Letters to Juliet versus Dead Stars

Letters to Juliet

Letters to Juliet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few days ago, I watched “Letters to Juliet“. Sophie, a fact checker for The New Yorker, is engaged to be married. She and her fiance go on a ‘pre-honeymoon’ to Italy. During one of her walks in the city of Verona, she stumbles upon Juliet’s balcony. Turns out, there’s a tradition in Verona wherein women from all over the world go there and post their letters to Juliet. These letters mostly deal with heartache, and the women ask Juliet for her advice. At the end of the day, a ‘secretary of Juliet’ comes to collect the letters. The Secretaries of Juliet is an organization of women whose job is to read the letters and send an answer back to the women who’ve written to Juliet. Well, Sophie follows this secretary and she ends up becoming a sort of ‘honorary’ secretary of Juliet. One day, while helping one of the secretaries collect the letters, she discovers a letter, written fifty years ago, hidden in the wall.

“I didn’t go to him Juliet. I didn’t go to Lorenzo. His eyes were so full of trust. I promised I’d meet him to run away together because my parents don’t approve but instead I left him waiting for me below our tree, waiting and wondering where I was. I’m in Verona now. I return to London in the morning and I’m so afraid.

Please Juliet, tell me what I should do. My heart is breaking and I have no one else to turn to.

Love, Claire

The letter was written by Claire, an Englishwoman, who lives in London. Fifty years ago, she came to Italy to study. There, she met Lorenzo, a simple local boy who picked grapes at a vineyard. They fell in love with each other, and planned to elope, but Claire got cold-feet and left him. She went back home to London where she married somebody else.

Sophie answered the letter:

“‘What’ and ‘if’ two words as nonthreatening as words come. But put them together side-by-side and they have the power to haunt you for the rest of your life: ‘What if?’…

I don’t know how your story ended. But I know that if what you felt then was love – true love – then it’s never too late. If it was true then why wouldn’t it be true now? You need only the courage to follow your heart…

I don’t know what a love like that feels like… a love to leave loved ones for, a love to cross oceans for… but I’d like to believe if I ever felt it. I’d have the courage to seize it. I hope you had the courage to seize it, Claire. And if you didn’t, I hope one day that you will.”

To cut to the chase, Claire, now a widow, receives Sophie’s letter and flies to Italy, along with her grandson, to find Lorenzo. After travelling all over the Italian countryside, and a number of wrong turns, they finally find Lorenzo, now a wealthy vineyard owner, and himself a widower. So they pick up where they left off fifty years ago, and they get married, and live in Lorenzo’s vineyard, happily ever after.

As I was watching the film, I couldn’t help thinking about this story I read in Contemporary Philippine Literature class back in my freshman year of college – “Dead Stars” by Paz Marquez Benitez.Image

Alfredo is engaged to be married to Esperanza. They have been together a long time, and Esperanza is eagerly waiting for the marriage date. One day, Alfredo goes “neighboring” around their town. There he meets Julia, the town judge’s young sister-in-law, who is in town for a visit. Alfredo finds Julia attractive and interesting. He starts spending a lot of time with her, and yes, falls in love with her, to the point of almost breaking off his engagement with Esperanza. But Julia does not approve of his breaking his word to Esperanza, and she says good-bye to Alfredo.

Alfredo eventually marries Esperanza. Eight years pass… Alfredo is in Julia’s town for a business trip. He goes to visit Julia, still unmarried, whom he has never forgotten. But when he comes face to face with the Julia, he is surprised to find that he no longer feels the same way for her. The love he had felt for her has faded.

“So that was all over.

Why had he obstinately clung to that dream?

So all these years–since when?–he had been seeing the light of dead stars, long extinguished, yet seemingly still in their appointed places in the heavens.

An immense sadness as of loss invaded his spirit, a vast homesickness for some immutable refuge of the heart far away where faded gardens bloom again, and where live on in unchanging freshness, the dear, dead loves of vanished youth.”

And thus, my question, how do we know if it’s really true love, one that will survive five, ten, twenty, fifty years of separation, as opposed to just seeing the light of dead stars, love that has long been extinguished, and we’re only seeing the light, the idea, that we are still in love with that person?


Bitterly Disappointed Teachers are Either Very Effective or Very Dangerous

Have you ever seen the movie “Finding Forrester”?

Jamal Wallace is an inner city kid from the Bronx who has excellent basketball skills. While playing basketball with his friends in the public playground one day, Jamal’s friends dare him to break into the house of William Forrester, a recluse who lives in an apartment near the playground and whom they often see watching them from his apartment window. Jamal breaks in and is surprised by Forrester, so much that he accidentally leaves his backpack in Forrester’s apartment. When Jamal goes back to retrieve his backpack, he finds his bag has been dropped on the street. Looking inside, he sees that Forrester read his writings and made some editorial notes on it. Jamal goes back to Forrester’s apartment and asks him to edit some more of his writings. Though things started on a rocky note, Forrester eventually became Jamal’s mentor and close friend.

