Chapter 10: The Filipino Dream

It’s ironic that in the past, I would often complain to my fiancee, Mark, that his erratic work hours (as a sound engineer) will take its toll on his health when I myself agree to working in nearly the same set-up, as a copywriter and more recently,as an accounts person, on a retainer basis.

As freelancers, although we recognize the benefits, there’s also a downside to working on a first come first served basis: we can’t predict what our days and weeks will be like. Apart from that, we have lean months and we have more abundant seasons, and during the latter, the work can get pretty overwhelming and the deadlines, unforgiving. For me, this usually comes during the first and last quarters of the year.

Not Enough Time: Freelancers like Mark and I can't always set aside time for non-work related matters outside of our already flaky schedules.

 

Since December 2009  till April 2010, I have been taking on a number of projects that had me working even on weekends and well through the night until the early morning hours. 

The past few weeks were even more tiring. On top of work deadlines, there were a lot of family gatherings to attend, since Mark’s relatives from the US, including his mom, were in town for his brother’s wedding last April 10 as well as our pamamanhikan (a Filipino tradition wherein the man’s family formally asks for a woman’s hand in marriage) last April 13. During the pamamanhikan, I was already sick with what I believed to be a common cold but after 5 days of pill-popping and several doses of Vitamin C, I was nowhere close to getting better. As we urban-living folks usually are–reactive rather than proactive–I went to the doctor only when things got worse.

“You have pneumonitis,” explained Dr. Aquino, as he showed me my x-rays. Dr. Aquino is a chest diseases expert who like me, preferred to work at night with clinic hours beginning at 6pm. In other words, he was the perfect doctor for me.

“It’s starting pneumonia. Your chest x-rays show that you’re getting there,” he continued while pointing out to some ghostly white marks in the region of my chest: the result of months of toiling odd hours has come back to haunt me in the form of a looming disease.

“What causes it?” I asked. I never actually knew what pneumonia was, something that I would later discover as an inflammation of the lungs.

“It’s caused by overfatigue, dehydration and the heat wave. When you’re too tired, your body’s immunity goes down,” he replied as he drew up a long list of antibiotics, decongestants, antitussives, other un-pronounceable drugs on his notepad. Apart from the pneumonitis, Dr. Aquino also pointed out that I had mild asthma. I was sent home to stay there for an entire week,  forbidden to attend Spanish class, which I already missed for a total of 3 sessions, or do any work in the coming days.

It may be uncomfortable to be releasing phlegm all day but the doctor’s orders sounded like music to my ears. Now, all I have to do is stay in bed, read my books and take the drugs after every breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was as if disease was the ultimate savior from all the work that caused it in the first place.

I have overfatigue to thank for giving me the opportunity to rest from...overfatigue.

 

Ironically, I couldn’t get my to-do list out of my head and realized just how hard it is to disengage myself from the daily grind. I  must cancel my meeting for Monday morning. I must tell the web designer to get in touch directly with the clients regarding the images he need. I have to tell the studio that I will be indisposed for a week. I need to photocopy Spanish notes. I must. I must. I must!

While all this was happening, Mark and I also got into an argument about what we wanted out of our future professional lives. Having recognized the health risks of 24-hour, sometimes 48-hour, shooting days and after almost a decade of doing film-related work, Mark was getting emotionally, mentally and physically tired of his job and wanted to move into the 9-to-5 realm, away from the schizophrenic, flaky world of Philippine cinema–an option he had also discussed with his own shrink.

“I need  time to do the things I want to,” he told me. “Like going back to my music.”

It’s ironic. We always expect a freelance set-up to be more accommodating to non-work activities yet in some cases, its unpredictability leaves little flexibility for recreation. You never know when an instant deadline will knock off your plans to go to Batangas for the weekend.

Mark, who has always loved writing and performing folk music, has not done that for several years. Hence, he began entertaining a possible career shift, alongside being a weekend businessman, since the two of us plan to start an enterprise focused on production and marketing communications. Moreover, since he had all this equipment, not to mention contacts in the production industry, his gadgets would comprise additional capital for the company. 

