There comes a time in every boy’s life that as his shadow becomes as tall as his father’s, there’s always that need to prove himself. As days go by, there’s that urge for the son to be better than the father. I don’t know what drives that need – ego, manhood, or perhaps insecurities, but I wasn’t immune from it. Yesterday, when my father turned 56, I gave myself time to think about my relationship with my Dad. The more I tried to stay away from the path he forged to earn a living for us, the more I found myself closer to it as I make a living for my own. I’m pretty much like my own father now: the same rank in the corporate world, the same responsibilities, the same lines of thought. The more I tried to be less like him, the more I became like him.
“The possible ranks higher than the actual,” Martin Heidegger once wrote. Whenever I think of that statement, I depart from the notion that man is a thinking being, but that thought itself is framed by hope. In the thoughts of all men lies hope; that possibilities offer better situations than realities. In our minds, the “what-could-be” is superior to “what-is.” Not only do we live and act in thought, but we also live and act in hope. All our anticipation, our anxiety, our drive and passion to look and move forward, is all rooted in hope. Our transcience is in hope.
My job involves a lot of Facebook. While I sometimes rue the fact that I don’t do something as exciting as journalism or something as noble as teaching, I love how much I get to read a lot of stories from people with open security settings. This Christmas, as I was doing the my rounds (sometimes bemoaning the fact that this will have to be part of the Christmas vacation routine), I found some rather interesting stories this season. There was this girl who broke up with her boyfriend and was experiencing the saddest Christmas ever. There was this woman who got a whole set of gadgets from her husband. There are the friends and acquaintances who take the time to greet all of their friends Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Although some stories did capture my heart this season: small reminders of what Christmas was all about.
I read somewhere that the strokes of the Chinese word for anger, “nu,” represent the mind and body becoming slaves to the heart. Rage – the very thing that fuels grief – hangs like a dark cloud in Hong Kong today. At least, that’s what the news says. We can’t blame our brothers and sisters from Hong Kong for putting up those Facebook fan pages, Internet groups, or expressing their anger in spaces all over the Web for the grave (excuse the pun) injustice and indignity their people suffered at the hands of Inspector Mendoza. Perhaps it is their grief and indignation that they take out on us; after all, the hostage-taker was one of our own. In the Anguttara Nikaya, the Buddha teaches: Nothing tends toward loss as does an untamed heart. The untamed heart tends towards loss. Nothing tends toward growth as does a tamed heart. The tamed heart tends towards growth.
The Benguet bus crash hits so close to home – I’ve travelled that route many times in my life, and that city is home – that I think it’s best for me to keep this somewhat experimental. Somehow there are always those places where the concrete breaks. The eroded section of the road is closed, surrounded by bamboo stakes and caution tape, while the construction crew starts repairing the road. Only one lane of the highway remains open to traffic. No one really took to repaving the highways; just the old ways of kabiti. That meant hauling the quarried rock over to the eroded area, building a reinforced wall to hold the new pavement, hoping that everything holds. At least the old Marcitas buses – the ones Father jokes about – are gone. The air-conditioned buses ply the Marcos Highway – Palispis-Aspiras, whatever one calls it these days – route, while the top-loaded jeepneys, private cars, and buses negotiate the curves of Naguilian Road.
I decided to die. Death is welcome. Too welcome: whether it’s in spectacular form like car explosions, or in something as absurd like choking on a walnut not chewed properly. A gun in my head can kill me faster than cigarettes and alcohol. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a slow, painful process or a quick and easy instant: death is welcome. It’s right there. Not that life is pointless, or that I’m sad or that I’m depressed. Death is just there, waiting. I never gave much thought to death until that taxi ride where I decided to die, for no reason at all. When you’re cruising through the highway a little above the speed limit, with cargo trucks weaving through lanes with the occasional Porsche speeding along the asphalted shoulder of the road, you think death. I could die here, whether it’s a spectacular car crash or a hard thud on the barricades. Then I figured I don’t really have to do that. Death is welcome; I can die at any instant. I could just not see tomorrow, and that’s it: I don’t have to get hurt. I don’t have to feel pain to die. In that hope of trying to extend your life by cutting yourself away from vice, they’ll catch up with you one day. You never know when some lunatic will point a gun at the back of your head and shoot. You never know when that walk on top of an office building will send…
One year old. 1, 2, 3. Two years old. A, B, C. Three years old. Up and down. Over and out. Loop-the-loop, pull. Four years old. Don’t go back eating Cerelac 20 years from now, okay? Five years old. Earthquakes hurt, boy. Six years old. Small circle, small circle, big circle. Small circle, small circle, big circle. Here’s Mama, here’s Papa, here’s me. Six times six, 36. Six times six, 36. Seven years old. The Sun is at the center of the solar system. Eight years old. In 1521, Magellan arrived in the Philippines. Nine years old. Matter has three phases: solid, liquid, gas. Ten years old. My very educated mother just sent us nine pizzas. Eleven years old. Rahab threw the cord over her window and was spared from the fall of Jericho. Twelve years old. Arrange numbers lengthwise in synthetic division. Thirteen years old. I indict the Spanish encomendero for making taxes impossible to pay. Fourteen years old. Don’t worry about your voice going one octave lower. Fifteen years old. It’s not do-re-mi. It’s solfege. Sixteen years old. Mmmm, cigarettes. Seventeen years old. Mmmm, vices. Eighteen years old. Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains. Nineteen years old. Everyone has rights, but there are barriers that keep people from exercising them. Twenty years old. Keep your head up. It’s just your heart that’s broken. Twenty-one years old. Welcome to the low point. You either find a way out, or make a way…
During family reunions, my relatives always mention how much I look like my father. I inherited just about every attribute of Father except for skin color: the same thick eyebrows, the same dark brown eyes, the same deep voice. For all intents and purposes, I was my dad’s junior, his younger doppelganger, Daddy’s little boy. He clothed me in the same way he dressed, taught me to speak as articulately as he did. I’m 24 years old, and half of my life was spent in a very unhealthy, emotionally draining obsession: to get out of my father’s shadow. I didn’t want to be the conduit to his frustrations and his ambitions. The loving, caring, decent, devoted family man that is my father took a back seat in my memories. It was nobody’s fault other than my own to remember my dad in such a different way. It’s a kind of dreadful shame that I live the rest of my life for: to deserve being in my father’s shadow once again.
The morning of the first day of school greeted me with the sun in my eyes, and the ringing of the alarm clock in my ears. I groggily got up of bed to a meal of sinangag, sunny-side up eggs (the yolk just warmed through – just the way I liked it), hot dogs, and a tall mug of Ovaltine. My school uniform was neatly pressed; the blue slacks creased to perfection, the white polo shirt bleached and starched, my shoes shined to a brilliant black, and my jacket folded neatly over the ironing horse. After the bath, Father slathered pomade on my hair and spritzed me up with his cologne, and Mother whisked me off to school.