Sunday, August 03, 2008
9:04 PM |
Good and Evil
Because my fiction is occasionally salacious, and because I mostly write about the most worldly stuff, not a lot of people will believe—especially those who barely know me—that among my closest friends, I’m kinda known as the guy who wears his naïveté on his sleeves.
I don’t think they mean this label as a flaw of character: I believe it as a kind of endearment from them. Because, truth to tell, I was once
quite naive. (“Once” is the operative word.) Mostly, anyway. I’ve had my share of rabid moments, and I have never
been a saint. I could be quite calculatingly noxious if I wanted to—although most of my friends would immediately tell me that my efforts at “badness” were actually quite pathetic. “Like a cat trying to be a tiger,” Mark once said. Ouch.
Once, when I was a boy of seven or eight, my family lived in this house that was in the bowels of downtown, right beside Holy Cross High School, and accessible only by a narrow and winding cement pathway that led from the streets and crisscrossed through many byways to our landlord’s front door. In those days, kids played rowdy games, under the heat of the sun—unlike the indoorsy play that consumes most children today. We—the neighborhood kids and I—played “gira-gira.” A game of war, so to speak. My playmates were mostly children from poor families living in the houses around us, and things must have taken on a more heated note, because the two sides waging the “battle” were suddenly throwing stones at each other. And I must have been quite the expert shot, because my arm swing was strong and accurate: the pebble I had thrown landed squarely on the middle of the forehead of the tomboy of the other group. She ran screaming to her mother, and that ended our play for the afternoon. I remember being racked with guilt with the possibilities of recrimination. Was I going to jail for this?
I remember thinking that. I hid the rest of the afternoon in my room, hoping that my mother would not hear about what I had done.
In the early evening, the mother of the injured child had come to our apartment, demanding to see my own mother: she showed her girl with a bandaged head, and demanded that my mother pay for the medical bills and the prescription made by the doctor.
My mother, who was a Bible-thumping woman, was livid. When the woman and her child left, she screamed for me, and I fearfully left the darkness of my bedroom towards the light of the living room where she was.
“What did you do?!” she shouted at me. “I don’t have spare money for these things. Look at what you’ve done!”
“I’m sorry, mama,” I said, “We were just playing!”
“She threw one at me, and so I threw one at her!” I said. I was already crying by this time.
She was not moved by my tears. She was still shouting at me. She had to go Biblical to show me the magnitude of my sins. “But did you know that the Bible said that even when your enemies punch you on one eye, you have to turn and give them your other eye?”
“Yes, mama, I know, mama!” I cried, and cried.
“And the Bible also said that when your enemies throw rocks at you, you throw back at them loaves of bread instead?”
“But mama,” I said, “I didn’t have any loaves of bread with me!”
I was quite surprised when she began laughing instead.
Point is: I can throw stones, point-blank in fact—but there will always be a part of me wishing for loaves of bread to throw in the heat of any battle.
My mother, God bless her, has raised me to be a pacifist. And an eternal optimist, especially in dealings with all manners of men. She has brought me up to be the kind of guy who will always see a glass as being half-full rather than half-empty. My own Sunday School upbringing made a stamp on the way that I trusted most people to be selfless and good in most endeavors, kind of like Anne Frank who became famous for saying, even at her most depraved and deadly end, that deep down she still thought people were good—even when those same people led her to the doors of the gas chamber.
I once thought of life in silliest idealism: that hard work was enough for considerations of merit; that people would appreciate you for the things you do—and will never imagine that you are only doing things to “undermine” them (that accusation, which was once leveled at me, always bothers me because I don’t quite get the misplaced paranoia these people float around in); that there were better rewards than name credit or remuneration for things which are worthwhile enough to pursue for the benefit of all, etc. Now I know the world works in an oblique manner. One that can leave you scratching your head.
