Monday, June 18, 2007

OF CACOPHONOUS CICADAS & CONTEMPLATIVE CHANTS




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.



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