Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Lines to Remember 20 (Unnatural Consequences)

"I returned and saw under the sun,
that the race is not to the swift,
nor the battle to the strong,
neither yet bread to the wise,
nor yet riches to the men of understanding,
nor yet favor to men of skill,
but time and chance happeneth to them all."

We do observe instances where superior individual capacity is not the measure of failures and successes. Most of us would have experienced the joy of success not through merit but by luck and conversely we agonize over what seemed to be undeserved failures.

These occurrences seem to be injustices that do not bear out the moral consequences; that virtue prevails over vice, that wisdom triumphs over absurdity, the learned succeeds against the ignorant and preparedness wins against apathy.

While we are witnesses to these non sequiturs happening in amazing regularity, the virtuous and the upright among us should not be dismayed. The flukes or outliers (in statistical terms) are real phenomena but should be regarded only as such, a freakish happening an accident contrary to the nature of things. The reason they seem so prevalent is because their unnaturalness make them sensational and spectacular, thus, memorable. Some amount of the unpredictable element must be taken into account but not considerably. In the normality of things their probability of happening is small.

I imagine that if we were to tabulate and compare all the instances in the world of the prevalence of good over bad we can conclude that good will win at a 99.9% confidence level; but there is still that .1 % chance that it will not be true.

I’ll take my chances with the good.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Lines to Remember 18 (The Simple Life)

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived"Henry David Thoreau from Walden (1854)

We, in our ways, attempt to decipher the meaning of life, not as a general philosophical truth, but as something that is personal and deeply rooted in our own spirituality. Each man’s Holy Grail is unique to himself. It is not like a herd activity that draws conviction through affirmation by others.

Thoreau found it in Walden Pond where he chatted with the woodchucks, greeted the jays good day, skimmed flat stones in the tremulous surface of the algae greened water. How fortunate for him to have chosen such a milieu for his quest of the meaning of life. How readily nature answered what seemed, at first, to be esoteric questions, how nature even supplied the questions with answers so plainly apparent each time he rose from bed at winter’s dawn.

He described the watery retreat as the one that “…had obtained a patent of heaven to be the only Walden Pond in the world and distiller of celestial dews.” On its banks bulrushes grew amidst white pebbles and on a further stretch white lilies marked the water’s edge. On days when the pond waters are clear one could espy breams, perches, pickerels and trout of variegated hues along with tortoise, turtles and other reptilian creatures timorously crawling on the ground. They shared the pond’s bounty together with the shimmering haze of insects and the chattering congregation of birds.

In the sweet solitude and comforting serenity of the pond Thoreau pondered the bare essentials of living and had been taught through joyful discoveries and figuring them out by the irrefutable but pleasant logic of nature.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Lines to Remember 16 (On Excellence)

“If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, though he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

The better mousetrap is the key to human conquest

It is the natural obsolescence plan, the engine of positive change which placates a fundamental human unrest.

Do better. Excellence will be sought out and inevitably found.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Lines to Remember 15 (Discontent)

“Where does discontent start? You are warm enough, but you shiver. You are fed, yet hunger gnaws you. You have been loved, but your yearning wanders in new fields. And to prod all these there’s time, the Bastard Time.”
John Steinbeck

We are sheltered, clothed, fed, are able in our jobs and have love from those immediately around us. Do we ask for more? Of course we do. Do we do something to make it better? No we don’t.

What most us have is just a modicum of the good life but we never strived to do better than what we already have. We just contemplate on how nice things would be if only…but do not stand up from our comfortable perches to improve our lot.

When we ruminate we become covetous of what other people have, we become envious of the achievements of those around us and begin to trouble the heavens with our gratuitous protestations.

All because we had time to think about our situation we start to recognize how nondescript and lackluster it is. We begin to think that we are not deserving of this and that someone up there owes us.

Idle time is the infernal lathe of the devil.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Lines to Remember 14 (Alas, Poor Juan)

“I would not call myself a man of piety, for I have my own share of human limitations and moral imperfections.”(Pres. Joseph Estrada at the 20th National Prayer Breakfast)

Recently, Joseph Ejercito Estrada, ex President of the Republic has been rendered a guilty verdict on the plunder charges leveled at him by the Sandigan Bayan. The same especially created judicial body acquitted him from perjury charges.

Erap, as he is more popularly known, was truly an honest man in this respect. He did not carry on a pretense of being lily white and beyond reproach even if his position of being head of state would have allowed a little sleight-of-image. He had the best image massagers in the country and expert PR advisers from the US who could have done a terrific make over job.

