I used to abhor ampalaya (bitter gourd). I don't remember if it was the bitter taste that traumatized me first, or the jibes of my teasing brother about how awful it tastes. What I do remember is that I never dreamt of taking a bite of it - even had a lot of bad fights with my father because of it.
Growing up as a strong no-veggies-for-life teen advocate, I was put to the test during a meal of generously served ampalaya with scrambled egg viand. I was too hungry, and I was too proud to face embarrassment by not eating it (especially since I was in the presence of "crushes").
To my surprise, I found the meal much to my delight. Maybe it was because my famished body simply didn't care what I gorge into my then-unbloated stomach, but ever since I learnt to appreciate the weird-looking vegetable more. I even started eating my father's stock of atsarang ampalaya (pickled bitter gourd? I'm not sure if that's the right translation), which nowadays I'm slightly missing.
Of course, I do still encounter some trauma-inducing ampalaya cooking - but this time, I blame it on the cook, and not the food itself.
These memories were triggered by a devotional passage we had during the youth leadership retreat that we conducted just recently. We were reading through Philippians 3:12-14, which stated that we "should forget what lies behind."
Being an amateur (or should I say, self-proclaimed) psychologist, I know from my own share of not-so-happy experiences that "forgetting" something is not that simple, or possible. We may not remember them for a while, or maybe even for years and decades. But sometimes they just pop up out of nowhere - conjured from the deepest recesses of our subconsciousness like some ghost locked away in time.
However, I realized that maybe that wasn't the point. As I was pondering on this, I came up with a simple rhyme:
"Maaari mo pa ring maalala ang sakit, pero maaari mo ring makalimutan ang pait."
We can't totally forget the pain. But we can leave behind the bitterness and resentment.
A lot of unhappy memories may weigh on us, hindering us from enjoying the joy that we deserve in this life. But sometimes we just need to see beyond the pain to find that pleasure. I'm not saying we should be sadistic or masochistic: I'm simply saying that we need to learn to appreciate that God can even use these "bad" things that happen in our lives for our good. Instead of dwelling on what-could-have-been's, we should focus on what-can-be's.
Pain and suffering are natural. We cannot avoid it; but we should not look for it, too. Yet as we experience it, will we choose to let it drag us down? Or will we choose to look up to Him and reach out to his encouraging hands, offering us to be lifted up from that gloomy pit?
Ampalaya will always be bitter, but it takes a good cook to bring out its delicacy.
As for okra, that's another story.