Listening to our future

While on vacation last week in Iloilo, I reconnected with some of my cousins, most of whom already have their own children. I hadn’t been back in a long while, so it was surprising to see my once bouncing, mischievous cousins now sitting toddlers on their laps, running after elementary school children, or even giving advice to their teenage kids.

I also got to connect with one cousin’s daughter, an 8-year-old with an eye for the paranormal (in more ways than one).

I opened our very first conversation with, “Please tell me you like math!” and got an enthusiastic nod in reply. We talked about the subjects she liked in school, why she wanted to be a veterinarian, why we both loved fluffy dogs, and, hours later, the “War of the Angels” that cast Lucifer down from the heavens.

Her questions went deeper and deeper: Are there still religion classes in college? Why do dogs bite people? If Lucifer was once an angel, shouldn’t he have been good? What will happen to Lucifer when the world ends? Will God destroy Hell or will all the bad people just disappear?

Then, she asked me to tell her about the Manila Film Center. She had seen it on TikTok and had heard whispers in school, so she wanted to know the whole story. I warned her that it was upsetting, so was she sure she wanted to hear it?

She gave a giant smile and held two thumbs up.

I told her the story: of the building that had to be rushed, of the workers who were made to work night and day just to get it ready for an international film festival. Of that early morning when the scaffolding collapsed, sending workers to the wet cement below. Of the conflicting stories: that there were hundreds buried alive according to some reports, that all bodies had been retrieved according to others.

Of the blanket of silence imposed on the media. Of the center itself, which fell into decrepitude, but which sounded with the disembodied wails of the dead, echoed with the sounds of hammering in the early hours of the morning. Of the president then and his family, and that same family today.

“Are the souls still there?” she asked, open-mouthed, curious.

“Yes,” I had to answer, “Experts go there often to try to make the souls leave. They tell the souls to follow the light.”

I wasn’t sure how else to explain the idea that there was probably a plane where souls didn’t know they were dead. Her response floored me.

“Oh,” she nodded, “They have to follow their future.”

I gasped, “That’s a very good way to put it!” I couldn’t help being excited, because she was smiling, in the way that children do when they grasp a new idea, “They’re really deep in their past, of anger and rage, so they have to go to the future to get out of that past.”

Our conversation moved to other things (elementals, the hidden town in Samar, the prospect of delivering coffee to the hidden town and how it could be done without tossing the coffee into the void and spilling it over angry fairies) but the words stayed with me for a long while.

Follow their future.

The act of following a future, in contrast to the often-used, meaningless “moving on,” involves the realization that one’s habits keep one from advancing, that one must be humble enough to leave one’s shackles behind. It is an act that requires divine grace.

My niece’s insightfulness is not an exception to any rule. I have a nephew her age who once asked me if soldiers who went to war could go to heaven. I have a co-worker whose young son once pondered on the difference between a renegade and a mercenary. I have former students whose children talk regularly about living simply, truly loving, letting go.

It’s surprising how we can get great truths from children after asking them the right questions, rather than simply showering them with compliments on their appearance, or pushing them to dance or sing on command. Their answers show us that indeed, when we treat them like thinking people, they, too, will not simply see themselves as mere decorations in a corner; that they, too, will not simply obey the orders of some person in authority like monkeys waiting for snacks.

Many people avoid “serious” conversations with kids, but this avoidance says nothing about the nature of our children. The avoidance, however, says much about those who choose to treat children as mere creatures absent brains and judgment. Perhaps they feel threatened by the burgeoning wisdom of the new generation?

Our children’s profundity should also force us to think of new techniques in education. Lectures alone won’t work; they can stifle young minds that could be strengthened with discussion. Our children will need a venue to learn how to debate responsibly and politely. They need more teachers willing to take risks, parents who are willing to listen to them and welcome their questions, a culture that values curiosity.

We need a new kind of education that widens these young, vibrant imaginations—that will help our kids follow their futures and hold up their own light for the next generation to see.