In Sheila Kohler’s novel The Perfect Place (2005), the protagonist, a solitary, nameless woman with A Dark Past vacationing in a mountainside resort in an obscure Swiss town remarks that “there is almost nothing as tiresome as unwanted love.” This strikes me as true for both the Beloved and the Lover for different, if causally related reasons. Receiving love that one cannot reciprocate is a burden for the Beloved, who must weigh his sense of self as a magnanimous, empathetic person (assuming, of course, that he is a decent human being) against the effort he must keep on exerting to maintain this magnanimous and empathetic self despite the increasingly taxing impositions of one whose attentions and company he does not desire. That Kohler’s observation is true for the Lover seems obvious, though a Wertherian character might opine that it is in suffering and abnegation that one proves one’s love. The Wertherian view, I think, is not only stupid but also selfish and self-aggrandizing. I think that the prize of loving is loving itself, because in the process of learning how and striving to love well, one becomes a better person–more patient, understanding, perceptive, alive, and true. If the effort is its own reward, then when does loving become tedious for the Lover? Answer: when the Lover senses that his loving has become tedious for the Beloved. When the Beloved suffers the Lover, the Lover suffers himself and suffers exponentially because he feels both his pain (born of affection that is neither appreciated nor reciprocated) and the Beloved’s (born of inability to reciprocate), which intensifies the initial pain of rejection ad infinitum. Thus, the kindest course for the Beloved who cannot see himself loving in return is to cut the chase short, and make the cut sharp and clean, instead of prolonging suffering on both sides. The Lover keeps on loving because even pain can feel good the way exercise or righteous acts feel good. The Lover will keep on loving if he believes that he will somehow, someday make the Beloved, and consequently himself, happy, even if he is not happy now. Thus, it is up to the Beloved to put his foot down and in the clearest and kindest way possible say, “Sorry but we are never ever ever gonna be together, so please direct your attentions elsewhere, for your happiness and mine,” and support his rejection with sound reasoning. It is then up to the Lover to choose whether to love with intelligence and respect for self and other, or be a self-centered fool.
Kahapon, gumising ako nang maaga upang dumalo sa kumperensya tungkol sa pilosopiya ni Padre Roque Ferriols sa Ateneo kasama ang aking kaibigang si C., na nagtapos ng sosyolohiya sa Ateneo at naging kaklase ko sa pilosopiya sa UP. Interesante ang naganap na talakayan. Bagamat hindi kakaiba ang mga kaisipang ipinaliwanag, tulad ng ating limitadong pagdanas sa “meron” (i.e. “itong-ito” o “what is”), isang pagdanas na nababatid lamang natin sa pamamagitan ng wika, na siyang ating ginagamit sa pag-abstraksyo ng mga konseptong nakakatulong sa pag-unawa ng meron, ngayon ko lang pinagmuni-munihan ang mga kaisipang iyon sa wikang Filipino. Madalas kong ginagamit ang Filipino sa pakikipag-usap, ngunit Inggles ang aking karaniwang ginagamit sa pag-iisip at pagsusulat. Nahihirapan pa rin akong magbasa at umunawa ng mga edukadong teksto na nakasulat sa Filipino, lalo na’t maliit ang aking vocabulario sa Filipino. Medyo nakakahiya at talagang nakakalungkot.
Gayunpaman, sa palagay ko ay naunawaan ko naman ang talakayan kahapon. Unang nagsalita si Dr. Barbaza at kaniyang pinag-ugnay ang mga kaisipan ni Heidegger tungkol sa wika at pag-iral sa pagpapahalaga ni Fr. Roque sa pagdanas sa wika, sapagkat sa ibayo ng salita, walang bagay na maaring mag-meron para sa atin–ang wika ang nagtatakda ng hangganan ng ating kayang mabatid at isipin.
Tinalakay naman ni Dr. Cleofas ang kahalagahan ng wastong paggamit ng konsepto, o ideyang may malinaw na kahulugan at tiyak na hangganan. Ang konsepto ay hindi ang meron–ito lamang ang nalalabi sa ating pakikipagtagpo sa meron, at sa ating pagtatangkang maunawaan ito. Nagkakaroon ng problema kapag tayo ay nangungunsepto nang walang kaakibat na masigla at kritikal na pagbatid sa meron, kapag tayo ay nagpapakulong sa mga “hungkag na abstraksyo” (ika nga ni Cleofas) dahil ayaw nating bitawan ang ating mga nalikhang konsepto, kahit na hindi na sila makabuluhan o makatotohanan. (Ika nga ng mga kaibigan ko, “Teh, dapat panghawakan ang realidad.”) Sa huli, iniugnay niya ang wastong paggamit ng konsepto sa sinabi ni Wittgenstein ukol sa kahalagahan ng imbestigasyon upang maliwanagan sa kahulugan ng mga paglalahad.
Huling nagsalita si Dr. Mariano, at kaniyang pinabulaanan ang ideya na ang agham ay replika ng meron. Ang agham ay isa lamang uri ng pang-aabstraksyo, at ni hindi ito obhetibo at unibersal, sapagkat ang subhetibong interpretasyon ay kalakip ng pagsisiyasat at pagmamasisid. At, muli, hindi saklaw ng ating pag-unawa ang kabuuhan ng meron–lagi’t-laging may malalabing misteryo na pupukaw sa ating pagkamangha, at mabuting irespeto ang mga hangganan ng ating kayang mabatid bilang tao upang hindi tayo maligaw sa paghahabol sa ating mga sariling ilusyon.
