Anybody can be an inspiration, but not everybody becomes one. The difference lies in the way one lives despite the circumstances of one’s life.
My parents inspired me. My mother was a high school teacher who taught literature. She made Shakespeare come alive; former students, especially the underperformers, narrated to her again and again, how they were motivated to become more than they thought possible of themselves. There was this ethnic-Chinese student she helped write love letters. The girl turned him down, but for years on Christmastime he would send oranges, grapes, nuts, ham and sweetmeats, thanking my mother for the time she gave him. I often wondered how my mother could do that. She had to marry my father, who was courting her younger sister, because a gossipy neighbor saw them talking by the fence and then told my grandfather they were too cozy together. The old man felt his daughter’s virtue was compromised. So my father had to marry her. It probably was a loveless marriage.
My father on the other hand was not as charismatic with people. He was very perceptive, spoke few words, and dismissed people who promised more than they delivered as “WOULD- BEs”. But he was a model of the dignity of hard work, the joy of a job well-done, and the satisfaction of creating with one’s hands. I deeply admired him and longed for his approval and friendship. That I did not have that much time with him growing up seemed not to matter – I simply revisited my memory of those one or two times he openly admired me. And that would sustain me for a long time.
My parents had feet of clay. I resented my mother for making me a confidant of her drama. My father had affairs with much younger women. When he became a widower, he explained that he was marrying this one girl who only finished lower school because he was “tired of intelligent women”. But really, this nice plump and sensual girl was smart enough to marry a really old man who could leave her an inheritance. For some reason, she was mesmerizing enough to make my father believe her two sons and daughter were his, and not this husky dark man’s whom the children called “uncle”.
My parents had long and extended fights, which left in me a distaste for arguments, unkind words, accusations and lies. It made me appreciate rational assessment and quick resolution. It also made me willing not to nurse grudges, hurts and resentments. These made people vulnerable, weak and undignified.
A few years before my mother died my parents had the house all to themselves. They became fast friends. My father would take her out on dates and dine on chicken inasal and isol. And when she died in the hospital, my father bent over to whisper in her ears, touch her waxen face with both hands. I sometimes wonder if he was apologizing for putting poison in the ampalaya salad, Did her long, slow death mean he succeeded?
Over time my father and I became friends. My mother became part of my mental landscape I chose not to highlight. But she left in me a taste for romantic heroism, a stoic acceptance of life, the courage to pursue dreams because one never knew if and when one caught up with the bluebird of happiness.
Their story was threaded into a seamless cloth that woved into mine. Looking back with the filtered eyes of a needy child, they are radiant with pure intentions, without the dark resentment and malice. When I got drawn into the charismatic renewal movement, my father also joined and we got baptized together. I gifted his bride with a wedding posey on their wedding day. Everything was forgiven.
I know their stories, at least the parts they allowed me to see; they tell me that each life is a heroic journey, that the dark side of the soul can be a maelstrom capable of destroying the souls of men and women with meager resources. And then again, I discovered later, but not too late, that there is a mystery in the world that catches men and women as theyfall from grace and restores them when they have quieted down from their struggles. Those men and women inspire by surviving the hellish journey within – and compel us to make journeys of our own.