MANILA, December 24, 2004 (STAR) DE RERUM NATURA By Maria Isabel Garcia -  "How would you like to be remembered?" asked an interviewer. He replied: "That is an impossible question. Remembrance after my death implies it is not up to me so why should I even worry about it?" That is one of the deepest and lasting lessons that I learned from the original writer of this column who wrote 11 columns before he passed away two and a half years ago. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense since gratitude is really more for us who are left behind to have a sense of indebtedness to an unbroken chain of life so we could enrich and make more meaningful our own portion of it while we are still here. Gratitude is also what gives us inspiration to extend ourselves to others and to the world, without seeking recognition for it. There is nothing more poignant and profound than a good deed not waiting a second more to be recognized or reciprocated. This got me into thinking about memory and gratitude and how with the season, they are more pronounced and collective. My Christmas columns have always departed from their weekly science/nature theme. Memory and gratitude as a theme for this one will be a timely and worthy exception.

If there is anything I learned from writing these weekly science/nature columns this year, it is about how the brain works – how it creates, stores and retrieves memory. Memory is what makes us who we are. Memory is what holds the people, places, events and ideas we should be grateful for. And since gratitude depends on memory, we owe it to ourselves, to others and to life, that we dig deep in our minds to realize bits and pieces of our private and collective lives that make the same lives more meaningful now, even if not necessarily richer or easier as some would hope. It is also important that the scope of your memory not be wholly defined by what media, print or broadcast, kidnaps to store into your memory, with their startling visual images and deliberately loud voices inviting you to have your fifteen minutes of fame. There are no cameras and microphones in much of life and the universe, no matter how many reality TV shows they come up with. We can only approach our own lives and the rest of the universe with our minds and hearts, through our sense of discovery, exploration and curiosity. Not having a camera, a microphone or even a column to write about it does not make any one person’s dance less meaningful. The attempts of public school teachers I have worked with like Doris de Leon and Sheila del Pilar (I make a rare exception and mention names in this column) of Antipolo, thrice daily, to impart science to classes consisting of 90 each put to shame my weekly attempt to make sense of a science idea in these columns. They are no less real or any less interesting or heroic than those "challenges" celebrities and other prize-contenders are made to do on TV. Newspaper and TV headlines should not totally define the memories of your lifetime. I think we owe it to our own sense of being alive and to others to deepen our own sense of gratitude by expanding our memory. Recently, I deliberately went on a personal quest to do just this. I started with Amorsolo.

I spent a long time looking at a painting of Amorsolo when I recently visited the new Ayala Museum. I went there hoping to overrun my senses with painted "memories" of great Filipino artists who deeply loved this country. I looked at the nameless figures in Amorsolo’s paintings and juxtaposed them with some of the real farmers, plantation and other rural workers I have had the chance of meeting in my life. I even stretched it to the ones who work the land to feed the rest of the nation but who remain nameless and faceless when we give thanks as we only remember those who become famous and who are lucky enough to get the attention of the media. I also remembered a video clip that the Ayala theaters showed during the centennial year before every film they showed. It featured real footage of wars our forefathers fought. I noticed one man who seemed old and frail, dressed only in a sack cloth and a hat, holding a bolo, charging barefoot toward the enemy. He was one of countless unnamed Filipino souls who did not even know that a camera caught his last seconds, who did not even ask to be remembered but who died so we could, as a nation, have a shot at being free. This moved me to renew my personal gratitude to our land and our people, to those whose most candid acts involved giving up their own lives so we can have a shot at ours now. These nameless ones and their unmonitored acts of selflessness and kindness continue till now. The same goes for the dedicated teachers and scientists who still choose to remain in this country, despite the most difficult academic conditions, to save us from the scariest and most dangerous state of all which is ignorance. It is to them who choose and create their spaces for life and growth for themselves and others without getting embroiled in the politics of remembrance that I give my profound thanks for this Christmas column.

A recent guest also reminded me of this lesson of being grateful for the moment and learning to let go. A falcon, a European kestler, recently flew into my living room and "sat" on my sofa and would not leave. It would not even fly around the house even if it did not have any visible injuries. After the initial fascination subsided and I could think clearly, I put it in a laundry basket with holes (since I could not find a cage big enough for it) and drove it to the Wildlife Rescue Center. It turned out that this raptor migrated from Europe during the winter there and chose my couch as a stop in its long journey. I left it there where it would regain strength and be set free in a couple of days. I am grateful for its visit for reminding me that wild peace still lives among us and for a most entertaining episode in my life. Most of all, for being blessed with a presence that teaches one the kind of love that recognizes the right season for everything: when to hold on, how to be grateful and when to let go. I don’t know what one calls that kind of love. Amorsolo is I think a good name for it.

With gratitude, I wish you a Merry Christmas.

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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