A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: A Coming-of-Age Story

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 06 Dec) – For me, another unintended consequence of this pandemic – and the ensuing lockdown forcing us to stay home – was to have time to reflect on my life. As a religious, we had recollection moments which provided a good opportunity to look back to the years gone by and to discern the challenges of the present (given the impact of COVID-19) and looking ahead to the post-pandemic era.

I asked myself what had been the important markers in my life’s history or the milestones that made me the person that I am today. There is surely truth to the adage – the boy is the father of the man. It made me wonder at what age did a seed got planted in my being which would determine the important choices and decisions of the life in the unfolding decades.

These were decisions related to:  what vocation I would pursue – married life, be a religious (and embrace the challenge of celibacy and forsake the joy of having children) or blessed singleness (remain a bachelor); what commitments and engagements I would be involved in; what path to take that would lead out to the world beyond the safety of home; the kind of people with whom I would establish friendships that will last a lifetime.

Scanning through the timeline of a seven-decade life, I needed to pinpoint that moment when I ultimately made a decision to join the Redemptorist congregation,  became an activist in my later years engaged in various social movements (especially in relation to Moro and Lumad realities and with issues related to human rights to climate change), when the itch to travel to other parts of this earth made me find ways to secure travel grants (having no resources of my own) and establishing friendships with a wide network of friends, some of whom have been on long-term basis (mainly within the church, academe and CSO/NGO circles).

As if a eureka moment came, I was able to pinpoint it to the years of 1962-63. Our family were still residing in Digos, Davao del Sur (then a small town) and attending fourth year high school (the Holy Cross Academy Boy’s Department, today part of Cor Jesu College). I realized this was the year of my coming-of-age. Many exciting and challenging things happened that year within our family, our neighborhood, in our town, in the country and the whole world. For the year 1962-63 would have been the precursor of the radical things that erupted in the late 1960s all over the world, and impacted the Philippines and even a small town as Digos.

That was the year I fathomed that God was calling me to be a Brother. Having had Brothers of the Sacred Heart as our school administrators, teachers and advisers of our extra-curricular activities allowed us a glimpse of what religious life was all about. As I idolized most of them (as most were brilliant, talented, kind and generous), it was easy to look up to them as role models. Thus the call to become one of them.

One of my first heartbreak was to realize that at age 16, one didn’t have full control over one’s life’s decisions. When I told my father of this plan, he strongly objected to it and it was made clear to me that there was no way I would disobey him. So it wasn’t meant to be and I even thought that was the end of my desire to become a religious. In time I realized, it was the first moment that would be duplicated in many more moments in my life. It would take two more decades before I could pursue this dream, when I was free enough of parental control.

That was the year, my friendship with my four barkadas (Willy, Joseph and Jesus) was cemented. Since first year, we had been the closest friends and had lots of fun together. We all realized that this could have been the last year we would be together, as each had his own plan after high school graduation. We made the most of our friendship and when we parted ways we promised we would remain in touch. It was this kind of friendship that helped me cultivate a talent of establishing long-time friendships.

That was also the year when our family was confronted with a serious land problem, which made my parents decide to transfer residence from Digos back to Davao City. I began to realize that land was a most important issue in people’s lives. As I had my early exposure to Moro and Lumad realities (as Digos had always been a multi-ethnic town), even as I could not yet relate all the issues related to land and the ensuing conflicts, I intuitively sensed that all of us – Christian settlers, Moro and Lumad were faced with one common problem. That early exposure must have instilled something in my mind that would make me decide later to study Anthropology.

As I was a member of the Altar Boys’ Society of our parish and got involved in Student Catholic Action (SCA) – which was just a nascent student movement at that time – I may have internalized a strong interest to be serious about my Christian faith. That year, the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) had convened and our Religion teacher began to share with us some of the changes taking place in the Church. Still the Church at that time was immersed in a strong anti-Communist sentiment, so the idea of peaceful means of resolving conflict was instilled among us.

Fortunately for us, our teachers – in Religion and History especially – were continuing to provide us with a global and national view based on the events occurring in various parts of the world and the country: the revolution in Cuba, the worsening Vietnam War, the cold war, the landlessness and poverty issues,  the fact that the nation-state was in a situation akin to a “social volcano” and the kind of politics that showed signs of corruption.  I didn’t realize it then that my interest in Theology and History would deepen in the years to come even as in my adult life I have tried to do my share in exposing the evils behind our social realities.

Through all of these, the barkada made the most of that year as, at heart, we were still boys not quite ready yet to embrace adulthood. All of us had access to bicycles so it was easy enough during the weekends to make getaways to the river and the nearby sea for long hours of swimming. There were two cinemas in the town showing both Tagalog and Hollywood films and we managed to save our allowances or found ways to watch the films. And there were a lot of songs to sing with the pop hits of that period. Naturally, there were the first stirrings of crushes as we watched the girls on the other side of the campus.

As I wrote in my previous column, I finished a serious book – HANDUMANAN (Remembrance) – Digging for Our Indigenous Wellspring –  in the first months of the pandemic which eventually got published.  That was a four-month uphill struggle and I needed a break after that, and the thought of writing a novel (in Cebuano-Bisaya) came to mind.

Writing ANG DAGAYDAY SA PANAHONG NANGLABAY was a walk in the park compared to HANDUMANAN.  And it was more fun to write as there was no need for rigorous research (all I needed was dig into my memory cells), no worrying over accuracy of data, checking foot- and end-notes with all those technical requirements and struggling through the English grammar.  I finished it in two months.

From Karl Gaspar’s Facebook page

Even at 74 years old – when I have accepted the fact that my memory cells are not longer as sharp as in my youth –   I was amazed at how I was still able to retrieve all those memories which became the contents of the novel. They flowed like a river, one thought leading to another so smoothly. Which is why I thought of the word dagayday (flow) as part of the title. It was as if I turned on a faucet and out came all these memories gushing out from whatever source they came from.

Early on, I knew I could not put in all the details and include all the characters of the town and school. Thus, some characters are composites, and some events narrated are really combination of events. Even the chronological order had to be re-arranged not necessarily following exactly the timeframe as they took place. Some scenes are, of course, imagined and may have only taken place in my mind.  Overall I needed to fictionalize all the characters as it would be impossible to ask their permission for me to name them.  But the truth is that the narrative was based on true events, except the last part which are imagined.

Indeed, this is a coming-of-age story. At the heart of it are four friends who did not realize it then that the events unfolding that year would mark us for the rest of our lives. Of the four of us, only three remain alive. We still see each other occasionally but as we are far from each other (and not all are active in social media), it is rare now that we meet. Many characters are now dead and I would know the whereabouts today of only a few.

This is the book that is now available for me to give as my Christmas gift to family and friends.  Anyone interested in ordering a copy will need to email me karlgaspar@gmail or send message c/o FB messenger (Karl Gaspar) so I can let you know the price, how it can reach you and the payments involved.

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is a professor at St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and until recently, a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. Gaspar is author of several books, including “Manobo Dreams in Arakan: A People’s Struggle to Keep Their Homeland,” which won the National Book Award for social science category in 2012, “Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations,” and his latest, “Handumanan (Remembrance): Digging for the Indigenous Wellspring.”. He writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw). Gaspar is a Datu Bago 2018 awardee, the highest honor the Davao City government bestows on its constituents.]