I don’t lose people, people lose me

They say that as you grow older you lose your false friends and keep the best.

LIKE THE SCATTERED SHELLS and stones by the seashore, friends come and go. But when you find the good and genuine ones, you keep them. Photo circa 2016 in Samal Island, Davao Del Norte

Understand this. I am no angel and I know I’m not the best friend anyone can ever have. But my friendship is always genuine and I have learned the hard way of choosing who to give it to. They say that as you grow older you lose your false friends and keep the best. That is true and that is not because life is unfair or whatnot. That is just how life is.

I shake my head whenever I look back to my elementary and high school days, or even my university years. I used to have a lot of people around me. They were the ones whom I shared my wildest dreams with. I laughed and cried with them. We used to roam our little hometown together; learning things together, falling and helping each other stand again. We shared our crushes and puppy loves with each other. We talked about who we lost our virginity to. We LOL’d nonstop to our dumbest decisions and mediocre experiences. Back then, I used to think of everyone as my friend. But of course, that’s not always true.

As we grow apart, each independently and quietly building their lives; some getting married and some pursuing their teenage dreams such as owning businesses or traveling the world, our common interests began to shrink. We grew distant and eventually stopped talking to each other. Falling out with our childhood friends is a normal thing that all of us go through one way or another. It wasn’t everyone’s fault. On the other hand, there are people who remain close friends no matter how different their present lives are. Lucky for them. For some of us who don’t get to keep much of our old friends, we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves. That’s just how life is supposed to be.

Luckily, I’ve earned new friends along the way. Some of them I’ve met while I was traveling or doing volunteer works. Most of them I’ve known from my workplace and previous companies. I love and cherish all of them.

You can say I’m good with most people. I say “most” because I don’t always look as good to everyone. Yeah but anyway, it seemed that most people find me easy to be with and they instantly grow a special fondness of me. When I ask why, they would normally tell me that I have that positive aura that makes them feel like they can trust me. Some told me I am very transparent and it means I have no pretensions in my life. I don’t care what people think of me. I’m just going to be me. Some say they see me as a brother whom they can just talk to whenever they needed someone —a shoulder to cry on. It is no surprise then that most of my friends, men and women, straight, gay, bisexual or whatnot all go to me whenever they have a problem —be it family, relationship, or even financial. Yes I’m that go to person. I always try and give them a sound and fair advise and if I can, I normally try and help them to the best of my ability.

They say some people will always have something to say against you no matter how nice you try to be.

They say some people will always have something to say against you no matter how nice you try to be. If there are people who instantly accepted and loved me, there are some who instantly hated me. With that, I can only do so much.

I had a neighbor once who seemed to be so pissed just by my mere presence. Whenever he sees me around, he would make all kinds of faces and do the silent treatment on me. And I never did anything wrong to him at all except that I was a close friend of his best-friend-turned-mortal-enemy. I mean, what did this guy expect me to do? Did he want me to stop being friends with people just because he hated them? I knew he was the typical spoiled brat. He’s one of those rich kids who came from prestigious schools who are used to getting what they want. I used to adore him and at some point, I even thought we were friends. It took me a while before I was finally able to grasp that he hated me to the point that he didn’t want anything to do with me. He even blocked me in his social media. Yes, he was that personal. When I confronted him in a good manner he said he just didn’t like me and that is all. I tried to ask why and even offered to start over again but he refused. I was in denial for a time. I couldn’t believe some people can be so heartless. What’s worse is that we belonged to the same faith, worshipped together in the same congregation and part of our church’s teachings is to love one another and forgive those who sinned against us. I have always taken those teachings by heart, letting them guide me wherever I go. There is a saying that goes like, “sometimes the nicest people you meet are covered in tattoos and sometimes the most judgmental people you meet go to church on Sundays.” Going to church does not make you a Christian. Apparently, this guy was a living example. But while he was mean and arrogant to me, I have learned to accept that he will never like me. Maybe it wasn’t his fault. Maybe that’s just how life is supposed to be. And in the process, I have learned to understand that in life, you cannot be nice to people and expect them to show the same to you in return. We are born different and made to think differently. Maturity is not using your pain to seek revenge. Maturity is learning to stop playing the victim and owning up to how your life will turn out. Maturity is putting yourself in other people’s shoes and trying to understand their situation rather than holding a grudge towards them. I have forgiven the man. It doesn’t matter if he does the same to me. It doesn’t make him a bad person. That’s just how life is supposed to be. And it feels great not to hold anything in.

