Albert Camus likened man’s existence to rolling a boulder up a mountain and having only a few minutes of rest when the boulder is at the mountain’s peak. Afterwards, the boulder goes down the mountain and man needs to go through the tedious process of rolling it up once more. Repeat ad nauseam.
When my professor in Critical Thinking, Jovy Cariño, first introduced Camus’ philosophy to us, I thought it was depressing. Who goes through life with that kind of perspective, I wondered. Prof. Cariño said that the “aha” moment one experiences when the boulder is on top of the mountain is similar to what one feels during graduation. At that point, everything makes sense and every struggle it took to reach that moment is worth it. Now that I am about to put on the red toga and mortarboard, Camus’ philosophy does not seem so depressing anymore because I have lived it myself.
My college journey was nowhere close to being smooth. Modesty aside, I was one of the top students of my high school’s graduating batch but I had to defer college for an entire semester because we (Mama and I) did not have money for it. So as not to get crazy and depressed, I worked as an Account Executive in Makati and while my friends were complaining about their demanding professors, I was fussing over client meetings and techniques on closing deals. Thankfully, I was able to enter college during the second semester due to the kindness of the people of San Beda College Alumni Foundation. There was no question in my mind about what I wanted to major in; philosophy always had the number one place in my heart and I was adamant on studying it. On my first day of school, I was shocked when I found out that I entered a double major program. I know, it was silly not to realize that but I thought Human Resource Development was something they added as an afterthought, a way of appeasing the parents who complained that there is no money in philosophy. I enjoyed the challenges of the academic program and the unorthodox teaching strategies of my professors. One would think college was a breeze after that; it was not.
While I was approaching the end of my sophomore year, I found out I was pregnant and had to take an entire year off from school. To make the situation stickier than it already was, we were informed that the Philo-HRD program was closing and we were only given two years to finish our units. I did the math and it sent me to fits of panic; it was 2008 and there was no way I would get to finish by 2010. My professors and classmates advised me to just take it easy and focus on my pregnancy and preparations for my delivery. It was not an easy task. For nine months, I would mentally beat myself up not only for getting pregnant out of wedlock but also for being pregnant during this very crucial period. After my child was born, I went to work (since I was a single mom and my son needed to eat) and went back to school. Needless to say, it was not a walk in the park and I have the dark circles under my eyes to prove it. I was juggling motherhood with having a career and an education – sleep always took a backseat. Well-meaning family members told me to forego education in the meantime and just prioritize my son and my work. I would have none of that. Truthfully, some mothers might think I was such a bad parent to leave my son to the nanny during weekdays but if I had to do it all over again, I would do the exact same thing. There was no way I was going to abandon school considering that the Alumni Foundation decided to reinstate my scholarship despite my “carelessness” and that I was only given a specific period of time to finish school. I wanted to get my diploma not just because I was being hardheaded or because I wanted to prove to the entire world that I could be Super Woman; I wanted to do it because I knew it would open more doors and my son and I would benefit from it in the long run. I plowed through the subjects and tried to keep my complaining to a minimum when I found myself memorizing labor laws and reviewing the related literature on my thesis while I was at my work station. I held my tongue when smart alecks would call me an OSB and remind them that technically, I will only be at school for eight and a half sems. I turned a deaf ear to people who would attack me and say I was being a bad parent, that I should not bother with education since I am gainfully employed already. Logically and emotionally, I knew I was doing the right thing. Now that I am two cartwheels away from that coveted diploma, I am sure even the naysayers would agree that I made the right choice.
Since this opportunity will only come once, let me say my thank you’s: To my Mama, Maria Beatriz Santos, who is courageously battling cancer and remains beautiful despite the illness, I love you and I thank you. You might not want to admit it, but I got my hardheadedness from you and it has equipped me to be steadfast in achieving my goals. I can only imagine the things you had to give up as a single parent and having experienced it myself makes me appreciate you all the more. To my son, Joshua Emile- you are the love of my life and I am sorry if Nanay cannot be a stay-at-home mom. You are the reason I want to make good and I want to ensure that I will give you a comfortable life. To my aunts and uncle, thank you for letting me be my stubborn self and supporting me in your own way. To my best friends Juan Paolo Alvarez, Marian Samonte, Danilo Rico, Andrew Salut, and Amanda Mangubat, you guys are awesome people to keep up with me. To my son’s surrogate father, Aaron Guevarra, thank you for being there for my son when I could not do it myself. You are a wonderful person and the three years we have had so far may not have been as smooth-sailing as we would have liked it to be but at least the struggles have strengthened us. To my professors, you are the most interesting people I have met and I am honored to have been instructed by you. Most importantly, to the people of SBCAF, thank you for your kindheartedness and for letting me finish what I started. If it were not for your generosity, I would not have had the chance to go to college. Rest assured that I will be an example of your magnanimity and will strive to pay it forward.
At this point, the boulder is at the top of the mountain. At this moment, everything makes sense and the memory of the sleepless nights and vats of coffee give me a warm, fuzzy feeling. Yet I know this is temporary. The boulder will roll down and I have to push it upward once more. Though I have decided not to go to law school anymore (it is impractical and I just realized my memory sucks), I am sure struggles will abound in whatever path I may choose. Then again, that is the reality of life. You are given only a brief moment to enjoy your success which makes it even sweeter. The boulder needs to be pushed upwards again but the memory of having been able to place it at the apex should be enough to sustain man. Life may be absurd in the sense that you are constantly struggling, constantly fighting for something but would like to believe that is what makes life wonderful. There is beauty in absurdity, after all.
And oh yes, I ended up making my thesis on Camus’ theory. Congratulations, fellow graduates, and good luck on our next round with the boulder.
“The struggle itself…is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” – Albert Camus
(Published in the Graduation Issue of The Bedan, Volume 69)