This was the good news. I totally agreed with his brave plans to reinvent his professional life, but I got edgy when he mentioned this: “I’m thinking of going back to school again. Take up Library Science. You know, just in case I get an opportunity to work for the UN.”

Mark’s mom has been enjoying a satisfying career as a librarian at the UN headquarters in New York and this means, when she retires, Mark or his brother can possibly apply for the same position. It’s a fairly specialized job hence a library science degree would be especially helpful.

Now, it may sound like a great opportunity. I’m sure it is but what worried me wasn’t the nature of the work per se or the chance to work in New York City, the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of” as Alicia Keys would sing. It was the prospect that this sort of move for my future husband would mean, we would have to relocate to the First World together or endure a long-distance relationship, which in my book, will never work out. 

The thought made me feel even sicker to my antibiotic-saturated stomach and the reason is this. I grew up in a culture that has a high regard for entrepreneurship and nation-building. I was influenced to treat employment as a time to build skills and a network, which I would later use for a personal venture. Immigration is one of those things I vowed never to do because quite honestly, I fear discrimination (yes, even in liberal New York).I  also feel disheartened by the thought of leaving a familiar place, where most of my family and best friends are. As a city with a high cost of living, moving to New York would mean my monthly overhead would cost much more than here in Manila. Sure, the wages are higher too, but to my mind, an ideal set-up is to earn well enough from a business and to have low overhead so that we can save more. Above all, I fear that I might have to go back to being an employee. 

A long-distance relationship challenges you to develop the skill of turning each other on with just your voice or YM chat.

 

These statements aren’t meant to put down people with dreams of going to their personal Canaan. My own best friend loves New York so much–her sister practices there as a doctor–and the thought of studying and working in the Big Apple did enter her mind. Mark and I have several friends and relatives who have started their lives all over again by migrating to the US. My own brother and his family is in the process of moving to Canada. I am merely saying that it is my personal choice to remain here because my dream is to have  an enterprise (or ideally, even a series of businesses) that will help me fulfill an economically-rewarding life while having the opportunity to provide work for other people. I still believe this country to be great in spite its shortcomings and failings; and the best part is, because the cost of living is low, I have better chances of saving my finances so I can travel more and hopefully, see the world, for another dream of mine is to become a seasoned tourist.

Yet in the meantime, this is not my reality–yet.

The truth is I have been overworked by several projects and because the economy is not performing as well as in past years, my usual rates have been cut down by clients more often than not. In this country, if you’re not a tycoon, a real-estate mogul or a trust fund baby, you better be able to multitask in order to earn fair enough to pay the monthly bills. However, sometimes what you give up in exchange is a healthy state of body and state of mind. 

Even if I do start a business, I will still be affected by other forms of uncertainty like economy and the socio-political atmosphere.

Knowing this, maybe it is better for me to just drop everything and yes, move to the first world, where I can build  a stable career at a stable institution, away from the corruption, pollution and the occupational hazards of the Third World. Yet, the other side of me says, No! Don’t give up yet on that dream! If all else fails, only then, will we move out of the contry.

It’s sad just thinking about all this: that your country is just Plan A or Plan B; to know that what our nation has failed to give us–a stable, peaceful and healthy life–has easily weakened its boundaries and made it easier, even more attractive, for us to move past those ragile borders and into the lands we clearly see in the horizon: the First World, flowing freely with milk and honey.

It’s even sadder to know that even though Filipinos may go to other countries, not all of them will have golden opportunities to work at the best companies in the world’s most flourishing nations. There is a sector of economically-disadvantaged individuals–mostly women–who are working as domestic helpers in places like Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia.

According to the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project, Filipino migration has a “female face.” In 2006, 1,083,538 documented Overseas Filipino Workers were deployed to more than 190 destinations. Of these, 60% were women. Several of these domestic helpers become victims of maltreatment, nonpayment, underpayment, contract substitution, long and unforgiving working hours and sexual abuse. The may also become the unfortunate targets of shady and illegal “placement firms” which they depended on in the first place to find work. How heartbreaking it must be to find out that you were not in trustworthy hands!

