Friday, June 10, 2011

Memory and Forgetting: Neruda and Jose Rizal

Jose Rizal is well-regarded and much admired for the his mind's sharpness - for how else can one man be the master of many languages and be also a doctor, a carpenter, writer, scientist, artist or geographer? He can clearly originate thoughts, and he must also be expectedly of a brilliant memory.

Pablo Neruda said something striking about memory, that of love being short and forgetting being long. He said that in the very sad poem "Tonight I can write the saddest lines". Neruda's is right, of course, as emotion and memory are tight neighbors in our brain and as such always intertwined. That being the case, then a man like Rizal should obviously all the more have a hard time getting over memories of pain and of the circumstances around that pain. To me, it was probably that pain that shaped the man he is and the things that he would do for the country.

  • Rizal's sister Concepcion died at age 3. It is said that this affected Rizal so much, even saying that it was his first time to shed real tears of pain.
  • Rizal's mother was unjustly jailed in 1891, upon the persecution of the Spanish, something that greatly distressed Rizal.
  • Rizal lost his first love, Leonor Rivera, to the whims of Rivera's parents who wanted her married to an Englishman.
  • Rizal pined for Rivera when he was in Europe and also pined for the country that he so loved.

Because of these memories, Rizal became a compassionate but thought-ful man, and he translated his various pain to the creative benefit of his country - through his writings, through his medical practices, his contributions in various fields of study.

Rizal used his memory to populate his writings with stories of abuse and maltreatmeat under the Spanish - to shed light on Spanish activities; with stories of courage, pain and love by Filipinos - to show what Filipinos can do. He put them all in a book knowing that information will be better spread when in writing, and perhaps looking far ahead into the future that others may not forget the challenges that they in his time had confronted.

The issues in Rizal's time still crop up at present, even as we are no longer under any colonial power. Rizal stirs our memory, and through his books prays that we not forget the lessons of history. He had always been atributed the words that encourage one to examine one's past (origins) or else suffer the misfortune of not reaching one's future (destination).

I believe now that Rizal meant for this not just to refer to loving ones roots, not just simply knowing ones history, but putting this knowledge to good use, to letting it fire our bellies that we may all achieve our personal and collective goals, and most esp. our goals for the nation.

"I want to show to those who deprive people the right to love of country, that when we know how to sacrifice ourselves for our duties and convictions, death does not matter if one dies for those one loves – for his country and for others dear to him."
~ Dr. Jose P. Rizal

Book Recommendations:
El Filibusterismo (Penguin Classics)
Noli Me Tangere (Spanish Edition)
The Reign of Greed: Complete English Version of El Filibusterismo (Dodo Press)
The First Filipino, a Biography of José Rizal
Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair: Dual-Language Edition (Penguin Classics) (Spanish and English Edition)

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