I had friends who now work abroad and undoubtedly enjoying better lives. They are the people who stopped at nothing to achieve their dreams and I admire them. I am proud and happy for them. The sad thing is, as they moved to new chapters in their lives they kind of acted as if we never knew each other. They just stopped talking to me. I never took it on these innocent people though. For all I know, it could be just life being a dick, always getting in the way. 

I had friends who were extra nice to me during those times when it seemed to them like I’ve got a lot to offer. I kind of acquired that image of living the good life, buying the latest gadgets, traveling to places, and talking about the most relevant stuff like posh gym memberships, living in a high-rise condominium in the city center, and buying cars. Stuffs that they can relate to such as wine, parties, and other social climbing activities. Back then, everyone seemed to be so fond of me. They would always check on me asking where and how I am. They used to beg for a few minutes of my time for a little chitchat (catching up). They used to spam me with messages every year on my birth month to ask if I was planning to throw a mini-party. They’d also ask for “mandatory” gifts for their birthdays but never bothered to give one. Not that I fancy gifts but it is called “giving and taking.” Real friends are not dumb and insensitive to the needs of each other. Real friends also don’t need to be told of their responsibility to keep the fire burning. But these people were a shameless bunch. Their audacity to “make friends” just for gains is unbelievable.

Then I stopped meeting with them and declined birthday parties for I’ve felt it was just a fake gathering for people who don’t really like each other. I also stopped posting beautiful things on social media and watched as the invites and messages quickly fade away. It doesn’t mean I stopped living the good life or lost the means to do so, I just stopped posting about what I do or buy and where I live on social media.

Maybe it was my fault. Maybe I didn’t try hard enough to achieve more in life. Maybe I should have packed my bags and worked/lived in a first world country as well so I could boast of my Ibiza, Russia and Rio de Janeiro vacations three years later. Maybe some people see me as a stagnant piece of crap and so they thought I no longer deserve a seat in their circle. Maybe they thought I’m too broke to be their friend. I’m not broke, I’m just low-key. And just because some people are not on the same path doesn’t mean they are lost.

A couple of years ago, I woke up one morning and bam! I realized the life I was living was not the life I wanted for myself all along. All of the glamour, the good life, the sweet vacations I have ever posted on Instagram and Facebook do not define who I really am. You can say I can afford all of them if I wanted to. I have a nice job that enables me to buy things that I want and go to places, but most (but not all) of the people around me only wanted me as a friend because we have the same interests. They thought I was one of them. But they were wrong. Unlike them, coming from a family who had nothing and worked hard to get to where we are, I am still very much attached to my roots and have no qualms being labeled as “poor” even though that would be a lie now. But I was more than what I buy or post on social media. I was more than the free treats I used to throw during my birthdays. I was a good friend. I will still be there for them when they no longer have those materials things they boast on social media but they wouldn’t be there when I needed them. Their friendships were all bogus, mine was genuine. 

So I began to stay away from these people. I started to drift away slowly but always cautious and nice to everyone. I did not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I did not want them to feel like I did not love them anymore. I do. It’s just that it was not healthy being friends with them anymore. We still have the same interests though —nice gadgets, beautiful clothes and accessories, traveling, shopping and spending. But the huge difference is that I live beyond my means. Most of them just go around splurging their money and then comes up to borrow from people (me included) when they are broke. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the act of borrowing money from others because I was also broke and had to borrow money from friends many years ago. But these people are different. Most of them are one day millionaires —or those who are rich only during paydays. They like to spend beyond their means just to please people on social media. Their mind were as corrupted as the life they lead. Again, I am no angel and I certainly do not have a “perfect life.” These are just the result of my personal observation being with these types of people for many years. I can’t blame them. Social status and prestige have always been relevant to being accepted in the society even in medieval times.

A very good article published in The New York Times by the Harvard associate professor Michael I. Norton summarizes this phenomena and argues that, “the expansion of consumer credit in the United States has allowed middle class and poor Americans to live beyond their means, masking their lack of wealth by increasing their debt. We might think that people who have “zero net worth” have nothing. But in fact, having zero net worth increasingly means owning a lot (cars, televisions, even houses) – but also owing a lot. As a result people with zero net worth, and even negative net worth, can still feel that they are living the American dream, doing “better” than their parents did while keeping up with the Joneses.”  I second the motion. While directed to Americans, the argument is true in the Philippine society as well.

