Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Road to Christmas

The highway seems like a vast ocean of cars, absent is the graceful waves it naturally possess; it is a stagnant unmoving ocean. I peeked outside and saw that I am stuck in an impossible traffic condition—the Christmas traffic. From Ford to Sarao, from trucks to SUVs, from jeepneys to two-door sports cars, it doesn’t matter what engine you have under the hood, every automobile runs a mile per hour estimate; in this condition everyone is equal. So, to detach myself from this frustrating traffic, I slept. 
I woke up with a smile, but quickly that changed to a furrow on my brows and an irked grin. I am still in the traffic, and the vehicle moved but a short distance. My humor returned when I saw most of the passengers grunting and cursing, hoping an empathic remark, silently hoping to be acknowledged by the others. Conversations changed the mood. Everybody was sharing their stories. I kept silent. Instead, I pulled out Dante’s Inferno and read.
It was 9 o’ clock when I arrived at the mall—my shortcut going from place to place—where people looked like bees and ants in the crowd. I would never, and under no circumstances, would have gone out to shop or even travel at this time of the year. I would peacefully remain in the comfort of my blue-wall room, read a book, watched a film, and slept. If it wasn’t for the schedule I was given, if it wasn’t for my work, this is exactly what I would do.
As I walk around the mall passing stores and kiosks, I felt odd. It is hard to describe the feeling, but the scenery seems to be perforated by frenzy, a spending frenzy that is. Although we have 13th month pay, bonuses, gift giving, and aguinaldos (kids and adults alike) there is a scarcity that hounds the season. There seems to be not enough in spite of the festivities around.
At work, this illusory scarcity has also made an impression, since we would be working on Christmas Eve—all establishments are closed except of course, with 7-Eleven (when do they close anyway? I forgot that joke/fact)—a decent meal should be prepared. But as the discussion took place, it became too dragging; we were unable to decide what to bring. My colleague insists or is somewhat alluding for a more extravagant meal. I thought: how much are we going to eat anyway?
The pigging-out at parties, getting drunk to oblivion, automated exchange gifts, Christmas leftovers, pilgrimage to the malls, buying things that we thought we need but don’t, even the simbang gabi or midnight mass seems to be losing its real essence for it was shadowed by the prospects of dating and goofing around. At this time of the year, the power of consumerism seems too hypnotic, it beckons people to spend, to empty the once full brim as if they could understand the meaning of the season by so doing.    
I am not however, saying that this is wrong for isn’t it that social morals is decided by the many, but what I am implying is that Christmas for some (or the many) has become too artificial. It looked like a fiesta whose effigies became more important than the saint the celebration is about; the skin of the fruit became more revered and enjoyed than the fruit and seed. Then, what is Christmas anyway?
It was not until I was stuck in another dreaded Christmas traffic would I catch or recapture the gist most appropriate in my queries. In the jeep, again I took out Dante’s first book of his Divine Comedy and read. As it was before, I ignored the kindling conversations of the passengers. Their conversation grew more animated after a time, my concentration seems to be out on the book and more to the discussion; I eavesdrop, feigning reading. They were discussing what to give their loved ones this time of the year. An unexpected answer came from an aged dark skinned man—who might be a laborer or a carpenter based on his tired masculine look and calloused hands—spoke. He said, with a hint of hesitation tinged with timidity, “wala akong regalo e.” I don’t have any gifts. He paused then raising the package he got perhaps from his employer, “pero meron kaming tinapay, keso, pancit, salad (fruit), at ham…at kwento.” But we have bread, cheese, noodles, salad, and ham…and stories. Then he smiled with his broad lips taut across his face showing his crooked teeth, with the sparkle in his eyes looking at the other people he is talking to.   
I didn’t hear the next words they uttered. I was filled with awe, more so engulfed by it. How simple that is. Here we are concerned at the trivialities of the season: parties, people to meet, gifts to give, and the grand meal at the table. But here is a man whose anticipation is so common yet sounded so unique and special. Perhaps, his profession pays him so little, perhaps he received but a high school degree yet he understood the season more than the rest of us.
Christmas is truly a time of giving, of sharing—in the Bible God gave, shared his only son, the infant in the manger, the savior, Jesus Christ the ultimate gift. We often misconstrued it for extravagance but isn’t it the time of simple joys, of reunions, of songs, of laughter, and of a birth of new hopes. It is supposed to be more solemn, more soul-full. These are the things that we often forget during Christmas. 
I know that this frenzy will come again next season, even I would be obliged, even mandated by people to spend and participate. On the other hand, come next year, because of this road that I took during yuletide traffic, I would be reminded of those things which are really important. Thus, I believe the verity of these tenets is what provides this time of the year its real meaning, which the hypnotic gravity of consumerism can never provide us with during our lifetime.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Candle Balls and the Ghost of the Good Things