Basta ang alam ko, may napukaw sa akin ang kumperensyang iyon: ang kagustuhang mabasa ang Pambungad sa Metapisika ng mabuting padre.
One morning, I was having coffee with A., a new friend, who asked me how it was to be 24. At first, I didn’t understand her question, because she was older by about six years, and so had gone through 24 herself. I asked her what she meant, and she said, “How do people your age view your careers? Your relationships? What do you do for fun?” Again, I was puzzled, because not only could I not presume to speak for my peer group, but I also wondered whence her questions came. Was she curious about my worldviews, specifically? But she already said that she meant the typical 24-year-old mindset, if there were such a thing.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I suppose it’s different for everyone.” I thought about my peers. Some were running businesses and NGOs, some were still in school, some were in between jobs or dreaming of a different kind of employment or freelancing. Many felt lost, but most of us were pursuing what we liked—be it travel or cooking or activism or art—in some way. Not one of us was certain about which direction our life was going to take (really, who knows?). Some of us had considered ending it, some of us were building new lives with spouses and kids. Some of us were in committed relationships, some of us were not, and some of us had just come out to our friends and families, seeking acceptance and love. That most of us are on Facebook is why I know these things.
“I suppose you’re right. It’s different for everyone,” A. said as I my tablet beeped with the notification that she had just added me on FB. “I asked,” she continued, “because I spent the last nine years shut in. And now here I am, I’m thirty, and I don’t mind just doing my thing and being on my own.”
I recalled our previous conversation, where she told me that she had just come out of med school, and I realized that she must have spent her twenties poring over books and body parts. I studied her bright, makeup-free face, her easy grace and openness, her confident, straight-backed stance that made her look taller than her barely five-foot frame. She didn’t look like she spent the past nine years “shut in” at all. If thirty looked like that, maybe I shouldn’t feel too anxious about reaching it.
I turned 24 just a few months ago, to not much to-do, and it doesn’t feel any different from being 23, which must be why I keep forgetting that I’m no longer 23. For me, the only difference is that 24 is closer to 25, and I’m not even halfway through my quarter-life bucket list, though I’m no longer interested in pursuing some of the items there, like returning to Sabah to climb up and down Mt. Kinabalu in a day or publishing a book, in the next year or so. How swiftly we change and our priorities shift.
I feel good at 24, though. I’m not as physically fit as I was two years ago, but I am happier. I feel a little less stupid, less anxious, less lost. I have a better idea about what I want from life and how I may give back to it, and what I can’t and should not stand. I feel hopeful and even excited about my plans for the future, though getting through all the long years and months and weeks and days ahead still seems tedious.
My 24 years have taught me, among other things, life’s unpredictability, its irreverence for even the best-laid plans. Even so, my propensity for organization, focus, and goal-setting, and my desire for security and a modicum of control over my life lead me to persist in drafting plans, from itineraries and weekly schedules that account for every hour, to lists of Things to Accomplish in the short and long terms, divided according to months and years.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the direction my life is taking. Even though I am learning the values of patience and gentle unfolding (for unintended, harmful consequences often result from rushing or forcing events into our desired ends before they have earned their rightful conclusions), this doesn’t preclude me from working hard to nudge things toward a particular direction. So while I am enjoying and learning much from my teaching practice, I know I need to start preparing for when I’ll Level Up. My most important goal now is to pursue further education abroad in the fields of philosophy and poetry (I mean poetry in the broader sense of the poetic, the metaphoric, especially as it manifests in literature, the body of our best dreams and forms of expression), at the risk of feeling that my studies are neither useful nor socially relevant—though of course I believe it is relevant (for if language encompasses our world—if language is all our world—then every event necessitates an act of literary criticism, no matter how “automatic” and unconscious the process may seem. And, after all, the important things in life, e.g. “Does he like me?!?!” are not always plain to the understanding).
Since I took a break from my philosophical studies to teach with the English Department, I’ve been easing back into philosophy by sitting in classes and reading books about the philosophy of language. Maybe next semester or next school year, I’ll re-enlist MA classes at my university and complete my INCs, as I look for suitable graduate programs that explore the intersections of literature and philosophy, and
markets for selling my organs to pay the tuition scholarships.
I still plan to travel around Southeast Asia before or as I turn 25, though it may not be the month-long solo backpacking trip around Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia that I first envisioned. I’ll need to save up for grad school, after all. And then I want to visit the old Japanese Imperial Capital in Kyoto, hike along the Annapurna Circuit and go bungee-jumping from one of the highest suspension bridges in Nepal, see the mythic landscapes of Yunnan Province in China, and watch the sun rise from atop the temples of Borobodur in Yogyakarta. I want to stay for a few months in a Tibetan monastery, study ashtanga yoga in Mysore, learn Spanish in Peru, and sleep in strangers’ couches all over Europe.
I looked at A. again. She was traveling to South Korea in a few days. She was a dancer and a yogini and a doctor and a friend and a daughter and a lover, and she was only thirty. I thought, gods, what a wonder it was to dream and be young.