Monday, December 17, 2007
Lifelong learning is a journey, and even a perpetual learner like a teacher can never do it alone. A teacher may consider his/her job done once the course of instruction is completed. A lifelong learner, on the other hand, is on a pilgrim-journey with fellow learners.
When I look back at the past three decades, I am happy to see myself as a teacher. But when I give a deeper look at life beyond those thirty years, I am awed at what I see. And what I see is the glaring truth that, at bottom, there is precious little for me to teach others, but a whole lot more for me to learn from them.
Kalakbay at Katoto conjures up images of one in journey with others, in this pilgrimage of faith and life. Kalakbay connotes someone who simply journeys with others. Katoto, on the other hand, which comes from the same Tagalog root word "patoto" or "path," connotes someone who, not only journeys with others, but one who shares the same pathways, onwards to a common goal, a common destination, a common calling. I have encountered so many in my little more than half-a-century of life in this world who, at some point, journeyed with me. But few among them share the same paths as I still do. I have taught and journeyed with so many past students. Somewhere along the way, they moved on, pursuing different paths in their own, ongoing life journey. I was once upon a time, their "kalakbay," but no longer their "katoto."
And yet, the Gospel ideals of the journey to Emmaus continue to pose as a challenge to me as a pilgrim and as a learner. The Risen Lord did not just journey with two distressed and probably depressed disciples on their way to the uncertainties of Emmaus. He was not simply an erstwhile "kalakbay." He became truly and thoroughly, their "katoto." Jesus not only showed them the way. He led them to a common path of discovery and enlightenment. And that path led, not to Emmaus, but to what Emmaus stood for.
After thirty years of "teaching," twenty-five of which were spent as a priest, I thank all those who journeyed with me and, therefore, also taught me. In a most special way, I thank all those who, by submitting themselves voluntarily to my guidance, gave meaning and substance to what I still hope to continue on becoming ... KALAKBAY AT KATOTO!
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
I would like to re-post verbatim a story forwarded to me today. I thought that even if my regular readers may have already come across it, this anonymous piece is worth everyone's while ...
From a Cebuano.
The Basureros (From a Cebuano)
Ever since it was diagnosed that I am having a possible heart enlargement in the last APE, I have exerted more effort to do physical exercises.
I do jogging during week days and do long - ride mountain biking every Sunday.
But this Sunday is a special Sunday to me. While I was on my way to
the mountains of Busay (cebu) hoping to strengthened my heart by this exercise, instead, I personally encountered a heart-breaking scene that changed me.
I already passed by the Marco Polo Plaza (formerly Cebu Plaza Hotel) when I decided to stop to buy bananas at a small carenderia located along the road. I haven't taken any solid food that morning so I need fruits to have the needed energy to get to my destination - the mountain top.
I am almost done eating with the second banana when I noticed two children across the street busily searching the garbage area. "Basureros" I said to myself and quickly turn my attention away from them to sip a small amount of water. I cared less for these kind of children actually; to make it straight, I do not like them, and I do not trust them even more.
You see, several times I have been a victim to these kind of children who are pretending to be basureros looking for empty bottles and cans when in fact the 'plangganas' , 'kalderos', and 'hinayhays' are their favorites.
I remember one afternoon while I was watching a Mike Tyson fight when I noticed that the TV screen suddenly became blurred. I checked outside and saw two young basureros running away with my newly installed antenna.
Hatred may be a little bit stronger word to describe my feeling towards these basureros, but I do not like them honestly not till I met these three children.
I was about to embark on my bike again when I heard one of the two children, a girl of about 7 or 8 of age saying aloud to the other, a 12-yr old boy, "kuya si dodong kunin mo kasi tumitingin sa mga kumain, nakakahiya, only then that I noticed a small boy standing near to me biting slightly his finger.
He's a few inches shorter if compared to my 5 years old son (but I knew later that he's also 5 yrs. Old).
Though he did not asked for food to anyone in the carenderia, the way he looked at the customers who were eating , enough to convinced me that he intensely craving for it. The older boy then quickly crossed the street and gently pulled out the little one who politely obeyed. As I watched the two crossing back the street to the garbage area, I heard the tindera saying "kawawa naman yung mga batang yun mababait pa naman. I learned further from the carenderia owner that the children are from a good family , both
parents were working before, and that their father got a stroke 3 years ago and became partially paralized and their mother died of heart attack while their father was still confined at the hospital. The parents were still in their early forties when the catastrophe happened, and the children became basureros since then to meet their daily needs and for their father's medication.
Deeply moved by what I heard, I went to a nearby bakery and bought 20 pesos worth of bread and gave it to the children who initially refused including the little boy. "Sige lang po, salamat na lang, bibili na lang po kami mamaya kung makabenta na kami, the young girl said to me.
I explained that they need to go home because it started to rain.
"Nasanay na po kami, the girl answered again.
Again, I explained that the rain can make them sick and if they'll become sick there's no one to take care of their father. Upon mentioning their father, they nodded and accept the bread but I noticed that the older boy did not eat.
When I asked him if he does not like the kind of bread I bought for them he smiled but as he's about to explain, the little girl, who is the more talker of them interrupted, "Linggo po kasi ngayon,pag sabado at linggo hapon lang po sya kumakain, kami lang po
ang kumakain ng agahan pero di na po kami kakain pagdating ng hapon si kuya lang po. Pero pag lunes hanggang biyernes, kasi may pasok, si kuya lang po nag-aagahan, kami hapunan lang pero kung marami kaming benta, kami pong lahat (kumakain) she
continued. "bakit kung kumain kayong lahat, hati-hatiin nyo na lang kahit kunti lang ang pagkain?
The young girl reasoned out that their father wanted that her older brother to come to school with full stomachs so he can easily catch up the teacher's lessons. "Pag nagkatrabaho si kuya, hihinto kami sa pamamasura, first honor kasi sya, the little boy added proudly.
Maybe I was caught by surprise or I am just overly emotional that my tears started to fall.
I then quickly turned my back from them to hide my tears and pretended to pick up my bike from the carenderia where I left it.
I don't know how many seconds or minutes I spent just to compose myself; pretending again this time that I was mending by bike.
Finally I get on to my bike and approached the three children to bid goodbye to them who in turn cast their grateful smiles at me. I then took a good look at all of them specially to the small boy and pat his head with a pinch in my heart. Though I believe that their positive look at life can easily change their present situation, there is one thing that they can never change; that is , their being motherless. That little boy can no longer taste the sweet embrace, care, and most of all , the love of his mother forever. Nobody can
refill the empty gap created by that sudden and untimely death of their mother. Every big event that will happen to their lives will only remind them and make them wish of their
I reached to my pocket and handed to them my last 100 peso bill which I reserved for our department's bowling tournament. This time they refused strongly but I jokingly said to the girl, "suntukin kita pag hindi mo tinanggap yan. She smiled as she extended
her hand to take the money. "Salamat po, makakabili na kami ng gamut ni papa, she uttered.
I then turned to the small boy and though he's a few feet away from me, I still noticed that while his right hand was holding the half - filled sack , his left hand was holding a toy ? a worn out toy car. I waved my hands and said bye bye to him as I drove towards the mountains again. Did he just found the toy in the garbage area or the toy was originally his - when the misfortune did not took place yet? - I did not bother to ask. But one thing is crystal clear to me, that inspite of the boy's abnormal life, he has not given up his childhood completely. I can sense it by the way he held and stared at his toy.
My meeting with that young basureros made me poorer by 100 pesos. But they changed me and made me richer as to lessons of life.
In them, I learned that life can change suddenly and may caught me flat footed. In them, I've learned that even the darkest side of life, cannot change the beauty of one's heart. Those three children, who sometimes cannot eat three times a day, were still able to hold on to what they believe was right. And what a contrast to most of us who are quick to point out to our misfortunes. In them, I've learned to hope for things when things seem to go the other way.
Lastly, I know that God cares for them far more than I do. That though He allowed them to experience such a terrible life which our finite minds cannot comprehend, His unquestionable love will surely follow them through. And in God's own time they will win.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
I post a rehashed letter I wrote to friends back in 2002 ... for a change from all this serious and spiritual talk that I have on my three other blogsites.
The largely uneventful week that brought back the stifling heat of summer was punctuated by a talk I accepted to give to a prayer group in a nearby parish in Las Pinas City. It was supposed to have been a talk on the Sacred Heart. Thinking it was a sophisticated group, I prepared my piece in English, complete with scribbled notes. As I found out later, it was an overkill. I would have been killed if I delivered my peroration in English. The crowd was as simple as can be. So I did what I think I do best at: extemporize in the language I grew up with. The makeshift lectern that could use a few more planks and nails to give more stability, more than represented how I felt at the start of the talk, with several individuals whispering to one another audibly, providing initial competition to what I was trying to say. Like the lectern that tittered and tottered on its unstable base, I was the picture of instability. I thought to myself: why on earth did I accept this talk anyway? The lady who was very active as she goaded and cajoled everyone to share in the initial portion of the meeting, a picture of ebullience and enthusiasm as she held the microphone and stood in front of the assembly, suddenly metamorphosed into a tired, expressionless heap of a face ensconced in the front pew as I took the floor. You know the type… OK sila pag sila ang bida. Give them the microphone and put them in the limelight and, for as long as they are the center of it all, they will be the epitome of active and enthusiastic cooperation. Take them away from center stage, and they fold up all of a sudden, unrecognizable, totally different from what they portrayed themselves to be just minutes earlier. Individuals, they are, whose ideal selves have grown faster than their real selves; their personas brilliant and their true selves taking a back seat somehow.