Most people I’ve worked with know me as a hard worker—and often, when the work is especially something I’m passionate about—like arts and culture and academic discourse—I work till I’m blue even without the benefits that usually go with the sweat. I’m still quite poor, and credit is always secondary in my considerations. I just feel happy when I’m doing stuff like doing writing workshops with my LitCritters, or when I organize lectures, or when I bring together talented people to create a show together. Things like that. I guess this sense of mission comes from a conviction I once had when I felt tired about lambasting the city too much in my columns for not doing enough to secure a lasting artistic legacy. Kuya Moe challenged me about it, and I told myself, You’re one to complain. So why don’t you do something instead?
That’s why I write about Dumaguete in the most positive light as much as I can, highlighting culture and what-not for the Philippine Daily Inquirer
and StarLife Magazine
. That’s why I work my butt off, pro bono, for one committee and another. People always ask, “Why do you subject yourself to so much hard work and get paid nothing for it?” And my reply may seem ridiculous, but it rings true to me: “If I don’t do this, I’ll go crazy.”
Credit is always nice, of course. But when people would publicly credit me for this or that, my embarrassment is always infinite. Maybe it is false modesty, but I’d rather prefer being invisible, be behind-the-scenes. Which is why I don’t get it when some people would fret, as if World War III is about to erupt, for the flimsiest reasons—such as when the title “Professor” has not been attached to their names in a program, or when they are not mentioned for having donated the lechon
to the gathering...)
There are other things, according to friends, that have made me quite the naive boy, once. I had no use for gossip (or at the very least, people liked to gossip to me because thirty minutes later, I would have forgotten all the dark, deep details...). Also this: I thought that fighting for a cause was good enough to let other people see issues in black and white.
In fact, I kinda liked living in that world that shielded me from the commonplace miseries people regularly inflicted on each other. But I remember the turning-point. I met a woman named M. That woman had a huge chip off her shoulder, and I think she felt happy when she could actually bring people down to wallow in her scum. That was the first time I saw how evil can, in fact, be so ordinary. Evil walked on legs. It had a name.
She had a way about her that was virtually a blackhole for all forms of paranoia. She had carefully orchestrated abilities for power-play, and knew just what to say to poison all possibilities of hope. The last encounter I had with her, I was in terrible awe: she was a virtuoso of deceit, and I saw how she could make other people eat from her hands. She told lies after lies, and people nodded and nodded. It was a performance of the subtlest evil—and I knew I was not capable of that. And I was happy. And I was sad. And I lost that battle. But won the war. Because where is she now? Gone.
That incident opened the doors to my acquaintance with shades of the same thing. Somehow, in the past two or three years, I’ve seen strings of other people who are so much like M. Some of them, I think, bite back because they’re like cornered animals, grown rabid from want of validation. They’re mostly good people who bite back from a deep well of hurt. Some are just plain paranoid. And some hide their vicious ways in bland personalities, all soft-spoken and nice during face-to-face encounters, but dripping with the deadliest poison through text messages or email. Since then, my mentor Ceres has cautioned me that the best way to deal with these people is just to avoid them. And I do try.
But I have also learned that all of us are complex creatures capable of both the heroic and villainy. Maybe this yin-yang is just part of all of us being human. This is how the real world works, I’ve realized, with everybody armed with gossamer masks.
It has been an education, but it is one kind of learning I sometimes wish I’ve never had—because I feel so jaded now, so tired. Each day, the past few weeks especially, I’ve seen a side of people that has surprise me because of the sheer undercurrent of reckless inhumanity they can conjure—with just a tiny string of carefully chosen words meant to cut through you, with just the flimsiest turn of quicksilver temperament that bewilder you with its roaring vehemence, with just one sentence coated with so much bile but spoken as if by an angel.
Perhaps it’s the enduring August heat.
But I don’t want to spare anymore excuses, especially the weather, for these people. What for? I guess the best thing to do is turn away, and run to the opposite direction. I can’t help but think though about this life they’ve chosen, steeped in so much negativity, it must be eating through them like the plague.
They’re so sad.
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
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