Questioning myself

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

| Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash

I know we cannot progress without a healthy amount of optimism and reasonable clarity about the road forward. But the reality is that we do not have both.

Still, no matter the frustration, the rampant disregard for responsibility from duty, and the utter lack of accountability, we cannot stand still, cry our hearts out, or even storm the streets without a road map and some sense of victory. Suicide is out of the question. But I will welcome it from public officials who will commit seppuku out of shame and dishonor.

It must be my age. In my senior years, I cannot seem to find the serenity of retirement amid impending disaster. If I could have that relative peace after a lifetime of sincere effort to help society find a better national life and brighter future, I would seize it and fade in the sunset.

If I keep my interests contained, my network small, and my mobility very limited, I can remain deaf and blind to the horrors that I see and reports of them brought to my attention. And if I care less and choose to love only myself and my family, I need not be concerned about many other things.

But then, I remember Spider-Man and his fateful words, “With great power comes great responsibility.” It may be that I do not have that great power, but it may also be that I have. After all, being part of the minuscule minority at the upper crust of Philippine society, to the greater number below born into poverty and struggling through lifetimes to break that curse, I and all like me have great power. Like children, the poor and marginalized look up and see my ilk and class as giants.

It is not uncommon for people in their 70s to wonder and discuss the strange attraction of legacy. Filipinos, especially, cannot seem to separate themselves from the lives of their children, grandchildren, and grandchildren. If we could, we would want to make their lives safer and more comfortable beyond our own passing. However, there is one big difference between the rich and the poor. The rich can think of legacy for generations ahead; the poor can think of the next meal or paycheck.

I do not have an obsessive urge to save the world. I would like to, but I know I cannot. Any messianic complex in me is not bloated. It is only proportionate to my understanding of how things can be and how far they are from their potential. I want to do much more, but my body contracts in capacity. My mind has become more apparent over time, and I am blessed with experience and many lessons learned. My mentors and gurus would probably tell me, “Let go.”

Of course, I have not only thought about it but have been trying to. Letting go is easy in some departments of life but almost impossible in a few areas, like right versus wrong, which is humanity’s eternal conflict since creation. How do we let go of right and wrong? How do we live out what is right, and how do we defy what is wrong? Or good versus bad?

“So, do I let go? I know I must let go of more of my expectations and frustrations, but I wouldn’t say I like letting go of my aspirations. Additionally, if I see that my ambitions benefit many as well, then even more so, I do not know how to let go of my aspirations for my people.”

When I look at life before me, all I remember and experienced, all the lessons and insights of those who came ahead, I know that I know much better than before. But most of what I know is not complicated; thus, my learning needs less genius and more common sense. In fact, as I kept learning more, I saw that our forefathers and the forefathers of other races had already seen most of the answers. That is why many among us today yearn for the good old days. Many answers were already there.

It is my honor and a great blessing to be a Filipino. I may have been more privileged than millions of my fellow Filipinos. I must thank the Creator and my parents for that. But, when the time came for me to realize that, indeed, I was privileged, I gave in to my curiosity and tried to understand why most Filipinos had lives less blessed or full of dire challenges. I went out of my way to get to know more Filipinos who were previously strangers to me simply because they were poor. And I realized they were more representative of the Filipino, not me, and all like me.

I wonder if I really had a choice to pursue a clear path. The early part was mainly ushered in with little choice on my part. Then, no one forced me out. I could not resist, however. I had to know what was on the other side. I had to open the forbidden door.

If anyone remembers the story of the young Buddha, he only asked why his life was so blessed and why many only knew pain. I heard that story when I was in my late 30s. Strangely, I felt I understood him. Our circumstances were different, but his curiosity felt so familiar. Facing that curiosity, I took a giant leap to find out. Now, I realize I am still on that same journey of 40 years ago.

So, do I let go? I know I must let go of more of my expectations and frustrations, but I wouldn’t say I like letting go of my aspirations. Additionally, if I see that my ambitions benefit many as well, then even more so, I do not know how to let go of my aspirations for my people.

It is time to examine the expectations and how closely history and past efforts, mine and others, came close to them. If it is close enough, it should be continued with fine-tuning. If expectations and reality were too far apart, the expectations and the executions must be amended.

Ah, life remains a mystery. As it unfolds, may I still be curious and adventurous?

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