There is a sense of restiveness today that feels oddly restrained. The tenor is irascible yet somehow listless as many attempt to grasp the enormity of forces that feel beyond their control, only to let go.
Days feel saturated, sticky, and aimless, and at times it seems we sit still just to secure the quiet spaces we inadvertently encounter, which may keep at bay the disquiet of our taut anxieties.
To be bookended by calamities. What a ride we’ve had, and what a ride we’ll face.
Taal volcano’s eruption in January 2020 ushered in the first Philippine lockdown in March. Two years later in the same month, an explosion seen from space, when a volcano in the Tongan archipelago blew up, welcomed the approach of a pandemic entering its third year.
In far hemispheres, missiles rained, forests burned, and floodwaters surged, and war drums beat ever louder as purveyors of the so-called free world descend faster towards fragmentation and decay while long-held delusions of exceptional destinies decompose for all to see. And still the oceans warm.
Amidst the tumult, sometimes the notion of passing seasons take root in the mind to feed on the soil of longing and expectation. We seek shelter and respite and in time we learn to embrace the variegated silences of our lives.
The chill of a sluggish evening triggers the memory of a Silesian winter. Years ago in December, a meandering walk around Plac Miarki in Katowice turned into a brisk stroll to escape veils of coal-burned sulfur moving through the air. In lieu of lighting, street lamps offer a dull yellow glow that barely reach the sidewalk as pallid puffs of snow – a “silent cousin of sonorous rain” to Siddarth Pandey – swirl in indolent billows. The sky was dark that night, the ground glacial, and to slide indoors meant a clay dish of lard would be at hand with warm Polish bread, and never mind the kielbasa.
The memory of Poland’s sullen frost brings about a momentary nip and then relief: it is only the mind’s skin that feels the bite; there is no rime of ice on the bones.
A late downpour in January can signal release from the ambiguities of dusk. The sound of water dripping from leaf to leaf demarcates unseen borders in what Meera Subramanian called “the cartography we can’t see” but which indicates space and time.
Another day is coming to a close. In place of sunset’s visual cues we navigate by the scent of spent rain and roasting garlic as kitchens prepare the evening’s meal. Across the street, a neighbor’s dog offers a familiar casual bark that another household’s canine reciprocates. A kilometer away, light rail wagon wheels sliding down steel tracks emit a metallic swoosh; it is faint but recognizable as the noise of the working day recedes. It as audible as the same hissing hum it transports as services open at dawn to announce the city is stirring once more.
To dwell on the transmutation of days during this quarantined interlude is to inhabit a vagrant’s sense of drift, where much of everything feels transient save the sensation of transience. It is to seek traction while living with turbulence–a search for the pebble to press between forefinger and thumb, the buoy in a day’s pause, the elusive reboot.
Where do we find these stones? Subramanian reminds us “We all inhabit imperfect geographies: countries, cities, bodies. Places where we feel at home and places where we’re lost. Whose maps provide a way forward?” And what lights the way home?
“Love illuminates matters,” wrote the feminist scholar bell hooks in January 2000 when she interviewed the much loved Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. “Perhaps the most common false assumption about love,” hooks said, “is that love means we will not be challenged or changed… [P]eople who read writing about racism, sexism, homophobia, religion, etc. that challenges their set assumptions tend to see that work as harsh rather than loving.” Yet love allows us to believe “that we can always start anew.”
In her interview, hooks recalled the monk’s counsel in 1975: “The way must be in you, the destination also must be in you and not somewhere else in space or time. If that kind of self-transformation is being realized in you, you will arrive.”
An entire nation raged when the US Air Force bombed Ben Tre on February 7, 1968, thoroughly smashing the Vietnamese city just “because there were five or six guerillas there,” a town destroyed ostensibly to save it. Afterwards, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote:
I hold my face in my two hands.
No, I am not crying.
I hold my face in my two hands
to keep my loneliness warm—
two hands protecting,
two hands nourishing,
two hands preventing
my soul from leaving me
What it took to contain–in the words of the revered Buddhist, to practice caring for–his anger is difficult to fathom.
“Who was the first to break / the silence,” the poet Luisa Igloria asked in her 2018 book The Buddha Wonders If She Is Having a Mid-Life Crisis. Who was the first “to say May we be blessed to live longer / with each other? For everything is a gift… / to the gathering: the first phoebe of spring, a torn / strip of clothing that reddens the branch on which / it has caught; the face light etches on a plate of metal / looking back at you at last, as if it had traveled / an eternity just to give you this greeting, this welcome.”
Igloria imagines the Buddha is by the radio one evening listening to “Mendelssohn’s Octet in E flat / Major, Op. 20.” It is “the perfect soundtrack for this / moment—the violins and their upbow so quickly / spanning and gathering a range of feeling / he did not know still simmered under his skin. / Where did they come from: that flare of resentment, / that thorn of anger, the ache of loneliness / … How is it possible to cultivate detachment / at the same time that one practices compassion?”
The poet sees the Buddha as he “rinses his cup and saucer and sets them / on the rack to dry, his fingers lingering / in midair as if to trace the notes / that exit in the scherzo.”
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.