How a White House visit turns into a touchstone moment

The first light of dawn was just breaking over the East River horizon when the Q train pulled above ground to traverse the two-decked Manhattan Bridge.

I had to quickly snatch a glimpse of the stunning New York City skyline and the stone archway portal of the bridge, styled after the Porte St. Denis in Paris, or lose both sights within a span of three minutes. That spectacular morning on November first fueled my excitement, as I envisioned the “floor flopping, door knocking, drapes sliding back and forth” ghost stories of The White House that I happened to read in a blog the night before.

Then  my  cell  phone rang.

“The  bus has  just  left  Manhattan and is now on its way to D.C.” It was all I could remember from the call.

I took the news almost with levity, as I whispered to my husband, “I did not get the latest memo. It turned out that the 6 a.m. departure time has been changed to 5 a.m.” To which, he responded with a knowing look. That first call would be followed by several other calls from my friends in the tour who said they would be waiting for me in D.C.

For a moment, my mind wandered back to that night of October 26, 2013 at the famous Carnegie Weil Hall where select individuals and organizations were honored for raising the profile of the Filipino American community in a unique way. For a brief instant, I shared the same square footage of the classy Weil Hall stage with the other recipients of The Outstanding Filipino Americans in New York (TOFA NY) Awards, in an awarding ceremony that can only be described as world-class. I was the awardee for the category of Education, Research and Technology.

The White House visit would have been an adventure off my bucket list. My thought was interrupted by my husband’s nudge, “We are going back to the Amtrak Station at the Madison Garden,” he whispered. What happened next could rival that of a James Bond movie plot, kind of.

As soon as the train door opened, I found myself urgently led onto the subway platform, into a cab, onto a Washington D.C-bound Acela Express, and then in yet another cab four hours later. Yes, I made it to the South gate of The White House in time for the first of three layers of security checks by the U.S. Secret Service.

Elton and the TOFA NY group converged at the south entrance gate where Jason Tengco, Senior Advisor to The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (APPI) and our White House contact, was waiting.

After being cleared by layers of security, our group entered the East Wing of the White House Complex, and the tour began at the Visitor Entrance Building. Lined at the corridors and the hallways are photographs and sketches of Presidents and their families. A walk along the East Colonnade afforded us a view of the well-manicured Jacqueline Kennedy Garden.

In such a historical place where cameras and smartphones are not allowed, one had to take in the magnificent displays and savor them one artifact at a time. U.S Secret Service agents, however, are present in various rooms to answer questions and provide tidbits of information.

Portraits of the First Ladies are prominently exhibited at the Gold Room or The Vermeil Room. Inside, a bright floral arrangement sits atop  a  circular  19th  century  and  Empire revival  style  mahogany center table. Displayed in the China Room are pieces of china glass used by the Presidents. Then there was this library, which boasts of an extensive collection of “volumes of history, biography, fiction, and the sciences, all by American authors.”

On the way to the State Floor, one easily notices the elaborately decorated ceiling where glass chandeliers that date from 1902 hang like diamonds. The East Room, the scene of many historic White House events that I only  get to see on TV,  is  used for receptions, press conferences, and other events. I was reminded of the “ghost stories” when someone mentioned that it was in the East Room where Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy had lain in state.

There are three reception parlors at the State Floor – The Green, Blue and Red Rooms. The Red Room is named after its red-schemed walls, carpets, window drapes, and upholsteries. The walls of the Green Room are covered with watered green silk with draperies of striped silk damask. Above the Blue Room is the Presidential Seal and on its walls hang the portraits of Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, among others. Looking out the windows from The Green and Blue Rooms presents a unique view of the White House’s well-landscaped lawn, the fountain, the famous Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial.

Adjoining the Red Room is the State Dining Room that can seat 130 guests at dinners and luncheons. Noticeable are what seemed to be carvings into the fireplace mantel, which was quickly confirmed by a quick peek at the tour brochure. Carved is a quotation from a letter by John Adams, which read: “I Pray Heaven to bestow the Best of Blessings on THIS HOUSE and All that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but Honest and Wise Men ever rule under this Roof.”

As the entourage exited the building through the Tennessee marble floor of the Entrance Hall, the TOFA group excitedly posed for individual and group photos at the steps of the North Portico with “The White House” as backdrop.

