Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Purpose of Life – A Reply to A Friend

A few blogs ago, a friend of mine emailed me regarding the article, The Sand Castle. Her question was what do I think is the purpose of life? She asked this question because she didn’t quite agree with what I wrote. Actually, I have been asking the same question for a long time now and every time I stumbled until a few years ago when I discovered the “answer” that I’m looking for. I was eager to write a blog about it but somehow I couldn’t because my view is somewhat controversial and could be quite disturbing. I was thinking of a better way to say it. It took me quite sometime but I think I know now. So here it goes. What is the purpose of life? Thomas Aquinas once said, the purpose of life is the pursuit of “Summum Bonum” or “Ultimate Bliss” whatever that means. However, I don’t believe that everybody is convinced. Well, to me, the purpose of life is what we wanted to be as we choose or better yet what we wanted to believe in. One could live a life base on the gospel truth that one has faith in. However, I like to stress here that what is important is not what we choose rather why we choose or choose to believe so at all. The simple reason is because we wanted to have a meaning in our life. We don’t want to get up everyday, do our daily rituals in life, eat three meals a day, and work our butt off to pay for the meals and go back to sleep only to repeat the same routine tomorrow, day in day out until the day we die. Instead, we wanted to have a meaning greater than the sum of the parts of our lives and a purpose beyond our short – lived existence. Whatever that purpose is, it should justify our existence. It should make us MATTER in the elaborate scheme called life. It should make us believe that the world will be a better place because we are alive! So my dear, believe in the purpose you want to believe in and I’m not going to convince you that yours is wrong and mine is right or that somebody else has a better purpose. Instead, I ask you to hold steadfast to your belief and lived according to it. Because if that purpose you believed in gave you the meaning of existence and makes you believed that you can make a difference with it, then that is the “right” purpose of life for you and nobody should say otherwise. Rene Descartes once concluded after a deliberate analysis, “ Cogito ergo sum”, literally, “ I think therefore I exist”. Well, I say “I exist therefore I should matter”. And what makes me matter is my belief in my purpose of life even if, it were a short – lived sand castle.

Friday, April 22, 2005

To Neverland and Back Again – On Growing up and Being a Kid Again

Last Sunday, I happened to go to the movies and watch Finding Neverland, which is a life story of Sir Barrie, the author of Peter Pan. It struck a cord in me because basically I’m a serious guy and I could relate to the young boy Peter, who lost his father and then later his mother. I lost my father when I was young and for sometime, there is only but hatred and anger in me. I wanted to grow up as soon as possible before and I wish that it could be done in just a few seconds. I wanted to grow up so that people that I deal in business and in life would take me seriously and not view me as a boy who doesn’t have any credibility. I wanted to grow up immediately such that, people wouldn’t treat my family and me as nothing because I don’t have a father. Eventually, I did up grow up and I matured earlier than most of people at my age although it takes a lot longer than just a few seconds. It came to the point that I could relate better with old timers rather than young people even that of my age. It got to a point where I looked older than my real age. Being serious has its toll on looks I guess. And that is where the movie kicked in. I sometimes wanted to be a boy again replete of responsibility and full of excuses. I could say that I shouldn’t be doing this because I’m a boy or I shouldn’t be knowing this because I don’t had to. However, reality bites and it bites so hard that you bleed profusely. I could turn a blind eye to everything. I could choose to ignore what is happening, pretend that I don’t know, assume that the truth doesn’t exist but who am I fooling? In the end, it is me that got smacked in the face and nobody else. I learned a long time ago that life is not to run away from. I had to face life when I’m ready and I still have to face life when I’m not. I had to decide with all the pertinent facts at hand and also to decide without the details as well. There are times that I had the courage and the attitude to face life but there are also times that I have neither the courage nor the attitude to face life but life still knocks on my door and I have to answer it even if I’m not prepared. Life is like a conveyor belt that brings you to places you never expect nor you want to be much less you choose to be but you still have to face it. However, it is not entirely a hopeless case. I can still choose how I’m going to face it, either with dignity, sanity and logic or entirely in a stupid manner. I cannot avoid making decisions but I can delay the inevitable by a few moments until at least I think I’m prepared even if not thoroughly prepared for the consequences of my choice. Best of all, I could choose the conveyor that I’m riding in. It takes foresight to choose and one has to think it well over. Control over emotional impulse is a necessity although cold logic is tasteless, dull, and sometimes cruel. Choices. Never choose the choice given to you but instead work for the choice that you will eventually choose. That is my motto and one that I never mastered it or could ever master. Choices are hard, life is even harder but sometimes I liked being a kid again along with all the privileges of being one even for a fleeting second. Hahhhhhh…………. Where is Neverland? Could anybody point me the way for me?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Person That I Want to be With Now

