Here is what my life is all about. I can never run it the way I want to. No matter how good I lay out my plans, some random crisis surely disrupts it. Case in point was last week. First there was work that pressured me physically and psychologically, then, I got pissed with a non-compliant tenant, then, the biggest shock - my other tenant Jim got covid four weeks after he had full vaccination. I have this impulse to kick doors and throw plates, but the Lord is teaching me a truth in life: You can never control it. Oh you think you can, or maybe you briefly can until that stupid unexpected news comes, like a very aggressive wave that breaks your castle apart on the sand.
This is what the Lord says: Nothing, nothing, all is nothing; vanity, vanity, all is vanity. The Buddha echoes the same: beneath everything is nothing. All things that exist through my senses are nothing but a big illusion residing in my brain. All their purpose is to inflict suffering. Life is indeed suffering. (Of course the Lord also says we are in this world, not of this world and give to Caesar what belongs to him and the Buddha says emptiness means emptying all the junk of your mind to give way for limitless possibilities).
My only choice in life is to get rid of this suffering. And the solution is offered by the Lord: Forsake everything and follow me. Another solution offered by Buddha: Life without desire or want.
The very fact I want to kick doors and break plates is due to frustration over my inability to control my destiny without these disruptive events. And what does this control mean to me? It means that I am free of bad news, free of disease, free of worries. I want to be able to pursue my sensual pleasures by getting on amidst crowds. I want to work so I can earn more money.
But these are all illusions, they are nothing but electrons shooting in multiple collisions, and they are the ones controlling and resisting me, these are the random events that push me left and right, in every direction; that makes me tired and helpless and frustrated. Until the end of my life. The trouble is - these concerns are things that fade, melt, disappear and are forgotten. A few days from now I will have no idea anymore about my current concerns. I will probably remember them if only I re-read these notes. That holds true with my existence. Many years from now I will be erased from the annals of life. Except perhaps this record I write which is also at risk of obliteration. The illusion exists only for the NOW and tomorrow to be taken over by a new illusion, like a wave in the sea, it forms, dissipates, replaced by another.
And if you are like me who thinks you can hold on to what you have right now, you are in for a big disillusionment. Or if you think living is an accumulation of what the world values - money, fame, admiration, applause - you will be in for a bad dream. In search of these, you risk forgetting to live, you will turn your days into a wheel that goes on and on thinking of your past accomplishments and your future prospects while forgetting the reality of the NOW. That will be the saddest reality of all. This life that is useless, driven by the system that uniformly demands everyone do what everyone else does: wake up, work, sleep, repeat. What gives them joy are the money they make, the popularity, the power, the feeling of good compliance with the rules of the man-made system. I know this. I followed the rules to the dot, I kept myself inside the box : studied hard, earned a degree, passed all boards, worked abroad, earned money, helped family, and then 30 years went by without me noticing I got old. And now, as my days dwindle, what unfolds before my eyes are missed opportunities and missed joys behind this wall of security, prosperity, good health. I paid a heavy price for this wall. Instead of joy, I feel regrets and recriminations.
I remember : when I was poor, I worked so hard to escape it. Then I left for America promising that when I built my family in top shape, I will enjoy life. I had so many â€˜futureâ€™ goals that fulfilling them would presumably make me happy - getting the green card, writing novels, becoming a citizen, turning 50, getting an IT college degree on top of my current degree, having health insurance, putting nephews and nieces to college, having a decent 401k, buying properties for passive income - all these were pursued relentlessly with the false assumption their achievement will indeed make me happy. I have never been more wrong.
This wheel of lifeâ€™s propulsion is driven by NEED which is the fuel that keeps it running. Either you feed this wheel enough for its needs or you store a lot of fuel in tanks to secure its need for a long period of time. The trouble is, life itself is fleeting. It might end its use long before it consumes all that fuel that was stored to run it.
And here you are working hard to store that fuel : the need for financial security, the need for societal embrace, the need to keep up with the Joneses, the need to be updated with new technological demands, the need for respect and power, the need for love, yes, there is always a need. And you make sure you always have more than enough.
In the meantime, you forget the reality of life. You miss observing a flower bloom, you fail to see the majestic mountains, you miss feeling the calmness of the sea. You fail to acknowledge the laughter of a baby. You fail to sit down in a cafe having a quiet chat with a friend as you both savor the value of friendship and brotherhood. You miss spending time with family.
Why is that? The wheel of life consumes you.
Which is vanity according to the Lord. An illusion according to Buddha.
Let me now come back to my current story.
I left the Philippines as a young man for the US to work as a health professional, through which I supported my family like so many other Filipinos who worked abroad. Perhaps that is all you want to hear - but how can a life so drastically altered and subjected to brutal changes be dismissed just like that? If you transplant a seedling starter from a comfortable greenhouse to a soil and sun and weather that is quite strange and challenging, you just donâ€™t say â€˜and the plant was transferred, thatâ€™s all.â€™ No, you need to at least observe how the plant retakes its new life in a new environment, how it withers for a couple of days or weeks, its leaves drooping, its color changing until new leaves sprout and from there it flourishes into what it is meant to be.
