SEVEN TIMES SEVEN YEARS OF SOLITUDE: RIZAL, HISTORY, AND THE FUTURE
Dear Ayi, a firstborn:
Yesterday, you emailed me about what is happening back there in the home country. You know well that even from afar, I keep tab of what is dished out by spin doctors who are in the business of tampering with history—or if you so wish, this business of writing history from their perspective, from their dominant position as power-holders who, for centuries and centuries on end, have not let up with their project of rationalized greed, wanton accumulation of wealth, and systematic prevarication to our people to perpetuate, in an unceasing way, their stranglehold on us.
You are right, son. These people, though born of the land, have not learned from the lessons of the past. You were citing Jose Rizal in your letter, your phraseology renewing the same wisdom he shared with us in order for us to learn and see and know and understand. You said: the book of the past is a book of knowledge since it is the repository of all the things that give us a handle, a direction, a sense of self, an idea of what is to come. You said too: we need to take to heart this book of the past in much the same way we need air to breathe, air to live. I do not know what to say even if I am your father and in linear time, in a reckoning that cuts up history into empty moments, times, and events, I am the past and you are the present and the future. I can only laugh now and from my perch here abroad where the wind is cold and the mornings are foggy and the future of other lands and peoples are divined and defined in the war rooms of generals and presidents who have appointed themselves as guardians of democracy and Christianity, I see the distance between us: a distance in time, a distance in mind-set, a distance in the manner of loving our very land, our very heartland. You say you want to take part in the remaking of history when I warned you of your going to the anti-war rallies, you and the rest of the young in the state university crying out loud that warning to the president and her cohorts and allies and palace jesters about their not knowing history and not learning from the past. You were quoting Santayana, son—well, not exactly citing him but you and your battalion of idealists were restating his case: Those who do not learn from history will be condemned to repeat it. You all were a mile away from the pretenders of intellect of the inangbayan, they who can only know how to corrupt Rizal and Santayana and to accent, fallaciously, the wise philosophers of old who talked of justice and love and peace and equality as not separate dreams but concrete realities that are part of a continuum. Perhaps they did not read Diokno or they never understand how he articulated that intertwining of history and collective dream and the task of nation building. Land and liberty, he said are extensions of each other. So do justice and jobs. So do food and freedom. What a way of reading history—of opening up its can of worms in order to name our pains, christen our sorrows, diagnose our seven times seven years of solitude! Ah, that biblical number comes to me like a ghost lurking at the back of my head even as I try to distance myself from this little talk we have—a father and son talk, if you so wish to call it that way. But I would like to believe that the reverse is truer: That you set this whole discourse into motion, you who are so young and yet pestering me with our business towards the future. Is it the case that you have critically thought so much about the need to reread our history by reclaiming our stories and to allow the real actors to come forward and narrate of their actions and courage and boldness and daring? May the good Lord of life and history, you who are so young and yet who are conscious of our destiny be blessed more and more. The Lord of liberty and freedom and justice is the Lord of history, son. The incarnation story, minus all the gender and sexuality irrationalities and illogicalities, tells us so much about power and truth in our quest for meaning and substance and redemption.
These people whom today play on our fate and our future are the very people who have come to our shores and took part uninvited in our feasting. They have not died nor gone to the beyond nor drowned in the river of Lethe where memory is erased, where recollection has no place. No. These people who have come to rob us of our dignity and self-respect have continued to resurrect. They keep on reincarnating to haunt us in our sleep. No, we cannot anymore splurge on joy and happiness as we used to because the history grounding our joy and history has turned to ashes, to nothing, to zilch.
I heard you translating this long duration of oppression of our people into a mystical metaphor that harks back to two covenants of Israel, the old one that was so obsessed with the law of law and the second one that pillared on the law of love. This oppression has been going on for a long time in human history and history itself has sided, it seems, with those who have the guts and gumption to rule over the others unjustly. You called this phenomenon as “the seven time seven years of solitude of our people” a la Gabriel Marquez in his artistic rendition of the solitude of the Latin American peoples and their centuries of oppression under the European and their allies, and the priests and other religious leaders. Perhaps you were thinking of Rizal’s conclusion that when a country does not have the boldness and daring to open the books of its past, that country will never have a stake of the future?