6 months! Its been that long that I toiled myself in doing my masteral paper and finally, I successfully defended it last Friday, April 15,2005. The first thing that I did after the defense was to call up all the people that are dear to me and a few of my classmates to share with them the good news. I rested awhile enjoying the moment before I drive home. The traffic seemed benign to me although it is in fact quite congested. While driving, I was “dreaming” about the future and what I should do and what promises that it hold now that I’m free from my academic burden. I was also thinking whom I’m going to call or inform next about my success. I called my mom and told her to get dress so that we could go out and celebrate at her favorite pizzeria. After the call and out of the blue, I said to myself, “Pa will definitely be proud of me, what will he be doing if he knew what I’ve achieved?” Then and there, my eyes got wet. My father was murdered when I was 12 years old. I remembered that I was alone when I walked the stage during my elementary graduation. I remembered that I was alone when I walked the stage in my high school graduation. Only the principal and the teacher were there to pin the medal on me for graduating with honors in my Chinese class. I remembered that my mom was with me when I got my diploma in college and she was the one to put the medal on me during the ceremony for the board exam passers and top notchers. My father was not there to see me and definitely, he is not going to attend my graduation this time around either. I wished that this is just a bad dream that I’m going to wake up someday and there he is but I learned a long, long time ago that this ain’t a dream, it is as real as you can get. My father would probably brag me to his friends and call up his relatives to tell everyone of them about me for I’m the first in my father’s family to graduate college and the first in my father’s and mother’s family to got a master’s degree. He will probably give me a pat and say that I’m a good son and that I make him proud to be my father. Simple deeds and simple words you here other people say that it becomes a cliche of sort but my father is not here to do so or say so. It is quite funny because when I was 12, I couldn’t wait to grow up but now that I’m old, I wished that I was still a boy being patted on the head by his father. I’m not a spiritual or religious guy and therefore I can’t make myself to believed that he is “here” watching me and be proud of me nonetheless. He is dead and that’s the end of it, period. Nothing nostalgic about it. As I near home, I parked my car on the roadside trying to compose myself. It takes awhile but I manage. I need to compose myself because I don’t want to remind my family about the loss. I need to compose myself also because nobody should see a man shed tears. A man could cry privately if he feels the urge to do so but a man cannot be seen weeping in public. It is simply not what a man should do. It maybe hard to grow up into a man without a man to teach you how to become one but I somehow manage and I’m not just going to give it away by simply being weak. As I got home, I give my mother a hug and my brother a high five as I relate to them the entire story of my successful defense. Afterwards, I excused myself and went up to the ancestral prayer room and lit 3 incense sticks and tell my father that I’ve passed my masters and that I hoped that he is happy about the news and that I hoped that he is proud of me. As I leave the room, I noticed the slowly rising fragrant smoke from the incense sticks carrying my message and maybe just for that night, I want to believe that my father would be able to hear me and see me from wherever he is.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Rites of Initiation

There was once a young boy who came knocking at the doors of the Temple hoping that one day he would become an esteemed master in his own right. For years, he labored under the guidance of experienced masters. Training vigorously to perfect the skills he needed to answer the challenge of a competitive world. Toiled long and hard to acquire the knowledge to face the realities outside the secluded walls of learning. Sacrifices are made to achieve such goals. Then, all the sudden, a point has arrived wherein everything that seemed real for him would come to an abrupt end. However, he knows better. This is not an end but a beginning. This is the point in one’s life when one must prove that he is ready to face reality on his own. This is the initiation. It is actually a test to initiate the examinee to the real world. It is the point in time when all one have learned is put to a test. It is a test no different from the previous tests and by no means, this is the last of the test that one would face in life. However, be it maybe, this is no ordinary test. This is one of the few points in life where there is a clear break marking the past and the future, a demarcation line between hardship and promise, a transition point from memories of the journey to dreams of endless possibilities. As the boy walks down the familiar halls to the hollowed ground where the judges sit, a peculiar rite common to all who walks down the same hall is performed. He feels anxious, constantly trying to rehearse every skill he had learned and to remember every word he had studied. He experiences hope, knowing that the sacrifice he made is not wasted at all and that the future holds great promises to him if he were to passed this little test. He also experienced fear, worrying what the judges might think and the uncertain path that lies before him after the test. All of these he feels and experienced in a matter of minutes and then the door opened and he entered. The test has begun without a bang signaling the start. Suddenly, time seems to play tricks on him. For he swears that, the hour seemed to take eternity to pass and that the years were suddenly cramped in just an hour or so. Then finally, the verdict came and jubilation, relief, and howls of victory followed. The future for which the test is all about became unimportant to him. It doesn’t matter now for he is ready. As he left the temple and traced back the winding road that he traveled years ago in search of help, he swing his pack on his shoulder and placed his sword on his waist, chin held high. He exclaimed, “Get ready world, here I come!!!” He disappeared among the crowd and years later only his name would be heard and whispered among the crowd. Today, April 15, 2005, I passed my initiation. Today, I became a master and someday, I would become a whispered name.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

