We live in absolutely horrendous times, and only certainly we have is that when we think we have hit the very bottom—the nadir—we haven’t. The nadir is yet to be reached.
How do we rise above these trying times?
If we may turn to mythology, there’s a story that the Greek passed on from pre-history:
The union of heaven and earth produced CHAOS. Eros or Love floated on chaos and with his arrows pierced and vivified all things. The ruling gods were the Titans, but even in those times there was a revolution and the Titans were displaced by a hierarchy of gods with separation of powers over dominions but with Zeus or Jupiter as the chief god.
The first men were descended from the Titans: They committed the sin of stealing from the gods—Prometheus stole fire (the symbol of technology) from the heavens and Epenitheus, his brother, was prodigal with gifts to animals. To punish them, the ruling gods decided to give them as companion—the first woman. Her name was Pandora. (As you can see, even in ancient times, men blamed women for their own failings.)
The punishment to man was in the form of an intriguing box given for Pandora to guard: She could do everything but open this box. Well, what do you think Pandora did with the box? Of course—she opened it and as she did, out were released all the blessings, as well as the evil into the world, never to be locked up again. So that’s how the Greeks account for the duality that is the lot of man. Only one thing remained at the bottom of the box: it was HOPE.
Now I’m sure that if there is a Filipino version to this story, something would be added at the bottom. Can you guess what that would be? Another word beginning with H—yes, Humor. The resiliency of Filipinos is best manifested by our ability to face up the greatest shock with HUMOR. Other oriental people may take to mass suicide but Filipinos don’t seem to be in danger of that. For us, disappointment in love is the major cause of suicide.
The reaction we observe of fellow-Filipinos with the means or opportunity is mass flight to other countries and/or mass dollar flight.
Well, humor alone or escapism will not solve the situation. Is there really hope for us? What can I say to you? One super-qualification I have is that I have a panoramic perspective of the Pandora’s box: To live with the good and its disasters; its ideals and actualities; its moments of glory and its deep depression.
In youth, my generation had the experience of looking up to leaders like Quezon, Osmeña and Roxas; of being part of a system where the leaders made it possible for training of others to take over as leaders. I cannot say the same for the present system. Neither in bureaucracy nor in education.
My generation also had the experience of facing up to a World War with its patriotic fervor and its deprivation of freedom; with its high excitement in moments of risk and its fears and anxiety and tragedy of loss of property and loved ones. (I lost a brother in Capaz and my father was in and out of the Kempetai.) But through all this, there was hope that we would regain the freedom that we so palpably missed—the freedom to express ourselves without fear of repression or disappearing without a gasp or trace into the night.
In retrospect, the war was a crucible that crystallized values. What were the things one cannot do without? What are the things worth risking life and property for?
Then we had the experience of Rehabilitations: We took seriously the Back to the Farm movement advocated by Roxas and Osias. That’s how our family came to Davao. We plunged into abaca production and ramie relying on government promises of a steady market. What the experience taught us was that we should not rely on whatever pet project the government advocates. What succeeded in post-war Davao was hard work and endurance; private enterprise and the Chinese concept of setting aside working capital, never drawing on it for clothes, cars, expensive houses. What was meant for farming or business was kept intact. Only then could we compete with the Chinese—by emulating the Chinese way of life.
The experience of studying abroad gave me added insights on the Oriental nature of my own identity. By contrast and through what we miss do we gauge the Filipino in us. There is also that stimulus and challenge to show one’s worth in the face of so much impersonality and competition. I had the exhilaration of winning a major prize in fiction from the University of Michigan.
(To be continued)