I know that I am being cynical when I pose the question”…who is the lesser evil, the one who takes on a careless and cavalier attitude about one’s true nature or the one who effectively hides through denials, disinformation and carefully crafted press kits?”

Sad to say but these are the options that Juan de la Cruz has these days.

As an aside, the quotation ascribed to Erap would probably qualify for the understatement of the year.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Lines to Remember 13 (The Road Less Travelled)

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Robert Frost from The Road Not Taken

I would surmise that most people followed the beaten path and led normal and unexciting lives and in so doing managed to eke out a life where responsibilities to family and society were handled creditably. They are no heroes but they make up the mainstream of society and form the majority of which all considerations of a democratic existence hinges on.

There would be quite a few who heeded the wisdom of Robert Frost and dared to trek the unfamiliar and the untried and were rewarded for their audacity and intrepidness. But what about those who followed their individualistic instincts and failed? They would count in the innumerable legions and yet not much is heard about them. The banner of success flutters high above and waves vigorously for all to see, while the tattered rag of failure is interred with other human disappointments in dark secret crypts.

To challenge the unknown, to pioneer in unexplored fields, to go against the tide and to defy convention may reap unimaginable fame and wealth but too often and in so many untold instances, it is more vice than virtue.

Nevertheless, we should laud the brave and the dreamer for above their personal gains, mankind marches onward, nay, leaps forward with their conquests and triumphs.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Lines to Remember 12 (The Devil's Own)

“The theory seems to be that as long as a man is a failure he is one of God's children, but that as soon as he succeeds he is taken over by the devil.”
H. L. Mencken

Ambo is an honest working man. He trudges to work everyday and ekes out a daily wage that just about covers all the expenses of the family for the day. Day after day he gathers his tools of trade and puts them in a roughly constructed box made of “palo china” wood salvaged from crates of automotive parts. Together with his tools, a packed lunch hurriedly put together by Lina, his wife, consisting of a half of dried fish; the side with the fish-bones. and a stewed red plump tomato was squeezed into the box. The boiled rice is packed separately in another clear plastic bag. With these in tow he would walk to the jobsite about a kilometer away from his house to earn another day’s wage. God seems to have designed a perfect routine for him that he uncomplainingly lives out for what seems to be an eternity of repetitions of the same livelong day.

His neighbors find him unenviable; instead, they admire the constancy by which he attends to his responsibility as the bread winner for his wife and Aurea, his daughter who just graduated from a med tech course. In her last semester she had to take on a job as a fast food crew to afford an expensive final term in school which included a lot of laboratory subjects and that she had to do an extra load to graduate within the semester. All these effort have paid off for her. She has just started working for a large pharmaceutical company as a med rep.

His neighbors knew that he was resigned to the penurious life he leads. Although he just has enough to get him through the day he remained cheerful and was grateful to whatever measly handouts a stingy Providence gave.
He was looked at as a friendly neighbor, someone who can extend his hand to a person or to the community when needed, however because he was poor, people did not bother him for assistance. In their neighborhood help will most of the time mean a financial dole out or borrowed money from a willing lender neither of which Ambo was capable of doing.

The people in the neighborhood consider him as God’s ward. Someone they can practice their charity on. And they felt good and self contented amongst themselves after having fulfilled such a praiseworthy Christian act. It was good to have a person like that. For as long as he remained wretched and innocuous he was a pitiful child of God needing their magnanimity.

The last few weeks have seen some palpable changes in Ambo’s life. Not big consequential ones but gradual and recognizable transformations. For the first time Ambo went to work wearing a collared shirt as compared to the white t-shirts with the names of hardware stores or other commercial establishments he wore everyday.

Aurea topped the monthly sales revenues of her division and was given a bonus, She bought her father the collared shirt which he wore that morning to work. Her mother was ecstatic upon seeing the nice yellow dress that she got for her and was happy to see the new curtains in the tiny room which served as bedroom and living room. The tattered old curtains hang conspicuously on the window sill in contrast to the bright and colorful newly draped ones. She was too distracted and agog to decide whether to throw them away or recycle them as rags.

For herself Aurea bought a new wardrobe set as any young lady would do upon having come into a minor windfall. She actually needed the new clothes. The pant suit that she wore to her product presentations was almost threadbare and was beginning to discolor and fade due to overuse.