Famous cases include Sarah Balabagan, whose controversial life as a Domestic Helper in the United Arab Emirates involved the murder of an employer who allegedly raped her, Flor Contemplacion, who was sentenced to death by hanging in Singapore and more recently, the mysterious “Melissa” whose rape by her employer was captured on phone by a fellow OFW. 

The tragic story of Flor Contemplacion, a Filipino domestic helper, was translated to the big screen in a biopic starring Nora Aunor.

 

In 2006, these overseas workers generated $10.7 billion in remittances to their families, boosting economy and earning them the title of “unsung heroes.” However, oftentimes the decision to work in a foreign land–with the well-meaning goal of providing for their own families–comes with the cost of their health, sanity, happiness and sometimes, their very lives.

In my own family, we have a relative who has experienced the isolating life of working as a domestic helper in a country that I will not disclose.

“I was lucky to have very nice employers,” she told me in Filipino, during one of our conversations, during her first few weeks back in the Philippines. “But it’s not typical for these people to feed their helpers. You have to buy your own food and food there is so expensive!” Filipinos being the way they are, love to eat and the Pinoy homeowner usually share their meals with the house helpers. 

She recounts days of intense hunger after working from sun up to way past sun down. She remembers several moments of homesickness yet finding solace in her fellow Filipinas. She is likewise grateful to have had “very nice” employers, by contrast to other unfortunate women she knew, who were thrown into jail for crimes that they have not been proven to have committed against their employers. 

When I hear stories like this, it makes me wonder, what is the Filipino Dream? If it is a dream at all, why does it tend to sound more like a nightmare.

Certainly, a lot of our hardest decisions are based on a desire and a need to support our families for we are a family-centered people; and our large weddings and full houses are just a few examples to support that. We are very dependent on each other, from parents to first degree cousins and beyond. What we are not is the independent American who leaves home at 18 to find a job; yet, we are willing to leave behind our homeland, to live amongst the fiercely independent Americans, Australians and Europeans out of sheer love for our spouses, sons, daughters, parents! That is why it isn’t easy. Being family-centered, once we stretch the physical spaces that bound us together, we are left with a large void that we try to fill with several long-distance calls and lengthy emails. Mark is one of those who saw this option as an attractive one, because in the long run, he wants to support me and our future children–if all else doesn’t work out.

For all its challenges, we are still willing to cut the umbilical cord that binds us to our motherland. Maybe we are becoming just like our Caucasian counterparts, independent and ready to say goodbye to one’s parents to seek a sovereign land of opportunity…but not entirely, because, sometimes, we choose to bring the entire family with us as we migrate. 

It's the ultimate migration-or-death story when Moses led the Israelites out of their difficult lives in Egypt. Once they reach the Promised Land though, they begin a sinful life of excess and idol-worship.

 

Having said all this, I wonder why am I so concerned. I’m not the most nationalistic person I know. I don’t read as much Filipino literature as I should, which is a shame because I enrolled myself in the state university five years ago to study writing. I don’t have the best Filipino vocabulary and often find myself the laughing stock of friends and family who marvel at questions like “What’s puntod?” said in my colegiala accent, a manner of speaking that is native to Catholic School girls who mix English with Tagalog so well that each language loses its identity. 

I believe that I could be an even prouder Filipino. I am not even a brave one, like my contemporaries who will go to such lengths as moving to other countries with entire families in tow, and beginning their own rewarding careers in the big cities of the world. Sometimes, I think I even envy them when I hear stories about how progressive and clean their country of migration is compared to poor, filthy, stinky Metro Manila and her many shanties, bumpy roads and street beggars.

Filipinos like me are probably the reason why we don’t have a clear sense of who we are as a people. We love the Western world so much with its movie stars, its luxuries and personally, its large network of Sephora make-up stores (What no Sephora in Manila? How backward!).

But maybe by contrast, that is what we are. We are defined by our hybrid quality as a bilingual people; our hybrid culture which combines Malay, Spanish and American influences, due of course to centuries of occupation, colonization and I’m sure a fascination will tall, white, sharp-nosed people; and finally our constant movement through the continents. 

