Growing up with Julia

She turns one year old today, a child who first saw light as the Filipino nation began one of its darkest moments – the impeachment of a sitting president.  I constantly thought of her during those days when everything seemed uncertain, when the routines of our lives were replaced by the swirl of daily demonstrations.  I would plant a kiss on her forehead each time I set off for a protest march, whispering this was for her.

Politics suddenly acquired a meaning for me that I had not previously known.  I stopped observing and became a fully-engaged participant. I was fighting for a world in which my granddaughter and everyone else of her generation could have a future.  That shift in perception has made all the difference.  I shed off my intellectual pessimism and learned to hope again.  Ralph Waldo Emerson was right: “Nature does not like to be observed, and likes that we should be her fools and playmates.”

Julia has grown, and so have we changed.  A few weeks after she was born, we booted out a president who failed the nation and welcomed a successor who promised the world.

New faces, old mind-set.  It didn’t take long before our hopes would be dashed by the realities of political life.  We should have known better than to think that whenever we needed them, we would be blessed with heroes who could rise to a vision rather than politicians forever lusting after power.

I can’t say the country is better today.  But we are hopefully wiser; we demand more from our leaders.  We also expect more from ourselves.  We do not hesitate to act on our dreams.  “Dream delivers us to dream, and there is no end to illusion,” says Emerson.  “Life is a train of moods, like a string of beads, and, as we pass through them, they prove to be many-colored lenses which paint the world their own hue, and each shows only what lies in its focus.  From the mountain you see the mountain.  We animate what we can, and we see only what we animate.”

These days, when I am with Julia, I see the world mostly through non-political lenses.  I sit by the pond with her, watching the lotus flowers open and close through many daybreaks and sunsets.  The color I see is not the color of political strife but the serenest pink of radiant lotuses. She has sharp eyes and she points to me the tiny snails feeding upon the leaves that float on the surface of the pond. Momentarily, she hears the chirping of the pipit, looks up and scans the branches of the mango tree.  Then her tiny finger goes up and calls my attention to her discovery.  Nature indeed belongs to the eyes that see them.

I come home for lunch everyday so I would catch her just before she takes her afternoon nap.  She waits until I am finished and then, as she sits on my lap, with knowing eyes she begins a game that has become a ritual for both of us.  She dips a hand into my drinking glass to feel the residual frost of the melting ice.  Her eyes grow big as she ponders the sensation of icy heat.  When she is done, she warms her fingers on my face, and I return the benediction by sprinkling her eyes with the remaining water.

She started to walk at 11 months.  One day, she pulled herself up from a squatting position, steadied her legs, and carefully centered her body.  Then, with a smile in her eyes, she took her first steps and plunged into her mother’s arms.  She knew at once that she had achieved something.  She repeated the same feat several times, rushing her stride as she came near a pair of waiting hands.  Trust, I realized, is the first thing a human being calls upon as she makes her way into the world on her own feet.

I know I have changed as much as my granddaughter has grown during this past year.  Like her, I am slowly overcoming the fears that have crept into my life over the years.  In July, I reclaimed a youthful passion that I had given up when my children were growing up – motorcycling.  I welcomed the opening of the expressways to big bikes, and celebrated the event by selling my car and getting myself the same motorcycle I had known as a young man, a Ducati.  The Monster S-4 is a very fast high-performance bike, but I am not a speed freak.  I love going on quiet solitary rides that take me to the mountains where I can watch birds.  But most of all, I like the sensation of the synergy between the human body locked in its own survival habits and a smart machine bent on its own logic.  Riding a bike is to me what walking is to Julia, a conquest of fear and an exercise in self-knowledge.

My friends say I have the most incongruous life.  I visit bird sanctuaries in Mt. Makiling and Bataan on a racing motorcycle.  I devour motorcycle magazines as much as I enjoy reading good books in philosophy.  On most afternoons, I would walk little Julia in her stroller around the UP campus where we live, and later in the evening, I would slip into my padded jacket and take my Ducati for a spin.  These events are the circles of my life; I do not apologize or offer any justification for any of them.

I take to heart what Emerson says of life:  “Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.”


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