And then there was the recollection of the staff of Don Bosco Academy, Mabalacat, Pampanga. Soon after the talk ended at about 10 pm, I was brought home to meet with the driver who was to take me to Pampanga. I got to Mabalacat at half past midnight, straight to bed in a corner room that had funny venetian blinds that did not quite fit the windows they were supposed to cover. Somebody obviously did not do his measurements right. Pampanga may be widely known for its people’s skills and craftsmanship in terms of construction, masonry and carpentry works, but whatever Pampanga is famous for is surely not found in the convent of the SDBs in Mabalacat. Door jambs did not quite fit the doors some of which kept on jamming, for lack of precision in measurement. Tiles in the bathrooms seemed to have been laid by unsteady hands and corners and edges are, well – rough.
I talked to the staff about Duc in Altum, the watchword popularized by Pope John Paul II in his Novo Millenio Ineunte of January 6, 2001. It is, of course, a topic dear to my heart, one which really strikes close to my personal experience since 1994 when we, at Canlubang adopted the motto AD MAIORA NATUS.
It is, indeed, a vast ocean to which we are invited by the Lord to put out into…the deep, the vast arena of the educational apostolate. It is a call to go deep, not to remain in superficialities. It is a call to cast the nets far and wide. One wonders how our traditional works could be defended vis-à-vis this call so grand, so wide, so far-reaching. One wonders too, how, - given the mediocrity of our school apostolates, given the lack of professionalism in all aspects of Salesian works, as shown for example in the appalling lack of respect for tradition, for what went before, for what has been done before painstakingly, for the most part, given the mania of so many of us to change the face of the earth as soon as we get into power, - we shall ever move forward at all! This has been a sore point of issue decades ago, even as young practical trainees, we already saw this insane culture that equates the system with the person in charge. Change the person; change the system. Never mind the sensibilities of lay people who are after all, also part of the whole enterprise. I wonder if in future, individuals who will be given the same tasks will still have the energy to think ahead, plan and work so hard only to be sorely disappointed because one’s valiant efforts will only be thrown out the window of selfish pride and misguided individualism. Understandably, power and a good dose of the former (pride and individualism) are a dangerous combination. If service is to be equated with trampling on people’s dreams and unilaterally defining the course of history, then I would not even want to know what leadership is. And yet, you see those two 64 dollar words emblazoned all over – servant leadership! God help us with iconoclasts who pass themselves off as servants and leaders. In this fatherless generation, what we need is not so much a servant and a leader as a father who communicates, a father who listens, who guides and inspires. Technocrats who have no heart have been the bane of Philippine society for so long… for far too long…
I write this reflection/entry to my diary on Father’s day. I got not a few thoughtful greetings to mark the day. I even got a doubly memorable advanced celebration of father’s day last June 4. Nakakataba ng puso… It feels good to be affirmed precisely on that aspect of my personal vision-mission statement that has to do with paternity – something I guess that comes naturally with one’s human nature. It feels good to be reminded just how one has influenced others for the better. It feels good to be recognized for what one has been trying to do all these years – to be acknowledged as a mentor by the very persons one has been trying to mentor. Mentoring… this has been what I have been trying to do… to make a difference in people’s lives…by journeying with them in faith and life…
The good Lord has been more than good to me. I feel – and I know He has journeyed with me all along. I thank God for the years of scouting in Mandaluyong. I thank God for the countless camping trips, the innumerable “good night” talks to campers in the field, the hours spent trying to decipher the stars and the planets on a clear sky framed in a dark night, perhaps atop the foothills of Banahaw, or – undeniably the ultimate – star-gazing up on the summit of the Philippines’ second highest peak – Mt. Pulag, on close to freezing point temperature on a January night, or a few minutes of reflection with, and for, a small group of college students up on lowly Maculot, that for its humble stature, gave the best and most stunning view of Lake Taal and Tagaytay ridge on one side, and the Batangas and Laguna plains down below on the other – all in one stupendous, breathtaking and panoramic gaze. These were unparalleled moments for me to help the young clarify their visions and dreams in life. These were precious moments for me to help them see the world and reality from different vantage points. They had been moments of deep interpersonal communion among them, between themselves and me, and with their God. They were, indeed, very literally and figuratively, moments of peak human experience. The 13 Philippine mountains that I have climbed, one of them – Banahaw – for more than 10 times, and Pulag, four times, stand as eloquent witness to what every human person, at bottom, aspires and pines for – as epitomized by a friend’s (Sid) apt paradoxical – if, poetic – statement: “I climb a mountain I do not see; I run after a dream that chases me.”
Who among us has not thought even once about chasing after the end of the rainbow? Westerners speak about a pot of gold sitting at the rainbow’s end. Filipinos are less materialistic. We never thought of rainbows in terms of pots of gold, did we? But all the same, we chased after the mysterious point of contact between the earth and the vast colorful bow that adorned the big blue sky on occasion. Fond of mysteries, Filipinos prefer to look at rainbows as unfolding an endless list of potential surprises for the ardent seeker. We Filipinos are still seeking for that nameless surprise. We are still searching, all over…Is it any surprise that we Filipinos are found in more than 90 countries all around the globe, including the vast and utterly cold icy steppes of Alaska? Is it any wonder that we Filipinos, ever so hopeful, ever so patient, could still afford to wait and wait with a smile for something to turn up, at the end of a long fight with cancer, at the end of a long struggle to get a degree, to finally get our rightful niche under the sun, even in places where the sun never shines? Is it any surprise that we Filipinos are ever so resilient, so optimistic? Is it any surprise that for us, for many of us, hope springs eternal in a very real sense? How else could literally millions of Filipinos with hardly anything, bear up with so much hardship and discomfort and utter want – and still be capable of smiling? How else explain the sight, repeated in so many places all over the country almost to the day, of a young emaciated mother waiting patiently umbrella in one hand, and her sick child on the other, out in the open in the oppressive heat of a summer’s day, hoping against hope, that her employer would happen to pass by, perchance to rescue her child who has been suffering diarrhea for all of five days? Can anybody tell me how, with all our problems as a people, we can still afford to set aside time and precious little money for prayer and celebration?
Every Filipino, like me, is climbing a mountain he does not see. We all pine for something more; something better; something nobler. That same longing chases us; that same dream goads us on. I would like to think this is all about the DUC IN ALTUM, the Holy Father is talking about. It sits right there in the heart of every Filipino. It definitely is present in the heart of the 8 or 9 million Filipinos overseas. This is what AD MAIORA NATUS is all about, too. It is all about forging ahead; moving on; dreaming on; burning on. It is all about hoping as every Filipino can – and does!
As I write, my thoughts race back to the many who have journeyed with me through all the mountains of my life: real and figurative, including one who, at one very treacherous point in Kabayan coming down from Pulag, back in 1989, I had to slap because he was demoralizing the group with his openly expressed fear fast turning into panic. I look back at the so many who have given me a hearing despite their initial lack of understanding perhaps. I think about all those who chose to follow me closely as I shared with them my own homespun brand of life technology. Life 101, the first of a series of courses on meaningful human living – the kind of life technology I, too, learned at the feet of the mentors of my youth in Mendez, Makati, Bacolor, Canlubang, Mayapa, Mandaluyong, Rome and the US was what I strove to pass on, up on Pulag’s summit, or down in the cramped conference rooms of Canlubang, to the young boys, now turned into men of integrity and responsibility in their own right. It is now their turn to do their own brand of mentoring, of leading, of opening up a whole new world of visions and dreams that would make for a better world, a better life, a nobler existence and a deeper communion with the supreme master and leader who once told us: “Come up, my friend, to a higher place!” (Lk 14:10)
Duc in Altum. It literally means, “Put out into the deep.” It is taken from the Gospel passage from Luke that recounts the disciples’ unsuccessful attempts at catching fish all through the night. In the early morning the Lord showed himself and told the disciples to cast the nets once more for a catch, out in the deep. The disciples did catch a big number of fish after they followed the Lord. Duc in Altum, was the watchword suggested by Pope John Paul II in his apostolic letter Novo Millenio Ineunte of Jan. 6, 2001. At a reenvisioning of the Don Bosco Seminary early in 2001, the staff and the seminarians adopted the same as the motto of Carreno House (Don Bosco Seminary). The same motto was adopted later by Bishop Francesco Panfilo, SDB when he was appointed Bishop of Alotau-Sideia of Papua New Guinea.
Ad Maiora Natus. This literally means “born for greater things.” At an institutional reflection held at Don Bosco College Seminary in 1994, this motto was adopted for the school, principally at the suggestion of yours truly, as I was instrumental also for the adoption of PRO DEO ET PATRIA for Don Bosco Technical College, in Mandaluyong, back yet in 1987. This last means “for God and country.”
