Thursday, December 30, 2004

`Backpack of a Jesus-seeker’

If you’re one of those trying to make sense of the seemingly senseless Christmas to-do, groaning under the weight of gifts that had to be wrapped, trees that had to be lighted; if you’re suffering from christmasa nervosa, misplaced anxieties, worries and edginess (because it’s Christmas), pause awhile, inhale and gather your wits. Maybe Christmas has indeed passed you by. Good for you or good on you. You brought this condition upon yourself.

Missed out on the Christ in Christmas?

Noted Jesuit theologian Fr. Carlos Abesamis has come out with a sequel to his ``travel guide’’ of a book ``A Third Look at Jesus’’ which we wrote about in this space some years ago.

This new one, titled ``Backpack of a Jesus-seeker’’, has the format of conversations going on among several characters. One character is Carl (not Karl Marx but the author); the seeker who has been in search of the original Jesus and has found him but still continues to search; and the Backpack.

``Backpack’’ answers questions Christian believers ask about the basics of their faith—the teachings and ministry of Jesus as well as his death and resurrection, the Kingdom of God, heaven, etc. Through the conversations, Abesamis deconstructs and gives fresh interpretation to the hard-bound catechism gathering dust on the shelf.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

From an old Christmas story

``Are you ready?’’ asked his wife who was standing by the door. Concha handed the general a plastic bag. ``Use my car, okay? I insist. It’s safer.’’ She was almost whispering.

``Of course,’’ he assured his wife. ``Just tell the guests I was suddenly summoned to headquarters and will be back before sundown. Tell my sisters… They’ll understand. I’m sure many of them will still be around for supper.’’ He looked around for his daughter but Amelia had gone back to the living room to mingle with the guests. It was as if she did not want to see her father slip away. Such moments she usually left to her mother to handle.

The general bussed his wife on the cheek then boarded the car. Two men were with him.

The one-and-a-half ride to Bulacan was smooth. The general was alone in the backseat. He stretched his neck, pulled back his head and put on his dark glasses. He told the driver to turn off the air conditioner and open the windows. He liked the wind on his face. The men with him stopped their conversation thinking the general wanted to doze off. But the general was wide awake, his eyes were wide open.

The expressway was practically empty and the car was running at very high speed. Through the open windows the general could see the fields, the lamp posts, the houses, the trees streaming past him and he felt like the car was slicing through it all. The highway was like the Red Sea parting, he thought. He felt small and a little overwhelmed.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

`Sick of the Times’

A weepy week it could have been, what with William Chua leaving for the Great Courtroom in the Sky. Sure this is a time for weeping but this is also a time for celebrating a great life. A great friend of 25 years William was to me and many others who had pen as weapon and to his fellow human rights lawyers who knew what a good fight meant. (See yesterday’s Inquirer front page news story.)

William passed in the evening of Dec. 13 after a six-month battle with pancreatic cancer which he faced with vigor and grace. William spent his last few days at St. Luke’s Hospital where there was a big commotion because movie king FPJ was there lying comatose after suffering a stroke. (FPJ died a minute after midnight.)One had to wade through the endless stream of cars and the throng of fans and politicians. Parking was a nightmare. Oh God, I thought, would I ever get there? I did and by the time I left, the crowd had thickened.

The scene outside was surreal. Inside, in his own little space, warmed by soft lights and the prayers of family and friends around him, William waited then gently slipped away and passed on to the Great Beyond.

My story yesterday said that William was the anonymous publisher/editor of the well-remembered ``Sick of the Times’’ that spoofed and satirized the excesses of the Marcos dictatorship through jokes, essays and illustrations. Okay, I will now confess that I was one of the cub writers. The rest will have to remain unknown. But why will I not reveal that PCGG head and recent Magsaysay Awardee Haydee Yorac, William’s UP law professor then, also wrote for ``Sick’’?

I still have copies of the second and third ``Sick’’ issues. I’m looking for the first issue because that was where, I think, the languorous ``The Autumn of the Patriarch’’ came out. It was a take-off from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel about an ailing despot whose regime and body were slowly being corrupted.

No one knew if an issue would be the last so it had, near the masthead, ``Volume One, Only One.’’

Thursday, December 9, 2004

Books in memory of trees

When you read the following excerpt and you are not awed and moved to action and meditation, you must not be a child of Earth.

``The Spaniards called her Mother Mountain, this vast range stretching down the northeastern flank of the island of Luzon like the heaving back of massive whales. Through the years, the trees and slopes of the Sierra Madre, acting like giant windbreaks, broke the backs of tropical cyclones swirling in from the West Pacific. She was also a weather maker. Her peaks and lonely upland valleys, blanketed with great sweeps of rain forest, were magnets for moisture, constantly building towering stacks of cumulus clouds, and rain. Bringing precious water to the rivers and rice fields of the thirsty lowlands. Her twisted branches and massive buttressed roots sheltered and nourished more plants and animals than anywhere else in Luzon. This intricate food chain, believed to have more components and interactive links than any other habitat on the surface of the earth, kept the forest alive…After thousands and thousands of years, the gentle, wandering Dumagats have found no other home like this endless tract of green, where time has pooled for generations.’’

That, my dear reader, is the brief introduction of the amazing book ``The Last Great Forest: Luzon’s Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park’’ (Bookmark, 2000) by Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan who now heads the World Wildlife Fund in the Philippines. The book is wildly designed, by the way, and handy too, and those not keen on reading might just pause to dig into it.

Farmers used to only reading the signs on the soil liked the book that I had to buy a few more copies a couple of years ago. How many of our politicians who gather no life-giving moss on their mouths have read this?

Thursday, December 2, 2004

20 years since Bhopal

In this season of disasters, both natural and man-made, it behooves us to remember the Bhopal tragedy in India which killed more than 20,000 and whose aftereffects continue to destroy the health of thousands. It was one of the worst ecological disasters in history, rivaling Chernobyl in Russia, and it could have been prevented.

Many of the youth of today and the future might not know about Bhopal because the tragedy is not likely going to make it to the textbooks. Does it not qualify as a historical entry like the 79 A.D. Mt. Vesuvius eruption that buried Pompeii? Will our own 1991 Ormoc mudslide that killed thousands in a blink of an eye make it to our error-ridden textbooks (which are a huge disaster in themselves)? And didn’t we see a likeness of Ormoc in the past few days? And not to forget the Marcopper disaster in Marinduque.

On the night of Dec. 2 and early morning of Dec. 3, 1984, a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal began leaking some 27 tons of the methyl isocynate (MIC), a deadly gas. According to The Bhopal Medical Appeal and Sambhavna Trust that espouse the cause of victims, none of the six safety systems designed to contain that kind of a leak was operational and soon the gas to spread throughout the city.

An estimated half a million people were exposed to the gas and 20,000 have so far died as a result of this. More than 120,000 continue to suffer ailments such as blindness, breathing problems, and reproductive disorders.