There were really no Halloween traditions in the Philippines, “the” Halloween, none that I could remember of. No trick-or-treats; no candies doled out, like money given in Christmas carols. We don’t dress like creatures of the night: vampires, mummies, witches, ghosts, and what have you. There were no parties assembled at schools and offices, all dancing to the holiday anthem: Thriller by the king of pop, Michael Jackson.
Our Filipino way of commemorating is different. We go to overcrowded cemeteries with our family. Pray—rosary, novena, or a silent litany kept in our hearts—at the tomb of our departed loved ones. Maybe, attend a mass solely dedicated for the souls of the dead. If the year have been generous enough, some even left food at the tomb, although I don’t really know how it would be digested by the very person it was served to.
For most people our way, the Filipino way, if it would be described in one word, would be spelled B-O-R-I-N-G. The luster of the western festivities seem so appealing from children to socialites; the latter sees the occasion as a perfect excuse to get drunk and snooze the rest of the weekend. However, I find our local commemoration possessing a certain indiscernible solemnity (amidst of chaos often associated in the cemeteries); It emanates a tradition, poetic even, after years of repetition. But most of all, it reminds me of my childhood venerated, and missed.
Every 1st or 2nd of November, two families, my cousins’ and ours’ packed for the trip to the graveyard. I would have sworn it was for three days worth of provisions, although we will not sleep nor be gone for more than a day—that is how big our families were! But I guess we were born contortionists because we all fitted inside our Toyota L300 van. Imagine two big families, 15 people fitted in one vehicle. My dad and mom, my aunt and uncle, my grand mother, my great grandmother, my two cousins then, my sisters and I, as well as other houshold members all jostling of whatever space we were given.
Now, having that many adults isn’t an assurance that the trip would be reinforced by adult restrictions and reprimands, in short devoid of fun. In fact, the trip to the graveyard is a treasure chest of excitement, mischief, and adventure.
The children would always sneak pass from the eyes of the adults to roam the cemetery. We run around and explored the place. A renowned pride was observed whenever we placed our foot on uncharted regions, given that we don’t get lost less it would be teasing afterwards. But getting lost allows us to discover the eerie crypts, and extravagant mausoleums in which we either concluded as haunted or beautiful. We were cartographers of the graveyard.
The adults once hearing our not too scary stories join in the group. Their narration of what seems to be a bequeathed legends, in spite of hearing it a multitude of times— especially when they want us to sleep but can’t—displays a mesmeric effect of horror and amazement for us that our eyes widened, our ears sharply audient, and imaginations reeling the scenes.
At dusk, as the darkness spread all across the skies, we clung close to one another because the blackness of the night seems to veil something sinister lurking, ready to pounce anytime. The doubts that we have of the tales of the grown-ups suddenly were dispelled; those characters were more real than carved pumpkins, vampires, and zombies. We visit two cemeteries each emanate their own urban legends that we kept reminded of.
We visit Loyola Memorial Park in Sucat first, where my grandfather is buried. Then, Libingan ng mga Bayani which is the resting place of our great grandfather, Lola Ba, his wife, always recounted war stories and how they survived the atrocities of the Japanese regime; If there were stories to topple the ghoulish excerpts this is it. We regard our Lolo Salvador as a proud banner of our heroic ancestry. Come to think of it, it is not only her that told us this kind of stories, because once the prayers were finished every adult told their own ancestral past, or those that they could be proud of.
These stories, the cryptic tales, and the experiences have been enduring memories for me. The camaraderie between two families. The stories that was shared with the suspension of judgment. The trips together. The warm ebullient air when we all meet. The laughter with my cousins. These memories haunt me whenever November comes. These are ghosts of the good things.
Now, these events like caskets that were buried six feet under hint that these will never come to pass again. They were buried by a far heavier soil, and devoured, consumed by an unrelenting worm: family feuds between mothers; the younglings caught in these silent wars, who never knew the jocund days; marital conflicts between my uncle and aunt; freeloading of my desolate uncle who somewhat surrendered his fate to drinking, haplessness, and derision; the selling of the L300 van; the selling of ancestral houses in Pacita that led us farther away from each other; financial crisis; the death of my two grandmothers: Lola Ba, and Lola Zon, who in my opinion never saw the light of day because of these crisis—I just wish and hope they died smiling and now is singing with the angels in heaven.
But as Jesus reanimated the dead, Lazarus I too hoped that these memories wouldn’t be buried forever, that there would be a time that we would again visit the cemeteries together, and maybe assume the role of a storyteller, scaring the wits out of our nephews.
As for now, perhaps the only remnants of these memories, like the tombstones with names and messages engraved, are the candle balls that we collected during those times. And like tombstones’ sole duty, it tells me, both in ghastly horror and playful mirth, “do not forget!” 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Kid in the World of Spongebobs

