Breathe.

“Let’s go to Fort Santiago on Sunday to see it by night,” best friend Angela suggested.

Well gulay (vegetable) I’d love to but I have church in the morning and work in the afternoon and you know money and tiredness and all those practical things, I thought with practically no emotion. After all, when it comes to friends and history, I prefer a certain level of impracticality.

However, it’s May. Project Sleep month. The month where I figure out if all of those focus-slim-down-better life-with-more-sleep articles are true. Practicality is my middle name for May.

But my being wanted to go, on a level deeper than emotion.  I didn’t need to go, such that I would have a physical or mental breakdown if I didn’t. There was no twist in my belly or fire in my bones or push or pull from any direction. It was simply a soul-need so deep I found myself on my way to the walled city after work, trying to capture the sun disappearing behind the clouds.

Intramuros_shafts of light

One of many pictures that does no justice to the gilt-edged clouds and shafts of sunlight.

When the first heavy stone walls came into sight, I teared up. As I saw the old Spanish-era houses come into view, my heart caught its breath. As I joined my friends at a cafe, my soul filled its lungs with air.

Intramuros_bayleaf view

The sun hiding behind a cloud, from the Bayleaf viewing deck.

We wandered onto the walls and courtyards, stumbling over the unrepaired stone and ignoring the parkour players. We joked about Hamilton stealing the cannons and dodged between cameras and their subjects.

Intramuros_Cannon Courtyard

Cannons on the battlements.

From there we attempted to go straight to Fort Santiago, but detoured to see the newly renovated (in time for the visit of Pope Francis I) cathedral.

Intramuros_cathedral

A striking sight against the sunset sky.

As we entered the fort, we caught our breaths at the canopy above it.

Intramuros_0sunset

The field and the fort were dwarfed by the vast cloud bank.

No camera could possibly capture the wild and incredible detail.

Intramuros_sunset

The sky was its own world.

As the dusk deepened, we wandered near old structures and shied away from stone priests. Finally, with one last look back, we entered the main gate.

Intramuros_last look

We did not resist a last look at the city lights.

Intramuros_gate

The gate of Intramuros loomed before us in the gathering shadows.

Intramuros_white cross

A white cross at the end of the courtyard was visible even from afar.

Ducking through a small gateway, we came to the Pasig River and the last glow of the sunset.

Intramuros_1sunset

Sundown.

Standing there, we watched the warm sky give way to darkness and the sparkling of city lights. A few minutes later, we rotated back to the courtyard, said hello to a statue of Rizal, and greeted pigeons. We joked about baths and phones near a fountain that refused to go just when we were ready for a splashing. We caught up on life while waiting for a Grab, talked Asian Lit on the way back to our hub, and–not content with that–had dinner before parting ways.

Breathe.

In aikido, I call it war-breathing–when your breathing is so deep and regular you can be doing almost any technique, at varying speeds, without losing rhythm or pace. When we are tired, we are reminded to breathe. When the activities heat up, we are reminded to breathe. When we feel just about ready to faint or give in, we are reminded to breathe.

May is my rest-month. No aikido, barely any tutoring, as little overtime as I can possibly manage, all for 7-8 hours of unbroken sleep a night. And yet, with all that, I had forgotten to breathe, to put myself into a state where I could face everyday living because I had paced my breathing first, made sure I would never run out of oxygen.

Over the weekend, under an unbelievable sky with friends who know me, I restarted my breathing pattern. Practicality notwithstanding, my Lord Father knew that my soul needed this few hours of clear peace and quiet joy, to restart my breathing and renew my spirit. There was no better way to start the week.

Esther Elizabeth Suson

Last updated 09 May 2017.

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