The neighborhood was perplexed with what they were seeing. Ambo the other day in a brand new collared shirt, bright new curtains fluttering unabashedly in the breeze, Lina off to somewhere in a bright yellow dress and Aurea, looking so smart and lively in her colorful clothes. Even their clothesline which used to display the drabbest and the most ragged garments in the neighborhood now had put on a festive look, much like "banderitas" during a fiesta which waved proudly for all to see.

The busybodies and the wags in the tiny community had a field day of conjectures and speculations, the origins of which were dubious and in most part non-existent.

Was Ambo a member of the notorious gang of bank robbers who had a successful heist the other week in a bank two blocks away from their place? Lina must have scored a big one and was not caught in the buy bust operations launched by the narcotics agents last Saturday in the shabu “tiangge” beside the municipal hall. Aurea must have been having affairs with one or some of the prominent surgeons in the hospitals in her rota. How else could she afford all those new and pretty clothes.

The more “informed” of the group commented that they knew all along what Ambo and his family was up to but didn’t have concrete proof to denounce him. It has been more than two weeks now since the buzz started. It hasn’t died down yet and it seems that it will go on indefinitely. Each day a new tasty tidbit would be added to the mounting edifice of evidence and the talk will begin all over again with every rumor being recharged with new energy by the latest bit of scuttlebutt.

Most of them would recall the things that they have done for Ambo and now wished that they shouldn’t have been so gullible and charitable. They have no proof and yet they know it in their guts that Ambo and family have been miscreants all along.

“That Ambo, he is one son of a gun…” they would say.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Lines to Remember 11 (On Giving)

"No man is so poor as to have nothing worth giving. Give what you have. To someone it may be better than you dare to think."
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I am reminded of an O’Henry story where a poor couple gave up something of themselves. Although these were without much monetary value, they were prized personal possessions.

This may not be an accurate retelling but it is faithful to the gist of the tale.

It was the day before Christmas and both of them have not yet bought a gift for each other because after having spent for groceries to have a simple Christmas dinner and a few cents for the sparse yuletide adornments in their small apartment, nothing was left for buying gifts.

The girl had a beautiful mound of hair which she brushed with vanity to encourage a lustrous sheen on the soft curls. Her tresses were her source of pride. The man knew how much she wanted to buy a fanciful hair clasp that would go well with her crowning glory but had been putting off buying it.

The man, on the other hand, had this precious object, which for the paucity of possessions, was his most treasured item. It was a hand watch which his father gave him. It was not the expensive kind but its silver case and the roman numbers on an ivory-like dial face gave it a dignified quality that more than added to the sentimental value it had for him.

How he wished he could get a fob so that the hand watch could be displayed much more to advantage. This was a wish that he was quite open about. Every time he took the hand watch from his pocket he would intone with a sigh this hankering.

And so came Christmas morning…

Both of them were beaming with excitement as they held on to neatly wrapped packages. They stood there, the man with one hand in his robe pocket and the other holding on to a package while the girl looking fresh with her towel turbaned around head proffered her package towards him.

“Open it now…” said the girl. And the man without much hesitation opened the gift package to reveal a shiny silver serpentine chain fob.

“Aaw..,you shouldn’t have…really” said the man with a somewhat feigned expression of joy.

“Your turn sweetheart!” said the man.

She hurriedly tore off the wrapping of the package and saw the beautiful hair clasp peering from the soft paper that enclosed it in the box.

‘Oh…Oh…it’s lovely!” she said as she limply laid the gift box on the table.

After a curious moment of unease…she said “I’m sorry but I have a confession to make. Yesterday morning I went to the hair salon and sold my hair so that I could buy you the fob.”

“And I…”, said the man, …sold my watch to the curio shop by the office to get you the hair clasp that you’ve always wanted.”

For a moment they both stood there, motionless for about a few seconds and then, in an exuberant burst of affection, flew into each others arms and went into a smothering passionate embrace.

Gifts valueless at the time of the giving became the ultimate gifts. Gifts of self which will make their love endure a lifetime and herald better Christmases from then on.

Lines to Remember 10 (The Survivor's Creed)

“Doesn't the fight for survival also justify swindle and theft? In self defence, anything goes.”
Imelda Marcos lifted from Brainy

Who knows what happened almost a quarter of a century ago. People then, must have rebelled in defense of basic freedoms, dignity and their lives. The dictator, in turn, must have defended his life capably, and maybe too well that thousands lost their lives and a few thousands more lost their loved ones in this act of self defense.