Thursday, August 16, 2007
The great “Windy city,” the seat of two of the world’s tallest buildings, the famed city by the Lake of Michigan, immortalized in verse by Carl Sandburg, has some connections with what Manila once upon a time was known for – the place by the historical Pasig river, the place to be seen in for anyone who was somebody in times past. Those were glorious days for Manila, as Chicago once had, for the two cities which shared a common reality of being originally built to fit the contours of a river, were both planned by the same great city planner by the name of Burnham, the same name from whom the once famous park in Baguio takes its name.
Escolta in Manila, the other wide avenues leading to it, and the once beautiful bridges crossing the Pasig were reminiscent of the road and bridges that line and cross the meandering route of the Chicago river,
Alas, the great windy city has left Manila huffing and puffing for dear life, unable and unwilling perhaps to run alongside its great Burnham counterpart, after the latter steadily kept up decades of planned and disciplined development which have catapulted Chicago to the level of a world-class city that it is now, and has been for many, many years.
The first time I saw Chicago was 19 years ago. I got back to it seven times more since I first set foot to it in the autumn of 1984. Already great by then by any standard, I thought it paled in comparison to Tokyo in a number of aspects, including the fact that, then, old, big and decrepit looking cars still plied the expansive roads and expressways that crisscross the huge city. The elevated railway system, obviously the forerunner of the more modern, more quiet and more efficient light rail system, known simply by Chicagoans as the L, perched as it was on ugly steel pylons, already then, struck me as making such a racket when it passes, making enough noise for it to be featured in that great American play “12 Angry Men.” Right inside the so-called “loop,” that set of blocks in the heart of downtown Chicago where the L makes a tortuous and rackety path, encompasses what used to be, and still is, the posh financial district of the city, where Old St. Mary’s Catholic Church once stood, proudly, albeit forlornly, dwarfed as it was for decades by high rises that date back to the 19th century and early 20th century. Old St. Mary’s along with the Paulist fathers who took pastoral care of the very fluid parish community, recently bowed down to the march of progress. They moved farther down south of the romantic and beautiful Michigan avenue, thus effectively moving away from the loop. De Paul University has recently acquired the land and building. It is almost sure that the old structure, ugly now by modern standards will soon pave the way for a more modern edifice worthy of the neighborhood.
Chicago now has gone light years ahead of Manila. Faithful to the far-ranging vision of its planner, Burnham, the city has kept up the ante of a city with political will and a sense of healthy pride to put its best foot forward all the time. State street, that divides downtown between east and west, now is all lined with a median that is abloom with flowers all through the year except winter. The wide sidewalks on both sides of the main thoroughfares belong to who ought to have them in the first place – the pedestrians. This summer, as in every summer, hordes of walking tourists and city dwellers saunter about in peace, knowing that the sidewalk belongs only to them and to one else. Seeing-eye dogs, who guide the blind, are just the only welcome competitor, most of the time, belonging to my favorite breed, Labrador retrievers, who seem to enjoy working for their beloved master, guiding them through the maze of streets and people and bistros and dogs of other breeds.
The sight of it all made me pine for the city I used to look forward going to – Manila by the bay…Manila by the river, more specifically that place where Berg’s department store was, Escolta. It was then a city that had enough self-esteem to bring out the best in its inhabitants and visitors alike. Streets were clean. People, as a matter of principle, did not spit out onto the pavement continuously. It was the place to enjoy simple but tasty fare in any of the clean eateries that dot Avenida and Carriedo nearby. The river was not polluted as it is now. And yes, the sidewalk belonged to the lowly, but respectable pedestrian. Manila was a glorious walking city by choice, or need, where everyone and anyone could enjoy a piece of whatever it was that the big city could offer.
Chicago has gone from good to better in these 19 years! A big cosmopolitan city, one sees and hears various colors and tongues from every corner of the world. It was a surprise for me to note that Hispanics now openly speak Spanish everywhere. Asians chatter and gesticulate in the language they grew up with. Even police officers, once the guarded turf of tall and true-blooded Caucasians, now include in their ranks considerably shorter and less fair complexioned members,
For all this, Chicago did not lose its political will to grow and glow!
Enjoying a city such as Chicago does have its downside… I am reminded of its exact antithesis back home. Chicago represents what Manila could have been, could still be, but is very clearly not so. It is heartening to note, however, that the present administration, obviously endowed with the same worthy dream, vision, and a lot of healthy self-love and self-respect, tries its best to lift the “ever loyal city” of Manila from the doldrums of neglect and disorder.
The battle is a gargantuan one of galactic proportions. The greatest battle, needless to say, resides in the hearts and minds of the teeming millions who now reluctantly think and speak of Manila as their home.
This pilgrim learner, part of whom seems to belong and part of whom seems not to belong, is even more challenged and encouraged to go back home where I really belong, there to be part of a growing number of individuals who now take up the cudgels to help make the city worth its name. The ongoing circus at the Senate, the most likely circus that will take place in Congress, sooner or later, the endless vicious cycle of coups and self-serving ambitions that go under the guise of unalloyed love for God, country and people, all these funny crimes whom nobody pays for in the long run … nothing of all these can discourage or disparage the well-meaning army of visionaries and dreamers who, like Burnham, still go on dreaming and working – and pay very steep prices for their dreams.
Chicago! Chicago! That is what people here shout out with pride. Manila! Manila! This is what, we, too, cry out in hope!
Monday, July 23, 2007
July literally rocks! It opens with more than just a bang. It flashes, and shines, and glows as all of America celebrates its more than two hundred years of independence. Fireworks galore, as only Americans can put up, explode simultaneously in many cities of the United States on July 4, in a flurry of bursting lights and colors, accompanied by a flourish of bands, symphonies, and concerts star-studded by all available popular icons of the big entertainment center that is America. Hotels, casinos, beaches, restaurants, parks, bayside and seaside boardwalks, and just about any available temporary refuge away from home, work, and worries are booked solid and filled to overflowing.
I must say I had been part of the crowds that clogged the freeways, and added to the mountains of trash created by those who took advantage of the long week-end getaway.
With my last early summer course over and done with at Loyola, with the cool, nippy spring weather fading into a distant memory in muggy and humid Baltimore, I definitely deserved a break from all the feverish studying, reading and writing. The timing was perfect. My niece was due to cap her fourteen years of violin lessons, and six years of formal piano lessons with a concert-recital, an occasion that was timed with her 18th birthday celebrations last June 26. It was a perfect opportunity for a quick swing off to sunny but comfortably cool Northern California, a good 5 hours direct flight away from BWI (Baltimore-Washington International Airport).
The traditional Filipino Hispanic inspired cotillion waltz that opened the debutante’s dinner-party was a sight to behold. The members of the court were all Americans save three who have some kind of Filipino heritage. Seeing them in their jusi barongs (a native formal attire for men) and native-Filipino-inspired gowns (all specially tailored and stitched in Paranaque), had an air of odd, but pleasant, and welcome incongruity. It was a perfect example that friendship knows no cultural nor racial barriers. The wonder is that they all endured the many long and tedious hours of rehearsals under the capable direction of a Filipino-American couple whose passion is dancing. My niece’s members of the “court,” along with other friends, prevailed upon her to put up the “cotillion de honor,” after having seen a video tape presented by her in class in a course that talked about different cultures and practices all over the world. In exchange, they promised to be faithful to the rehearsals and to help set up the party.
Put it up magnificently and well, they did. From an observer’s viewpoint, however, their performance of the Todo, Todo line-dancing sequence leaves much to be desired in terms of gracefulness, but all the same, it was worth all the long hours of practicing and pirouetting.
After the party, my niece was scheduled to join the annual Music Teachers’ Association of California convention, one of the 1,500 out of 30,000 music student-participants from all over the state who applied and passed the competitive exams, held at San Diego, CA.
That was another opportunity for me to tag along and be part of the mass exodus of long-weekenders for the Independence Day celebrations.
The trip down Highway 5 to southern California seemed less exciting than previous ones done years back. Somehow, the road seemed more bumpy, less taken care of, and the drive less pleasant. (Does all the money go to finance the Iraq and Afghanistan wars? What happened to the famed American clock-work efficiency at maintenance?) What made it exciting though, was the possibility of making a swing for Simi Valley, where just two weeks before, Reagan was buried right on the grounds of his Presidential Library. Of course, the library is opened only for serious researchers with a purpose, not gaping tourists like everyone who flocked to it seemed to be! The museum was not particularly interesting. They were just memorabilias and a massive collection of trinkets associated with Ron and Nancy Reagan’s closely intertwined lives. As an avid reader and a writing aficionado, though, I felt a certain emotional affinity with Ronald Reagan, whose speeches and personal letters definitely show a man who was very articulate, well-read, and who had a certain flair for writing. He, indeed, lived the epithet ascribed to him as the great communicator in more ways than one. Incidentally, during his state funeral, I was struck by the undeniable fact that both Thatcher and Mulroney read very finely written eulogies, delivered with perfect oratorical cadence, and couched in excellent, elegant prose that overshadowed the very plebeian, amateurish pieces delivered by Bush, Sr. and Bush, Jr. (oftentimes referred to rather disparagingly as Dubya). The highlight of the museum, at least for me, was the exact replica of the oval office, arranged exactly the way it had been during his eight years as President, down to the last details, including the view from the windows.
