Saturday, March 21, 2009


Every man is an island...

Billions of snowflakes have fallen since the first one was formed millions of years ago, still I tend to doubt the scientists’ claim that not one is identical -- every flake is invariably six-sided but unique.

It’s easier to believe the uniqueness of humans, in spite of the existence of identical twins. Homo sapiens has a much more complex structure than condensed water: small physical quirks and difference in personality make it impossible to duplicate me, for example. In the vastness of time and space we are not to be repeated. We are alone.

My father succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 1995. Three year later, I was taking snack with a friend in a Chinese restaurant in Binondo when, on another table across ours, I saw facing my way a man who looked exactly my father, the way I remembered him when he was much younger. The man, obviously talking in Chinese to his companion, had the same build, height, even the haircut my father preferred when all his hair was still black. Strange day.

I could not take my eyes off the stranger. Is his voice the same as my father’s? How old is he, what is his name, he lives where, could we in some way be related, how could he not know me? After the man left, it finally sinked in – my father was gone, never to return.

When young we think we will live forever: death happens to someone else, outside the circle of our friends and relatives. Then we grow up, to be jolted by the indifference of this world. Life is precious but subject to the whims of fortune –- an accident or disease can easily wipe out our schedules.

Thirty-six years ago, in UST, a graduating medical student was in class doing laboratory work, then he collapsed and never regained consciousness. I was 19 then, and I thought: He spent most of his time assiduously to get high marks in high school so he can enter the prestigious premed course in the university, only to drop dead in his graduating year.

That incident turned my life. I decided to spend what’s left of my years to at least have my share of fun. If I ever reach, say, 40, at least I would have had 21 years of fun through the obstacles and vicissitudes life will hurl in my path. I may be wrong, but it is better than being dead before 20.

Outgrowing my ignorance later, I realized that billions of lives, like snowflakes, just fall and melt away, most in serious pursuit of financial stability -- in other words, people are spending their lives to have much money, not the other way around!

Everywhere, I see people getting old in dark hardware stores, auto shops, insurance firms, government agencies, small stores and big supermarts, etc., exchanging their life-years for money, which in old age will be useless to retrieve the excitement and enchantment of youth. Billions are not even aware that there is an alternative to the drab existence they lead, that a struggle is even necessary to attain the beneficence and joy of existence.

In one of his novels Raymond Chandler once expounded on the nature of clerkship: “You go in through double swing doors. Inside the double doors there is combination PBX and information desk at which sits one of those ageless women you see around municipal offices in the world. They were never young and will never be old. They have no beauty, no charm, no style. They don’t have to please anybody. They are safe. They are civil without ever quite being polite and intelligent and knowledgeable, without interest in anything. They are what human beings turn into when they trade life for existence and ambition for security.”

The greatest waste in this planet is human life. Until we understand it, we can’t appreciate the uniqueness of this gift. We are together, but each of us is alone, in birth and in death.

1 comment:

Mariel said...

Re: the Raymond Chandler paragraph, I've seen it firsthand in corporate New York. This is a good reminder to always aim for quality of life (and time) versus job security.