Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Archive for October 10th, 2006

undeserved grace 20

Posted on October 10, 2006 by jimparedes

Reprinted from my Sunday column on Philippine Star entitled HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE.

‘There but for fortune go you or I’.

I recall these words from a song I learned as a 13-year old (when I played guitar for a folk singing group I had with my siblings called ‘Meiling, Jim and Lory’) when I see people down on their luck, seemingly trapped in a hole with no apparent means of escape. I think of classmates, relatives, friends who have fallen into vicious intractable addictions, have gotten stuck in failed relationships or are slowly dying in toxic ones, those who have lost everything, or something equally horrible.

I have great compassion and pity for them because I know that, there but fortune go I. I don’t see myself as different from them. I am not any better than they are, and when subjected to the same situation, I would probably fare about the same or maybe even worse.

I could have gone off the deep end many times—but for fortune, I survived. I credit the many interventions that the Gods in their wisdom—and compassion—have sent to rescue me, pluck me out of a bad scene and redirect me to a better path.

The following is a random list of just a few of the graces that have come to me at crucial moments in my 55 years of life. Some graces, I believe, were ‘angels’ disguised as people while others showed up as events or circumstances, devices even, that altered the direction I was heading. Some even came initially as bad news. I must say that while the gifts were totally undeserved at the time they were given, they were well used and much appreciated later on.

I was six when my father died in a plane crash with the most loved President of the Republic, Ramon Magsaysay. I was the 9th of 10 children and our family was left without much financial resources to continue our schooling, much less pay for the new house my parents had just built. But the Jesuits, in gratitude to my late father who had served Catholic schools well, came to the rescue of the boys in the family (while the nuns took care of the girls) and I found myself, along with my brothers, on an Ateneo scholarship from my first day in kindergarten till the last day of my college life. I was not a great student; I didn’t excel in anything. But I imbibed enough knowledge, values and attitude to get somewhere.

I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if I had gone to a school we could actually afford. Who would I have become?

We lost our big, spacious family home and I spent my school years in smaller rented apartments and houses.
But even if we were lacking in financial resources, the family always had music in abundance. There was always music at home; my siblings and I were always singing, harmonizing. It made for great bonding, and it was good for our souls.

School and the atmosphere at home instilled in me not only a love for music that has brought me to where I am, they also ingrained in me the desire to excel. The economic hardships the family went through were great for ‘building character’, as my Mom always said, and is probably responsible for whatever grit I possess today.

A big deal for me—a major grace—was discovering the Beatles! To a kid of 11, sensitive, totally insecure and lost in that awkward, lonely stage of adolescence, stumbling upon the music of the Fab Four was like an answered prayer. John, Paul, George and Ringo were the epitome of cool. In my heart, I knew I was not cut out from the Elvis-loving world that ruled my early childhood.

As a direct off-shoot of my discovery of the Beatles, I asked my older sister for a guitar on my birthday. Learning guitar and knowing the chords of ALL the Beatles’ songs was therapy to this confused inarticulate boy who was too shy and self-conscious to engage the grown-up world. With my guitar, I discovered a parallel language I could use that made sense to me. It was the language of feeling and emotion which gave me a sense of how to deal with some of life’s big topics that I was just starting to confront, such as love, career and idealism.

Ironically, even if the Beatles era introduced many to the drug culture, I know that the Beatles’ music saved me from drugs, violence and other temptations that plague confused young people. I was too fascinated with music to go down that route. The Beatles set me on the path of music, not knowing that it would be the path I would be taking for the rest of my life.

My generation was special. We felt that we were on the threshold not only of a musical wave but also of many historical changes. The zeitgeist, or the spirit of the times, was pointing to a new direction. And each time I heard a new Beatles song, I knew I was of one of ‘them’. I was a vanguard of the new world. The Beatles were rebellious and talented, and between what they could do and what the world allowed them to do, they commandeered our era, and that left a lasting impression on me. It gave me the boldness NOT to pursue a conventional job and be an artist.

Meeting Boboy in high school and Danny in college pretty much put me on course and cemented the road that fate had laid out for me. While at the start, APO may have been just a vehicle for meeting girls through concerts, it was actually the beginning of a mission that we only became conscious of much later, the founding of something revolutionary in the Philippine music scene—what we know today as OPM.