Approaching the sprawling city of LA, what surprised me were the new “developments” taking place in what I thought would not become residential areas – steeply sloping hills that used to be dotted, not by upscale residential homes, but by sparse vegetation usually found in the semi-arid conditions of southern California. The trip through the Highway 405 that hugged the coastline and crisscrossed the entire city reminded me of the traffic conditions of EDSA. We spent almost three hours just getting through 405 on the way further south to San Diego. For all the much ballyhooed freeway system of California considered as among the most extensive of its kind in the world, congestion remains a formidable challenge in one of America’s most traffic-clogged cities (along with Chicago, New York, Washington, DC, Dallas, and others). Incidentally, in Baltimore, I see that there are drivers who behave more like Filipino drivers in Manila. At the 695 beltway that rings the city of Baltimore, where traffic ordinarily gets congested during morning and afternoon rush hours, there are drivers who are learning the art of “cutting” and “weaving in and out” of lanes – practices that Filipino drivers (especially jeepney, taxi, and bus drivers), have elevated to the level of skilled artistry, if not an Olympic sport in the Philippines.
I have always maintained that human behavior is for the most part dictated by need. Space being basically limited, the solution to the traffic problem depends upon the availability of more space, more resources, and more money. But more resources lead to more and bigger cars. Development necessarily entails the need for more and more roads. The vicious cycle goes on.
This model just cannot go on forever. No, not even in America, as the growing traffic problems everywhere seem to suggest. The paradigm simply has to change. Mass transit will have to part of the planning now, not in the future. But will America put a stop to its love affair with the automobile that is the modern symbol of its culture of rugged individualism, personal freedom, and mobility? Will America learn from the growing phenomenon of more and more places saying no to the dumping of garbage in the technically flawed system of landfills? Not in my backyard … even if trash is created right within people’s homes.
San Diego … a city that sits on sloping hills, a city of towering and crisscrossing highway interchanges, a hotel-studded entertainment and convention center that hugs the Pacific coastline that used to be part of what was known as Alta California (as distinct from the Baja California that belongs to Mexico), is also home to the 48 year old, but still awesome aircraft carrier USS Midway!
Hotel Circle, a cluster of well-known and lesser known hotels just a few miles south of downtown was abuzz with excited musicians from all over California that Independence Day long weekend. Watching the whiz kids banging on the piano keyboard with absolute panache and self-confidence was entertainment enough for me. It was a wonder to me whether they were doing anything more than piano playing. What struck me most was the egregious fact that the great majority of them were chinky eyed children of Asian descent. Among us, we jokingly remarked that some of those might have been tied to their pianos by their parents to make them practice for five hours a day.
Just a few miles further south of San Diego is National City, the turf of Jollibee, Chowking, Red Ribbon, PNB, and other familiar joints in the Philippines. But this is America! National City, a short hop away from the navy ports, naturally and gradually became the enclave of Filipino US navy men and their families. As we munched on chicken joy with rice (the portions here are bigger than back home), we watched as cars passed by the main thoroughfare. We saw only an occasional Caucasian at the wheels or in the passenger seat. Most of those who passed by were – you guessed it right – pinoy at pango, like us. Banners hanging on lamp posts featuring the American flag are emblazoned with “Welcome” and “Mabuhay.” And yes, posters in the Filipino eating places announce the forthcoming concert of Dolphy and Zsa-Zsa Padilla. We ended up in Jollibee after a futile search for the restaurant named “Manila’s Best.” What we found was a “turo-turo” whose fare, like almost all Filipino restaurants in America, did not look appetizing. Food oozed or was literally smothered in grease, haphazardly placed in warmers that stood behind glass lined counters. I swore that for a while, I thought I was in Cubao, or Pasay near LRT stations, desperately wanting a hot meal after a long drive in Manila-like summer weather. Hindi bale na lang!
San Diego happens to be the site of the first Catholic mission started by the prolific Franciscan missionary named Junipero Serra. Mission San Diego de Alcala definitely brought character and color to San Diego, vestiges and signs of which are still evident nominally, at least. The baseball team calls itself the San Diego Padres. Roads and places betray the religious origins of the city: Escondido, El Centro, Friars’ Road, Coronado Island, and a whole lot more.
Few people who live now in San Diego, or for that matter all over California, are now willing to give credit to Junipero Serra’s vision and mission. The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), an ultra liberal and anti-Christian group recently succeeded in removing the cross from the emblem of LA county. They also have managed to remove the ten commandments from a court in Alabama. Now they want to remove the “San” from San Pedro, Santa Clarita, Santa Rosa, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, San Pablo, San Jose, etc. all in the name, at least overtly, of the doctrine of separation between Church and State. Funny how some people could be so allergic to what they call the dogmatist church and religions, and act so dogmatically and doggedly against any external sign and show of religiosity. Curiously enough, no one among them talks about removing the image of the goddess Pomona in the same emblem. No one talks of renaming Pomona boulevard in LA.
For all their protestations, however, history cannot be unwritten. History cannot be changed. And history shows very clearly how the very freedom they now invoke to fight against religion, was laid down in its foundations by “padres” and “friars” like Blessed Junipero Serra, even as historically, America’s founding fathers decreed the doctrine of separation of Church and state, precisely to safeguard the right of religion and religious groups to exist in what was then known as the confederate states. Take and read any history book, whether religiously inspired or not, and see the historical truth that juts out incontrovertibly. It was people like these padres, these friars, people sent as missionaries by Holy Mother the Church, that stand at the bottom, and that constitute the foundation of democratic freedom, personal liberty, and, ultimately, free enterprise.
History does not lie. And intelligent people are not blind, except those who would not see.
Monday, July 2, 2007
I want to write about my favorite pet peeve - the political shenanigans in my country. But I refrain from doing so as I get so worked up I end up raising the level of my palpitations, instead of prayerful thoughts.
My readers will have to make do with rehashed thoughts, taken from my digital storehouse. I repost a journal entry dated March 14, 2004. I wrote it when the weather back in Baltimore, MD couldn't wait to be called spring, but, like us people who keep on hemming and hawing, pushing and pulling at one and the same time, it kept on falling back to winter, in nature's version of people who can't seem to get decided ever on what they want to be and do.
I originally entitled it MARCH MADNESS. The heading above was originally only the sub-title. News from Great Britain these past days are full of the recent terroristic madness that this journal entry back in 2004 also partly refers to - the infamous Marzo Once! In the local scene, well-intentioned dragons raise a hue and a cry about the dress code in Catholic churches in the Manila Archdiocese. (Thanks, Kay, for writing so nicely about it!). In the parish where I celebrate Mass regularly, people consistently arrive late - mostly during the time of the readings. Some even have the nerve to enter triumphantly and with perfect insouciance, during my homily. The British are changing their tunes today. No ... those who perpetrated the dastardly explosions were not "home-grown" terrorists, like as if it really mattered whether they were home-grown or not, like as if dying would be any less cruel and meaningless if they were not home-grown! Ahh, ubinam gentium sumus!
Here's the dated entry ...
THE MANY FANTASTIC TRICKS WE DO
“Man, proud man, dressed in a little, brief authority does such fantastic tricks before high heavens, as make the angels weep.” (Shakespeare)
March, at least in the so-called temperate zone, is a ripe time for all sorts of mania and madness. The weather goes raving mad, for one, ranging from summery sweltering highs to shivering, shuddering lows; from bright, brilliant sunshines, to gloomy, lowering and gloweringly menacing clouds threatening icy rain, slush, and late sleet and snow – all in rapid succession within a short span of time.
An epic struggle takes place between receding but proud winter, and hopeful, if excited spring, at this time of year, with the latter all raring to burst into glorious, glowing new life. A clash between the dark and dreary dead of winter on the one hand, and the light and lusty life-giving promise of spring takes place every day as the mercurial and the barometric sensors that plummet down as quickly as they shoot up all too clearly show.
The much awaited spring is a time for renewal, excitement, promise and endless possibilities. It could, alas, also be a time for disappointment, pain, and uncertainty. Will spring make good the hope it engendered all through the cold of winter? Will spring come in and make the most awaited and popular cherry trees burst forth into breathtaking blossoms in Tokyo and Washington, D.C.? Will spring dispel the slumbering ideals of a people whose hopes may have gelled into silent cynicism and quiet desperation, turned gelid and cold by the anemic and icy dedication of people who once were live and burning flames of idealism and brilliant leadership? Will the onset of spring in late March erase forever the unsavory reputation of the “ides of March” that brought Julius Caesar to his dreaded doom? Will all the muck-raking and mudslinging that seems to be de rigueur before elections (in the U.S. and in the Philippines) lead to a May-time of gladsome thanksgiving and celebrations or to a numbingly real November that soon paves the way to another “winter of discontent?”