Maybe that is why the Filipino dream can exist anywhere in this world. It is that physical, emotional and mental space where we build our careers, grow our families and fulfill our dreams–whether we choose to work in a big, busy mega city or run a quiet livelihood here in the country.

But this very mode of existence, as people of the world, presents an even greater challenge and that is the challenge to protect the Filipino well-being, wherever  the Filipino may be on the planet. Somehow, we have to be each other’s doctors, nurses, shrinks and counsellors, guarding the overall health and well-being of our fellow men and women–from the financial to the spiritual.

If we choose to become local entrepreneurs, let’s prioritize the needs of our employees such as health benefits, opportunities to grow, fair wages, a safe working environment and the occasional night out with lots of cold beer, hot gossip and sizzling sisig. Let us also find ways to put the Filipino name on the global map by producing local products and services that are world-class. There are already a number of businesspeople doing this. For starters, visit Greenbelt 5 in Makati and check out the designer row as well as the furniture places at the top floor. In particular, there is this one Pampanga-based enterprise that creates vintage-inspired, travel-themed furniture that is just too lovely to pass!

Arnel Papa, who has a store in Greenbelt 5, is one of my favorite local designers. For 20 years, he has been exporting his creations to the US and Europe, joining the ranks of other globally-recognized designers like Bea Valdes and Tina Maristela-Ocampo (of Celestina). I guess, getting featured in the pages of Vogue automatically counts as world recognition.

 

If we decide to be employees or freelancers, let’s do ourselves a favor and try, just try not to work exclusively for the money. Yes, it may be seen as a means to an end, and yes, good financial health is still something we ought to aim for (after all it is about making a living!) but I think it is also our duty to ourselves to find some degree of satisfaction in what we do, then from there, we will be motivated enough to be proactive and productive individuals who will be indispensable to our respective industries. Other than that, and this is something I’ve had to learn the hard way, let’s keep our health and well-being in check–the same goes for business owners! 

If we choose to migrate, I believe the same principles must apply. I may not be a migrant myself but if I were one, I think that if you’re going to live and work in another country, you better do something you will be passionate about. While in that country–whether temporarily or permanently–I think that we should also be accountable for the well-being of our fellow citizens (who can understand them better than we do) but at the same time, we should also learn to embrace the people in the country we have chosen. After all, they welcomed us, gave us jobs and a place in their society. Don’t you think that makes them worthy of our gratefulness, at the very least? Besides, integration is one thing that we Pinoys are so good at and that is one skill that would certainly help in making migration feel a little less strange and its foreign faces a little more familiar.

Life and work is hard enough. The question is: how do we create a sense of community through the highs and lows?

How do create a sense of community that will keep us strong during high times and low times?

Finally, wherever we are, let’s be aware of those spaces where the health and happiness of the Filipino worker is threatened. Everything begins by listening to their needs, no matter how close or far-flung they may be. No, I don’t think you even have to be a social worker or a radical to do this. The simple Pinoy can begin with his or her own sphere of influence. It’s as simple as taking an over-stressed co-worker to a relaxing day at a spa or volunteering a little of your time or resources to a cause or a charity you believe in–and there are so many of them out there! It is never to late to find one that is close to your heart, whether it’s something as universal as basic human rights or something more concentrated like education for special children, youth entrepreneurship or environmental awareness, cancer or cleft palate. No one cause is more important than the other. The truth is there are just too many issues to deal with, we may as well spread out our energies and do our part. The world is already a harsh place to live in. Let’s not make it even harder by creating a war of advocacies.

That is because everything we do is connected to each other and all our aspirations are interwoven into one big dream that is shared by every Filipino. Though we may not know the people beyond our 3rd degree of consanguinity, our family extends to those unfamiliar faces no matter how far. Every act of awareness as well as every choice to remain ignorant affects the health and happiness of a people.

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Published in: on April 22, 2010 at 10:58 am  Leave a Comment  
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Chapter 9: Stealing Beauty

“Your nose is too big for your face,” Dr. Fernandez commented after using a Mongol pencil to measure my nose in relation to the rest of my features. He was my parents’ skin doctor but was also a cosmetic surgeon whose clientele were mostly matronly women twice (or more) my age getting breast jobs, face and eye lift. “But the rest is in proportion,” he added. A breath of relief, I thought–at least there was still something positive to say about my God-given assets.

