My family spent this New Year week with my wife’s family at Gumaca, Quezon, a coastal town facing the Pacific Ocean. It’s a small fishing community with very little amenities. In fact, most of the houses still used traditional construction materials like coconut lumber, bamboo, anahaw and nipa grass roof. Beautiful houses especially for someone used to seeing shanties made out of rusted corrugated tin, torn plywoods, disintegrating fiberboards, yellowed plastic sheets, concrete barriers, all these assortment of materials ideal for the garbage dump and not for building human habitation. (This does not mean that we live in a palace. No, ours is an old humble-termite ridden-rat infested-disintegrating house too, but it’s still relatively comfortable to live in.)
In order to get to the beach, I had to cross an old Philippine National Railroad track that, according to my mother in law, has been out of service since the last super typhoon hit the country.
I didn’t know what suddenly got into me, boredom maybe; I suddenly had the urge to walk along the tracks. I followed the tracks for about thirty minutes, stopping here and there to look at the trees, wild flowers, and the beach. The tracks, the beach, the coconut tress, the simple homes and ways of the fisher folks reminded of Michener’s novel “The South Pacific” and “Return to Paradise.”(I love Michener. The first Michener novel I read was Chesapeake; I read it overnight. Beautiful descriptions and narration…)
I was about fifteen minutes in my walk when I noticed the tracks disappeared under earth—buried. A few minutes later, it resurfaced, and then disappeared again, buried, then resurfaced again. The surfacing and the resurfacing of the tracks reminded of, this may sound corny and trite, my spiritual life. My Christian life was buried by sin, then resurfaced, then was buried again by doubts, then resurfaced, then was buried again by problems, then resurfaced, then buried again etc. it’s not the burying that’s important but the resurfacing. Of course, one get sick of the pattern but I don’t think anyone has ever achieved a perfectly stable spiritual life, one can only be reminded of Paul and his affliction:
I don’t know, I may have quoted the verse out of context but that’s how I feel about it.
I was chased by dogs. The owners shouted, “Who are you?”
“I’m from Manila (actually from Taytay, Rizal, a few miles away from Manila but still considered Manila if you’re in the provinces), just vacationing here.” I shouted.
They reined in the dog.
I walked back to my in-law’s house. I enjoyed the trees, the sea breeze, the wild flowers, the birds. There were many birds, colorful singing sweet melodies. Why is it that birds sing better here? There were lizards, salamanders running across the tracks, insects, earthworms, touch me nots, bananas.
I was sitting on the tracks. Relaxing. A man sat next to me, “so you had a drink with Roel (my brother in law)?” He said, “Roel’s wife is my cousin.”
“No,” I said. I’m done with drinking.
“You know,” he said between puffs of cheap cigarettes, “I used to work for the rail road company. If not for the damned goat I could have been retired now and receiving my pension, it’s the damned goat.”
“What about the goat?” I asked him.
“I stole a goat.” He said.
“No, fate (kapalaran),” He stood up and walked away.
Many people in the neighborhood have no electricity. They had no New Year’s Eve celebration. For many Filipinos New Year’s eve is more important than Christmas’ eve--New Years Eve is more festive than Christmas Eve. But for many people in the neighborhood, New Year and Christmas is just another ordinary day. I was guilt ridden. I asked my sister in law, is it always been this way. “No,” she said. Maybe, my wife’s family was once like them, in fact, come to think of it, even my family was once of them. We’re just a little better off than them…just a little better off…
It made think of how we count our blessing by comparing them with other people’s misfortunes. “Be thankful to God that you have an old shoe! Think of the people who have no feet! Thank God that you had a humble Christmas dinner! Think of all the people who were ravaged by the storm in Bicol! Amen, praise the Lord for you are all blessed! May I ask for prayers for our brothers who were victims of the calamity in Bicol.” Now, does that bring comfort to this ole sentimental heart of mine? Damned the torpedoes and the stilettos, heck no! It’s sick, if you asked me. This kind of thinking is sick, sadistic even.
I love the province, close to nature, close to God. Of course, God is always close.