On Rice and Rosaries: Finding Purpose
A Gospel reflection by Sean Marie Prythyll A. Patnubay | May 24, 2021
(Inspired by Fr. Ferdie Bajao and Mk 10: 17–27)
I only shared things on my timeline as proof of life and out of compulsion because I wanted my feed to be less of a silent waterfront than what I was actually feeling.
Palimpsest — a story within a story
My love for palimpsests — of stories within a story — will be reflected in this paper or maybe this is just an excuse for my remaining brain cells that have been having a hard time organizing my thoughts and my being that has been refusing to write anything remotely personal since the pandemic has started.
I felt a burnout — physical, mental, and maybe even spiritual. In the first few months, I found myself dedicating more than ten hours lazing on the bed (not inclusive of my mandatory 8–10 hours of sleeping time daily). I lost more than ten kilograms by doing nothing. I had almost zero physical activity. I would only get up to A) relieve myself from nature’s calls, B) find myself something to eat, C) work on my outputs due that day with less than ten hours to spare in beating the deadline. Honestly, buzzer beating was the only time I felt something. I could attribute it to the persistent internet connection failures or the frequent scheduled and unscheduled power interruptions but deep down, I knew that there were other factors.
I lost meaning in my life.
I stopped praying the rosary with my family every night because I was too busy. I did not want to think about anything. I stopped reading the news. I stopped adding captions to things I shared online. Moreover, I only shared things on my timeline as proof of life and out of compulsion because I wanted my feed to be less of a silent waterfront than what I was actually feeling. There were other similar worrisome circumstances. Despite being the person who would advise others to meet with a life coach in times like these, I found myself with a could-not-be-bothered attitude. For the first time in my life, I felt like it was too much work. My thought process was like. “Oh, I would have to schedule an appointment. Ugh, it would just add to the pile of work I would have to do. Never mind. This is probably nothing.”
I guess it started when the workload for my school organizations started piling up. I felt frustrated because I felt like I was not delivering to the standard that I had set for myself. This led me to dropping all my organizations on campus. At first I was relieved but as the days went by where I was only immersed in my academic workload, I felt empty. It felt like this was not me thriving but merely just surviving, passing by the days without any purpose. When I was still immersed in the so-called “org culture”, I felt exhausted because I had less time for “nothing days” but I felt like I was part of something bigger than myself. Now, I had to come to terms that I was as ordinary as I could get. A good student getting into the Dean’s List sans any extra-curricular activities was like a good Christian following the laws, rules, and precepts of the Church or a good Catholic supplementing Sunday Mass with rosaries, novenas, devotion, and adoration. While worthy of emulation, these are not actualization of our faith.
In Mk 10: 17–27, we are challenged to “get out of [our] sanitized sense of goodness into what could be seen, heard, smelled, tasted, touched, and experienced” by emptying ourselves of all that is comfortable, sustaining, and significant by “leaving the goods for the Good”. Alas, it is not enough for us to simply follow the Ten Commandments. Rather, we are called to go over and beyond that and be a force for good, to be men and women for and with others, and to fully realize the Kingdom of God here on Earth through our words and actions. On our own, we can only be just good but not good enough. With Jesus’ ministry as an example, we can do and be so much more. This is my story. Nay, this is our collective story.
The intersectionality of my many identities helped me get over this slump. Wait, to phrase it better, my languishing had to be put on hold when one of my peers in our association of Outstanding Scouts reached out to me. She felt the need for us to do something for Women’s Month as the first few women members of our association. From there, I had to push myself to deliver on our promise to be Outstanding, Always, All Ways and our commitment to excellence. Even if I later realized that demanding for constant perfection was some sort of arrogance, I believe that getting into that situation gave me the right amount of pressure to get my life back on track after several twists and turns.