For the longest time, I had been known as “Ilong” to my closest friends from Assumption, who got a kick out of joking how my brains were located above my septum or how I had bad hearing because my sense of smell was too dominant, even though the constant ringing in my ears is due to drumming since I was 14. However, they were not the only ones who made a fuss of my big nose.

In the movie, Penelope, the title character (played by Christina Ricci) is cursed with a snout for a nose. In order to find a husband, her mother sets her up with high-society bachelors, who each converses with her behind a mirror, in the hope of finding a mate who will love Penelope for her intelligence and charm.

 

I was 21 years old when my mom suggested (for the nth time) that I consider getting it reduced. Being part-Spanish, my mom had a nicely-shaped nose and always attributed my “flaw” to my Dad’s side of the family. The Darios are known for their big noses and dark skin. But throughout the years, I declined the offer to get a rhinoplasty: my big nose had actually become my signature. Hey, Barbara Streisand didn’t get her own prominent nose fixed!

But when Dr. Fernandez explained that his style of sculpting noses was to make it a more ideal version of what the patient already has, then I felt more convinced. “People should be able to look at you and think you got a new haircut,” he explained. True enough, my schoolmates could not point out what had changed until I revealed that I had gone through a cosmetic procedure.

“Let me know if you want to push through with this,” he said. Less than one week later I was on the operating room table of the Makati Medical Center, getting my first surgery, fully-awake and scared as hell.

However, six years later, I wonder if going under the knife would have affected Mark’s initial attraction to me; so I asked him last week: “If I still had my big nose, would you still like me?” 

Di ko rin masasabi. [I wouldn’t know.]” He answered with a mischievous grin.

I wanted to slap him across his face and break his own nose. Yet somehow, this remark has managed to disturb me and make me wonder: did interfering with my looks affect my marriageability on a superficial level? Which leads to another question, “Do I deserve this or am I just  a big phony?”

Left: My ID picture pre-cosmetic surgery. This was taken around 2000. Right: My nose today. This is also how I look without make-up.

 

We all know that physical attraction plays a role in getting people together. Girls have it easier though. We slap on make-up, pluck our eye brows, get stylish haircuts and have more fashion options than the boys. How is plastic surgery supposed to be different from regularly applying shimmery peach blush to highlight your cheekbones?

Some people will argue by saying that we should never mess with what nature has given us; that when it comes to love, your mate should appreciate you for who you are; that our insecurities with our bodies are the result of media’s influence. Yada Yada yada.

Nowadays, who is truly 100% natural?

A few years ago, I read a book called Survival of the Prettiest by Nancy Etcoff, a medical psychologist at Harvard. Etcoff debunks the entire media-as-dictator-of-beauty-standards and examines physical attraction from an evolutionary point-of-view. Men like fair skin, big hips and small waists because these are all signs of nubility. Even more intriguing, Etcoff conducted studies among isolated tribal peoples who have never been exposed to mass media and asked them to rate faces perceived as beautiful in western cultures–the results were consistent. In another study, mothers–although they will never admit if–tend to take better care of babies who are “more attractive” then their other siblings. It’s a refreshing and eye-opening examination of why we are drawn to individuals with chiseled faces and hot booties. Physical looks is not so much about culture as it is about the survival of the human race. 

"He looks just like my ex-husband," remarked one of the senior women in the home for the aged where Benjamin Button--born with a strange condition that makes him age backwards--was lovingly raised by his adoptive mom.

Defying the rules of evolution and beauty, Benjamin Button, who is born with a condition that makes him age backwards, is lovingly cared for by his adoptive mother.

 

So, maybe the act of agreeing to having my nose nipped, tucked and sewn for two hours an unconscious attempt to ensure the survival of my genes?