Mornings are busier than the afternoon. Well, in our house at least. Here, people paced from place to place just so that they could beat the clock and make it through their respective schedules. Frantic searches for lost school items are often a scene. Tupperwares left on the round dining table, the owner temporary oblivious at the moment, come recess or lunch they’ll sure wish they took their time. But it’s a different day yay Nieves and my mom were more didactic, more softly spoken about the lessons of my nephew even preparing a special breakfast. This could only mean one nostalgic thing—examination day!
The test taker is Joshua. He’s on kinder now. Having taught him in few of his assignments I know what he’s examination would be like: naming of shapes; naming of colors; the ecosystem. True to my hunch all of these topics were covered. The first part was identification by encircling the answer, and matching type. Yay Nieves—the narrator of the story who fetched Josh on that day—told us that the kid answered the items swiftly with great air of confidence.
The second part was drawing. At home Josh drew a lot (not to mention even on walls) that made me allude that this test would be over in a jiffy. As what he did on the first part of the exam Joshua quickly finished the task. He was free to go earlier. However, the teacher noticed something odd and disturbing about the kid’s drawing that it pushed her to prod for an explanation.
They were asked to draw a picture of their families (a typical task for pre-school kids). While the rest of the kids drew a semblance of their families Josh’s papers were more “bizarre” (for the teacher). When she asked the child what the kid drew Josh replied “si Spongebob po at and kanyang pamilya…” The teacher pointed to another set of characters that were different from the Spongbobs and asked about it. “Ang kapitbahay po nila si Patrick at ang kanyang pamilya.” Josh proudly replied. The teacher hiding her laughter bit her lips nodded and waved goodbye to her student.
At home we all burst into a wild chuckling. We asked yay Nieves to repeat the story whenever there were new arrivals. Each and every time we howled full of mirth with that anecdotal. Josh watched us with his smile while his skin blushed. Yet behind those jokes I somewhat believed that it was not out of misunderstanding nor was it due to the kid’s inability to comprehend did he made such drawing. Josh is a smart kid though he can’t read yet (he could recognize and write alphabets) his intelligence doesn’t come with education—I just can’t put my fingers to it—but it emanates deep inside the core of his being.
Often we find him busy in front of the TV watching his favorite cartoons. But when he speaks out his mind he usually astonishes me with his questions even more his answers. I remembered once when I was so down trodden by the enigmatic formulary of statistics and he spoke, “o hayaan mo nalang muna yan, maya mo na sagutan” he said with great air of concern, “relax ka muna tito baka matulad ka kay Squidward.” Succinctly I was pulled out of the Labyrinthine worries that I have. I felt he was the elder and I am the kid. I flashed a smile of relief and patted his head.
Perhaps, I was a Squidward in their eyes when I seem to direct my attention at paper works, assignment, good etiquette, and social formality. To them that is simply boring. Sometimes we are Mr. Krabbs concerned with money, work, and yes, more money. Or maybe we are Plankton in his egotistical and conceited daydreaming submitting the world into his tyranny, and of course, getting that secret Krabby patty formula. While it is funny and comical on TV it may not be so humorous at real life.
Although, this things are unavoidable because we need to pay bills and abide the social standards these kids (my three nephews) led by Joshua, the eldest, are giving me something of benefit for me. Once in a while I give them lessons: alphabet, reading, counting, and some other things. While them, they teach me to see the world as a child sees them, though I confess I might see it while my eyes were squinting.
Returning to his work, while he drew something that will not be graded in excellence, I find his work authentic and rich with imagination. He was brave enough to show the world who he is regardless of whether people might laugh at him or grade him lowly. And how many times have I caught myself draping myself with an edifice of etiquette for approval or in fear of failure. For a child it is okay to trip and fall there is always tomorrow anyways, wounds heal. They enjoy themselves every moment by being simply the kid that they are.
In Bikini Bottom anything is possible. For isn’t it Spongebob himself, along with Patrick Star, who created wonders out of a box armed only with imagination and believing themselves. Josh has this innately. After all, he is living in the time of Spongebob and other heroes. In their way anything could be done. Impossible didn’t exist. Yes, amidst of their blunders and histrionics they were their own, well, genius.
Whenever I am with the kids I sure do remind myself who the student is and who is the teacher; who teaches and who learns. For children are teachers too without even reading or writing. And while I find it hard to live without worries I know that I could be able to understand the enigmas of their tutelage after all I am once, too, in their world—a child.  