They say that you are the first five people you hang out every day. I’ve realized I did not want to be associated to these types of people anymore. I’ve realized I did not want to be a part of their bogus life and fake friendships. I have proven many times that these people are only nice to me when they want something but easily disses me the moment I turn away. What’s funny is that the same type of people tells me that they accept my sexual preferences yet they are actually the same ones that condemn my lifestyle and laugh at my relationships. They never respected me at all. They were just there for me because they thought I was one of them. But I’m sorry there’s more to me than birthday treats and lavish gifts. I was all for the love and friendship.

I don’t regret my past nor the time I’ve wasted with the “wrong people.” In fact, I still value the memories I have of them. I believe there is no such thing as a “wrong person” in our life. Every single person we interacted with, even if they were genuine or not, is destined to cross our path and teach us something. We met them for a reason. We should understand that. But I could not stand staying friends with people who drag me down and talk behind my back. I could not stand the idea of a conditional friendship —that we-are-friends-because-i-get-something-from-it kinda friendship is not friendship to me at all. That’s being a leech, a parasite, a freeload, a sponge, a mooch! I’ve always despised two-faced people, because it’s hard to decide which face to slap first.

I’ve come across a beautiful article by Dennis Green on Business Insider. The title of the article is “What wearing a $6,000 Rolex for a month taught a 24-year-old about wealth and status.” And these last two paragraphs from that article stayed in my mind since.

It says, “when you’re spending this kind of cash on yourself, you should be spending it for your own enjoyment. Don’t wear a luxury watch for prestige and status because it’s not going to work. The only ones who will notice and comment on it are already experts. And if you get to talking with them and don’t know your Tourbillon from your chronograph, you’ll look silly anyway.”

“When I strapped on the Rolex, I thought it was going to change my world. It didn’t, but it did change my worldview.”

And so going back to the title of this article, I have realized I was losing friends here and there. When I discovered this truth, it struck me and caused a great pain in my heart. I cried, a lot. I cried because I was confused. Was it all my fault? Was I an asshole of a friend? I paused and assessed myself. How bad did my relationship go with these people? How irreparable is the damage I have inflicted? I couldn’t think of any grave offense I have done for these people to turn away from me. And then it all became clear. They turned away because I’ve changed. I became more and more real in the recent years. I have stopped tolerating their bullshits. I no longer entertain their gossips and no longer put up with their show. I knew their secrets and I would never tell anyone. I have even forgiven them for everything that happened. But I’d like to put a stop to the friendship simply because there was “no friendship” to begin with. Indeed, the group of friends that I have come to know was all a show. And when the music stopped, they consumed all the food and left the party without looking back. 

My circle has gotten smaller and smaller as I grow older but I’m proud to say that the ones in it are the real deal, most genuine people I have ever met. Their friendship isn’t conditional. We’re like brothers and sisters. I am most thankful to these people for they remind me that the world is still worth living for; that there are people still worthy of our friendship and trust.

As for the fake ones, let’s just say that no matter how painful, I’ve accepted the fact that I’m better off without them and vice versa. One fake friend can do more damage than five enemies, so they say. Fake people do not surprise me anymore, loyal ones do. You see a person’s true colors when you are no longer beneficial to their lives. And after all the reflections, I knew I’m not too guilty of losing people in my life. It was them who lost the friendship I have given them. It was them who broke my trust. But I have forgiven those people and I hope they forgive me too. Not that they give a fuck or two.

Here’s a popular song by Drake that proves how fake people can drag you down if you don’t let them go.

I’ve been down so long, it look like up to me

They look up to me

I got fake people showin’ fake love to me

Straight up to my face, straight up to my face

I’ve been down so long, it look like up to me

They look up to me

I got fake people showin’ fake love to me

Straight up to my face, straight up to my face

What is your personal experience with fake friends and fake people? How did it affect your views of friendship? Tell me in the comments.

—King Ray, the Ninja

I stopped going to church and my life got better

I cannot tolerate arrogant preachers for their hypocricy and audacity to claim they are living prophets of God but do not even understand the real meaning of love. Just shut the fuck up!