The life instinct has resulted to a billion-dollar industry dominated by fashion, beauty and cosmetic surgery. Nowadays, there’s nothing you can’t fix, whether temporarily through a lip-plumping gloss that coats your pucker in light acids, or permanently, such as “vaginal rejuvenation,” a type of surgery that essentially promises to return you to your virgin state, several babes later. Looking younger–pointed by Etcoff as another important factor in race survival, which encourages the caring instinct of individuals towards people with childlike features–is as easy as getting shots of Botox in between your eyebrows or having a Brazilian wax, revealing you pre-puberty self below that 20-year old forest of pubic hairs. There really is something behind that line that I’ve heard Mark say several times: “Parang masarap siyang alagaan [It would be nice to take care of her] .” What’s a couple of thousands, not to mention a little procedural pain, in the greater scheme of race survival? It’s not impossible to steal a little bit of that youthful glow in order to make ourselves remain attractive to the opposite sex.

I may not be 30 yet, but wrinkles are starting to become a problem as I begin noticing very small lines beneath the corners of my eyes. Lately, my beauty regimen has started to include products with the word “anti-ageing.”

That’s when I realized that I will not forever be the young, 21-year old girl, who Mark met in 2004. 

Remarking on the abundance of cosmetic options at our disposal, a family friend commented that in this day and age, if you're ugly, it's your fault.

 

“What would you do if you meet a cute 21-year old when I’m already wrinkled and full of stretch marks from having kids?” I asked Mark.

“I’ll just look,” he said, “but I won’t touch.” The good thing is, both of us have a clear understanding that it is in our nature to admire other people. For the past 5 years, we have been very open about acknowledging other people’s beauty to each other.

“You will always be that ‘young girl’ to me,” he added–and I believe in the sincerity of his words. Still, the reality stands: I will not be able to cling to my youth forever, nor will Mark. Both of us will grow old. Yet I still believe that with this commitment to each other–plus a little help from my bikini waxer and a bottle of Elizabeth Arden Prevage–our survival in this crazy world will be ensured.

– Punky

Chapter 8: A Reason to Believe

One of the best parts of going to college at my alma mater, Assumption, was I immensely enjoyed most, if not all, of my theology classes.

Being a sectoral school, all students, regardless of religion, were required to take up 8 classes of theology.

Now that condition sounds like indoctrination into a specific set of religious values but what interested me more was the historical approach that went into the teaching of Christianity. Our teachers showed us how to understand Biblical texts in the context of the culture in which it was written. Reading involved deconstruction. We begin by situating it in the sociological situation of the authors (e.g. what was their worldview? what did it mean to be a carpenter during the time of Christ?). Next, we try to understand what is written between the lines in order to extract a moral that fits well with the concept of  values that cut across race and religion. Moreover, my professors made the subject even more engaging by going beyond the usual Biblical films to illustrate the subject matter at hand. We watched movies like Babette’s Feast, which lends itself well to a theological reading, as well as Cinema Paradiso. The only Biblically-set movie I remember seeing presented an alternative depiction of Christ, as being more human than divine. 

In theology class, we were encouraged to rethink what we knew of the Christian Bible and reminded that the forbidden fruit wasn't necessarily an apple just because this was the popular representation in art.

 

After years of Christian Living Education, a requisite in the Catholic school curriculum, it was refreshing to study one of the most significant pieces of literature and to understand it from a theological perspective. 

But other than that, what I remember most fondly about my Theology teachers was how one of them gave us so much advice about marriage and family. She was a happily married mother of two, who gave such tips as maintaining a great sex life, which was indispensable to a blissful marriage and allowing your child to sleep on you naked (no diapers!) as to allow a more intimate skin-to-skin, almost primal experience between mother and child. 

This particular professor was also once a pink nun; and her husband a former priest. Before they entered a contemplative life, they had been together as a couple before parting ways to join their respective orders.

Her love story is an excellent example of being resolute in the decisions made about one’s life. As a pink nun, she regularly did flagellations and stayed indoors most of the time. Her order is also famous for accepting eggs from people who didn’t want rain to fall during their special day. Hence, a good number of about-to-be-weds approach them–as does advertising people who don’t want dark clouds hovering during their painstakingly-planned events, for which clients shelled out millions of pesos in funds.

However, time passed and both of them–although separate–decided that they wanted to devote themselves to a married life instead.