The Sand Castle

During my vacation at the beach, I’d encountered a scene that reminded me of a basic truth that I’d believed and hold in life. I was sitting on a chair at the beach at that time still deciding when it will be the best time to go for a swim when I noticed a young girl digging up wet sand and filling up her bucket, continually pressing the sand to compact it. It turns out that she was trying to build up a sand structure using the bucket as the mold. She was probably trying to build a sand castle but I knew better that with the tools she have and her skills, she could never build one. She was pretty patient and quite determined I would say in trying to build something. I’d decided right then to postpone my swim and observe the future civil engineer on what she is doing. As I was observing, I wondered. “What is she doing anyway?” “ What purpose do she want to achieve?” Not that she is a lousy sand castle builder but rather it is because sooner or later the sand castle or whatever sand structure she is building would be ruined either by the beach participants or the wave. It just doesn’t make sense to me to do something so futile and fleeting. Then, I realized that everyday, each one of us tries to build a sand castle. A monument of our existence and achievement whether physical or intangible but only a very small fraction of our monument could stand the test of time and not washed away or ruined by others. Talk about futility of life and smallness of human. I’m not a man of religion however I can’t help but wonder about the teachings of religion on the futility of our existence. Buddhism would say that all our effort would be meaningless by the time of our death and in a hundred years time, everything we knew would be in ashes. The solution, meditate and withdraw so that once your turn is up for recycling, you won’t end up in the misery that is human life and join the great nirvana so to speak. Christianity on the other hand believes in “from dust we came till dust we return”. We all just lived on borrowed time and everything we build is meaningless if not made for God the creator. Same goes with Islam and Judaism I presumed. Life is so short and meaningless as it so seemed. It is then that I remembered my thermodynamics class in college. Specifically, I remembered the class lecture on the compressed gas piston – cylinder engine. The gas expands when heated to move the piston up the cylinder doing useful work lets say in turning the wheel. Once the heat is remove, the gas contracts and the piston is lowered back to its original position. I remember my professor said that it doesn’t matter whether the piston is back to its original position and doesn’t change its position at all (From zero to 1 and back to zero again). What matters is that it does work in turning the wheel. It also doesn’t matter it take 1 second or almost eternity to make the moves, what matter is that it does the work. Life too is the same. It doesn’t matter that it will be ruined eventually or that we eventually die or that we return to dust from which we are supposed to be made from. Life is the process from moving one point to the other and back again if it is so. It is the journey from birth till death. We learned, we grow, we experienced joy and happiness, we shed tears. Can we say nothing has changed since our existence? Life is not the tombstone where only the date of birth and the date of death are written. Life is everything that happened between birth and death. Is this futile? It doesn’t matter if there is no monument of our existence as long as we lived life and enjoyed it. Besides, I don’t believe that human existence is futile. We may achieve no lasting monument on our own but we can pass our knowledge and experience to the next person in line and that we will be remembered for. It if were not for this, I wouldn’t be writing this nor would we leave the cave where we are born. As I was contemplating this, the little girl left her sand castle and gone for the swim and I too think that I should be swimming and enjoy life as well. LIVE LONG AND ENJOY. “ )

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Saluting a Great Man

I woke up this morning to find out that Pope John Paul II is dead. Though I'm not a believer, I joined everybody else in mourning his passing. There are a few great men in this world who affects the lives of many but only a handful of those I admire and respected. Being a historian that I'm, I can't help but recognize his achievement and contribution to history. However, that is not why I admire him. I admire him not for his faith nor his belief but his convinction that we all should share the blessings of God whatever our beliefs is. I admire him for his compassion for his fellow man. I admire him for his understanding, open - mindedness, and respect for the beliefs of others. Best of all, I admire for his single minded pursuit of his goals and his stubborness discharging his responsibility even until his death.
In reality, we shouldn't mourn for the death of this great man for everybody dies somewhere, somehow, and sometime. Instead, lets applaud for his well - lived life for only very very few people could be describe as such. Lets pay tribute for his life well spent in the most fruitful and meaningful way. Let us salute him and say thank you for being here with us, for all the things you've done for us, and for inspiring us to be a better person.