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Catching up with Alexia and Tai

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SAN FRANCISCO — The wife and I are revisiting family old friends. Laughter and stories at these gatherings are always laced with intimations of mortality. Even good things end. Was it Brutus who said: “If we shall meet again, we shall smile. If not, why then this was a parting well made.

To see our two grand-daughters we’ve made a stopover in this “City by the Bay”. We’re enroute to Nevada. “Come to Vegas for a family reunion,” the wife’s youngest brother told all 11 siblings.

Repeatedly, we’ve put off these long flights… Age squelches the travel itch. Rebound from jetlag now takes longer. One winces at 15-hour flights, despite sleeperettes. Before our joints crumble, we better go, the wife and I agree. Her sister Mira passed away last year — the first death within my wife’s generation. Now, more than ever, a line fromJustice Oliver Wenldell Holmes’ 91st birthday address resonates: “Death touches my ears and says: ‘ Live. I am coming.”

“When I retire, I’ll do what you’ re doing,” says the US immigration officer, eyeing our gray hair, slight stoop and bifocals. He was obviously a Filipino, who’d been naturalized as an American. “Retirement has its ups and downs”, we josh him. “You get up when you want to. And you lie down whenever you feel like it.”

Every trip jolts you with changes sweeping the world, specially that of your grandchildren. Is this difference more marked on Halloween? Back home, that is eve of “All Souls Day.”

“Come when we trick and treat,” says 9-year old Alexia. “I’ll be dressed as a ninja,” Her golden tresses have Scandinavian roots. Her physician-dad, Jan, is a Swede married to our daughter Malu.

“I’ll come as a mermaid”, says 4-year old Tai. Sloe-eyes of this pre-kindergarten Californian flag her Asian roots. Jan and Malu adopted her as an 11-month old infant from China. The Philippines processes took too long.

“Half a world away, it will be ‘All Souls Day.’, the wife murmus. “Our grandchildren Adrian, Kristin and Sofie will light candles at family graves. Sooner rather than later, that will include ours…”

“It is a good and wholesome thought to pray for the dead,” declares the Book of Macabees, written thousands of years before Easter Sunday. Vita mutatur, non tollitur, the Church prays for those who’ve been called from this life, like my younger brothers.. “Life is changed, not taken away.”

Halloween is rooted in the ancient All Souls Day. It marked the Celtic new year. In 1848, Irish immigrants brought those spooky costumes to the US where it continues today as a fun-filled kids feast.

Both reflect conviction in life beyond a “ handful of ashes” “We give back to You, O Lord, who first gave them to us: our faithful dead, whose beauty and truth are even now in our hearts”, the ancient prayer goes. “ (For) death is only a horizon, and a horizon is the limit of our sight”.

As doting, if elderly Halloween night chaperons, in San Mateo County, we cling to that vision. That is reiterated when we join Alexia and Tai, with their parents, for All Saints Day Mass at next door Stanford University’s church. The theme is the communion of saints — life beyond today’s inequities and a common resurrection.

“Bonjour Lola,” Tai greeted the wife. She’s fluent in English and is learning French. At the Chinese dimsum, Alexia thanks the cashier in Mandarin: xie-xie. ”Oh, you’re Asian,” squeals the delighted cashier.

The wife and I are pleased. But there’s sadness too. We see in Alexia and that are reality of everyday Philippines.. On the flight over the Pacific, we leaf through a World Bank study of equity and development.

The cycle of underachievement results in a playing field is far from level for kids like Alexia and Tai in the US or Claudia barangay.

For kids in less-developed countries, infant mortality is four times higher for the poor than for the rich. Philippine infant deaths are triple that of Malaysia. Babies of indigents are at much greater nutritional risk. We’ll flub key Millennium Development Goals.

“The main scourge here is chronic hunger and tuberculosis”, say Mother Teresa nuns who minister to abandoned children in Pasil, a Cebu City slum. Alexia and Tai get all needed immunization shots. Claudia and Leonor don’t even have a birth certificate.

Many drop out from primary grade school. If they grow up, their schools are substantially worse than those attended by children of gated enclaves. Similar inequalities exist in access to credit, even in coverage of the law, says the report.

Adverse effects are replicated time and time again. Across generations. Ill-fed wizened mothers give birth to dwarfed children, the Asian Development Bank notes.

Equality is one thing, the World Bank notes. But equity is another. Equity isn’t about equality in incomes, health, schooling or other assets, the report says.

Rather, it is the quest for a situation when personal effort, preferences and initiative—and not family background, caste, race, or gender—account for differences between people’s economic achievements.

Three basic decisions underpin success of Nordic countries like Norway, Sweden or Denmark, says Columbia University Earth Institute’s Jeffrey Sach. First, they prioritized education. Second, they built a vigorous private sector. And they made sure no one was left behind.

PNoy says that’s our task too. To make sure Claudia and Leonor close the gap with Alexia and Tai.

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