I remember our professor telling us about how her fellow nuns accepted her decision without question, gave their blessings and even arranged for her to meet with her former loved one. In the quiet recesses of the convent and with little words to express their mutual decision, nun and priest agreed that they would leave behind their religious lives to become husband and wife. It was an engagement like no other.

My professor’s post-convent life found her teaching, ironically, at a convent school, where the nuns appointed her as head of the Theology department during the time when I was a student.

Now you would probably think that as a theologian, she would promote a specific religion to students. By contrary, she suggested that we should try to give our future children the freedom to join a religion of their choice. 

In a traditional Catholic society wherein most children are baptized in their 1st month, choosing one's religion later in life is not a common scenario.

 

Nowadays, that sort of tip would have surely come from the Brangelina School of Family Values. However, it has always seemed as attractive an option to me now as it was then.

I admit that I’m not the most religious individual. I am not very good with the rituals involved during Holy Week. In fact, I probably should be ashamed of myself for not taking these traditions seriously.

It makes me wonder then, when I become a parent, how will I educate my children in matters of spirituality, particularly in our very Christian society? 

To begin with, Mark and I plan to start our married life with a civil union. Most people in my circle–whether Roman Catholic or Muslim–go through a religious ceremony. Most people are expected to have their newborns baptized. By contrast, and in agreement with my former professor’s advice, we want our future child to choose the religion that he or she feels the most in touch with.

But how do we do that, short of providing our kids with a library of all the world’s religious texts a la Brad and Angelina?

Moreover, will our family go through some sort of discrimination because we’re not “blessed” individuals, especially if we enroll our future kids in a Catholic school, which is the norm in this society because the most reputable academic institutions happen to be sectoral.

As in foregoing an infant baptism, skipping the Roman Catholic rites is among the non-traditional plans that Mark and I have.

 

Which leads me to my next question, what do we really mean by living a blessed life? What does it mean to be a good human being for others? 

My discomfort with religion has mostly been  due to the cold, repetitive rituals that come with it. On the other hand, I’d like to believe that there are people who truly take their devotion to specific saints with utmost seriousness. The late president Cory Aquino was even a devout Marian follower. Who are we to question their faith? Everybody needs to believe in something greater than themselves, especially amidst an uncertain, disastrous and painful world. Unfortunately, it’s not even religion all the time. It could be the next presidential candidate, in all his messianic glory and promises of a better life in a nation flowing with milk and honey; or the world record-breaking, home-grown athlete who went from rags to riches.

On the more extreme side, religious fundamentalism truly frightens me as much as terrorism does. I don’t see the logic behind going to the extent of discriminating or even ending the lives of other people because they are different–in terms of race, religion or sexual orientation. At the end of the day, I believe it’s all about caring for people for who they are–human beings with basic rights, including a right to be loved–and recognizing, encouraging the goodness that they are capable of.  

With every win (and the enormous paycheck that comes with it) Manny Pacquiao gives his Filipino fans faith in the possibility that even a simple man from the province of General Santos can rise to world fame.

 

I still believe that faith should encompass more than being a “Sunday Catholic.” Between the weekly masses, there is the rest of our lives to live and the question of how we live it.

How do we treat the people we work with? How do we teach our children not to bully the other kids? How do we show our appreciation for family–whether it’s through words, gestures or a humble gift? 

My alma mater’s founder, St. Marie Eugenie was known for inspiring the first Assumption students to be “Women of Faith, Women of Action.”

Faith becomes an empty shell when there’s nothing real to support it. But what I do know is this: I believe in the universal values that bind us as people and that alone gives me a reason for being.

– Punky

***

Eli (Denzel Washington) teaches Solara (Mila Kunis) to say a prayer of thanks for the evening meal.

 

As a final note, I recommend the movie Book of Eli for your Holy Week viewing (in addition to all the eye-opening, investigative and biblical-themed documentaries on National Geographic). The film is a great depiction of how the ambitious can abuse the power of religion for personal gain and how faith figures in  a post-apocalyptic world. There are a lot of Christian symbolisms in Book of Eli but most of all what I personally liked best was how it was not an in-your-face religious-themed film.

Published in: on April 2, 2010 at 7:36 pm  Comments (1)  
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