The new in the new year is hope, that virtue that shields us all from the hurly-burly of the everyday. The news here in the United States is not good either, with wars the country is involved in weighing it terribly down. There is a certain cynicism now, as is that feeling when, in April 2003, the Bagdhad objective was called for and pursued. I was quite new to this country then, and I did not know much about this aggression and agitation while the whole country was reeling from the aftermath of the New York debacle. Despite our living in difficult and interesting times, there is reason to hope, as this hope guides us to follow where the path may lead us to something with clarity and care--the clarity of our purposes, for ourselves and other people, and the care with which we are to temper these purposes.
The first day of each year is always a mixture of feelings for me--and in exile, this mixed bag of emotions get to intensify, uncertain whether to linger in my room for a while and do some brushing up with my reading and research--yes, I do them at the same time, as is the expectation of university teaching everywhere--or shake off the dust of the old year, pat myself a bit, and run to where the wild forest is.
So I drive and drive to wherever the spirit leads me.
Today I am just in touch with my feelings, turning the steering wheel where that sense tells me.
To the foot of the Tantalus first, I tell myself.
Tantalus is that mountain that I see from my window and overlooking the vast Waikiki sea.
Which I do now, gassing up a bit some five miles more beyond the speed limit but careful that I am not overspeeding, an act I cannot stand, and an experience I cannot forget when living in the US Mainland and I had to navigate the distances between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and Los Angeles and everwhere we would fancy on when we have some days in our hands--some days to get away from all the heaviness of daily living as immigrants. There is a rich symbolism here, this constanct movement, this constant running away from the arid nooks of your domicile that reminds you that in these are the uncertainties that need not be said, that should remain in their silences and mutedness, to keep you sane.
Those who have not experienced how to live so far away from the homeland might look at the migrancy experience as a romantic going away to a far-flung place to earn all the dollars you can lay your hands on, scoop them with ease, and send them with gusto to the waiting family and relatives back home. No sir, no madam, life is as tenuous over here as in the homeland, and the sacrifices are probably more, with the pillows wet in evenings when sleep does not come to you right away because the thought of your family so far away, so near in your heart and yet so far from you, comes as a torment.
So drive I did, and to the foot of the mountain.
I get in touch with my feeling and I am driving to the Ala Moana now, on Nimitz, past the airport.
I get past the piers, so solemn in their inactivity during the holidays, with the ala-Titinic luxury liner Pride of Hawaii docked on Pier 14, its bow tied to some posts, its movement on the water so still you can see peace on its huge and imposing structure. Someday, I tell myself, I will get onto it, and cruise and cruise to my heart's content.
I drive past the immigration office, past the row of commercial establishments that are now busy with shoppers. In a little while I reach Waikiki shore and there, I look at the thousands of families in their picnicking and memory-making, with the children shrieking with delight as they hit the cool waters or run wild in the sand or hit the ball with their parents on the grass. What a sight, and my heart melts.
Take courage, I tell myself.
I take out my tatami mat I bought from a Japanese specialy store and which I always keep with me. But today is the first time that I ever gather the strength to unroll the mat, have it spread on the verdant grass, and lie on my back to watch the grey clouds go by. There is drizzle but I do not mind, as all the others do not mind. Drizzle in the new year is for good luck. After some time, the sea wind blows it away, to the mountaintops in the north, to the Tantalus side, to the Ala Moana valley, to the valley of rainbows.
I go back to the car and retrieve the books I have started reading but have yet to speed-read so I can get to have a handle of what they are saying. There are so many books in my car that it has doubled as a mini-library. Previously, it has served as a mini-closet: jogging pants, shorts, and jackets. Some kind of a kitchen is there as well: bottled water, Pringles, and tea drink--all needed after some exercise. I remember that I have not changed a lot from my Philippine ways: my car in the homeland had all the test papers, term papers, and creative works of my students, that there was hardly any room for the grocery.
I started to read Elredge again; and Freire and Burke are close by. I am on topics that seem to be poles apart, Elredge on the power of story and our connection with the story-maker; Freire on language and reading and liberating education; and Burke on a personal account of his journey in a wild river. Ha! I am finishing Elredge now and I marking the pages, hoping to come up with some notes on a 5 X 8 in the future, a deed every researcher ought to do for what is called 'scholarship.' It is being honest with your sources--it is intellectual integrity, a key concept in university career and intellectual life.
I look all around me: there is crisp laughter, there is that guffaw in its intense tone, there is that abondonment to laughter and joy and celebration. Each one is happy at this happiest of hour, on a bright and sunny and gay noon in the Waikiki area. And I am alone.
I pray: give me courage. I say "Om, Om, Om." I repeat this exercise, and I get in touch with my aloneness, ala-Rod McKuen, a songwriter of the Beatles.
I begin to be conscious of my breathing, the exhaling and inhaling now a ceremony of some sort, a ritual to recognizing the beauty of life despite your being alone in a crowd. Waikiki during the holidays is a crowd and you have no business going there alone if you did not want the feeling to get to pierce your heart.
But I like to be alone, I tell myself. And I really do--as all writers must realize now, since aloneness is what makes them write. For poets, that aloneness is even worse because it has to have its surname: the poet is not to be only alone but he must also be terribly sad to be able to write a good poem. Otherwise, what that pretending poet has got is an empty bluff, a pfffft. We write good poems because we are sad, so deeply sad. Precisely.
I shake the dust off my jacket and pants; I leave the sea.
I drive to the west to hit back to the freeway, on Nimitz, and there, lo and behold, there is that rainbow so beautiful in its Benetton colors, its colors the crayola of my youth and innocence, its hue the watercolors of my fathering days, with two children coloring everything including our house's concrete walls. I recall Noah and the deluge--and I recall the promise of Yahweh to the people, the Yahweh as the Birther of the Cosmos, the Birther of Life--the Yahweh as "Avon dvashmayya."
I feel God looking at me, and in God's aloneness, I have company.
I hit the freeway, and go east to exit to the foot of the Tantalus. On University Avenue, another rainbow shows up, bigger, its colors more solid as it is nearer, and with the huge mountain range as the background, I feel I am looking at a still life created by a landscape artist.
This is not for real, I tell myself. I look to my left as I speed up a bit and I can see clearly the end of the bow. I look to my right and I can see the other end of the bow. I am close to the rainbow now, and I am getting closer and closer. As soon as I hit the foot of Tantalus, the rainbow becomes porous, the colors faint, and the closer I get to it, the more the colors get fainter and fainter until, on another closer look, the rainbow fuses with the scene and the afternoon light. I only see now a faint outline.
I tell myself, this is a good sign, one of hope. On the first day of January, I do not see only a raibow but two rainbows, their brilliant colors giving me a clue of the brilliant days ahead.
I have to hope--and I have to pray and hope, I promise myself.
In the late afternoon of getting it touch with myselft, I am ready to head back home and do my writing, the act of writing celebrating in joy and freedom my aloneness.
I am blessed, I tell myself. I cannot ask for more.
Before sitting down to write, I take the clear bowl of water, take it to the sink, and throw the old water away. I wash the bowl and put a fresh water on it. I put it back on a corner I declared sacred.
A Solver Agcaoili