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How does one speak without words? Find out in this snippet of a young man's life with autism and learn how love speaks even in the most challenging circumstance. Read more
He would send her cards and letters on February 14 of each year. There were 31 of them now: one for each year of their friendship, their relationship, and their marriage. Read more
Does faith come to a person easily, or does one has to learn it the hard way? In Her Words, resident columnist Jennifer Cuaycong shares, In those days and nights when all I could do was pour my heart's grief in a long litany of tears, I finally learned to trust in someone other than myself. I had to be broken to be healed. Read more
Some blogs go by the computer principle, "garbage in, garbage out." In Her Words, a freelance writer shares her observations on some Filipino bloggers who use blogs as their gold ticket to parties and freebies. Read more
The holidays are not always a season of joy and good cheer; for some, it can be a stressful time as well. Read more
Less than neighborly
Get to know the people in your neighborhood. Read more
The jeep creeps
A commuter's rants about her pasahero blues. Read more
As she celebrates her 21st wedding anniversary, HerWord columnist Pinky Cuaycong thanks her husband, Anthony, for his unwavering belief in their relationship, and for always reminding her that a "happily ever after" does exist. Read more
Eyes of the world
How do you deal with people who don't understand autism? In her comeback article, HerWord columnist Pinky Cuaycong writes an open letter to those who may need to know a thing or two about dealing with autism in public. Read more
On her 26th birthday, HerWord guest writer Valerie Valerio decided to pack her bags and took the train bound to the mountain city of Nikko. There, she discovers that while being alone can get lonely, it can also be liberating and inspiring. Read more
The 34-year old single senior citizen
Welcome to the somewhat tragic, somewhat peculiar, somewhat crazy but totally hilarious world of Witchella: The 34-year old single senior citizen. Read more
Yaya horror story
Help wanted! One frustrated mom vents her yaya troubles through this Her Words entry. Read more
It was six in the morning. I opened my eyes and struggled to sit up in bed. It was dark, cold, and something felt old, worn, sparse, and oddly enough, serviceable. Groggily, I turned to my side and saw early morning sunlight peeking under the musty curtains. I got out of bed and stretched until I stood on my toes. As I returned my heels to the floor, some things dawned on me: It was April 15. I was miles and miles away from home, staying in an obscure hotel somewhere in Tokyo. It was my birthday. I was alone.
I have experienced celebrating my birthday away from home, but I had not actually been alone. I turned 21 then, and had the time of my life. Five years later, I was 26, and things were vastly different. Instead of playing crazy games, stuffing myself with cake, and looking for wandering drunken dorm mates, I was now making sure I had my express train ticket and poorly aging digital camera in my bag. No one was going to greet me, butter me up, or patronize me when I walked out the door. There were no special birthday meals or gifts. There was just me.
When I learned I was going to end up all by my lonesome on my 26th birthday, my thoughts went frantic: Who would want to spend and did spend their birthday alone? What did people do when they found themselves alone on their birthday? And as I remembered all the surprises, greetings, singing, and candle blowing I had been part of over the past few months, my heart sank even lower. It was as if the universe felt extra funny and decided to orchestrate a series of events that ultimately proved unfortunate on April 15—as if April 15 being tax day was not enough. Nobody was going to be around for my birthday. Even I was not going to be around. I had never thought that scene of a grown person solely singing a birthday song in front of a cake was remotely possible, but it was, if my situation was any indication. Only it actually felt a little more depressing than what movies and books have been leading people to believe.
Knowing I would have neither friends nor family to be with, I decided with determination to make my 26th birthday count, to turn it into a great, if not profound celebration worth remembering for years to come. Once the feeling of loneliness fleeted, the world suddenly opened up with possibilities. I suddenly realized something that had always been there all along—the opportunity to be boundless, to be with myself. The thought propelled me, and soon enough I was tucked in the window seat of an express train bound for Nikko, a place I have always told people to go but have never personally gone.
After a two-hour train ride, I found myself standing outside the station, taking in all the sights and sounds of a place so majestic, so sacred, and so richly blessed by nature that it had its own proverb. I may not have had cake or gift, but I had a warm sun, a vibrant sky, and a gentle and fresh wind of spring. The roads opened themselves and centuries-old cedar trees towered as they welcomed me. I encountered a monk standing on a rock, who had crossed a raging river with the help of a god whose snakes turned into a bridge. I came across three monkeys who dare not hear, speak, or see evil. I saw a cat blissfully napping just above the entrance of an inner shrine. I heard a dragon's cry around me in an old, dark hall. I took many and high steps to meet a man who changed the fate of his country, but has been resting for hundreds of years among quiet trees. I ate in this man's grand abode while the wind lingered with me, carrying the timeless scent of cedar. I walked the vermillion path worthy only of an emperor's footsteps. I met two nice, elderly women whose enthusiasm seemed to have never aged. I discovered a shop with some of the best buckwheat noodles I have ever tasted. All these I did, and I had never felt so free or so happily solitary.
The hours came and went, and I found myself again at the station, watching the sun leave the sky and waiting for the ride back to Tokyo. When I finally took my seat in the train, I almost felt sorry to leave Nikko. It was a truly wonderful place made even more wonderful with the experience it gave me. Rather than an adventure, my trip still feels like a little secret that only I know, like a feeling or thought nobody else could ever hope to fathom. It is a gift to be kept to oneself as it is to be shared with others. As the train neared its stop and the skyscrapers of Tokyo came into view, my phone started to come alive with messages and phone calls from family and friends. I answered all of them cheerfully, just glad to be thought of, loved, and perhaps never truly alone.
My day drew to a close, and Nikko was once again some distant place in the north. I was back in the whirlwind of metropolitan Tokyo. I had come up the city's subway steps, and the evening greeted me with closed shops, dim lights, and empty streets. I headed back to my hotel, walking through the darkness and loneliness of my surroundings alone and a day older, but not at all lonely.
Since going to Nikko, I have learned to take great pleasure in each and every moment of being alone. I have come to revel in seeing ordinary things become extraordinary. Despite this feeling, I cannot truly say being alone is easy, as most of the time, it never is. The very thought invites trepidations and genuine fears in all of us. Being alone could feel extremely wretched and morose, even dangerous. Nobody wants to feel unloved, unwanted, or desolate; everybody wants to feel they belong to someone or somewhere, especially in a world that is becoming more easily, often, and deeply connected through technology.
Being alone, though, does not have to be loneliness. It can be solitude, and solitude can be freeing—an opportunity to discover and embrace ourselves and to move not just in the world, but also with the world.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of HerWord or BusinessWorld.
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