Sunday, May 20, 2007

I woke up early this morning. I was to accompany my grandfather to his hometown in Pampanga. At eighty plus years old, he is still up and about. He is never idle and might get sick of inactivity. But as the years slowly pass by, I realize that he has few years left remaining in his life.

He could still manage to go travel alone. But still, I egged on my mom that I should go with him. Even if he is still agile, perhaps even more than people a decade younger than he is, I still fear that he should not be left alone traveling that far a distance.

Our first stop was at Bacolor, my grandfather’s hometown. This was the town mostly damaged by lahar during the onslaught of Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption in the 1990s. It’s not as deserted as it has been the last time we saw the place. Some road improvements have been made. New stalls, although still empty, have been developed for the town market. What used to be the upper floor of the old houses is now paved to ground. We never saw any of his relatives, except for some people who knew him long ago. I guess we just went there so he could see the place where he spent his childhood years. We saw the trade school where he studied. As we passed a town statue, he proudly told me that it was his grandfather, a previous mayor of the town. Here I also learned a little bit of history, that Bacolor was previously the capital of Pampanga.

It took us only a few minutes stay, and off we went to see his kuya (older brother) at Angeles City. During our jeepney ride, we both noticed all the changes that have happened in the places we passed by. He used to bring me along to Pampanga when I was still a child, more than two decades ago, driving his yellow Beetle.

When he saw his kuya, there was no much fuss about their greeting. But I am very sure that they are both happy even just to see each other. Both are now bachelors again. His kuya told me that he is now eighty six years old, as he reads the morning paper sans eyeglasses on. They had nothing much to say to each other. Sometimes, the silence is even deafening. But I guess when you’ve reached an age as they have been, and when you’ve been with each other growing up, you don’t need much talk to convey what you feel for one another.

During the short few hours we’ve been there, there are some few things that impressed upon me.

I learned about the hardship my grandfather and his brother have been through. They grew up without a father. My grandfather was still inside his pregnant mother and his brother was just a year old when their father died. It was because of that void that my grandpa wanted that his children would never miss a father's love.

He recalls how, as children, they were raised by their grandmother. I think he mentioned that many times. Perhaps when you reach his age, you either repeat things a lot unconsciously, or you want to put emphasis on some things that are very important to you.

It makes me glad that I accompanied my grandpa. I realize that it gives him a little extra strength to visit his hometown, and to see his brother again. On the other hand, I also feel a bit sad when I try to analyze this trip. There would be not much left for these kinds of visit in the future. Sooner or later, each one of them would not be able to travel. If God would forbid, this could be the last time the brothers may see each other, or the last time my grandpa would ever have a look at his hometown.

It must be important to once in a while, go back to your roots. Visit your kinsmen, and pay respect to your elders. I might pay a visit to Abra one day soon.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

“He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how” - Friedrich Nietzsche

Someone asked me why I think so much of such things concerning my belief. Why not? I myself was surprised to be asked such a question. Why wouldn’t we think of things that matter to our future, even if we might consider it beyond our knowledge? Should we go on living life as if we are just passing by? If that is so, then we are no different from a headless chicken running around without any direction, without any goal.

Isn’t it a dreadful idea to think that we do not have any purpose or meaning at all? Why, even those who don’t believe in God or a creator have sets of ideas, theories or philosophies, and what-have-yous. And to me, however one might put it, that in itself is also a belief.

Neurologist and Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor, attempted to find meaning in life while he was in a Nazi concentration camp. He developed the term logotheraphy or “will to meaning” which states some basic principles that life has a meaning, even the most miserable ones, that our motivation to live is to find a meaning in our life, and that we have freedom to find that meaning in whatever circumstances we are in.

“It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather Cover of Viktor Frankl's book Man's Search for Meaning.  Published by Washington Square Press.  Revised and released October 23, 1984.what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”
What then is the meaning of life? This has been one of the most frequently asked question, which developed different approach and variations. For Frankl, to have a meaning is to have a reason or an object to live. For some scientists, the meaning of life would be to find out where or how life originated. Philosophers and those concerned with ethics ask how we could make this life better, or what is the most virtuous way to live. Religion and spirituality is of course concerned with how we must live this life, and where we would be after this. Thus, I’m surprised at those who either ignore the question or doesn’t even ask it at all. This then leads me to the question of life after this. Or is there such a thing?

I used to memorize Epicurus’ philosophy that “death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist.” I thought it was cool not to be concerned about what happens next. But deep within me is a mixture of wonder and curiosity, fear and doubt. I wondered what must it be to experience death? So I was curious how such an experience could be. But of course I wouldn’t know. Who on earth would know? I didn’t dare attempt to find out either because I was afraid that somehow, something is wrong or missing from Epicurus’ statement. And so I doubted my own doubt. Death does concern me after all.

Again, I’ll borrow from Epicurus’ words but take license to alter it. “Death does concern us, because while we exist, we won’t know when it comes. And when it does come, where are we?”

Think about it.

Going back to my original question, what then is the meaning of my life? What is my purpose? Rick Warren opens his best selling book “The Purpose Driven Life” with the question “What on Earth am I here for?” But the basic tenet of his book, if I may phrase it loosely, is a that God has a generic purpose for us all. That we are designed to worship God, to belong to God’s family of believers, to become like Christ, to serve God and to fulfill God’s mission for us. I do not attempt to disagree with Warren’s model. But not only am I concerned with the “generic” purpose God has designed all of us for, but I am also concerned with the “specific” purpose God has planned for me.

My story is not yet done.