Madness of Marzo Once
The series of well-coordinated explosions that rocked three separate trains over in Madrid, Spain on the eerily timed late winter morning of March 11, 911 days after the infamous 9/11 massacre made mince meat of a hopeful world’s best efforts at living a normal, peaceful life. The “ides of March” have once-more sealed the fate of a month now more known for madness and mania than for anything else. The cold-blooded massacre’s “success” was only surpassed by its utter madness. With all due respect to T.S. Eliot, March, not April, has become “the cruelest month,” (cf. The Wasteland) cruel in many ways more than just one. March began the war in search for weapons of mass destruction last year, a further addition to the piling reasons for mankind to do more of what, ironically, in people’s linear thinking style, war was designed to do – to keep peace. Did you get it right? To keep peace. Here we are face to face with the madness of Marzo Once. But here, we are face to face, too, with the madness that made Marzo Once and all the terroristic bombings and killings taking place all over the world, even as I write, a very attractive solution to a problem that the world has not fully defined.
The Madness of Linear Thinkers
A well-meaning father, seeing his two sons quarreling one day, asked a typical linear thinker’s brilliantly logical question: “Who started this fight?” Of course, the stronger of the two brothers, the “top dog,” immediately quipped: “It all started when he hit me back!” Linear thinking is a worldwide brain epidemic that has attacked the most intelligent people in the world: from presidents to priests, from businessmen to bums. Every problem must have a cause. To solve a problem one must root out the cause and eradicate that cause. As the two kids unmistakably show, even with adults like us, it is always somebody else’s fault. And the stronger one almost always wins, even before the fight actually starts.
In a system, such as every family, every society, every community is, the question as to who is at fault is immaterial. In a macro system such as the worldwide society, the simplistic search for who ought to be punished and banished, at some point becomes ludicrous. Should the people in the third world now be punished for air pollution and the consequent global warming because they have no sufficient legislation in place? Should people in corrupt governments and societies replace one government after another by putting up one revolution after another, thus, creating a banana republic in the process? (as what happens in Haiti which could very well happen in the Philippines, too!) Should everyone disappointed and despondent now in both countries flee like rats would escape a sinking ship? All this reminds me of the ultimate linear question that made Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ ultimately earn millions at the stills. “Who put Jesus Christ to death?” “Who is responsible for his being put to death on the cross?” Linear thinkers have a ready answer for it, depending on what side of the faith universe they are. The Jews wouldn’t have any part of it. The Romans, for the most part, (in Italy) have long since thrown their faith out in the Tiber to really care a hoot about who’s ultimately responsible. The media are only busy hyping the ante so that the controversy could earn them the coveted almighty dollar. The theologians and Biblical scholars have got their hands full answering the same questions put to them ad nauseam. The pseudo-theologians and the soft-liberal pastors that dot the American religious landscape all have a series of “theological issues” to raise against the movie. The extreme rightists lose no time propagating the movie, if for nothing else, to propagate their brand of Christianity that bases itself a whole lot on feelings.
In the mélange of culture, races, ethnic groups, religions, creeds and political groups of various persuasions that constitutes the changing face of America, every question, every issue, no matter how small and insignificant occasions, a group of impassioned supporters pro and con. People talk about the GIRM (General Instruction on the Roman Missal) but people continue doing what they think is best. The magisterium is pretty clear on a whole lot of issues, but the culture of pluralism almost forces people to adopt their own positions. The GIRM is clear on the exact manner of giving communion, but as usual, the “soft liberals” have their own version. The ultra-rightists, who appear more to be followers of the heretic Jansen than catholics have their own determined way of receiving communion, prostrating themselves like Veronica at the foot of the priest (why don’t they carry a portable communion rail?). Now, here’s hoping you don’t get me wrong. I am not a stickler for details just for the sake of details, but at the rate we are getting polarized into two irreconcilable camps (the extreme left and the extreme right) I begin to sense a lurking danger. What happens now to the living and teaching Church – represented by the official Magisterium? If every theologian of both persuasions can decide for himself what is the orthodox teaching on any topic, then what do we make of the voice of the living Magisterium?
I have always maintained that the Church is harmed immensely by both the ultra conservatives and the ultra progressives. Both have their own brand of theology. Both think that their theology is parallel to the Magisterium. Both think that they have the ultimate word on a whole lot of things. Both are rigid … and rigidity is associated with death – as in rigor mortis! When theology thinks and behaves like it is above the Magisterium, then theology loses its meaning, its purpose, its very reason for existing. For some ultra conservative groups, legitimate devotion is made a stepping stone for some strange teachings (when will these groups ever tire of re-setting the scheduled and dreaded “three days of darkness?”), substituting unhealthy fear for love of God and healthy attachment to the living community of believers. For many ultra progressives, the Holy Father is not “postmodern” enough, not in touch with reality, not in pace with the modern ways of the world, and therefore still lives in the Middle Ages, etc.
A frightening prospect lies behind both extremes. The implication is shuddering to think of – that the guidance of the Holy Spirit promised to the living Church is no longer in what we know as the Church. Push it a little further and the ultimate implication is unmistakable … the true teaching lies now in this little, funny group who preaches the modern version of “fire and brimstone,” or that happy, fellowship-inspired group who makes of the Mass nothing more, nothing else, and nothing less than a time to sing together, a time for horizontal mirth-making, with a few “pious readings” thrown in for good measure, and please … no mention of any Papal encyclicals, for God’s sake! (And avoid all talk of those strange topics called “hell” or “purgatory” “sin,” or “abortion.” Just wait for next year’s Pro-Life march at the national Mall!) By their “additions” or “deletions” to and from the official orthodox teaching, through overemphasis on one aspect or under emphasis on some others, both groups ultimately do harm to the integrity of the faith. A scholastic philosophical dictum comes to mind here: goodness comes from the totality and badness comes from whatever detracts from that integrity (Bonum ex integra cause; malum ex quocumque defectu.)
The U.S. Secretary of Health made an appearance on national TV two weeks ago with this ominous sentence: “We are just too darned fat, ladies and gentlemen.” Well, he was talking to about 130 million Americans, 65 % of the total population who are, … well, just that - “too darned fat.” There was immediate response from the fast-food giants – (everything in America is “big” … ever wondered why one of the biggest food stores is called “Giant?”) something that the business world has been doing for decades now all over the world … downsizing. No more supersize fries; no more supersize soda. Afraid of being sued again for enabling people to get fatter than they would like, they made a mad rush toward more realistic portions.
Martha Stewart made the “wrong move at the wrong time.” For not telling the truth when the right time asked for it, she was booked mercilessly and stands to spend “vacation time” in jail. The multi-millionaire and undisputed “domestic diva” for more than a decade, who wanted to save a measly 51,000 dollars by dumping her stocks, now has lost millions – and still counting! Paranoid America is booking everyone for every imaginable infraction of the law. What Giuliani did to beautify and put New York City back in its former glory, federal America now is doing. A pervasive paranoia now seeps through the cultural, religious, political atmosphere. (The Church has a lot to contribute to this paranoia with the pedophilia scandal). After 9/11, one cannot anymore do whatever one wants. Travelers, including those with the once respected “laissez passer” document, can be subjected to on the spot checks, and be handcuffed, if for no fault of their own, their name matches any of the thousands in their huge data base. As a student here, I have to prove to the government that I am really enrolled full time in school. The SEVIS on-line computer tracking system for students put in place just last year has an intricate system of monitoring which makes the school accountable if one of its students has been doing other things. For me to go out of the country temporarily, I will have to “inform” the government. Going back in, everyone is fingerprinted and photographed, and once back, has to report once more to the same office.
Mania for more Roads
A recent study showed that traffic has steadily worsened in the major cities all over the United States. L.A.,Baltimore and Washington D.C. areas are among the worst. So, too, are Chicago, SFO and Houston. More roads are being planned. Again, linear thinking mode has set in. Space is basically limited and no matter how big America is, soon, with the rapid growth of population, with the lavish life style getting more and more lavish and comfort-bound, there will be more and more demands for bigger and bigger houses, bigger and bigger cars, and more and more roads. More roads will fuel more development, more trash, more demand for natural resources, for more space. Soon, we will be back to where we started. The model just cannot go on like this forever. Sooner than we think, America will have to think more along the lines of mass transit, instead of each one having a car. Fossil fuels are not increasing by the day. They are not replenishable. Already, the prices of gasoline, arguably the cheapest in all the world, has gone up steadily over the past weeks and months, and expected still to go up like mad.