That is my intention in this story. Millions of us Filipinos move from the comforts of our homes, our villages, towns, cities to depart and work in strange new worlds out there, confident of ourselves like fish in our little ponds shocked to confront the vast tumultuous oceans that could break our backs. Many of us deemed it an honor to be a servant of the family, working our best to make our home families survive and overcome the poverty that took over because of incompetent and corrupt politiicans, greedy businessmen and purely unsympathetic culture. Most of us survive, we even thrive and become successful; sadly for some it is the end of their road. Some would build their own families and clans in their new worlds, completely abandoning their origins, dying unknowns. Others do come back home, old, alienated, regretful of missed years, dying unknowns. All our wheels of life keep churning and churning, producing what we are designed to produce and when our machineries fail to work, we are thrown away like discarded cars in some unknown lots, rusting until Nature claims us back.
This is nothing but a reflection of our national history. Our history was so buried deep in the forgotten recesses of our souls and bodies that when I remember my grandfather, as an example, I do not know who his father was, and worse, who the father of his father was. Our national history was disemboweled by so many outside cultures replacing our internals with their own cultures that neither them nor us could define now; in the end, we could not figure who we really are. Are we Latin, American, Asian? Are we all of the above? If so, when did one culture begin and the other end? Somehow we decided to keep the answers to these questions locked in our brains. We instead look far and wide at anything that could mirror us. Oh the Mexicans celebrate Catholic traditions like we do, some of us look American or Spaniard, see how our words intermingle with the Malay language, our cooking is a blend of Spanish and Chinese. We could not find that single, unified version of us. We are like a broken vase which fragments we keep patching up without seeing the exact totality of the vase. We just keep on putting flowers in it to make it look unified and beautiful. The saddest outcome of this brokenness is how we became a quick study for whoever wants to conquer us: it is simply to keep us broken forever, reduce our self confidence and self-esteem and self-reliance, keep us uneducated to prevent us discovering our true history, then, this is the easiest part: put up a Savior amidst us, a Puppet manipulated by the wanna-be Conqueror, and we are totally under their control.
We keep seeing the fragments everyday. And keep brooming it under the rag as if by keeping them out of sight they would be rendered non-existent. The modern age has managed to give us easy tools - texting, facebook, twitter, blogging about whatever lifestyle we wish to project. We are kept happy. No wonder we are always at the top among the users of these tools. These are the new opium for the people, to forget is bliss. And we are their biggest Consumer.
I am no different from the modern Filipino nowadays who think their histories are confined within their generations, their stories are contemporarily far removed from where they come from. It is the fault of our history and geography. Other civilizations have an explanation for what happened to them. For a Filipino like me, I could not fathom why we arrived here, how we turned into this today. We know we were once a great culture: not as great as the Nile or Greek or Roman or Middle Kingdom, but we can see the fragments of our history now and then, the maharlika, the alipin, the fact that Magellanâ€™s circumnavigation was cut short by Lapulapu, certain names still echo in our hearts like Panday Pira and all the datus and lakans, and then there were the brave Badjaos, head hunting warriors of Cordilleras, the mummified bodies belonging to the Igorots, outside Powers may have disemboweled us but they failed to replace our brains. Maybe there is literature about our pre-colonial history that I am not familiar with. When I retire from this daily grind, I will search and read them. Who knows, I can create a narrative about ourselves even if fictionalized.
The reason I contemplate these things is due to the fragmented memory in my history. I wish I could explain why my grandfather was so passionate about his job, I wish I could connect it to the nature of his father and the father of his father. I wish I could begin my story about how my family ended up where we are. I wish I could go beyond what my mother told me about her familyâ€™s beginnings which was not much. Or my fatherâ€™s which was equally fragmented and lacking and uncertain. I wish I could say we descended from the Javanese who migrated in this part of Luzon islands from what is now Indonesia through the great migration. And from there I could point and name the datu or lakan that started our clan. But as it is - there is nothing. What we have today are fellow Filipinos whose nobilities stem from their mastery in keeping our people dumb so they could (and their children of course) get elected over and over again while accumulating vast amounts of wealth and build castles in far away lands like mighty kings and queens, hugging limelight like some stupid bright star. And when it is time again for the election, they wrap themselves in rags, invoking the mercy of God like some penitent of Lent, crying while singing and dancing, taking their best downtrodden looks, or worse, portraying themselves as some noble chieftain who will banish the enemies and save the country portrayed as a damsel in distress. People cry in ecstasy when watching this Political version of Don Quixote. But I am beginning to swerve away from my train of thought....