Three years ago, I’ve stopped going to church. Not that I’ve lost my faith in God (because my personal relationship with God is an impenetrable connection that goes way beyond religion and nothing can change that) but mostly because I have lost faith in the members of the clergy and the system that makes up the entire church. This is the very same church which I have come to love and where I was literally baptised. This is where I have decided to accept Jesus Christ as my own personal Savior.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy. It took many years of prayers and contemplating in order to come up with such a decision. It took me a lot of tears and pain before I was finally able to walk away from the old facade that I used to call as my second home. But for years, I have felt sick witnessing these so-called religious people spread hatred, division and confusion among people through their blatant hypocricy and lies.

I was born in a highly devout Born-Again Christian family in a beautiful city of a hundred thousand people called Calapan, some 30 kilometres away from the famed tourist town of Puerto Galera, Philippines. Born-Again is a local denomination of the Protestant (evangelical) movement in the Philippines. As I understood it, the phrase “born again” refers to the “spiritual rebirth” due to the atonement of one’s sins following his acceptance of Christ as his own Savior and the repentance of his own wrongdoings. The bible reference can be found in the book of John 3:3-5 NIV. My parents were church workers and my sisters used to assist kids in Sunday schools. As a young man, I started serving the Lord as a Sunday school preacher and was an active organizer of my church’s Daily Vacation Bible school when I was 15 until I was 21 years old. As a member of my local congregation’s music ministry, I also sang and played instruments in countless masses and church occasions. As a small group leader, I’ve facilitated many prayer meetings and prayed with different groups of youth in many different occasions. As an outreach gospel preacher, I was part of a youth group that went to remote provinces and towns braving rivers and mountains to tell people about the word of God and also giving out religious fliers and newsletters. Having said that, I know exactly how the concept of religion and congregation work because I grew up in it and surrounded by it.

I have also been to many Christian churches —big and small, rural and metropolitan, and those what we call “little funded” and “heavily funded” ones. I have witnessed Sunday services ran by multimedia engineers (as many as twenty of them) dabbling on the keyboards of their Mac computers inside a glass-covered control room and I have attended one that is so stripped of money they can barely afford a microphone or a pulpit for their preacher. 

I have also attended star-studded services. Yes, one where Sarah G., Piolo Pascual, Christian Bautista, Daniel Matsunaga, Rachel Ann Go and the likes all seated in the front row that people find it hard to focus on the sermon because most of them are busy scrutinizing the outfit of the stars.

I have witnessed pretty much all kind of services, from the classic, serene and mostly piano organ accompanied Baptist services to the powerhouse drums-driven and concert-like Born Again praise and worships. (I loved listening to Hill Songs and Planetshakers.)

I have also seen people giving tithes of what seemed to me as a hundred thousand in cold cash and even counting the bills in their hands mid-way to the service for other members of the congregation to see (why else would they count the money there or expose how much they give to the church when they can just discreetly hand an envelope to an officer of the congregation?) Yuck!

I have watched members of the church cry buckets of tears in their prayers and during praise and worship inside the holy church only to hear them utter profanities and see them hit their children when they get home a few hours later. Are you fucking kidding me?

I have also listened to pastors who used their designated hours of sermon to talk about the politicians they support and how the members of the congregation should also vote for their candidate of choice. When did the church start to have a say in who I should vote? I find it very ridiculous. I find it “kagaguhan” (go figure) when the church start to influence members of the congregation on who they should vote and not vote. I don’t like being a puppet of my church. Nobody tells me who I should vote. That’s fucked up!

Most importantly, the church I have come to love preaches of the great love of God to mankind that He gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. And yet the church condemns LGBTQ people for being themselves. The church is blatantly and unmercifully opposing gay people for something we did not even have control about. Where is the love in that?

