Humming in my Universe Philstar.com
By Jim Paredes
Last weekend, I spent time at my brother’s Batangas beach house with most of my siblings. Two, who are US based came home to attend class reunions and it was a good reason to get together and talk about old times, our current situations, and just about everything and everyone.
It’s amazing how years spent apart are instantly bridged by memories and shared histories. We talked about our relatives who had passed away, the narratives their lives took and the color they added to our family heritage. There were heroic exploits, noble deeds, principled stands and interesting twists and turns in their lives. And then there were the peccadillos and the full-blown scandals surrounding some of our elders.
We must have gotten tired of retelling the good things our elders did since we have recounted them so many times in the past, because last weekend, we spent much time discussing their indiscretions. Each of us shared what we knew about certain incidents concerning certain relatives, surprising and shocking some of us who were hearing some of the stories for the first time (though admittedly with great relish).
We realized that the primary sources of family stories were mostly our mother and some uncles and aunts. However, they never told any of us the complete narratives. The stories were parsed, the details spread out among us, perhaps unintentionally. If it was intentional, I do not know what made them do it. One sister, for example, would know the general story of an indiscretion but another would know the juicier details.
Listening to the sordid and torrid goings-on that some of our relatives were involved in, I somehow felt a strange sense of comfort, more than shock. It was actually a relief to know that behind the larger-than-life principled acts they did for personal or family honor or for country and people, were human beings with human frailties. It somehow makes me feel better about my own imperfections and weaknesses. Perhaps, my last comforting insight is that my family is like many other families in the sense that it is capable of great deeds as well as despicable ones. Thank God, we are not special.
It is always educational and enriching to look at one’s family history and see one’s relatives in the contexts in which they lived. On my mother’s side, there was a strong moral impulse to reject immorality and corruption. My grandfather was the most beloved prison director Muntinlupa ever had. He did not just discipline criminals, he rehabilitated them. My grandmother’s roots were in the rebellious Basque region in Spain. She was a strong-headed and very moral woman who passed the tests of faith, love and charity when the situations presented themselves. I see these traits in my mom and my siblings.
On my father’s side, my grandfather was an Ilokano lawyer who was a man of the world, open-minded and more understanding of a person’s weaknesses. My grandmother was a homebody who doted on their children and grandchildren. Although my mom’s side was not more morally upright than my dad’s family, they set a higher bar for themselves and so were also more strict and unforgiving of themselves when they failed.
There were both the heroes and scoundrels on both sides of my family. But hero or scoundrel, they were mostly lovable. Maybe I am casting a sympathetic eye on them because they are my relatives. But really, for a large part of them, the balance is tilted in their favor because of their redeeming qualities such as compassion, a true sense of charity, intellectual probity, a strong sense of social justice, and courage.
When I look at the lives of the people I love, I take into account what Carl Jung said that every person has a dark side. His basic message is that every man casts a shadow, and the greater the man, the bigger the shadow. It is foolish and naïve to expect people to live lives of perfection. The so-called perfect person, the one without a shadow, is probably a one-dimensional, uninteresting and soul-less being, a caricature, or a stock character. And I even doubt he or she really exists.
We are all capable of good and evil deeds. And there is not one of any of us who comes from a so-called “pure” source. Thomas Jefferson, one of the drafters of the US Constitution which guaranteed the rights of every person, was himself a slave owner. Contradiction exists in every man and woman.
Shakespeare, in his play “Julius Caesar”, had Brutus speak these words upon the death of Caesar: ‘The evil that men do live after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.” I often wonder about this. On some days, I fear it is true. But from our family stories where good and bad deeds are re-told objectively, almost matter-of-factly, I know it is not.
In a cynical but funny and true way, the novelist Kendall Hailey wrote, ‘The great gift of family life is to be intimately acquainted with people you might never even introduce yourself to, had life not done it for you.”
To the members of my large clan who have gone before me, what will determine the perspective I will take when I look at my family history, or any person or event for that matter, is whether I have the capacity to go beyond judging simplistically, unlike the wooden one-dimensional shadow-less people Jung described. But that shouldn’t be that difficult because I am getting more and more accepting of my own shadow as I learn more and more about my relatives. And I thank God there isn’t a relative I know of who was and is not real enough to share not just his or her light but also his or her shadow with the rest of us.
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