Friday, October 8, 2010

Facing the Petty Tyrants in our Lives: Don Juan’s Encounter

In some point in our lives we encounter a person who tests us beyond limits of our endurance. We view it often as a curse for meeting such person. We avoid. We run away at the very sound of his/her thumping shoes. The very thought of it simply evokes an eruption of negativity.

It is normal I guess to take flight most especially if we are in the disadvantage. Even the emotions of repulsion, fear, gloom, helplessness are justifiable and appropriate for the psyche. It allows us to cope at the danger and even to avoid it.
However, as I read on with Carlos Castaneda’s The Fire from Within I came across a story of Don Juan and a time when he met one of the most violent and vicious individual that delivered him to hell and back (both literally and metaphorically). They were called, in the Toltec’s words, petty tyrants. They are the people who wrought suffering to others without guilt or remorse.
Even though the story happened decades ago before and during Don Juan’s apprenticeship as a sorcerer these petty tyrants, as we could see, exist even today with different faces and statures in our society. As they exist so there would be victims under their dreadful clutches. On the other hand, how Don Juan dealt with the fiend of an individual was astonishing that made me rethink of my own dealings with my so called “villains” in everyday life. It would be a great pleasure to share the story.
Don Juan worked at a sugar mill as a laborer when he was barely twenty. He was not only strong but also well-built for his early age. One day a rich domineering woman in her fifties came by. The woman looked at Don Juan and spoke to the foreman. She left immediately afterwards. Then the foreman called on him and said that for a price he could have a job in the boss’s house. Being, then, a lowly Indian who lives from hand-to-mouth this felt like a grace from the divine as he agreed to pay large amount in installments.

When he got to the mansion he was asked by a huge ugly somber man questions. And he grinned maliciously when Don Juan said he doesn’t have any family. He promised that the pay is sumptuous and he could save some money for he would be eating and sleeping at the mansion. The man then laughed sinisterly, so diabolic that Don Juan was terrorized and run out of the house for he knew he had to escape. But the man out paced him and cocked a gun and rammed it on his stomach. “You are to work yourself to the bone!”

There were men hovering around with machetes making the place look almost like a fortress. Everyday Don Juan was given the most dangerous and toiling tasks without break, and worse he was bullied to no end. “You’ll work here until you die…and when you die another Indian will replace you as you replaced one!” the petty tyrant exalted. He was threatened that if he run away he would be sent to jail for an attempted murder of the Lady as the foreman will falsify everything. He had the leverage in court trial anyway. As he survived a day all it meant the next morning after opening his eyes is that he needed to undergo in the same inferno. It was hell!