Mania for Cults
America is a haven for all sorts of newfangled cults whether home grown or coming from foreign shores. At this point in time, there are at least 630 known cults being watched by the FBI and by relevant Church authorities. (Ever wondered why these foreign cults love to go to the first world, and not to other third world countries? Because there’s oodles of money here, and plenty of gullible people to invite.) A number of them are no less than destructive (remember Waco, Jim Jones, and that group that all wore expensive sneakers before they all followed their leader to mass suicide?). Some others look as benign as sheep being led to the slaughter, flowing robes and all. What’s common among them is the gradual process of subtle deception that at some point makes the unsuspecting proselyte reach a snapping point after which he or she would have a progressively lower level of cult awareness. Through a variety of very smart and subtle tactics designed to work over the long haul, like meditation and prayer, they work towards a gradual involuntary form of slavery, where the candidate becomes mesmerized and enamored through the mechanism of idealization, of a leader or guru, as the case may be, who soon assumes, or is accorded, an ideal “fatherly” or “motherly” image. Emotional and psychological deficits unaddressed since childhood, get capitalized by these very smart leaders who start out by not rustling feathers. Other tactics go by the very popular low-carb or healthy options that attract immediate followers – to go vegetarian or vegan – something not bad in itself and actually healthy, but which over the long haul, may lead to the candidate’s being robbed of protein. The protracted diet then contributes to overall vulnerability and further suggestibility. Weekends of prayer meetings then turn into weeks of indoctrination, until one loses all sense of perspective about daily life and daily reality. The conditions for subtle abuse are created. Soon fatigue, loss of identity and confusion set in. The person soon becomes a card-bearing member of the cult and becomes a perfect come-on for others, who like them, may still be looking for something they missed in childhood – an ideal father or mother figure. Mind control is the ultimate aim of this very subtle cultic madness.
Some Christian sects are not beyond using the same tactics, by the way. Once one is in, there is a very real, strong, and pervasive control system that makes it hard for the member to go against the grain or sing a different tune. (Some even have a way of checking not only a person’s weekly attendance for worship, but also how much one gives to the collection box!). Similarly, some so-called covenanted communities may also be led by very controlling and manipulative “elders” who never step down from their office, and who have a way of controlling even the feelings of their members, and certainly, their behavior. (Some ultra conservative leaders of groups in the catholic Church capitalize a lot on fear of eternal damnation, and talk endlessly of reparation for sins, thus making their hearers and followers always feel unnecessarily guilty for not praying all 20 mysteries of the rosary, or not doing the overnight adoration, or not fasting three times a week, to cite just a few examples.)
The many fantastic tricks we do before high heavens, ultimately boil down to the ultimate madness. The “who” question that wanted to put imputability and blame to whoever was responsible for the death of Christ, was really the wrong question. It was not primarily “who” but “what.” Sinfulness, such as only free human beings like us can do, along with human weakness, the “broken nature” part of our being human, is what is behind all this ultimate madness – the unacknowledged and repressed anger that shows itself as perpetual apparent goodness, the deficits that accrued from our less than perfect life history, all normal parts of growing up human but which unfortunately never reached the level of awareness and acceptance. This is the answer. Having found the answer, there is no longer need to ask the “who” question. For all of us, who “have fallen short of the glory of God,” as St. Paul puts it, have all been busy making “the angels weep.”
Dundalk, MD - March 14, 2004
Monday, June 18, 2007
Once more I am revisiting an old journal entry, written three years ago, on the Feast of St. John the Baptist, June 24, 2004. When I wrote this, cicadas made a comeback in the Northeastern portion of the United States. This year, after also 17 years, cicadas are back with a vengeance in the Midwestern portion of the US. I grew up very familiar with cicadas back home in Mendez, Cavite (when it was still heavily wooded, and when life was simpler). I am reposting this entry for posterity.
Cicadas Come and Gone
This year’s (2004) northeastern U.S. seaboard’s weather has been a story of coming and going. Spring went away as fast as it came, bringing relatively warm, wet, and at times, sultry and muggy weather in its place. It was bad for people who engaged in a once-yearly battle of allergic proportions with pollen. The air was sodden with moist pollen all night and all day, bringing in its wake itchy noses, itchy eyes, and icky throats that left a sour note on the optimism of much-awaited spring. The sudden squalls and tornadoes were bad enough. But feeling sick without really being sick, tormented by free-floating pollen could be worse. For all the glories of spring spoken of by romantic poets from both sides of the Atlantic, there were people who were plain miserable as snow melted and buds went a-blossoming.
But as people’s throats itched and their voices croaked, certain critters muzzled silent all these past 17 years, arose from their long slumber, and broke through the muffled sufferings of people just beginning to shed their heavy coats and sweaters. Cicadas, last seen 17 years ago in Maryland, given by mother nature just the right temperature and humidity, rose from their almost two decades of entombment in the soggy ground, and within days, millions of these noisy critters were caught up in a 100 decibel strong constant and organized cacophony, to the delight or disgust, as the case may be, of many people.
The cicadas, though, were music to my ears, even as the unpredictable spring weather, with its rains, thunder and lightning, seemed more like “home” to me. It was exciting to see and hear cicadas merrily booming their loudest, especially for one who last heard cicadas (known as “kagang” in Cavite) back in 1965 in then idyllic Mendez. Having gone beyond the 100 decibel rating, the noise those cicadas made was technically illegal in America. Illegal and generally unwanted and unappreciated by most, their glorious cacophony rang sweetly in my ears, as they brought back carefree, childhood memories of the Mendez, Cavite I still kept in my heart – memories that unfortunately, now run counter to what is current reality, a tree-less, almost barren and brown, once lush countryside, now giving way to the onslaught of unplanned so-called development.
A Flash of Reagan Magic Come Once More and Gone Forever
Reagan’s passing away was characteristic of what, and who he was – the great communicator. He could not have chosen a better time, just when the leaders of the G8 nations were due for a meeting in U.S. territory. Media attention was diverted from the world leaders’ meeting to the week-long farewell fit for royalty. America was as emotional as it could get. More than 200,000 people filed past his bier lying in state both in Simi Valley, California, and in Washington’s capitol building. Millions more were glued to their TV sets, a great many of them unabashedly crying in private or in public. An actor-communicator with a perfect sense of timing, Reagan’s magic flashed and shone once more for eight days, as it did for eight years as President, and for many more as Governor of California, fading away with absolute panache in a mythical and fabled sunset burial by the hills overlooking the Pacific ocean.
Fil-Ams on the Rise: Making Waves in America
The 106th Philippine Independence Day celebrations took place all over America where Filipino-Americans are present. Now officially 2.4 million strong in America (918,000 in California) alone, the many, varied, and disparate groupings of Fil-Ams came up with a series of celebrations to mark Independence Day. I was fortunate to have been present in one such Dinner Gala celebration for Fil-Ams of the Metro Washington, DC area where I delivered the Invocation. J.W. Marriott hotel at 1331 Pennsylvania Avenue became festooned with the trimmings and trappings of a barrio fiesta atmosphere, as dance troupes, singing groups, and rondallas, along with immaculately and appropriately dressed Fil-Ams in indigenous gowns and barongs vied for the best vantage point in the big lobby, prior to the official dinner program.
As the celebrations and merry-making wore on through the evening, it was hard, at least for me, to shake off that nagging thought of how ironic everything was. There we were celebrating independence, while our honorable politicians back home reminded the whole world all too clearly how shackled and fettered the whole Filipino people still are, to an antiquated, and enslaving system of doing politics, to an equally obsolete system of conducting elections, which, I maintain, together with PCP-II, remain as an “expensive and immoral process.”
Filipinos scattered all over the world, now more than 8 million, might be “making waves” in their adopted and adoptive home countries, but our home country, the fabled “pearl of the orient seas,” is fast slipping down the road towards becoming the basket case of Asia, with that structural evil called politics as a primary contributing factor.
Coming and Going: A Story in the Making
The natural order of things in the world of creation is a recurrent cycle of comings and goings, waxing and waning, ebbs and flows, and birth and death, as sure as the sun rises and sets each day. Summer is once more officially in, and the rebirth of spring is now something to look forward to again for next year. The hordes of cicadas are now long gone and an eerie silence now fills what used to be enclaves of roaring, whirring, piercing shrillness. Having tucked their “progenies” in between crags of trees after a three-week-long existence, the cicadas just faded away gradually into the silence of perhaps another 17 year waiting time. The eggs will somehow find their way into the relative warmth and safety of the ground, where they will suck the life out of juicy roots of trees, waiting for the right time and the right conditions to once more strut their hour upon the stage of life at some time in the distant future.
I would like to think that the Philippines, with all its myriad problems and trials, is also an ongoing story of dying and rebirth, of falling and eventually rising once more. Once known as the Switzerland of Asia, envied before by neighboring countries for its level and standard of education, second only to Japan in economic growth in the late 1950s, the Philippines has definitely seen better days. It has had its 15 minutes of fame in the worldwide arena of freedom-loving nations back in 1986, when it peacefully worked for regime change that was believed to be the start of its gradual rise towards its rightful place under the sun.
The few weeks that cicadas roared their way into their noisy existence only to lie hidden once more under the ground for a long, long while seems to be a huge, huge waste. Their ephemeral presence has led many, many people to ask themselves: “Of what use are the cicadas in the order of life as God envisioned it?” Finding no real, concrete practical utility for the millions that serenaded a huge part of Maryland for some three to four weeks all day and all night, existing apparently only to mate and assure the species’ continued presence in the world, people waxed poetic and philosophical and waned pragmatic and utilitarian, for a change.