To stay alive was to stay in power and to stay in power one had to have the resources to hold back the ravenous maws of the military, to pay for cover-ups in local and foreign media, to organize mass feeding and other amelioratory activities for photo ops, to reward the sycophants and the toadies for singing hymns of praise, to compensate the wretched rabble to posture shows of support in demonstrations and rallies, to lull and awe the people with monumental erections and world class celebrations, to pay for the establishment of sham opposition personalities and organizations. A lot of money is needed to do all these for the effective defense of one’s life.

People fought back in self defense and some of them got killed because the dictator might, also, have acted in self defense when he used the might of the military to curtail this threat to his life.

Self defense seems to be an easily transportable legal and moral principle. How convenient and handy for some.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Lines to Remember 9 (Tobacco's Curse)

"For thy sake, tobacco, I would do anything but die."
Charles Lamb from A Farewell to Tobacco-

I am not making any judgment on cigarette smokers. The fact is I was two pack-a-day smoker of more than forty years and it took a good scare to get me out of it.

I know how difficult it is to kick the habit.

I need not repeat the perils of cigarette smoking as the warnings are written all over the packs of cigarettes and in the gaunt and wrinkled faces of those who have been addicted to it for years. The signs are not only visual as they also signal an offensive olfactory emanation which reeks of disease and decay.

Only this summer my daughter who had a pack-a-day habit decided to quit when she found out that she had a run away blood pressure problem which was not known to her until they bought a sphigmometer to monitor the blood pressure of her husband who had a mild blood pressure problem. She thought that the device they bought was not in working order because when she took a reading for herself the levels where atrociously high; enough to just knock her over at that very instant. They went to a doctor who confirmed that hers was a chronic case. There was no delaying it. The decision to quit smoking had to be immediate…“cold turkey”. It was also a propitious decision because their nine year old son had a tenacious cough that would not go away. During their addiction they, unconsciously, turned a blind eye on the insidious effects of this on their son.

A month ago an older brother was rushed to the hospital in a comatose state. He had to endure the puncturing of holes in his body to aid his respiration. He now has emphysema. His daughter said that she would frame the tubes that had caused him so much excruciating pain and hang it by his bedside as a reminder of the price he had to pay for his habit.

Just recently, a close relative, another case-hardened cigarette smoker, quit on her own volition because her grandson was diagnosed to have a bad pulmonary condition which was aggravated by his early smoking habit. On top of the boy’s smoking she felt that her smoking was contributory to her grandson’s condition; an effect of inhaling second hand smoke which was considered worst than direct smoking. She herself was near emphysemic and should have quit for that reason alone.

Soon you have to, when?

When it threatens your life…
when it threatens the lives of the ones you love...or
when it finally kills you!!!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Lines to Remember 8 (Pretense)

"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be."
-Kurt Vonnegut in "Mother Night"

In our youth we had our heroes; demigods who walked in our midst ever so self assured, strutting with bold gait and looking down at everyone from an upward leveled eye.

He could be the teacher’s delight who seemed to have had a preview of all the questions that were asked in class, the hunk who was the captain ball of the varsity team who would always have a bevy of pretty coeds milling around him, the cool kid who drove around in a roadster with an ever loyal gang astride or he could be the much admired and popular editor of the school newspaper whose creativity and writing style you coveted.

As young men still unsure of our bearing we had these exemplars to choose from and we did in varying degrees tried to emulate them as closely as we could with only our physical and sometimes financial limits holding us back.

In some instances these imitations had positive effects on us. We selected the admirable qualities of our heroes and these, somehow, are sopped up by our personality and, consistently living them out they become really a part of us.

However, in mimicry, disaster is always a present peril. For instance copying the pose, the sartorial preferences, the manner of speech, the lifestyle, and the swagger of the idolized one often result in ridiculous and comical circumstances. Only the right combination of personal qualities makes for the ideal. It is not a simple case of adopting one or two of them from the hero and matching them with what you basically have. More often than not, the result is incongruous and creates a parody of your person.

Perceptions are created by pretense aided by appropriate props and trappings associated to the ideal being copied. As we know in advertising and in image building, perceptions are like truths or near truths insofar as the beholder is concerned.

People’s expectations from the ersatz personality you have created for yourself will judge you as a failure or as a success. You have to be sure that you could live up to the promise that the pretense has created.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Lines to Remember 7 (Unjust Legacy)

“Ah Love! could you and I with him conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire
Would we not shatter it to bits--and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire?” Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

His father was the driver of Governor Isabelo Indice, the father of Gloria, the girl to whom he was hopelessly smitten. It was his resolve to cut cleanly from this forbidden yearning.

