Friday, May 19, 2006

our kids will die to make one for us

There's The Rub : Generations

First posted 01:33am (Mla time) May 17, 2006
By Conrado de Quiros

THAT was a pretty heart-wrenching story that came out on our front page last Sunday, the one that told of Molly, a 57-year-old woman who lost her daughter to a violent death in the Bicol region last March. Her daughter, Erika, had joined the New People’s Army (NPA), wanting to change the world. She was killed instead in a raid by government troops. Erika would have turned 21 last May 8.

Molly herself was never an activist. She had preferred a quieter life devoted to contemplation, to changing herself instead of the world, during her own school years. But she had raised her child to see her surroundings for all that they were and could be, and with no small help from the University of the Philippines, she had done so beyond what Molly herself could have imagined. Filled with the fire of youth and the dream of the ages, Erika had taken up arms to fight the things -- and the people -- that shackled her country. She paid the ultimate price for it.

To read something like this on Mother’s Day, well, life as they say isn’t a rose garden. Or a rose is also covered with thorns. What depths of grief Molly, a widow, must feel with the loss of Erika only she can know. We can only glimpse it, we can never know it. And God forbid we should ever know it. I suddenly remembered after reading that item the scene in “The Two Towers” where King Theoden after seeing his son laid to rest in his crypt tells Gandalf tearfully: “The young perish while the old linger… No parent should ever have to bury his child!”

I cannot imagine any pain worse than a mother, or father, having to bury their child, especially in this way.

I myself know of people who have similar stories, though they have not ended just as tragically or devastatingly. I have a couple of friends in particular who have had an experience akin to this. Both uncannily enough are into music. One is an impresario (let’s call him Paul), and the other a pianist/music teacher/choirmaster (let’s call her Maria). Both were never activists, the latter in particular lived a sheltered life as a “colegiala” [private school girl] and has brothers who are Philippine Military Academy graduates and military officers.

Both had daughters who suddenly dropped out of school and joined the NPA, if not entirely to their absolute surprise, at least to their monumental chagrin. Both knew their daughters had been attending all sorts of meetings and had been expressing themselves vocally, even stridently, about the rampant abuses and injustices in their country. Both never expected them to disappear one day, leaving only letters that explained why they did what they did and whose contents could only remind one of the extravagant sentiments of Richard Lovelace’s “To Lucasta, On Going to the Wars”: “I could not love thee, Dear, so much/ Loved I not honor more.”

Paul’s daughter was captured in the wilds of the north. Paul spent some time shuttling back and forth there to see to his daughter’s welfare and to plead with hardened people whose hearts melted before opera not to harm her. His efforts succeeded; he managed after some time to get his daughter released into his custody with strenuous avowals of making sure she would hew to legally prescribed paths. Maria’s daughter was never caught, she surfaced eventually after some time. Both Paul’s and Maria’s daughters are now married, and though they have not abandoned their revolutionary ideals, they have found other ways to serve the people.

I’m not really sure if that is a case of all’s well that ends well. Depends on where you stand, I guess.

I personally would not have known how to deal with something like that if it had happened to me. As I said in a column before, I can only imagine today the horrendous anxiety we must have put our parents through in our time each time we left home, toothbrush and red books in overnight bags, to disappear for God knows how long (it was seldom overnight). If you can conjure all sorts of things in your mind today when
your teenage son or daughter isn’t home yet at 2:00 a.m., your parents would have done the same thing about you. And more: Today you know only that at that hour your kid is courting other kids. Then your parents knew you were courting disaster.

All this has only bolstered my conviction about something I said last year. Which is why I am compelled to rage at an age when people expect me to hang my activism like spurs up a wall and go gently into the night. I do not continue to struggle -- we, the people who are presumed to have grown older and wiser, do not continue to struggle -- our kids will have to do it for us. We do not rise to protest iniquity and stop abuse, our kids will have to do it for us. We do not shed off cynicism and a veteran mentality that says we’ve done our bit for God and country, we deserve our rest, our kids will risk their lives for us.

Of course, the choice the kids above have made, which is to embrace -- and in Erika’s case, even die for -- a cause that history appears to have discredited, may seem to many of us to be more wasteful than heroic, more foolish than tragic. But if we look beyond the superficial aspects of the cause they embraced to the spark of idealism that underlay it, to the boundless capacity of youth to bristle at injustice and fight for what is good and decent, to the awesome power of youth to unleash a storm of energy to do what their presumed elders and betters have found every justification not to do, then we must seriously ask ourselves if we are not in some way guilty of their deaths by dereliction of duty.

We do not ask the questions, our kids will ask them for us. We do not live to make a better world for our kids, our kids will die to make one for us.

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