I remember one occassion at the local church I attended where one of our pastors (yes, we have a lot of pastors because it was a fucking corporation err they have to accomodate our growing congregation cough cough), in the middle of his homily, started blasting the LGBTQ community and how they will never get to enter the kingdom of heaven if they won’t turn themselves to “straight men and women” right away. The pastor spoke using strong words and he sounded so angry that the whole church seemed to shake at the sound of his voice while he stood there at the pulpit humiliating gay and lesbian people. After a few minutes, I heard a commotion from the front rows followed by the silhouette of two men walking past the crowds and towards the exit door. As they get near to where I was seated, their faces became clear and I could see one of them got tears flowing down his face. Both of them were tall but one of them was foreign looking —European perhaps. They held each other’s hands while they continue their stride to the exit and out of the church. We looked at the pastor who only gave a hand gesture that seemed to say “oh well. Bato-bato sa langit.” I could sense the scorn from everyone in the room but I could not tell if it was directed to the pastor or to the gay couple. But it only took a moment before another gay couple stood up from the third row and walked away. They were followed by more people, most of them alone but undoubtedly members of the gay community. A community that I also belong. They cat-walked out of the church like models in America’s Next Top Model with fierce but disappointed expressions on their faces. Some of them walked quietly with their heads down. Harmless, beautiful people who are good citizens of the country. The pastor did not tell them to stop. He just paused for awhile and then continued with his sermon. After that, the pastor ordered for silence and prayed for the sinful soul of gay people. Everyone was dumbfounded. I myself was deeply hurt by what the pastor had said. He made it sound like we chose to be gay because we wanted to have sex with every good looking guy we meet. He was so wrong. He was the most disrespectful “preacher of God” I have ever encountered and I’ve felt so miserable listening to him that day. I wanted desperately to stand up and join my brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ but I did not have the guts to disrespect the pastor and my church. Yes, I could not walk out on him even if he was disrespectful of my sexual preference. Anyway, that was the last time I have ever attended a mass.

Most people will judge and even condemn me for leaving the church but we all have our different opinions and beliefs and we live by those beliefs. My personal beliefs include practicing what we preach and staying truthful to ourselves and to God. 

And so slowly and surely, I have drifted away from the church. I chose to avoid it. It is no longer helping me become a good citizen of the world. In fact, it came to a point where the teachings of the church had confused me so much that I didn’t want anything to do with it. I honestly think I am on my way to secularism but for now, I’ll leave it at that.

Most people will judge and even condemn me for leaving the church but we all have our different opinions and beliefs and we live by those beliefs. My personal beliefs include practicing what we preach and staying truthful to ourselves and to God. When we say we love God and God loves us, it means we are capable of loving everyone —regardless of their color, race, sexual preferences etc. When we say we are sons and daughters of God, we accept everyone without hesitations and we welcome them to our homes with open arms. When we say we are Christians, we are pure, honest, and kind in heart and deeds not just in public but when nobody else is looking. Sadly, most if not all members of the congregation are fake Christians who are either confused about their faith or just there for a sense of belongingness (LOL!). I cannot stand these people. I abhor their fake lives and their fake faith. I cannot tolerate arrogant preachers for their hypocricy and audacity to claim they are living prophets of God but do not even understand the real meaning of love. The LGBTQ people are harmless people and like everyone else they deserve to be treated with utmost respect and be given rights similar to what their “straight” brothers and sisters enjoy. We did not want this. We were made like this. We were born this way.

Faithwire.com and born-again Christian writer Jenna Shackelford made a point when she said in her article, “we are living in a time in which people are leaving the church frequently due, in part, to intellectual questions that are unresolved and doubts they may have, many of which seem to spring up or be nurtured in more secular environments, whether it is a social media or discussions on college campuses.” You can say I am one of those who left the church due to its primarily authoritarian structures rather than a more democratic structure. In my case, it was more than intellectual questions. It was a question of integrity and truthfulness of the congregation.

In the same article titled, “Why Katy Perry’s Rejection of Her Childhood Faith Should Concern Every Bible-Believing Christian,” Shackelford added, “we (referring to born-again Christians) should not wait for people to leave the church to realize we have a problem. We need to equip ourselves to answer questions, so that we can equip others to grow in their faith as well.” It seems to me that the church has always been ready for a rebuttal no matter what topic. The real score is whether they are being true to their goddamn selves. Are they walking the talk? The answer is no. Most of them are not. Even if they were believers. Sometimes, non-believers appear to be more Christ-like in thinking, in words and in deed. And this creates the confusion that makes good Christians leave the church.

Others may argue that I simply stepped in to the wrong congregation and that not all preachers are the same and I agree with that. I have encountered a very honest and loving congregation of true Christians. I knew a bunch of unbelievably good pastors and preachers of the Word. But this is not just about my encounter with a few congregations or some preachers. This is more about how fucked up the concept of religion is to me —how it fools most people and make them believe lies after lies in order to make a living out of them.