What served as the final wick to it all was when Don Juan asked for a time off to pay the other foreman but he was denied and was told that he was already in greater debt for having worked in the mansion. Don Juan knew these traps. He then understood that the two foremen were in cahoots. Their strategy was to work the laborers to their deaths and split their earnings.

This thought made Don Juan exploded with anger and ran inside the kitchen then to the outside screaming. Everyone was surprised but as he went by the road he was shot by the foreman and left to dead.

His benefactor found him and healed him. Upon hearing the story Don Juan’s benefactor urged him to go back at the mansion and face him again. It’s a rare opportunity to be with a petty tyrant he said.

Three years later, armed with the strategies and teachings he got from his benefactor, Don Juan returned to the sugar mill where he worked before. Nobody noticed him for no one gives a fig about laborers there, especially an Indian laborer. Again the same woman came, looked at Don Juan—who was even stronger than before—and talked to the foreman. He told him that he could get a job at the mansion for a price. But Don Juan refused to pay this time. No one ever rejected such proposition before so the man was taken aback. He threatened to fire Don Juan from his job but retorted that he knew where the Lady lived and would come see her to report about the foreman’s actions, and about the job. In the end, the foreman gave in and paid.

Upon arriving at the mansion Don Juan ran and looked for the Lady, and when he did he dropped on his knees and thanked her for her kindness. The two foremen were livid upon the sight. As it was before, the petty tyrant was an ogre of a man and gave Don Juan the most dangerous jobs especially at the stables where the horses and wild stallions are. The petty tyrant again bullied Don Juan to no end.

As part of the strategy, he has managed to note the weaknesses of the tyrant: he loves his job completely which he doesn’t want to endanger; he is a family man whose shack is near the mansion; the most fatal, he is nauseated by the scent of the horses’ stable. His strongest point would be his adamantine violence.

Meanwhile, Don Juan’s shield from the petty tyrant was the Lady who got him the job. He kneeled and thanked her every time he saw her. He even asked for the medallion of the lady’s patron saint so that he could pray for her health and well-being.

The petty tyrant was shocked when the Lady gave Don Juan the medallion. Even more, when Don Juan assembled all the servants to pray at night his temper become intensified. He decided to kill the vexatious Indian. Sensing this, Don Juan never slept in bed he climbed the roof and saw the murder in the eyes of the man while he twice searched for him. Don Juan’s countermeasure: he arranged all the servants to pray the rosary, which the Lady of the house praised him for and believed he has the elements of piousness. The tables were about to turn.

One day, Don Juan, in front of all the servants, and at the view of the Lady, insulted the petty tyrant. He called him a coward for mortally being afraid of the boss’s wife. The man was so infuriated, but the Indian had already run and was kneeling at the Lady, Don Juan knew that he won’t dare kill him at the sight of the lady nor use a gun due to its noise. Moments later, he was called at the back of the house by the foreman’s friends asking him to do something. He acquiesced but he knew their ploy.

Instead of going to them he ran into the stables in hopes that the horses would make a ruckus sending the owners curious enough to go outside. The petty tyrant white with rage ran after Don Juan. He jumped inside the stable of the wildest stallion. Having blinded by rage, the petty tyrant forgot about the stables stench and the stallions ready to end the fool. However, while he was armed by a knife, Don Juan was hiding at his planks that he made for protection from the brute strength of the beasts something the tyrant never knew about. So with just one kick from the stallion the petty tyrant fell.

The strategy that Don Juan employed was the four attributes of warriorship: control is to be in command of the self, aware at the moment while in fulfillment of the idiotic behests; discipline is focusing on his tasks intended, gathering all the information needed—the weaknesses and quirks of behavior of the petty tyrant; forbearance was the simple joyful holding back to what is due to be given; timing is the essence or quality that regulates what is held back. “Control, discipline, and forbearance are like a dam behind which everything is pooled. Timing is the gate in the dam.”

The literature further adds that what transpires in the chanced encounter was the shattering of self-importance. “Any man who has an iota of pride is ripped apart by being made to feel worthless.” Don Juan said. Truly worthlessness exist upon the presence of pride and vice versa, therefore our own causes of misery. If that self-importance is torn apart we felt victimized, often or not seeking vengeance but Don Juan doesn’t have any a virtue honed in his apprenticeship.

