a student of communication it is a challenge that we must come to accept. Organizations exist because of the people behind it, and for organizations to move ahead is to have strong leaders who are able to communicate the group’s mission and vision to the members and implement its programs.


Bartlett, G. (2001). Systemic Thinking: A Simple Thinking Technique for Gaining Systemic (Situation-Wide) Focus. Prodsol International.

Forrester, J. W. (1959). Industrial Dynamics.

Gladwell, M. (2011). Blink: The Art of Thinking Without Thinking. New York: Hachette Book Group.

Mathews, L. G., & Jones, A. (2007). Using Systems Thinking to Improve Interdisciplinary Learning Outcomes: Reflections on a Pilot Study in Land Economics. American Agricultural Economics Association Annual Meeting, (pp. 1-26). Portland.

Richmond, B. (2000). The Thinking in Systems Thinking. In The Systems Thinker.

A Christmas Ghost Story

This happened a few years back when my son was just 4 years old.  He is now 10.

We had an old neighbor who just enjoyed talking to my son when he was a toddler.  He was an old man who didn’t have a family of his own and stayed with a niece and her family.  He was a kind man with a gentle demeanor, and every time my son was out to play he would be waiting on a bench outside his home, chatting with his young neighbor who was still babbling with his words then (he had a sort of baby talk that sounded cute).  Maybe because my son was cute and bubbly and the old man (Uncle Fred, he was called) liked him a lot.  We liked him back because apparently, my kid also liked talking to him.  We were new settlers in the village, and Uncle Fred was just one of the first neighbors who welcomed us in.

My son loved to play outdoors, and every time Uncle Fred was out he would just watch the kids and chat with them.  Despite the fact that Uncle Fred’s niece had quite a large family to keep him company, me and my husband could sense that he was in fact lonely most of the time.  Going out of the house was an escape, and once he was outside it took him a lot of time before he went in again.

 (Source:  Throw Yourself Like Seed)(Source: Throw Yourself Like Seed)

In a way, Uncle Fred was my kid’s playmate.  He’d show his toy or ball to the old man and Uncle Fred would ask him questions or tell him stories.  This is what I knew from my kid’s nanny at least.

The Catholic that I am, I’ve been always taught to pray for the souls in Purgatory.  These are souls that have been saved by God’s mercy but have to undergo a place of purging, or Purgatory as we’ve been taught.  I’ve learned somewhere that it is during Christmas time when most of the souls are released.  So, it has always been my habit to say a prayer for them, especially for the people who are to depart from this world tonight.  Creepy as it may sound, I do that every time.

Every Christmas morning, my husband, kid and I would go to my in-laws to spend the whole day with them.  As I try to recall now, it was an early drive (about 6:30 am) because nobody seemed to be up in the neighborhood yet.  As our car passed by the corner where Uncle Fred lived, we were met by the kindly old man.  My husband slowed down the car and opened the window.  We greeted him a Merry Christmas and he greeted back and waved to my kid who was seated at the back.


(Source: Flicker)

(Source: Flicker)

Uncle Fred was his usual gentle self, dressed in white shorts and sleeveless shirt.  We wondered how such a kind man would choose to remain a bachelor.

So that day was spent in revelry and merry-making.  We got back home late and my kid’s nanny recounted how her day went at home.

“You know the old man at Ate Vicky’s house?  He died this morning,” the nanny said.

I was slightly surprised and saddened by the news.  “Really?  He looked strong and healthy.  Was he sick?  What time did he die?”

“Ate, he died at 4am this morning,” was the nanny’s startling reply.

My husband shook his head in disbelief.  “That can’t be.  Maybe you mean 4pm?”

The nanny looked at both of us and answered straight away.  “No.  He died this morning at 4am.”

It was my turn to shake my head, explaining this time our refusal to believe.  “We just saw Uncle Fred this morning.  He greeted us, we even opened the car window to greet him.  He was flesh and blood.”

The nanny was stunned, her words seemed to be shaky.  “What did he look like?  Did you notice anything different about him?”

Come to think of it, we did.  We noticed he was dressed all white.  There was nobody else on the street that morning.  He had the kindest face in all the years that we’ve seen him.  Did that prove that what we saw was a ghost?  Your guess is as good as ours!

To this day, I still remember Uncle Fred, and continue to pray for the souls in Purgatory especially at Christmas time.

A Blessed Christmas to All!




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