In the book of Romans 3:10 under the New International Version (NIV), the bible says, “As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one.” Indeed, nobody has the right to judge other people for they know nothing of the battles these people had to deal with. There is a story behind every single person; there is a reason why they are the way they are. Think about that before you judge someone. Shame on you if you are a pastor / priest who preaches of God’s love but spreads hate and bigotry and causes confusion among us. Shame on you if you are a priest who condemns homosexuality but engages in sexual relationship with another man (or woman for that matter). Shame on you and all hypocrite judgmental people who go to church on Sundays. You people should hear yourself talk. 

I am neither an atheist nor an agnostic person. An atheist do not believe in the existence of God, I believe that there is a Supreme Being who created life and everything. An agnostic individual neither believes nor disbelieves in a god or religious doctrines. I only believe that some teachings of the bible may be true and worth following but at the end of the day, the bible for all its worth is still a work of many men whose past time was to write and create stories based on their own realities and superstitious beliefs. There were no internet back then. People needed something to do. I do respect the intellectual and spiritual teachings of these writers but to claim there were divine intervention in their works, that’s another story and that’s something that has long been refuted by scholars. When it comes to the bible, I honestly take the ones that I can use in my daily life (mostly the verses about love, friendship, family and being a good person) and ignore the ones that question my own relationship and faith in God. And I do not intend to demean or argue about religion either because I believe every individual should be entitled to their own beliefs. Let me be entitled to mine.

I still pray to God every day and my faith is stronger than ever. I may not read the bible as often as before but I do carry with me the most important teachings it has ever taught me; 

1 John 3:16-18 — “16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or a sister in need but has no pity in them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words and speech but with actions and in truth.”

Proverbs 10:12 — “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongdoings.”

1 John 4:7 — “Dear friends, let us love one another for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”

Mark 12:31 — “The second is this, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than this.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 — “4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails but where there are prophecies; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”

Matthew 23:8 — But you are not to be called “Rabbi,” for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers.”

Luke 6:31 — “Do to others what you would have them do to you”

Religion has led this world into so much hatred that led to wars that led to divisions. Religion is still the root cause of the chaos in many parts of the world. Instead of coming to church and adhering to a certain religion, I choose to let the above teachings become the very foundation of my core values. I am no angel. I don’t claim to be an all-knowing person. I am not a perfect man either. I sin, I fall, I swear, I commit mistakes, I make bad decisions but I do try to live by these core values and try to remember them every day, wherever I go and whatever I do. 

I’m not saying people do not need religion to grow their faith but to each his own and eliminating the concept of religion in my life worked for me. To clarify my views about the bible; I agree with some of the great teachings of the bible but I must admit that most if not the rest of it are entirely irrelevant to my time and should not be justified or exaggerated by preachers in any other way just so it will appear valid and applicable to the present time. The Lord has blessed my life so far because my faith in Him is rock solid and no religion can break it. He has been my Provider and I couldn’t ask for more. With regards to the 10%, I make sure I give back to charity and the community. Not that it’s better than giving your ten percent to a corrupt church but that’s just “my way” of giving back. But I don’t need religion to tell me how to love my God when preachers, pastors, deacons and most religious people I know do not present as a good example either. Please, just admit most of you are there for the money and stop confusing people.

Have you been astray? Have you ever considered quitting religion? Did you do it? How was the experience? Tell me in the comments!

—King Ray, the Ninja

I lost my poetry book but gained an important lesson in life

And from that experience, I have learned a very important lesson in life. Never ever leave behind what’s important to you.

I have always dreamed of publishing my own book. Unlike others though, who dream of publishing a fiction book or a novel; I was dreaming of publishing my own poetry collection. Yes, just like my favorite authors, Lang Leav‘s Love & Misadventure and Rania Naim‘s All The Words I Should Have Said. But due to a series of unfortunate events in my past life, I lost the ability to fulfill that dream a long time ago.

If there’s one skill that I have always held on to, it would be writing. It’s the one thing that I could not possibly let go or forget. Why? Because writing has always been my personal refuge not only during the times when I am content with what life has to offer but more so during the times when I was struggling to justify the purpose of my existence. Writing served as a guiding light when I was confused about my real mission in this world.

When I was younger, I used to have many skills. I can draw beautiful sketches. I can paint colorful landscape pictures. I can create a 150 page book about a country that only existed in my imagination complete with illustrations and stories about its people, culture, language and even its wars. In fact, I have created four books in total which I still keep to these days. Yes, I used to be that passionate. I still am, only difference is that I seem to have more free time back then.

