In a 1963 song titled “Blowing in the Wind,” Bob Dylan asked simple, yet hard, questions:
How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail, before she sleeps in the sand?
How many times must the cannon balls fly, before they’re forever banned?
How many years can a mountain exist, before it’s washed to the sea?
How many years can some people exist, before they’re allowed to be free?
How many times can a man turn his head, and pretend that he just doesn’t see?
How many times must a man look up, before he can really see the sky?
How many ears must one man have, before he can hear people cry?
How many deaths will it take, till he knows that too many people have died?
To all of the above, the answer, Dylan says, is blowing in the wind.
Years later, when asked in an interview on what he meant with the lyrics of the song, Dylan explained:
… the answers [to the biggest questions of the day] are like a restless piece of paper [that floats in the air] and that at some point it comes down… the only trouble is that no one picks up the answer when it comes down so not too many people get to see and know… and then it flies away [again]. I still say that some of the biggest criminals are those that turn their heads away when they see wrong and know it’s wrong.
And do nothing about it (if I may add).
Edmund Burke might also have something to say about it: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Maybe we are just lost, and still trying to find our way back to sanity. Are we?
When will the shock of that light get us back to working for the birds in the air, for the mountains that are held hostage by commerce of men, for justice among the oppressed, for our brothers who are either dying or dead?
Nagged by thoughts like these had me confronting the one I saw in the mirror today.
In this journey called life, have I walked down that many roads to deserve being called a man?
Somebody (John Gokongwei?) said that every man, before he dies, should be able to accomplish at least three things: (1) Have a son; (2) Plant a tree; and, (3) Write a book.
Well, at 59, I have already done all three. Or maybe two of the three. Or maybe one of the three. Or maybe none at all.
Let me explain.
On having a son, I would say that this milestone comprises more of taking a jab at immortality than “settling down, finding a girl one can marry” and raising a family, if I may borrow a line from Cat Steven’s “Father and Son.” You die, but another one comes after you.
A man’s duty to send his genes to the next generation is so sacrosanct that he can risk everything, even up to a point of losing his own life, just so he can redeem himself from being worthless. And yet this process, let me hasten to add, is not limited to procreation; it transcends biology: the works of the flesh: the physical transmission of life.
“Genes” can take many forms. It can be an idea, like Karl Marx had with his Communist Manifesto, who sired millions of revolutionaries.
It can be martyrdom, like Jose Rizal did, who brought our nationhood to life.
Or it can be faith, like Abraham had shown, who became the father of Israel, the chosen people of God. “And I will make your seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall your seed also be numbered.” (Genesis 13:16) [Inkdrops: Can be figurative talk, like many passages in Genesis, but the meaning seems easy to understand.]
In my Roman Catholic faith, priests are called “Father.” They may not (while true to one of their basic vows) be able to have children they can call their own. But through them, a multitude can cling to the vine, as it were, where souls can be purified and become worthy of eternal life. No child on earth, but like Abraham, a multitude of children in the Father’s house.
So the question maybe is as much about being a man as it is about having merited eternal life. Have I walked that many roads–including the bumpy ones–to earn shots at immortality?
The answer, I guess, is right there–floating in the air.
On having planted a tree, I would say I had planted not one, not two, but many a tree. Yet planting a tree can mean something more. Like “Having a son,” “Planting a tree” is about immortality. When we plant a tree, we wish to see that the next generation will live, not only because their food and livelihood tomorrow will come from what we plant today, but also because planting a tree apes whats the creator does. It symbolizes the fulfillment of our duty as stewards of nature.
Planting a tree is as noble as being above the commercial urge to cut down a tree, so that the birds in the air will have something to alight and rest on after a long flight; so that mountains will live, kept from being washed to the sea. Trees help hold water beneath the surface of the soil. In more ways than the human mind can imagine, they constitute the core brush strokes of what perfect creation is all about. Beyond imagery, planting a tree is a powerful note to self: We help build an environment that can support life–all creation, for that matter–for the present and future generations.
On writing a book–this I think is both the easiest and hardest part of a man’s mission in life.
Easy because everyone has a story to tell. Social media proves how true that is. We simply need to collect the things we said all over the the place and we have a wonderful book, or books, of our lives.
But hard, because, having a function, story telling needs to be a messenger of truth. And in some crucial moments while we walk this road, truth can be tough to handle.
Also hard because story telling is a two-way process. Like a feather, stories are blowing in the wind. One needs to pick them up, or else Evil, with all the power under its command, can get them blown away again. Remember Burke. Good men need to do something.
Hard because life and living is a complex story by itself. In times of confusion and discernment, sometimes our questions are answered with questions. It is easy to find ourselves lost in a maze of walls and cover-ups, in a parade of pretty masks, in a cloud of tempting heights, in a wave of flashing colors, in a sea of uncertainty, in the depths of doubts, or in a zoo of wild lies and half-truths.
Now, back to the one in the mirror.
I earn my living as an employee. I worked for people in communities as well as for people in government and private organizations. In some occasions I get around to write the things that happen while performing my duties.
At Balangiga, Eastern Samar, Philippines, while helping facilitate community processes as Area Coordinator for the KALAHI CIDSS Project of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, I wrote this report on how people in communities can grow from “one who benefits to one who decides.”
I also wrote about the Bicol Recovery Project, reviewing the results of government and non-government efforts to help people in the Bicol area rebuild their lives after a series of natural disasters hit them.
My latest essay, tentatively titled “GlobalPinoy 2020,” suggests that there are ways to build consensus and get rid of an unresponsive government, overcome inequities and, over the long term, make the Philippines one of the world’s greatest powers.
If, by any chance, somebody gets to go over GlobalPinoy 2020 and likes it, much more believe in what it preaches, then my writing a book could be like planting a tree, sowing the seeds of hope in the hearts and minds of people I shall call my children, throughout all ages.
Failing this means I have not done any or all of the three.