There’s nothing that drives you further down into introspection like the waning high of your birthday that’s almost about to end (except probably a close brush with death, a bus speeding at 100 kilometers per hour barely colliding with the car you’re in at a highway—but that’s another story.)
Which is to say, you’re no one, dregs of society, scum of the earth, bottom feeder, immaterial, dispensable. What they want to say is: you deserve nothing, you are both noticed and unnoticed, and you are not really sure which is better between the two, when to be seen is to be hated, for people to wish you to die, and often it’s not even a wish, because they’ve killed your kind countless times, you’ve seen it—beating other rats with a stick until their eyes pop out, skulls cracked open until their brains spill over. Or a bath of boiling water, until their fur peels off their body.
The other day, I was thinking about Ate Belle and remembered that it has been almost four years since she died. I was deciding on when I was going to fold clothes when the memory of her in our house, calmly sifting through the freshly laundered shirts and sheets, came back to my head.
I really should’ve paid attention to how she did it. Then again, folding clothes is one of the chores which I absolutely don’t enjoy. Some of my friends, like Mela and Jessica, find it therapeutic; I find it dull and repetitive. I’d rather cook or do the groceries than be stuck folding clothes for what feels like an eternity.
Recently, I was in a heated Twitter debate about how people who had animal companions but were not vegan were essentially in a master-slave relationship.
While some of my friends argued with me directly, some chose not to reply and instead resorted to subtweets and snarky, shady remarks. Those who did the latter did not contribute anything substantial to the debate, because contesting ideas directly, while it seems superficially uncomfortable, allows people to test ideas and hones our capacity to argue well.
A few days ago, my friend Nancy and I were talking about how we’re all adjusting to this new normal (a term used to exhaustion that it is already grating on my ears), as we carried our groceries back to our condos. Yes, we were lucky–alive and well, not yet driven to the brink of desperation, like those spilling out in the streets and being threatened to be shot down by the police.
But to be alive is not just the goal, I argued. We might as well be living in some weird fictional dystopian place…or North Korea. Being a hermit and being a solitary prisoner may seem similar superficially, but the difference lies in the element of choice.
Suffering, I thought–as I bit on the half-eaten mango that I had stored in the refrigerator yesterday, is inevitable. There was nothing new to this concept: Buddhism’s First Noble Truth discusses the dissatisfaction that arises from changing states–hence, suffering is but a discomfort from a present situation which isn’t exactly what you expect.
But what I was wondering about was whether suffering was diminished the earlier one accepted it.
Last night, I watched Netflix’s “The Platform” (El Hoyo), a dystopian science-fiction film which explores class warfare and how a threat could force people to cooperate.
I’ve been mulling about how the COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the entrenched inequalities in our society. Already we’re seeing how the less privileged are made to choose between dying from hunger or dying from the disease, while the rich continue to believe that these people are merely being stubborn–lacking the discipline that is demanded by this enhanced community quarantine imposed by the Philippine government, when in fact, it is the very privilege these rich people have that allow them to easily follow the rules.
All travel is fiction, you told yourself, as you walked around Ximending that cold morning. You’ve been too obsessed with getting the details right that you forgot that the experience is more important, the feelings you will take away from this whole trip.
A few years back, right after I graduated from college, I had to be confined because of depression.
In the facility, our days were regimented. We (the other patients and I) woke up at 6 in the morning, stretched for a bit, ate breakfast, did a morning activity that lasted for an hour or so, had lunch, then took a break. We had another activity in the afternoon, and then a quick snack, then a break before dinner. At 9 pm, they would turn off the lights.
During that period of confinement, I got to meet another patient, who was reading a book on Buddhism, which I ended up reading because I was bored with the routines. I remember being engrossed with the part about anattā, which is the Buddhist concept of non-self.
Lately I’ve been feeling a sense of displacement. It usually strikes me every time I come back from a long trip, as if I’m straddling between two worlds, one that is familiar and one where I am invisible, where I only exist as a random face, a stranger.
I know that home is a wonderful place to be in. I honestly don’t have the right to be dissatisfied. I enjoy a lot of things here that many people don’t. I don’t mean to say that with a smug sense of satisfaction, but to acknowledge that I’m lucky. (Maybe to say one is lucky repeatedly can be some way of humble-bragging as well, but…shrugs.)