My English teacher in high school once told me I was the golden boy in her class. That, after she discovered I had written over 200 literary pieces (poems, haiku and essays) in a cheap spiral notebook. I still remember how she found out about it. I was passing by the faculty room on my way home when she spotted and summoned me in. I thought I was in big trouble. It turned out she wanted me to bring something to her daughter who is a Sophomore student and was in the other building three blocks away. She told me to leave all my stuff on her table if that would make it easier for me. When I came back to pick up my stuff, she was beaming on me. “Oh Mr. Beron, please have a seat for a few minutes. I have something to tell you.” She was holding my poetry notebook in the air. I felt my face flushed. Oh no, that notebook is a secret. “This is amazing! Did you really write all of this?” I nodded. “How long have you been writing?,” she asked. “Since I was in the fifth grade,” I responded awkwardly. “I knew it! You are really very talented. Your words are full of wisdom and depth and emotions.” She even praised my handwriting telling me how neat and perfect it was. And then she stood up and told every teacher in the room, “Listen everyone, this is Ray Beron. The golden boy in my class!” She talked to me for a few minutes about my family and about my personal aspirations in life. And then she told me I should find a publishing company someday and have my works turn into a book so that everybody could read them. For a 16 year old, that comment meant everything. I was embarrassed by the sudden exposure but if I was being honest, it was the first time I felt someone (other than my family) really believed in me. I told her it was my lifelong dream ever since I started writing. She said she will wait for it. She said she could see the future in my eyes and that I have her support.

Eight years later I got my degree and a job in the city. High school was barely a thing of the past and I still have not published my poetry collection. One day in 2009, a powerful storm swept my little hometown. The storm was so deadly it nearly wiped my hometown off the map. I was away and working in Manila when it happened. When I saw the news on TV, I called my mother and the very first thing I asked was my poetry collection which was hidden inside my closet in my old room. She went looking for it amidst the heavy rains but I was told our house was a total wreck and the wooden cabinet that housed my precious notebook was torn into pieces and gone along with my other books and stuff.

I was both shocked and upset and the fact that there was no one to blame made it even worse. I didn’t even get to ask my mother if there were people hurt or something. As soon as I learned that my precious poetry book was gone in the flash flood, my life immediately turned into mourning. Suddenly, I was crying and couldn’t breathe. I felt like I just lost a part of me. I felt so helpless. I felt like it was the end of everything I have ever worked hard for. And it’s true because for most of my teenage years, I have spent a gazillion of sleepless nights trying to write those pieces and they can’t be gone just like that without the whole wide world ever reading them. But what’s gone is gone. And so I had to accept that I have lost an important part of my existence, something that can blatantly tell the world who I am; something that had my very soul in it. Having been born in a poor household where we literally did not have enough food on the table, my life was mostly made up by cheap thrills. That notebook was my only priceless treasure. And I have lost it forever.

But not my dreams. And definitely not the skill. I told myself that it was okay, that I still have it in me. I could still create a thousand masterpieces if I wanted to. I was 24 when it happened and my career in the corporate world was just beginning. And although each poem that graced the page of that notebook was irreplaceable, I knew there was a reason why I lost them. Maybe it was time to close that part of my life. Maybe I won’t need them in my future. Maybe the best is yet to come.

Still, losing a thing like that hurts. I thought I was to put my writing career on the shelf only for a few years so I could try out the corporate life. If only I did not abandon writing. If only I kept the fire burning. I wouldn’t have lost my poetry notebook. Who knows, I would have had my own poem collections sitting on the shelf of bookstores right beside Lang Leav by now. But shit like that happens. And I quickly learned to accept it and move on.

Many years after I lost that poetry book, I realized it was all my fault. If only I brought it with me when I left home it would still be with me today. If only I kept it close to me. And from that experience, I have learned a very important lesson in life. Never ever leave behind what’s important to you. And this does not necessarily apply to your favorite stuff or my poetry notebook for that matter but rather to every people in your life —your beloved, your best friend, the people who truly care about you and know you to the core, your real friends, your very own family. Make them feel that they are important. Make time for them no matter how busy life gets. Give them a call or send them SMS every once in a while. Ask how their day went. Ask what their plans are. Visit them. Because what is success if you do not have the people you love most or the one thing you ever wanted.

King Ray, the Ninja