At the age of 35 he died. Since then countless books have been written about him and are still being written. To offer another word of praise to the man does not equal acknowledging his worth. Even tyrants and scoundrels pay lip service to his memory, barter his name for their own political advantage. His monument is desecrated by littering and ugly buildings surrounding it. When we see one of his statues or pictures held up to ourselves, we do not feel him as our own, and unfeeling, we must ignore him. Schools have degraded him by fossilizing his image through textbooks. He is read in schools and universities as a lifeless, isolated, unreachable exemplary. But rarely is he read alone in passionate and lonely engagement, as a threat to one’s conscience, as a challenge to one’s intellect. For that is the first link in the series by which we approach him: reading him.
It is telling that our New Year is preceded by the anniversary of his death. As though a premonition, a precaution; a resolution of some sort is demanded of us. Not that we make another movie of him. God forbid! Not that we name another boulevard after him. The traffic will only spoil it. Not that a TV program dedicates another episode in his memory. He is neither a piece of entertainment nor is he Tito, Vic, and Joey. What demand would you expect from a man who lived the way he lived and died the way he died? Not so simple as we know, and would prefer not to know.
In an era of breathtaking inanity, of Google and social media, when everything is made easy, handy, and speedy like a terrible instant coffee to read Rizal is to step into the difficult, the serious, the laborious, the demanding, the virtuous, the just, the honorable, the glorious.
It takes enormous courage and sturdy awareness of one’s inferiority to take his words seriously when he says:
“Our youth should not devote themselves to love or to the static speculative sciences as do the youth of fortunate nations. All of us have to sacrifice something on the altar of politics though we might not wish to do so.”
“If you accept these ideas, pass them on to your countrymen, tell them to show more valor, more self-sacrifice, less fear of death and tortures, so that our enemies may respect us… Suppose they are killed by the disease ‘friar phobia’, we will avenge them and in their blood we will steep our enemies… The first words I said to my family when I reached the Philippines and they showed me how much they were afraid, were, that if I were captured they should not take the smallest step in my behalf, nor interpose, nor pay money to rescue me, but teach my nephews to avenge me! This is what I now say to my countrymen: the day that you see me in the clutches of the friars, do not waste time in making remonstrances, do not utter moans or lamentations; that would be futile. Seek another to take my place who will avenge me and make them pay dear for my misfortune.”
Yes, I know, it’s too much to swallow. Rizal’s shoes are neither Instagram worthy or glamorous. Our hope for recognition and immortality consists in an uninterrupted stream of photographs. We have been very successful in that scheme. Rizal took it too far. We are apprehensive. But before we retreat from estimation and incur moral paralysis and mental breakdown upon ourselves, let us, at least, with patience, try to read him. Nothing more, nothing less.
To read him for our own use and contemplation, outside of any academic or scholarly exigency, is the first principle of avenging him. Not a bizarre and far-fetched resolution for 2020, no?
Carlo Rey Lacsamana is a Filipino born and raised in Manila, Philippines. Since 2005, he has been living and working in the Tuscan town of Lucca, Italy. He regularly writes for journals in the Philippines writing on politics, culture, and art. He also writes for a local academic magazine in Tuscany which is published twice a year. Some of his articles have also been published in small magazines in the U.S. and UK. Visit his website at https://carloreylacsamana.wixsite.com/carloreylacsamana