What is more astonishing is that Don Juan in spite of the barbarism of the petty tyrant, even though his tears might be falling, while his blood and sweat dripped at the soil, while he shivered in the stench and dangers of the stables, he didn’t hated the petty tyrant nor did he plotted against him, there he was smiling inside—he was happy!

Here, I realized the Buddhist premise, “your enemy is your greatest teacher.” They could teach you something that you weren’t able to learn, they will help you to go far beyond yourself. Like a glass rigid with self-importance placed at the furnace fires, molded into something new.  It all starts at taking a different perception, taking a different stand.
These encounters are either a curse or a blessing. It all depends on the choice that we make, either we choose to be victims or become impeccable warriors. The first leads to misery while the latter to knowledge. And nobody can run away from these we are automatically pushed to decide—we become either one—we will have to inevitably pick upon finding ourselves face to face with the fiend and beast—the petty tyrant.

Friday, October 1, 2010

A Fifty-Peso Fraud

The Conductor vs. the passenger! This seems to be the scene as I am riding an ordinary bus home (known for their bullet fast acceleration). Their voices were boisterous and their argument apparently heightened. And, at my guess, it would only be a sudden loss of patience from a nonverbal pose or a provocative word that might send the final wick of this debacle to explode.
People were looking; passengers who were disturbed from their snooze turned their heads towards the two. Sensing a furious exchange of blows or even a flagrant hitting commentary would suffice for these people. Me? I didn’t give a fuss. I was, after all, recovering from the loss of my 700-peso automatic black with green pinstripe Fibrella, which have been one of my few remaining “possession” from my old job; it was stolen from a computer shop were I was just typing an assignment. Who would steal an umbrella for heaven’s sake!
I was more furious than these two combined. However, as their argument came to a long dragging repetitious dialogue, fed up from the irritating persistence of the other fellow to take his money the conductor unable to control his tempering mouth in a high pitch tone― which he might not be cognizant of―blurted, “pare peke ang pera mo!”  Then the bus fell into a deep silence, as if everybody paused and waited for a final verse in a play. That is when my curiosity sprung into life.
While the worker sat on the bus froze to what has been said I asked the conductor  about his conclusions of the fraudulence of the money. “Paano naging peke to?” I asked in an inquisitive manner. He then gave me the money and asked me to hold and feel the bill’s surface. Seriously, when I saw the crumpled money it was like the 50-peso bill that I have. It’s real! But the conductor pointed out that the surface of the bill is smoother and more crisp like an ironed paper while the real one was soft, more defined in its surface. The difference seems to be apparent and if we could detect fraud by that factor the rejected money was truly a fake.
The passenger iterated that it was given to him as a change by another bus line earlier and now, being in a fixed allowance, is now his only money at his disposal. Fortunately, I asked the conductor what he thought of that whether he would ask the man to get out of the bus―we are at the middle of Skyway―or whether, in his kind nature, mark off the fare from the person just for today. Luckily for the passenger the latter choice won out.
My point here is not merely exposing the verity of the existence of forfeited money nor would I be proving any facts delineated by the conductor as a proof of counterfeited money. I would care less about that; the mere fact that both money (real and sham) all had features or expected features of the real one, that crispness and smoothness alone defines it would be even dubious to allude to any conclusion, truly it was head bashing, so let us leave that.
What I am alluding to is the fact that these events (the bogus bill and, yes, my stolen umbrella) to occur is pitiful, downright foul, and a con that takes advantage of the less advantaged many. If a 50-peso bill has even pushed a person to put another into this predicament does it sound too ridiculous? A 50-peso bill, an amount not even too big to buy a 1-piece Chicken Joy has tempted and prompt individuals to forge a life they don’t have, isn’t that saddening? That an umbrella is stolen right at your back in a formal place like a computer shop isn’t that mortifying?
Truly, the adage money is the root of evil is true. But let me add to that, man becomes evil when he allows money to be his root. And there are far worse thieves than those who have done this they sit in an esteemed and respected chair with suites, uniforms, barongs and filipinianas on, while stealing more umbrellas and 50-peso bill from the people―they steal opportunities!
This was written on the 3rd of August now that we are nearing the yuletide season maybe they have populated even more.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Beauty Far Beyond the Skin