Then the tour that took maybe 40 minutes was officially over.

The TOFA group’s fun and emerging camaraderie, however, did not end there. As tour member, Cristina Pastor, aptly puts it, “It is nice to see this disparate group of people who are not really close friends but in several hours formed a bond that is warm and funny and refreshing and just different. They are now talking about a Christmas party… ”

Foremost, the White House tour experience serves as yet another reminder – an inflection point – of how greatly blessed I am to have been gifted with a husband, who has been my  touchstone all these years.

This was first published at filam.net under the title “Racing to the Whitehouse without losing my sanity… and lipstick purse.” 

By RHEA C. HERNANDO     

SINGAPORE – I can talk about it now because I think the worst is over or I have a firmer grip on things, the latter being the more plausible. The past weeks were just awful. Even Nadal’s win at the  All  England Club didn’t make a dent on my sour and sad mood,  although “depressed” may be more apt.

Don’t you have days like that? When you look around you and your heart knows you have everything that you need but there will always be something that you will want? Like some space to breathe, a little freedom to do things for yourself and yourself alone, or a much-needed boost to just go and set the spirit free?

Inner struggles are the most frustrating, unbearable, and dangerous conflicts of all. Whatever antidote  you administer to repress them or compensate for them – shopping, most especially – will fail, and in fact, will  boomerang  when the credit card  bill  arrives.  I have  also resorted to attending weekly bible studies, a first for me. And yes, it made me more attuned not only to the here and now, but also to the future – particularly the things I must do today to make it better, brighter, kinder to me and my loved ones. But no, it didn’t help me resolve my inner struggles. Maybe sometimes God answers prayers with “no, you do it alone.”

So I cruised, nay, floated through my everyday life of waking up, eating breakfast, mothering, getting dressed for the office, being at the office before 9 am, going home, mothering, and dreaming about gory things. I notice that I dream often when I’m sad, and my dreams are mostly chaotic and senseless, but meaningful at the same time.

Painting by 6 yr. orld Yesica Isabel Hernando.

“Cherries.” Acrylic Painting by 6 years old Yesica Isabel Hernando.

When I have inner struggles, all things intrude into my thoughts. Controlling these thoughts is really the least of my worries. The worst part is going back through time, regretting everything: dismissing every agonizing decision and almost all of the difficult choices that I made, as either unimportant or a mistake.

To be regretful is like falling into a bottomless pit. There is no redemption – just a mindless, endless plunge into the unknown. And, yes, it’s a pakshet feeling.

A friend asked about the root cause of all these negative feelings. At first I was afraid to go deeper  because  the unknown  will  always  be  a little disconcerting for me. But I felt I have nothing more to lose, and maybe,  everything to gain. So I thought things through and tried to examine every angle. I eventually came up with an answer: there is no root cause.

Instead, it’s a million things at once: A feeling of dissatisfaction at work; striking a balance between a toddler who demands my attention, on one hand, and  a  little  boy  who  needs my  kind  and  patient love, on the other.  It  is  between  noisy  children  and  a  quiet  husband,  and between a manual-labor-level  work  life  and  an action-filled family life.

And the list goes on and on, forever and forever – a nagging thought that I am biting off so much more than I could chew in a thousand and one days. That I am giving too much of myself to everything and everyone that I’m afraid I will break anytime and soon.

It helps a lot that I have someone who seemed to understand what I’m going through, who encouraged me to “take a risk, think out of the box, do not be chained, free your spirit.”

Thank you. I know it is also an ordeal for you but you have always been consistent in your love and understanding and I don’t know how long you’ll last.  But  you are here, now,  when  I  need you  the  most.  And  although I am numb and bewildered right now, I know that my heart, once it has settled, will be eternally grateful.

Mother's Day Artwork by Yesica Isabel Hernando

Mother’s Day Artwork by 6-year old Yesica Isabel Hernando

I have always been unafraid of depression, sadness and misery. In fact, they have been my companion most of my life. So that happiness, no matter how fleeting is the moment, seems to never fail to put me off-balance.

But that was then, when I had only myself to think about, to nurture, and to take care of. I have a family, and my state of being makes a hell of a difference to them – especially to my children.