While Jamal has always been a C student, he suddenly gains the attention of an exclusive private school in Manhattan, Mailor Callow, when he scores exceptionally high in a nationwide standardized test, revealing his true intellectual gift. While Mailor Callow offered him a scholarship based on his intellectual abilities, both Jamal and the school knew that the real reason for the scholarship was due to his prowess on the basketball court. At his new school, Jamal makes friends with Claire Spencer, but clashes with his arrogant literature teacher, Prof. Robert Crawford. Prof. Crawford is a failed author and continues to harbor this bitterness. When Jamal starts turning in literary masterpieces in his class, he concludes that a student like Jamal could not possibly be a genius at writing – he must be getting help somewhere or copying somebody else’s writing. It is during this part of the story where William Forrester utters the line, “Bitterly disappointed teachers are either very effective or very dangerous.” This line definitely struck a chord with me, because, as a former student, and now, a practicing teacher myself, I find this quote to be so very true.

We teachers are also human after all, and our lives, like everybody else’s, does have its share of joyous moments and bitter downfalls. And how we deal with these disappointments affect our life views and the way we teach and handle our students. I do admit there are days when I just don’t feel like facing a hundred students – just because we’re used to standing in front of a large crowd doesn’t mean we always want to do it.

I think bitterly disappointed teachers can be very effective when they use that experience as fuel for their teaching – like, “I had this bad experience and I don’t want you kids to go through the same thing, so I’ll do everything I can to prepare you for the future and hopefully, you won’t make the same mistakes I did.” When I first started teaching, I was clueless as to how to do it. Then, I thought, why not emulate the things that I admired from my old teachers? And, don’t do the same things that I really hated from my old teachers. See, I didn’t want my kids to have to go through the horrors some of my old teachers subjected us to – extreme favoritism to the rich students to the point of unfair grades, being made to feel like a  total idiot for forgetting something or not being able to memorize a Chinese paragraph, you get the idea. That was my fuel for teaching.

On the other hand, bitterly disappointed teachers can be very dangerous if they use the disappointments in life as a form of revenge – like, “I didn’t have the privilege of getting this or that, so why should you kids have it?” This is usually the case with people who really wanted to do something else in their life, but ended up “just being a teacher”. Like in “Finding Forrester”, Prof. Crawford failed as an author and ended up as a literature teacher. So, when faced with a student who had a real knack for writing, he just couldn’t accept it and lashed out in envy.

But come to think of it, this quote doesn’t really just apply to teachers.. it can apply to EVERYONE. In fact, we can rephrase it as “Bitterly disappointed people are either very effective or very dangerous.” Makes sense, right? Everyone goes through disappointments in life and it’s up to you how to take it – is it the fuel that keeps you going and motivates you to do better? or the thing you hang so stubbornly on to so that you can always wallow in self-pity and have an excuse for your failures? As Robert Kiyosaki said, “The size of your success is measured by the strength of your desire; the size of your dream; and how you handle disappointment along the way.”

The Curious Case of …

“My name is Benjamin Button, and I was born under unusual circumstances. While everyone else was agin’, I was gettin’ younger… all alone.”

Adapted from the 1920s story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, this film depicts the life of man who was born in his eighties and ages backwards. Set in New Orleans at the end of World War I in 1918 to the 21st century, this character-driven story takes us on the journey of Benjamin Button’s not-so-ordinary life. From the places he discovers along the way, to the fascinating characters that gave color to his existence, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” shows us that family, friendship, sacrifice, and love can exceed the boundaries of time.

This film was so heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time that by the end of it, I was an emotional wreck. The beautifully written dialogues will simply take your breath away. Powerful performances by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett made the story come alive. It gracefully shows us a love that survives extraordinary circumstances.. and the grave sacrifices people can make for it. Real love transcends sagging skin, wrinkles, graying hair.. it transcends wetting the bed, acne, or acting childish.

Daisy: Would you still love me if I were old and saggy?
Benjamin Button: Would you still love ME if I were young and had acne? When I’m afraid of what’s under the bed? Or if I end up wetting the bed?

It’s not just the man who ages backwards who is unique. Everyone has their own special something that they impart to others. “Along the way you bump into people who make a dent on your life. Some people get struck by lightning. Some are born to sit by a river. Some have an ear for music. Some are artists. Some swim the English Channel. Some know buttons. Some know Shakespeare. Some are mothers. And some people can dance.”

Is That Your Final Answer?

I was very curious to watch Slumdog Millionaire due to all the hype and praises the media has been giving it. This movie has a cast of unknowns in Hollywood. The child actors were even literally picked up from the streets of India. But in my point of view, their acting could outdo even big-name Hollywood A-listers. And yeah, this low-budget film won Best Motion Picture – Drama at the recently concluded Golden Globe Awards. So, is it worth all the buzz? Most definitely.

Slumdog Millionaire tells the story of Jamal Malik, an orphan who grew up in the slums of Mumbai, India. Jamal enters the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and to the astonishment of the populace, makes it all the way to the final question – worth 20 million rupees. When the final question is about to be revealed, the show’s air time runs out and the moment the whole nation has been waiting for will have to resume the next day. As Jamal leaves the show, he is accosted by the police and thrown into jail on suspicion of cheating – how can an uneducated slumdog know so much?
a. He cheated.
b. He’s lucky.
c. He is a genius.
d. It is written.