Cicadas, for all the seeming futility of their short-lived existence, succeeded in teaching harried and hurried people who think that everything must have a practical and useful purpose to ever exist. For one, they made a 48 year old hopeless romantic like me, race back to a time when dragonflies, beetles, and spiders were more than enough to make children happy. Those cicadas made philosophers and pray-ers out of people who have learned to take simple things for granted, who appreciate their handiwork much more than they do God’s own. The cacophony they reveled in for three weeks taught people to listen to the voice of a God who is raring to be heard and paid attention to, a God who remains steadfast despite the waxing and waning of people’s fortunes and personal and collective stories.
The cicadas have come and gone, even as the “grandeur that was Rome’s and the glory that was Greece’s” are long gone now. For those attentive and discerning enough, their story of coming and going is but a reflection of what human life is, “like a flower, here today, but gone tomorrow.” In their temporariness lie their greatness and power. In their glorious cacophony, we find intimations of the contemplative chants of pray-ers and philosophers who realize and understand humbly that “here, there is no lasting city,” and that “the old order must pass away” and give in to the new.
As for me, it was well worth the wait from 1965 to 2004, from Mendez to Maryland, from mischief-maker to an adult, responsible man, to see and understand much more than meets the eye about the relationship between cacophonous cicadas and contemplative chants of worship addressed to a God who knows the ebb and flow of the tides, who is greater than principalities and powers that rose and fell in history, who remains lovingly steadfast and faithful, despite the waxing and waning of people’s loyalties, and whose Son’s dying and rising, is ultimately reason enough for cicadas to go on singing, and people like us to go on hoping.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Grueling weeks and days trying to make the best of the little time available for two crash courses at the Don Bosco Center of Studies, prior to my departure for the U.S. ended July 30 with the submission of grades and the returning of my students’ papers (tests and research works) all the way up to the last hour of classes last Wednesday morning. As I gave back my students’ papers, I gave in to their clamor for me to say a few words of comment about the recent failed putsch (Oh no! Not again!). The last few weeks had indeed, been rather full. Another retreat-seminar occupied me till the last weekend of July. And the day before I left, I just had to finish all that needed to be finished, on top of everything I had to do to put a closure to some other stuff I was engaged in.
SEEING CALIFORNIA AGAIN FOR THE FIRST TIME
After two sleepless nights, I got to the posh and renovated SFO international airport about 40 minutes behind schedule, that is, at 9:40 a.m., the same day I left Manila, 31 July. The good thing about going transpacific from the so-called “far east” is that one gains a full day, arriving the same day one departs from Manila. The trip was uneventful. It was pretty obvious Northwest Airlines is cutting down on expenses. Food was not as plentiful as before. Portions are considerably smaller, and non-essential snacks were scrapped out. As usual, the waitresses from Manila to Tokyo were more personal and warm. Their rather older American counterparts from Tokyo to SFO, expectedly, were more rough and gruff.
California! The place used to be the epitome of the great American dream, part of the proverbial search for the wild, wild west, for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Alas, the great Silicon Valley bubble has burst a long time ago. Gone is the euphoria that was there ten years ago, when real estate and housing shot up in prices, when the great demand for more and more from upwardly mobile computer wizards and electronic gadget aficionados was the run of the day. What remain are signs of a once upbeat rush for “new developments” that carved out huge chunks of “prime” real estate on the balding and now yellowish hillsides of Northern California east of the San Francisco bay. Somehow, the city itself that was made popular by songs like “I left my heart in San Francisco” just does not anymore show the same luster and glitter that I thought it had just 19 years ago, when I first set foot on the famed cable car city of everyone’s dreams.
The quality of life is steadily going down in sunny California! Starbucks coffee shops dot the city slickers’ paradise. But one espies hobos and homeless people waiting for their better heeled counterparts go out of such enclaves of coffee-comfort, in order to grab the precious commodity called a Starbucks-emblazoned paper cup, empty it of the remaining contents, in order for them to go stealthily inside the milk, tea and coffee palaces, fill their cups with hot, nourishing milk from the spick and span canisters of delight, and then go out casually to drink their fill of milk, courtesy of the capitalist crowd, who would, of course, rather spend a couple of dollars for a fancy cup of coffee, rather than three scores of cents’ worth of watery café americano, found in just about any greasy spoon , hole -in-the-wall affair all across the continent.
It was all like seeing California again for the first time! Traffic builds up daily at 880 freeway, not the way things used to be in the state where freeways are the most extensive, the most complex in all of the United States. Hybrid cars now begin to see the light of day, their drivers and owners well aware that petrol is bound to become an expensive and scarce commodity in the coming years.
PINOY PA RIN, TALAGA!
Talking about greasy spoon places … well, we got into one for lunch Saturday noon, famished after an all-morning trip to the bookstore (and more, after lunch) - a Filipino restaurant. Nothing much has changed since I first set foot into one in Chicago. They are all the same. They will never, never become what the Thai (and even the Vietnamese) restaurants are by now all over the United States. They were, and still remain, no better than a “turo-turo” affair in Avenida or in Pasay City. Professionalism, or the utter lack of it, is their undoing, as far as I am concerned. Our order of grilled chicken came with - you guessed it right - sticky and greasy knives. The waiter who took our orders, appeared to have just gotten out of bed, unkempt, uncombed, unshaven - and uncouth! He turned out to be also the cook. He disappeared in an inner room that was full of background noise. Obviously, there was more than just a kid in there who kept all the adults in the small room occupied. The other waitress was busy preparing a table for a biggish group. They gave out our orders. They forgot to give our drinks, and proceeded to eat with what turned out to be a group of relatives who apparently go there regularly. In short, the cook, the waiter, and everyone who ran the restaurant left us their customers in the lurch, alone to munch forlornly our meals. We sort of hesitated to ask for something else. The whole staff was busy having their own merry lunch in a separate set of tables. We were quite mortified as we ate our salty fare, consoled only by the blaring sound of the KTV that doled out Tagalog songs of the late 70s and early 80s - the sort that would make the fans of Anthony Castelo blush, and pine for the lilting tunes of Rico Puno.
Somehow, the Filipino professionalism - or the patent lack of it - has invaded American shores!
Incidentally, Thai restaurants have enjoyed quite a following and clientele from Americans and other expats. The Filipino restaurant somehow has not gone beyond being a “mom and pop” affair, capable of attracting only a handful of Filipino habitués, who go there, probably, just to get away from the usual fast-food fare or the “heat-it-up-in-the-microwave-see-you-again” fare that is the hallmark of every harried and hurried job holder in this fast-paced society that values a good credit line and equates a person’s dignity with a good credit record.
Yesterday, admiration turned to envy when passing through the small, cute and tightly packed downtown strip of Palo Alto, just outside of the famous Stanford University campus (again, I sighed and pined for what ordinarily could not be seen back home in the Philippines), I espied three Thai restaurants and some four Italian restaurants in a strip that was not more than a mile long, spick and span, proud of their heritage, which obviously offered more than just food to customers. Again, I felt sorry for those “hole-in-the-wall” affairs that passed for an Asian restaurant that attracted only sloppily dressed and noisy customers whose main aim is to beat the nostalgia out of their minds by belting out songs of artists whom my young students now back home would not know anymore from Adam!
STORIES THAT SHAKE; STORIES THAT SOOTHE THE SOUL
I left the day Italian Job was supposed to be showing in theaters in Manila. I had been waiting for it for long. I was lucky to catch up with it over at Century Theaters at Union City. It was a story to shake the soul and once more situate it in the context of a sinful, scheming world, with little or no redeeming values to put one back on one’s spiritual track. It was as entertaining as it was draining. Its only redeeming value - the superb acting skills of favorites like Edward Norton and some others.
But the other movie, “Seabiscuit” gave me the needed lift to save me from a growing despondency. I confess I shed a few tears as I felt so involved in the lengthy film. It was all about three individuals who needed healing, three people who needed to find meaning in their lives for one reason or another. They all found it through a horse who itself needed healing, a horse that attracted no buyer as it was slightly deformed. It was a horse that did not at all look like a thoroughbred. But it found a very good trainer, a very good jockey, and very good manager-owner, who had a passion for lost causes. All three were wounded people who had the right attitude. All three were winners at the end. All three came out victorious and vibrant despite all the odds. For they had synergy. They had flow. They had what it took to become winners!
STILL A PILGRIM
I am back in a land that is at once strange and not so strange to me. Part of me belonged here. Part of me told me I am not in the right place. But this is the land where a limping old horse probably could find the right people, the right conditions, the right frame of mind for him to become whole and help others find wholeness. Here is a pilgrim who continues to be in search, a wayfarer who still goes on dreaming to become one who would make a difference in people’s lives. Far from the people who I usually minister to, I still feel ministered to by friends and fellow pilgrims whose only wish and dream is to see me grow and glow and become the best I could be. Near the people I usually do not minister to, I feel the pull of growth and the search for depth that is the hallmark of handicapped “horses” out to win the race of a lifetime who only wants to be the instrument of others’ total healing and growth.
It was obviously a healing journey also for Tobey Maguire who played the jockey. His life trajectory is reflected in the story. He identified himself with the real Red Pollard who healed the horse and was healed by the horse, even as the two of them healed the manager-owner and the trainer.