Its early morning for malling—though I’m not really fond of malls—yet I sat outside Jollibee’s bench oblivious of the people passing by. My book preoccupied me so amidst of the cacophony created by the students who lined outside and the waiter who kept on giving me the look as if telling me to get lost my equanimity prevailed.
Truth is I am not going inside the mall, not even to the bookstore. However, the mall is the rendezvous point. And I was early!
It was around 11 am when I met them (so much for the 7 am agreement). Elsa, Monette, Ize, and Jeff were all there. We were all in high spirits. Our laughter echoed in the restaurant and exchanged hilarious comments about each other and how we were different back then. But why we decided to meet up is no laughing matter. If we were all fooling around it is only to cloak the graveness of what is at hand.
We are going to visit Ria, one of our batch mates who is in a serious medical condition. When I heard of it I was ambivalent. I don’t know whether to believe, and yet at the same time I felt a deep sympathy for her. We were all in our mid 20’s and it would be an unthinkable probability of accumulating such disease. No one could believe it, it was surreal. No one wanted to, mostly, perhaps not even Ria herself.
She has cancer of the breast. It was an irony because she is an epitome of goodness. She didn’t smoke. Never drank alcoholic beverages (or maybe just a little). She was always calm and smiling. And all of us wished it was all a case of misdiagnosis.
We were welcomed at the patio of the house; it’s an old gazebo-like architectural piece resembling simplicity of the provincial life yet more spacious than those in the metro providing a hint of grandeur. A woman in red wearing a floral bandana received us. My friends hugged the woman, I was nonchalant both because I don’t know who it was and I don’t want to give of the vibes of pseudo-closeness. When she spoke her tone reminded me of the person that we’re visiting. There was a log in my mind trying to corroborate my memory and the woman. Then as the mental log drizzled I realized, as I look at the woman, it was her—Ria!
I haven’t noticed her for a while. Her body changed. She lost her long black hair, even her eyebrows were gone. She lost weight, though not that much. There were blisters on her skin that she said was the effect of the intravenous medication. Cancer has indeed invaded her body.
As we were expected for lunch, we were urged to go to the dining area were a sumptuous feast was served. So we ate. It was luscious especially the morcon and the macapuno that we downed almost instantly.
We joked around and often found ourselves giggling no matter how lame the jokes are. Recollections of our collegiate days brought a joyous nostalgia in the conversation. There were moments of breathless silence that seems to be a conscious effort on everyone to censor every word so as not to tamper the joviality at the table.
It was Jeff who I believed who grew serious with the conversation asking questions about Ria’s condition with great concern, casualness, and dexterity of his verbal censorship. Our colleague answered in all sincerity and it sounded without a tinge of emotion, like a daily banter.
 After a while, we were served the specialty of the house—kapeng barako(a name given to a strong coffee). It is contained on a large green thermos. The coffee is already made. No need for cream or sugar. All one is required is to chug it in. In spite of the name given to the coffee I found it light, sweet and refreshing. It’s more like of a soft tea. I think I had 8 cups at the least. I swore I’ll be back someday for more.
Our visit to Amadeo, to Ria is somewhat analogous to the coffee we just drank. The coffee even though it was named and affixed with the label barako, which is supposed to be strong and bitter it proved to be rather different. It was the reverse. Here, I pictured a depressed sullen colleague who needs comforting. However, no matter how I groped for a consoling word and an empathic statement it seems that she doesn’t need it. She was strong.
Her strength showed me that amidst of the struggles that she is undergoing right now a display of beauty put me into contemplation. However, it is not in the physical sense. It was something way beyond that. Her splendor was more on her impeccable grace and her strong character than of the physical elegance that we immediately notice or often look for. It was a certain feeling that emanated in me, it was a radiance filled with peace. Maybe the cancer has struck her body but not her spirit.
I remembered the saying, “beauty is but skin deep.” And now I realized what it truly meant. Our visit gave me a fortunate chance to ponder on the true gist of this quotation. Truly, we cannot control how we look, perhaps with cosmetics and the potent power of artificiality we could. We could straighten our curly hair. We could lighten our dark skin. We could choose an angle for our noses. Implant whatever is lacking, or remove whatever is bulging. Yet we cannot fake the beauty that emanate deep within. It will remain unshaken amidst of disease or disfigurement. It cannot be counterfeited nor implanted more so purchase it.