But I know that much as I think of myself as being a better mother than a wife, I try very hard to be both, or nothing at all. And it drives me crazy sometimes, this balancing act. And it’s not even counted as an “inner struggle”- not yet anyway.

So, what now? Where to from here?

I think it was my good friend Ching who said something like, “Moving on is baloney, where do you move on? How can you think of moving on, especially when staying put makes you comfortable, happy even?”  So I am not moving on. I am taking my time.

Resolving inner struggles is not an overnight thing anyway. And the masochist in me relishes the pain. It means that I am not shunning it nor am I walking away from it. I am realizing that there is no escaping it anymore, you can brush it off but it catches up on you at one time or another. So that I am truly in the here and now, living in a sometimes-too-harsh world, but living.

In the meantime, I go through the motions, I pray when I can or when my heart allows for some gratitude, some compassion beyond myself, or something akin to happiness, and I answer every duty call with as much kindness and love as I could muster.

The only light in this dark tunnel that I am in is the fact that I am aware of  what  is  happening to  me and  its  consequences to the people I hold dear. Awareness is always the first step…towards where? I really don’t care much at this point. Maybe freedom. Maybe happiness. Hopefully both.

But I wish that happiness will take hold of me again.

I desire that I will have the energy to really count my blessings and just be thankful. That every time I see my family, I will be shaken into acceptance that loving unconditionally sometimes means forgetting yourself.  That I will be content, not wanting anything, only needing everyone – family and friends.

More importantly, I hope that I will be whole, no matter how long it will take and how much pain it will require because I need to be whole. My happiness and my family’s well-being depends on it. At the end of the day, it’s all that matters to me, that my family is happy. #

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Rhea C. Hernando received both her BS in Business Economics and MA in Economics from the University of the Philippines Diliman. She currently resides in Singapore with her family.

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A Career Wife’s Intrusive Thoughts, Inner Struggles

 by Simon Tecson: Sydney, Australia

BEYOND THE MISTY WINDOW: HOW I DID IT

Every so often I check out the sunrise scene from my bedroom window and judge for myself if the colour of the sky and the cloud formation makes it worth pulling the camera out for a snapshot.

Simon Tecson Photography

Simon Tecson Photography at https://www.facebook.com/SimonTecsonPhotography

Waking up one early winter morning in late July, I noticed the glow of the sun on the misty window-pane. I wiped out the mist from a section of the glass to see the silhouette of the backyard tree against the early morning sky and decided to have a go at taking a photo of the backlit tree with the sunrise.

Focusing on the tree branches, I noticed the bokeh effect created on the glowing mists which is sort of framed up the scenery outside the misty window.

PHOTO DETAILS

Nikon D800, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G @ 52mm, f/14 @ 1/640s, ISO 400. Slight cropping in Photoshop.

PHOTOGRAPHER

Simon Tecson

Simon Tecson, the photographer, lives with his family in Sydney, Australia. To see more of his captivating photos, visit Simon Tecson Photography. 


Beyond the Misty Window…

by Cake Geraldino, Auckland City

Northland, also known as Winterless North in New Zealand, is famous for its diverse natural beauty that includes a mixture of white-sand beaches, picturesque islands and huge sand dunes. Shown below are two of the Northland’s best: Cape Reinga and Whangarei Falls.

The Stunning Cape Reinga

Cape Reinga is known as the “place of the leaping.” At the Cape, the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean collide into a spectacular swirl of ocean currents and elaborate whorls . It is believed that it is here where Maori spirits begin their final journey.

The Spectacular Whangarei Falls

The Whangarei Falls measures 24 meters high and is known as the most photogenic waterfall in all of New Zealand.  It is also a pleasant place to enjoy a picnic or a walk amidst the native bush.

Photos and video by Mo Al. 

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The Stunning Cape Reinga of NZ’s Winterless North

My footprints may be erased by tides

and be faded by stormy winds

but the sand and sun

will never forget

the imprints of my kiss

in the space where I once sat

and walked on.


10452362_10203859382100554_5781705630971545966_nMarites Avisado-Responte is the main contributor and  editor of the Fiction and Poetry section of The Inflection Point. She can be reached at tessmarie2004@gmail.com.

Footprints