We are all deeply interconnected. Our lives - our past, present and future - are all intertwined. As Thompson puts it: “Each of us, to each other linked are, that never does a leaf fall, without troubling a star!”
Come join me in my dream. It is no longer about horses. But it is all about our intertwined lives in which horses, cabbages and kings - and yes - even eggshell pieces - broken eggshell pieces like those of Humpty Dumpty - could make or break us!
Monday, June 11, 2007
I am revisiting a journal entry I wrote back in June 15, 2002. It has always been my desire to write some kind of an apologia for my hometown, Mendez, Cavite. This original entry copied almost verbatim below had been sent to my friends and readers when blogging was yet light years away from my reach.
I would like to dedicate this piece to all my fellow Mendezenians scattered all over the world. It is no secret that of all the towns in Cavite, probably Mendez has among the most relatively numerous migrants all over the world, in particular, the United States and Canada.
The 10th Sunday of Ordinary time (which fell in the first half of June 2002) did not quite turn out to as be rosy as I would have wanted it to be. I will be straight to the point… I was grouchy. As I was into deep introspection, trying to find out the reason behind the negative feelings that opened my day, the same was further aggravated by commentators at mass who, for the nth time, did not quite get my family name right. Dimaranan, I guess, is long enough, and I don’t need anybody adding another syllable, or two, where he or she pleases – or, for that matter - subtracting, interpolating, exchanging, mixing up or what have you… murdering, it, to cut the long story short. The real issue here is plain lack of functional, passable literacy even among those who claim to be reading and proclaiming the Word of God in church. Why, a good number of them don’t seem to even understand what they are reading. You can sense it from the way they truncate phrases at the wrong places, from the manner with which they group together words and – my goodness, the way they mispronounce even simple words. We might as well ask the ICEL (International Commission of English in the Liturgy) to allow us to introduce a CONIOTIC version for da Pilipins! Now, that would really be exciting! That move would make all our colegialas instant experts in language, and instant reading celebrities in church. How about that? After all, - correct me, if I am wrong di ba it’s like this na, the way they make announcements in Church?
Ipinakikiusap po –lamang na paki turn off lang po ang inyong mga cellphones, o ilagay lamang po sa silent mode, habang nagmamass ang priest… Goodness gracious! At the rate we’re going, Papua New Guinea will soon be replaced by the Philippines as the Pidgin English capital of the world!
But now, back to why I was grouchy… I soon found out why as I was deep in thought. The driver assigned to pick me up, who usually was rather upbeat and jolly, was beginning to pique me. I noticed, as a student of human behavior, that he was taking potshots at all the priests he ever worked for, in very many and subtle ways. Most of the priests he was referring to, of course, were known to me personally. Although I knew that this same fellow would, invariably, be also ribbing others about me in future, I was not perturbed by this. What really pissed me off was when he asked where I was born, and where I grew up. MENDEZ, CAVITE, I said. And that was when he started giving me all the best that his knowledge of social studies could muster. For one who hails from Mindanao, apparently all he knows about Cavite are the usual labels and myths attached to it: matatapang, maraming tulisan, carnappers, etc. An issue that has not been fully resolved in me surfaced once more. I held my cool. I kept silent. Those among you who know me well enough, would know what is behind this, and why I insist on us being a little more considerate by doing away with any type of cultural labels and the like. As a little boy, fresh from the boonies of Cavite, transplanted to a patently different world that was Makati then, (at that time, the only building one could see for miles on end was the DBP building. Behind, or near it was a creek that ran the length of Buendia avenue, along the fringes of the then posh Bel-Air village, where the boys of the neighborhood I was in, would spend hours catching small fishes that I guess were biya fingerlings, or just plain butete. All this done, of course, without permission! Nearby, too, was a muddy hole, a pond – it was a lake for a probinsyano 7-yr old – where we would disrobe and plunge to our hearts’ delight, again unbeknownst to the grown-ups who were busy adjusting to a whole, new brave world that was Poblacion, Makati.) Well, at that time, when teachers and neighbors would refer to Cavite as a place of hoodlums and other shady characters, I just could not understand! My innocent mind simply could not make connections between Cavite and the underworld characters they would be talking about. Mendez was a good-enough place for me. There I was happy. There I saw inherent goodness and benevolence from people who I knew worked honestly for their keeps as best they could, where with each family’s little parcels of land planted to coffee, fruits and vegetables, just about everybody was working hard for an academic degree and their rightful place under the sun. I knew of no tulisans! All I knew – and admired to the hilt – were figures of old, wise women and men (my maternal grandmother was a towering figure, easily, a cut above the rest, who would be sought after repeatedly for her prudent counsel…) who spoke with deliberate clarity and utter gentleness, whose wise and timely aphorisms would have put Socrates and Chrysostom, the man with the golden mouth, to shame. I know of some clear luminaries: Andang Juan Oldan, for one; my lola, whom we fondly and lovingly called Nanay Ipay; her pamangkin by her husband Gregorio Sumagui, Kakang Juan Sumagui; the celebrated musician and composer, Kakang Emilio Maraan. Oh, how I pine for his music, played during informal academias, some kind of a gig organized by people if for no other reason than for their love of music. There the likes of Andang Ando (Alejandro Sumagui, my mother’s uncle, and their clan) would burst into poetic discourses, and plaintive songs, singing paeans to beauty, honor and undying love and devotion. Oh, how I pine for the beauty of Alma, of Pacing, all beauties personified and immortalized in the songs of Kakang Emilio Maraan! That was the Mendez and the Cavite I knew first hand, not the Cavite painted by myths from movies and cruel legends made up by ignoramuses from Manila who got by with a superficial, - if, partial and vicarious – pseudo-knowledge of a place that was more than home to me. Mendez is in the heart! It will remain so, for Mendez has spawned all the best that is in me… All the dreams that I ever had, trace their origin in a place that was built on lofty dreams, where poetry, music and holy fear of the Lord were subjects of my daily childhood experiences. In a young boy’s heart that was filled early on, with noble ideas of hard work and dedication to duty, where the likes of Ramon Magsaysay and Claro M. Recto and – even Arsenio Lacson – would often find their way in the conversations of adults along with the likes of Pope John XXIII, there was no room for violent and shady characters that I heard of – not in Cavite, but when I left Mendez, for the so called civilized city and its suburbs. Thanks, but no thanks. Nardong Putik was as unreal to me as Darna and Valentina, for all the misguided interest they engendered in the minds of Manilans and city-dwellers. The Mendez that I knew, the Cavite in my heart, is as good as any other place, for one to learn the best that the best of humanity can offer: undying hope, courage, hard work, love and devotion to family, the unrelenting search for the better, the higher, the nobler. The Mendez in my heart spawned a wide field of dreams for me and many others like me who now are scattered all over the world, mostly roaring successes in their own right.
And now, to get back to my story… As I got into silent mode, I was transported back in time to that one single place that made history for me and many others in the late 50s and early 60s, the gulod, as we called it. There, music was played; there, poetry was recited loud and clear, there, basketball games were played, without the luxury of a cemented court; there memorable academias were held, and rosaries were recited… saints were brought in processions, and countless dreams were woven. Those dreams, in time, would be realized one by one, in the persons of doctors, engineers, writers, civil servants, -even humble mariners, and navy men and others who now are found in just about every corner of the world.
Nardong Putik has cast a shadow of notoriety to Cavite. Mendez has consistently steered clear of all this, despite the wide, encompassing umbra of bigotry, bias and ignorance that is the hallmark of less discerning minds that tend to judge wholes in terms of disparate parts. That umbra, like dark lowering clouds, actually hovers over a widening area all over the Philippines, a country fast losing its soul, because it has lost its moorings in its cultural heritage, because it has lost touch with its poetry, its songs, its music – in a word, its universe of values. In their place now are inane and artificial icons that have no connectivity with one’s past and one’s glorious heritage that is as unique as it is deeply inspiring. I pine for Mendez, now, no longer the physical place. I pine for all that it represents for me; all that it has engendered in me; all that it has produced in me.
For Mendez, at bottom, to borrow Carlos Bulosan’s now famous phrase, “is in the heart!”
N.B. For my readers from the U.S and Canada who may not be familiar with contemporary Philippine slang, coniotic refers to that snooty, high browed set of attitudes that young people from the alta sociedad in status-conscious Philippines espouse. A whole lot of elements go into that general term ranging from a type of language that is a hodge-podge of English and Tagalog that takes its origins from students of exclusive schools for the rich, otherwise known as class A and B, representing the top 5 % of the Filipino people, to a style of dressing, etc. Coniotica is the generic term to refer to all that characterizes the ways of speaking, of behaving, of comporting oneself for those who belong – or, for that matter - those who are trying very hard to be counted in. The easiest passport to this make-believe world of true blooded coniotics is to speak in a way that would make Lope K. Santos (remember him and his Banaag at Sikat?) livid with rage, and the queen of England, absolutely stupefied and aghast at this bloody mélange of a language that, by the way, continually evolves with every new quickie movie and every new sitcom that the warring TV networks continually churn out.
Paranaque City, June 11, 2007