The ailment of forgetting
Recently, a professor of mine asked our 70-student class a simple question: “Who here voted in the latest senatorial elections?”
Only a few lifted their hands—three, perhaps, at most. In my mind I had already begun to catalogue the various ways in which the youth have become immobile, uncaring, ignorant and indifferent. But I kept these thoughts to myself, storing them deep in the recesses of my mind; after all, I, too, did not raise my hand.
This scenario is probably quite normal, if normal is to mean ordinary or commonplace, an everyday occurrence. It is, however, supposed to be abnormal in a nation that claims to be democratic, filled with a people who are not supposed to be mere bystanders, but citizens—concerned with the welfare of the state, aware of how much the affairs of society are intertwined with their own individual fates.
No, our country’s version of democracy is far from ideal; its definition has changed for us, to mean simply the freedom to say whatever you want, to do whatever you will. It means logging onto Facebook and posting long rants about the Philippines’ troubling political condition, or going to a news site to comment on articles with the aid of anonymity. It means sighing about the social milieu of our generation when discussing the topic with friends. It means listening to campaign jingles on the radio and wondering why certain officials even get reelected. It means sitting in a classroom and admitting to not having actually done anything about all these observations. It is a reaction that is purely reactive, rather than proactive. And mostly, it has gotten us nowhere.
In some ways, it has to do with the nature of the digital age: Information seems to burst out of every possible nook and cranny, flooding our minds with facts and figures. Eventually, words are written over other words and memory eclipses memory, our brains, like computers, erasing data to make some space. We forego, and then forget. Today’s news is condemned to live in the minds of people for the next 24 hours, until it finds its resting place in the already-dusty archives of yesterday. The world is so fast-paced that there is no time to reflect and ponder, to ask the critical questions.
And then, there is the question of individuality, of personal history and recollection—the fact that every man and woman see the world through the lenses of their own eyes, and almost always subconsciously value the story of their own life more than the lives of others. We are so often immersed in the landscape of our own bubble universe, limited spaces that these are, because already the experiences there are enough to take up the forefront of our minds and block out everything else. We live in our own circles, forgetting that ours is only one of many. We stand at the center point like a drop of rain, creating a ripple on the surface of calm waters, intersecting and colliding with the circles formed by the collect, making up the great stretch of lake, the wide sphere of earth.
It is something I admittedly forget myself. