Ephemeral

“The infinite is in the finite of every instant.”

“Is that all there is?” I would often ask myself this question after a heavy meal or a long day. Sometimes, this question would even take a philosophical turn as I try to analyze life and figure out why we human beings never seem to be satisfied with what we have.

True, we have our needs and as thinking individuals, we cannot help but be ambitious, strategize, and plan ahead. But are we doing so at the expense of the present? My mother is an advocate of living in the moment. She told me that if there is anything that life has taught her, it’s that it’s pretty simple. She also told me not to look so far ahead that I lose focus on what’s happening right now. Being the overachiever that I am, I initially took her advice as lack of support for my vision but now I am beginning to see her point.

Somewhere between the hastily-gulped morning coffee and rush hour traffic, I realized that our entire lives are made up of bits and pieces of experience that are wonderful in their own right. I guess in my hurry to move on to the next goal or the next thrill, I fail to see the wonderful events that are unfolding right before my very eyes. I’m not saying I have lost the will to dream or create goals for myself, I am human after all and the only time I will cease to be ambitious is the day I cease to exist . I have just decided to stop looking at how events or people fit into my plans or schedule. There’s a sense of magic in realizing that the infinitude we all crave is actually encapsulated in various moments that are seemingly finite. A four-year relationship filled with its ups and downs, a kiss shared under the September drizzle, a soulful gaze into the eyes of a person you’ll never see again – these things are beautiful because they are bound by time. We can choose to be bitter when things end, or we can choose to be grateful.

“Is that all there is?” at times, yes, that is all there is and that should be enough.

Ahora

The universe has a way of revealing you truths when you least expect it. Last Saturday, I had one of these moments.

Our last activity for Spanish Level A 1.2 was extemporaneous speaking. Our professor, Ma. Luisa Young, used this exercise to review all our past lessons. Each one of us was assigned a topic that we had discussed for the past nine meetings: Que Haces Normalmente? (¿What Do You Usually Do? ) Mi Horario (My Schedule), Mis Gustan y Preferencias (My Likes), El Tiempo Atmosferico (The Weather), etc. For some reason, Srta. Young gave me a very different topic: anything under the sun.

I started writing and the words came freely. Well, as free as one can be while grasping for words in Spanish. She gave us around ten minutes to finish our speeches. I wasn’t really keeping track of the time but I was punctuating my last sentence at the exact moment that she said, “Vamos a empezar” (Let’s begin). I felt light after writing my piece. It was as if I just answered a question that has been long troubling me. Of course, she and my classmates thought I was being morbid when I recited the first few lines and I was struggling not to glance at my paper. I apologized for my incoherent rambling and she said “No, that’s fine! Your philosophical roots are showing.”

Perhaps it was a mix of all the philosophies I learned in school, or a synthesis of what I had learned in school and in real life. Or maybe it was something more. At the risk of sounding kumbaya, I don’t think the realization that came to me that time was entirely my own.

La vida es muy complicada.

Trabajamos mucho pero vemos a morir de todos formas. Veo frequente articulos sobre el fin del mundo en Diciembre y pienso este es divertido .

Generalmente, nos gusta la idea de Armageddon pero tenemos miedo de morir.

Es normal pero morir es inevitable.

No sabemos cuando nuestro ultimo dia va a ser, antes o despues 2012? No se. Antes, en 1999, decimos que el fin de mundo es el nuevo milenio, pero seguimos viviendo.

En mi opinion, la vida es complicada porque preocupiamos mucho, hasta punto que olvidamos la verdad que estamos en el mundo por corto tiempo.

Si el mundo llega a su fin el proximo mes, esta bien.

Pero ahora, vivimos. Ahora, existemos.

La vida es simple.

Translation:

Life is very complicated.

We work hard but we are all going to die anyway. I frequently see articles about the end of the world in December and I think it’s funny.

Generally, we like the idea of Armageddon but we are afraid to die.

This is normal, but to die is inevitable.

We don’t know when our last day on earth is, before or after 2012? I don’t know. Before, in 1999, we said that the end of the world was on the new millennium, but we are still living.

In my opinion. life is complicated because we worry too much, to the point that we forget the truth that we are in this world for only a short time.

If the world will end in December, that’s fine.

But for now, we live. For now, we exist.

Life is simple.

Photo cred: Image taken from the NASA site

Philo Grad ≠ Douche

Please don’t assume the following just because I’m a Philo graduate:

That I will spend my life unemployed since it is a useless course.

I’ve been employed way before I entered college and had no difficulties finding work as an undergrad and as a graduate. Being employed is a combination of the person’s educational background, ability, and willpower.

That it is a useless course.

It is not. You may have read this time and again but the strenuous mental exercises we have been subjected to in college have equipped us with better interpersonal, logical, speaking, and writing skills. Besides, what constitutes a useful course anyway? The rate in which its grads are in demand? Every generation has an “in-demand” course. A course will only be useless if opt not to practice what you’ve learned while studying it.

That I want to be a lawyer, a priest, or a professor.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the aforementioned things are noble professions but there are different career opportunities for philo grads aside from teaching, tending to the flock, or grandstanding. There are Philo grads who went the corporate route, and interestingly, there are even a few who have forayed into IT.

That I constantly want to engage in a debate with you.

I am argumentative by nature so don’t blame my major for that. Besides, I won’t waste time talking to you if all you want to do is present me with fallacious statements. We might as well move on to more productive things.

That I want to discuss politics and religion with you.

I’m traditional when it comes to that. Those are two topics I would likely never get myself into out of respect for other people’s beliefs.

That I’m an atheist.

For the record, I’m not. Though I’m not a fan of organized religion and heavily doubt the existence of heaven and hell, I still believe in a Superior Being.

That I can discuss Kant and Aristotle on command.

From time to time, I may need to consult my notes or (gasp!) Google, to remember what the sages said. Besides, nobody understands Kant.

That everything I say is metaphorical

When I say I need to go to the restroom, there is no subliminal message there. I just really need to go to the restroom.

That I don’t like talking to people.

Reflecting without sharing is not only selfish, it also defeats the purpose of philosophizing.

That I think like Einstein.

Though I know some people who like to think of themselves as intellectuals; Philosophy, in general, has taught me that we only know so little and there is so much to learn in such a short lifetime.

That I have the answers to everything.

Oh I wish I did.

That I walk around with a pained expression on my face brought about by my constant mulling of life.

It’s most probably constipation.

 

Fortune Is A Woman, Fortune Is A Bitch

Fortune is a woman, she favors the lion-hearted. No time for weak men, she bestows her blessings on the fighters. She is difficult to attract. She isn’t easily convinced by any man. You have to prove to her that you’re worthy. Sometimes, no amount of effort will do. She’ll just keep on ignoring you, refusing to see your hard work and heartaches. There are different ways to woo her, but there’s no saying which method is the most effective. Sometimes, it just takes a little nudge; other times it takes blood, sweat and tears. Once you have her, though, you’ll see that the suffering was well worth it. She’ll give you joy, satisfaction. Your heart’s deepest desires are finally satiated.

Her perfume is intoxicating, filling you with so much vigor that you feel you can take on anything. Ah, yes, you’re consumed with that sense of greatness she allowed you to believe you possessed. Spinning, spinning, spinning on top of the world, you demand everyone to take notice of you and the woman who made it possible. But just as they turn their eyes on you, you realize you’re the only one standing there. Slowly making your descent, you struggle to recall the exact minute you were left alone. Those thoughts are quickly dashed as your slow descent graduates into a quick fall from grace. Battered and bruised, you desperately look around, hoping she’ll be there.

She isn’t. You begin asking yourself why. What could you have possibly done to make her abandon you? Was it your pompousness? Didn’t you give her the attention she deserved? Or was it just because it was never meant to be?

None of the above. She was just too fickle to stay with you. As you slowly rebuild your life and as the wounds heal, you start to look for her again vowing to make it good this time and never let her go. But all this is futile because she refuses to notice you. Last you heard, she was already with a stronger, braver, more virile man.

Maybe in a few years’ time you’ll be better than that other man. Maybe you will get back together and she will bestow on you favors again, the way she once did. Then again, maybe not. Maybe no matter how strong and courageous and virile you’ll get, she still won’t give you the time of day. After all, you had your chance with her, and you blew it.

Maybe she’s still with that other man by that time. Or maybe, she disposed of that other man already and moved on to even greater men. And you… you’re left in the sidelines only with vague memories of a distant past which you will never have again all because she won’t have you anymore.

Fortune is a bitch.

Note: This appeared in The Spires, literary folio of San Beda College. 

Disclaimer: This is not a rant against anyone, it is merely a piece on fortune inspired by the philosophy of Niccolo Machiavelli as reflected upon by Hannah Pitkin.

I’m Done… For Now, At Least!

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.

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)

The Philosophical Life

 

The unreflected life is not worth living according to Socrates. What he meant by reflection, I really do not know. Most perceive it as a life that is dedicated to musing and speculation. Perhaps that is the reason why most people raise their eyebrows when they find out I am a Philosophy student. Mutterings of “Oh you poor thing” usually follow. They think that my life is lived in brooding silence as I question the existence of the world and the meaning of life. The philosophical life for me is not one that only consists of reading, writing, questioning; the philosophical life is one that is also full of action. Action because I am actually going somewhere. The reading, writing and thinking actually have a purpose and are not intended to keep me in the dark with my incoherent ramblings; rather, they are the ones which will put me forward.

Now the question is, where is that going to lead me? I do not wish to be like my peers who shrug their shoulders when asked where it is they are going to. Of course, I know that life is uncertain but I would like to have an end goal, whether I reach it or not, and that for me is truth. My desire for truth is not necessarily sufficient for meriting it, but we do not philosophize because we believe we can arrive at an absolute truth. We philosophize for the very reason that we know we cannot really grasp the truth because it is not graspable, and will never be. It is very elusive, like the enigmatic woman who catches the solitary man’s eye and intrigues him with her sensuality and mystery. The man then pursues her in hopes of being noticed. He is not sure if he will be able to get her attention, but he tries and does not give up the chase. That is how the search for truth is like. You exert effort to understand the mysteries of the world yet you are never really sure if you will be able to taste the sweetness of the answer. Still you persist because maybe, just maybe, you will be able to unravel the mysteries that swathe it.

The philosophical life is a painful life. You do not live it the same way you would breeze through a grassy patch; the road is steep, slippery, and full of jagged rocks strewn along the way. It takes courage, determination, and thick skin to withstand the harshness the answers may bring. It is very difficult since you have to do away with the manner of thinking that you have become accustomed to. What you thought was once true becomes a lie encapsulated in a pleasant-tasting tablet. The very foundations of your belief will be shaken and you find yourself groundless, flailing your arms, grasping for something, anything that you can hang on to. But you cannot settle on one branch because you are never sure if that will really support your weight. Nothing is ever sacred or free from questioning.

The philosophical life is bittersweet. You know that you are geared towards something great, but the journey that will bring you there is hard. The truth will not be served to you on a silver platter; you are not even sure if it will be served to you at all.

Reflection is an important aspect of the philosophical life, but it is not the only component. Life consists of both thinking and doing. There will be times when we will be making mistakes, but these mistakes are vital since they are the things that we will reflect on. Dwelling is not to be taken away from the course of everyday life for it is the simplest thing we can do to achieve our desired end.

A journey. That is the way to view the philosophical life. Like any other journey, it has its detours and its own share of traveling horror stories but that should not deter us from continuing even if the destination can be a bit hazy sometimes. It is a journey that should be taken with great amount of confidence in one’s ability to ask the pertinent questions and the faith to keep on searching even if the transit gets turbulent.