You said you are worried about the future and in your youth, at eighteen and in your prime, I should tell you that you have no cause for worry. But to be honest: I have so much cause for worry even as you also tell me that perhaps there is a fair fighting chance with that actor who never died in any of his films but always ended up vanquishing the cruel overlord and then, of course, hailed by the people as their hero, redeemer, savior. But then again you said that this actor might not stand a chance. A broadcaster with a deep baritone to hide his ambition and to convince every foolish voter that he is indeed sincere and ever willing to be crucified on the cross in the name of the last Juan de la Cruz is offering himself up for immolation in the fire of the nation’s politics. And the reigning queen in our politics-as-usual life wants us to believe her, she with her rice stalks for a bouquet in that multicolored poster splashed on all the city walls and house doors and concrete posts, she with her big American roses smiling sheepishly as if saying: “Give me a chance, give me chance—one fat chance like the one from whom I got my surname. He was one great president of the masses and the pobres, di ba?” We must now do the accounting, however. And our accounting must take its genesis and ground in history: that we gave her the presidency on a silver platter in the hope that she would do better than the Erap of the masses, the Erap whose life was a product of programmatic publicity stunt. As if we did not go through more than twenty years of misrule and dictatorship—as if the terror and torment that enveloped us in all those years remained unnamed, unuttered, buried in the deepest recesses of that which is the opposite of history, hidden somewhere where there is no memory, no remembrance, no recollection. Ay, those years of fear! But what have we done to the books, we who testified to the atrocities of the nights in detention centers and in prison houses sometimes called the houses of freedom by the henchmen of the regime? What, indeed, have we done to the books of the past—books that recorded the shadows of our desaperecidos, they who were deprived of ritual and song, of lament and joy? I remember still, my son, the young men and women who were so full of promise but were there in Mendiola to fight for our people’s freedom. One had his head cracked, his memory lost forever. Another ended up in a box, his name unknown, his body battered and bruised. They were many—and they were young. As I remember them today, I remember our loss, this loss complete, final, total.
As I write this letter to you, I scan the evening sky in this land that I have come into to seek grace and blessing and benediction. I need the grace to keep me by each day as I try to remember the terrors of each dusk and daybreak in those dark days of our past. I need the blessing to make me become bold as I try to translate into verses all that I still remember about the glories of our memories that narrate with rhyme and reason our stories of courage and kindness. I need the benediction so that I could give this same benediction back to our people, to our ancestors, to all those who sacrificed in our name, on our behalf. We who are alive owe our life to those who have gone before us, they who gave up so much so that we could have so much. I must confess: that as I name the stars by remembering all the sacrifices of our heroes, I remember all of you—you and all the rest of the young of our land, you who are our future, you who will fulfill our dreams. So much work has yet to be done but we must begin where this work must begin: Our act of remembering. To remember, I must keep on saying is to re-member – to become a member again, to become again a part of human community.
For the future has no name, no reality, no meaning, no substance unless this future is remembered today—and today is precisely because the past makes it possible to be so. In essence, time is a continuum in history and the segments do not have independent meaning and truth. Instead, these segments form a single weave, twining and intertwining, and then in one full sweep, the interconnections assume a form, shape, and substance. Memory, truth, desire, yearning, longing—these are the stuff of hope—even if this hope is against hope itself as is the case of the home country right now. You tell me of your dreams of the future, son. I will tell you also our dreams. Your dreams, our dreams—these form a single, grand, big tale we will forever cherish, we who have the courage to name our sorrow and pain.
Son, we need to break the hold of the past to free us all from its terros and torments. In this breaking hold of that unruly past, the past becomes itself our present, a presence negating all absence, a presence participating in eternal time.
Tempus fugit—time flies. But our longing and yearning go on.