It is interesting to note that the APO’s career started with a farewell concert. I was all set to quit the group after college when I was accepted as an AISEC exchange student in Turkey. But alas, the promised free ticket never arrived and much to my regret then, I was ‘stuck’ with the APO ‘for the meantime’. It’s been 34 years since the grace of that aborted trip to Turkey.

My accidental meeting of my wife Lydia Mabanta at a party while I was chaperoning a cousin at the weary age of 24 (at least that’s what it seemed like at the time to a young angst-ridden man) was a grace that pretty much set me on course family wise. It also gave me a needed anchor to ground me amidst the often unreal but rough and tumble world of showbiz.

The arrest and detention of my mother and stepfather in 1981 for subversive activities against the Marcos regime released the political animal in me. New energies permeated not just my waking hours but also the very core of my being an artist. It liberated the reluctant rebel that was lurking throughout my college life in the early years of martial law. It coaxed out the angry young man who was now ready to express himself.

I finally acknowledged that the basic task of an artist is to express what he feels to be true regardless of the disposition of the world. Being true to oneself was a primal task, and if it meant having to challenge the establishment in the process regardless of consequences, then so be it. Thus began years of writing and performing songs that defied the dictatorship. It was one of APO’s most prolific periods.

When people ask me in the light of the way things have turned out for the country, if I regret my participation in EDSA 1, I tell them no. EDSA 1 was a moment when I felt fully alive. My actions then expressed the essence of who I was then. I was coming from truth and that fired me up.

A last example of undeserved grace I have received came to me in my forties when I discovered zen. At that time, I was becoming disillusioned with many of the things I had earlier thought I believed in. I was successful, financially comfortable, famous, but none of that was cutting it for me and the prospect of more of it was giving me existential nausea. I was clearly unhappy, and I felt I had reached a plateau. I had outgrown many of my previously held assumptions and was ready to drop them. I had reached the end of the road where the map no longer worked. I was standing on the edge of a precipice and the unknown was staring at me, mocking me to take a leap.

Saying yes to an invitation to attend an introduction to zen changed my course. From the noisy, transient and ego-centered world of showbiz, I entered a territory which required me to drop my ego and meet the quieter, yet eternal aspects of who I was. It pointed me to truths that seemed contrary to how the world as I knew it was being run, or the way everyone wanted things to be. It showed me life without any spin, without projections of any kind ‘neither quieting the noise nor embracing the silence’.

I was so flabbergasted to see truth so self-evident I wondered how I could have missed it. It opened my own life to me just as it is, so effortlessly beautiful and deeply rich. I realized I was on a spiritual journey.

It’s been nine years since I started meditating, and all those countless hours of sitting and ruminating on life have chilled some of the passion I used to have for certain things and ignited newly discovered ones. Once again, the universe seemed to have taken a more deliberate hand at what I should be doing with my life.

The internal world continues to unravel, showing me new possibilities of what I can be. I have since written four books, held countless workshops on personal growth and taught in college for a few years. I have also changed residence for the meantime and moved to Sydney.

Looking back, I could have ignored many of these ‘interventions’ when they presented themselves. What if I had not asked my sister for a guitar when I was 11? What if I had not met Danny and Boboy and Lydia? What if I did but walked out and lost patience with them during an argument as I did many times when I was younger? What if fate had taken me to Turkey? What if my Dad didn’t die on that plane? What if my parents were never incarcerated? And what if I never attended the zen orientation I was invited to?

How would my life had turned out if events had turned out differently and had not made the choices I did? My life could have been just another story of wreckages. Or maybe not. No one really knows.

But I don’t really believe I made the choices. In hindsight, I now know I was not aware, or awake enough to make them. I was not totally present to have fully understood every decision I made then, or to even imagine their consequences. But for fortune, I didn’t do too badly. Or maybe I am giving myself too much credit. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that life, or the Gods, did well by me. Maybe.

Meanwhile, I am more awake than ever and always on the lookout for every little clue that the universe may be sending my way. This time though, I want to be more present and engaged when they come. It’s time to stop being an innocent bystander and start to co-create with the Universe what the rest of my life can be. ###

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