Even though I have not fully picked up the habit of writing my reflections for the Gospel again, I would find myself, every now and then, picking up THE WORD in other words or 365 Days with the Lord for some spiritual anchoring. I have also begun learning new things like fire dancing and belly dancing. I have also gone back to training my body through circuit training and Taekwondo (both poomsae and kyorugi). Above all, I have finally done bits and pieces of the good I was supposed to do. My practice as a Catholic is no longer confined to doing nothing wrong and not committing crimes like it was since this pandemic has started. I have begun to love — the tactile type of love. My tactile love has allowed me to encounter True Good with God’s grace.
In volunteering in two community pantries, I learned several lessons but what I appreciated the most was the lessons I learned from the poor. They struck me in ways I could not imagine. They helped me with this emptiness and my demotivation to do things. In the community pantry led by our chapel, I had the pleasure of repacking rice with Manang Linlin — our helper at home. Unlike the community pantry led by students from my alma mater, we did not use eco bags because we needed to maximize the money for the necessities. Plastic bags were bought from the sari-sari store in our neighborhood. They claimed that these were biodegradable. We did not mind because we considered the demographics of our community in using these plastic bags, other than it being more budget friendly. They would definitely not treat these plastic bags as single use plastic because they believed that this plastic bag used to repack the rice could still be of use. As we say it in Aklan, “eakman pa ta”.
During the process of repacking, I observed Manang Linlin. We were both wearing masks so we had minimal small talk. She was methodical throughout the process, more than I was. I noticed subtle differences in how we did things and they made all the difference. As a scout, I used the square knot in tying the plastic bags while she used the slip knot (pretty sure that it was just the common tindera’s knot in her eyes). I asked her about it and she told me that it was A) easier to tie this so-called slip knot and B) there would be less air inside the plastic. As a trained peer educator, I felt like it was a learning experience for me since in putting on a condom, we had to make sure that there was no air in the condom by pinching the tip of it. This was a parallel lesson for me perhaps and it was fully illustrated when I threw the repacked rice on top of the others and it exploded. If that was a condom, the chances of the woman getting impregnated would be high but luckily, it was just plastic and we could easily remedy it by using another plastic to help hold it together. As time flew, there was a great disparity between the number of repacks I produced and Manang Linlin’s. This is where the comparison of how our clocks were different. My time was different from hers. My 24-hour clock did not tick in the same way hers did. In this analogy, I could afford to be idle or in a more faithful vocabulary to the circumstances, I could take my time while she could not. She had a family to feed back home. She had a kid to cook supper for lest he go hungry. The list goes on. I only had to take care of myself and obviously, I was not doing a very good job at it even with all the privileges I have which brings me to my final question, does my favorite Aklanon word as of the moment — patawhayi — apply to the likes of Manang Linlin? While there is no direct translation that I could think of, patawhayi for me means to simply let the dust settle, let the roaring winds quiet down, let the waves mellow out, and let the tide recede before taking the next step. Sometimes, it does; sometimes, it does not. What I am sure of is that Florebo quocumque ferar will suit them better.
Florebo quocumque ferar is a Latin phrase that I have been so attached to recently. It is my personal reminder whenever I am feeling insecure. It means, “I will flourish wherever I am brought”. I would like to use this aspect when viewing the poor. Indeed, they should not be viewed as beneficiaries of charity but as agents of their own social liberation because they, too, will flourish wherever they are brought if given the right circumstances and support. Sans systems that make it easier for them, I can see their resilience. While I understand that this should not be romanticized, they are still worthy of my, our praise and acknowledgment. This is because they continue to thrive, survive in this cutthroat world despite all the factors seemingly going against them, their success, and continued comfort and even when others like me who are so privileged in many regards, find it hard to do so. Theirs is a story that has touched mine and I am so grateful that it has. It has made my story, my existence, find meaning. What that meaning is is not as defined now but it will be.
Fr. Ferdie Bajao, SVD., St. Jude Cath. Sch., Manila (2020). THE WORD in other words. Bible Diary 2021. Year B. Advent — Year C. Logos Publications, Inc. Manila.