He could not ignore the weight of the biases and prejudices of centuries of serfdom and servility that was his family legacy. His father was a farmer who went to the city to become a family driver and his father before him tilled the soil of the cane fields of Iloilo and so with his great grandfather…sacadas all.

For the depth that he had dug into his ancestry there was not even a single vestige of highness in any of the generations. His family was of the soil…an indelible distinction as hard to deny as his flat-footedness which is said to be the stigma of a peasant ancestry.

So unfair…he felt that this was so unfair that he was destined for this earthly role that he could not extricate himself from. He raged and ranted for the sordidness of it all but he knew that his protestations were just echoes of familiar plaints of a million voices in the night.

(an adaptation from "Lonelines of a...")

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Lines to Remember 6 (Old Men At Leisure)

“How sweet it is to rest after doing nothing” Old Spanish Proverb

Two old gentlemen were on a fishing boat discussing fish, the open sea, fishing spots, types of fishing and anything that has some association with their present activity. After a long time of waiting for a bite they run out of things to say on the topic.

One said “So what do you plan on doing after going back to shore?”“

I don’t know. These days I never ask nor think what next?”

“Me too, at the moment all I think about is a bite, just one teeny weeny bite.”

“I am sure before we are through you will have something” the second gentleman said.

“When we boarded the boat I had imagined a marlin will strike my line but now that we have been here for more than two hours … I would be happy just to have something a little bigger than my bait to bite.”

“Check the bait, it’s been there too long.”

He started to crank the handle of his reel to bring in the line. A baitless hook emerged… “Darn! Darn! It got away with my bait again.”

“I’m getting tired of this, myself, why don’t we pack up and head for shore?”

They told the boatman to pull up anchor. The boatman tidied up the boat, refilled his gasoline tank and pumped out water that has accumulated in the hull. He was without expression as he went about his chores. He probably didn’t want to offend the two gentlemen by making a tactless remark about their inability to catch fish. Not a snicker nor a wry smile could be drawn from his dried and tanned face. It wasn’t the time for fishing and here were two rare birds fishing out of season. The chance of a repeat of hiring him was his wish and prayer.

Back at the house they sauntered lazily by the veranda. It was an unproductive day. The boat ride was not bad but they could have paid much less for a boat ride than when they chartered a boat for fishing. It didn’t really matter all that much. Both guys have just retired from their professions and money, at least not the amount of money one paid for this leisure, was of consequence.

“What about the rest of the day?”

“What rest of the day? I intend to just lie around and think of ways to get back at the fish who just snubbed us this morning.”

“So, what then for tomorrow?”

“I don’t know. Maybe a round of golf or try our luck at the casino.”

The dialogue went on suggesting all sorts of things that they can do in the morrow.

“Would you like a beer…perhaps some red wine? It’s good for the heart they say.”

“That’s a great idea for tomorrow. Maybe we can just sit around the veranda and have beer and wine all day. Let’s ask the cook to get us a “maliputo”, “alimango” or a slice of “liempo” from the market and then have a really long, long lunch.”

“And then…?”

“I don’t, I guess."

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Lines to Remember 5 (Creativity)

“To see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wildflower... hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour...”

What awesome powers our minds have. Our minds imagine, transform, create, and realize the unimaginable, the sublime and the magical.

We sometimes surprise ourselves with the creation of something of value, a familiar, yet, unaccustomed amazement; a serendipitous moment.

Man has it in him to think beyond the plains of reality and the realm of the obvious. He is capable of wondrous thoughts and creations. Creativity is a god given inheritance, a gift that reveals our ancestry; it is a touch of our divine legacy.

William Blake expressed this amazing potential that we are all heir to.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Lines to Remember 4 (Winning Attitude)

‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” (Julius Caesar, 1.2.135)

Our full potential is stymied by our low regard of ourselves. We accept too easily that being human means that we are prone to error and that we can’t help being inept.

All these weaken our resolve to be better than what we are because we have set the limits and often we reach them long before we have finished setting them up.

Then we protest our piteous state and look for the blame everywhere else except in our own circumstance.

Every human being is capable of achieving the highest he could ever be; it’s just that even on our best runs we always find a way to lose because we don’t believe we can win.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Lines to Remember 3 (True Love)

“If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. And if they don't, they never were." Khalil Gibran

How easily we blame ourselves when our loved ones turn their backs on us for the silliest reason and even only for a nonce. If it comes from those we truly love and from those we think have sincerely loved us no matter how briefly, then it must have been an undeserved change of heart.