And I wonder how many of us are physically able yet decrepit inside, whose will are impeded and rusting. People who deter and plot instead of serve as light. People on some instance lived on excessive vanity and looked down on others because of their features. That might be going too far though, it wouldn’t be for all. But here is a verity her beauty will serve a light so that few blind men could see—as I too saw.

Here, I witnessed a beauty far beyond the skin.

Copyright Benjamin Ryan Raneses, III 2010©

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Our Culture, Our Mother

Our Culture, Our Mother

Our culture is our mother no matter how distant their semblance to us. We take up their name and stride chin-up. Our mothers show the world to us as they lived it with variations and idiosyncrasies. They teach us lessons uniquely as our fingerprints. The world of a child is but a reflection of the parents and yes, mostly from the mothers. 

Our culture is our mother in the light that cloaks us our way of being. As it was always iterated in books, we are powerless in choosing neither our mother nor any of our circumstances during our birth. We, too, have the same relation with our culture. We either live in daily celebration of what is, or we slump into our stature dreaming the American Dream (or just pretty much any white man’s land to migrate on) embracing the strand of opportunity that presents. Thus, the diaspora began.
However, this departure from the culture isn’t only on a geographical means but there is a more pervasive and more alarming form, the fleeing to our culture. It cannot be taken away, though, that our society is compounded by third-world struggles: hunger, corruption, famine, homelessness, and illiteracy are of the top of this list. It cannot be taken away from those people on the streets and have nothing to chew on but a molded morsel of bread―considered as lucky man in the gutters of Manila―that there is something inhumane pouncing the country. There is an enough reason as they say to live a better life if not abroad at least in the confines of the façade erected by capitalism and industrialization.
The development industrialization harnessed in our country benefitted a multitude of aspects in our living. It improved health services and treatment procedures. Technology promoted connectivity among distant love ones. Highways and transportation made travelling a lot easier and faster (if you have been in SLEX I think you know what I’m talking about). And so the list goes on. In spite of this, the utopia that it idealized is but partly or fully nightmarish to others. 

One of a well-versed example of this dilemma is about the case of the Kalingas. Being fortunate enough to watch the documentary of Kara David “Ang Huling Mambabatok” allowed me to ponder even closer to this tenet. Now, the Kalingas a tribe of pride warriors covered in tattoo―man and woman―that symbolizes honor and beauty. They were proud people who boasted of not being taken over even by the Japanese troops. However, modernization threatens to erase their culture that once held their head up high, it even made their sons and daughters into shame. As they walk on the lowlands they clothe, or better yet conceal the etched dignity in their skin. What’s worse is that no one in the tribe shows interest in continuing the culture.
Even more so our education is indifferent to these cultural problems. Sure they deliver the impeccable textbook explanations. Sure they included without amiss all tribe names or traditions. But what lacks is the activity and dynamics to allow students into realizing the importance. They should teach how to promote a genuine appreciation of what they are learning.

Instead, we are dealt with exonerated ideals that stems to this apathy. Our culture is to promote what sells in the market. What is important is what makes more money. Of how much acclaim is engendered. The more noble jobs like teaching to remote places are less and less of a choice; every one is eyeing for a little of this and that and that is only appropriate and rational―we live in a society were economic stature is valued. But my appeal is that the government takes action on this one, on this single piece of DNA that we have as Filipinos. Let us preserve it, no let us cultivate it!

After all, our culture is our mother waiting for us at dusk after playing outside the house oblivious of her. And as we step back in all we need to do is take her hand, bow our heads, and surrender to her embrace. For as Dr. Rizal, our national hero, professed “kung sino ang hindi lumingon sa kanyang pinanggalingan ay higit pa sa mabaho at nabubulok na isda”. And sure, even as straying, like the prodigal son, we too will be welcome back in an unprecedented abundance that we thought was not even there. Our culture is still but how long must we run away to a mother that cradled us in a womb of priceless heritage.

July 19, 2010