During the cross-examination by the jaded police inspector, Jamal reveals the story of his life – from the brutal death of his mother, to his and his brother’s life in the streets of Mumbai, to their encounters with vicious street gangs, to the one girl he lost and loved all his life – Latika. Through the telling of his colorful life story, bit by bit we are enlightened as to how Jamal came to know the answers to the questions in the contest.

The police inspector releases him and he himself becomes intrigued by the real reason as to why someone who is obviously not interested in the money would join “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”. As Jamal prepares to re-enter the show and answer the final question, the whole nation will find out why….

What does it take to find a lost love?
a. money
b. luck
c. smarts
d. destiny

Is that your final answer?


Everybody makes mistakes. That’s a fact of life. But what happens when that seemingly “innocent” mistake of yours drastically changes the fate of the people around you and there’s no easy way of making amends? How do you own up to what you’ve done? How do you rebuild the broken relationships? And most importantly, how do you ask forgiveness from the ones you’ve wronged?
One hot summer’s day in 1935, young and impressionable Briony Tallis looks out her bedroom window and witnesses a moment’s flirtation between her older sister Cecilia, and the servant’s son, Robbie Turner. Misgivings and doubts begin to harbor in Briony’s mind, which further escalate and worsen when she reads Robbie’s letter that is intended for Cecilia’s eyes only. Then a terrible crime is committed, and Briony, overflowing with a sense of righteousness and over protectiveness for her sister, testifies and points to Robbie as the perpetrator. This act sets a chain of events that would shatter years of their lives.
Properly entitled “Atonement”, this book takes us mainly through a conscience’s journey to make amends for one mistake that has severed relationships, destroyed a family, and tormented innocent souls.
This book is like a conscience that nags you with two profound questions: How far would you go for atonement? And if you’re the person on the other side of the fence, how much can you forgive?

‘The Kite Runner’ Will Blow You Away

When a co-teacher of mine first mentioned the book “The Kite Runner” to me, I wasn’t immediately thrilled with the concept of the book. Being a rather “conservative” reader, I tend to steer clear of books that contain emotionally draining, graphic scenes. But I had no choice, so to speak, but to read this book when it was given to me as a birthday present. And read it I did and so much more. “The Kite Runner” not only opened my eyes to a different world, a different culture, it changed the way I looked at the world around me.
Hauntingly beautiful and sad at the same time, “The Kite Runner” follows the lives of Amir and Hasaan, best friends, brothers, torn apart by the war in Afghanistan and the eventual occupation of the Taliban. It’s a story within a story, as I would like to put it. In the outer shell, we have the situation in Afghanistan providing the dramatic backdrop of the story. In the inner shell, it follows the story of Amir and Hassan, two boys – one born into privilege, the other born into poverty and discrimination – from the time when they were innocent boys playing in the streets of Kabul, to the impact of the devastating war, to their separation, and to their “reunion”. I don’t really want to give away too much of the story, as this is a book that MUST be read, and not merely summarized.
A fellow book lover once asked me, “Maybs, kanino ka mas naawa, kay Amir o kay Hasaan?” (“Maybs, who did you sympathize with more, Amir or Hasaan?”) I answered, “Well, pareho. (Well, both.) In a sense, all both of them ever wanted was to be loved. Remember, in the earlier parts of the book, it was said there that Amir’s first word was ‘Baba’ (meaning, ‘Father’), while Hasaan’s was ‘Amir’. These two words laid the foundation of the events that happened. For me, that pretty much sums up the whole book for me.”
“The Kite Runner” presents a myriad of contemporary issues, but the one thing that struck me in this book is, however different our circumstances might me, whatever culture we grew up in, there is one thing we all have in common – and that is, the desire to be loved and accepted.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

It has often been my (and many other people’s) observation that the book (or, in this case, books) is often way better than the movie(s). This observation also holds true for the LOTR trilogy. Which is my way of saying that I don’t have enough words to describe the beauty, marvel, and impact of the LOTR books. While the LOTR movies have given fantasy a whole new realm, with its astonishing portrayal of Tolkien’s amazing Middle Earth, you will surely appreciate the movies more if you read the books. The trilogy books will give you a lot more meaning and insights into the world of Hobbits, Dwarves, Elves, Men, etc., that the movies (more than three hours long each) were not able to fully give to the audience. Also included in the books are characters not seen in the movies, as well as an epilogue that chronicles the fate of the characters after the Ring was destroyed and Aragorn reigned as king. Questions like: “Whatever happened to our beloved Legolas?” “Did Arwen and Aragorn have children?” “What happened to the other hobbits: Merry, Pippin, and Sam?” “Did Faramir and Eowyn end up together?”, and many more, will all be answered. But, hey, don’t take my word for it. Pick up a copy and sit back, relax, and enjoy three of the greatest books of all time. 🙂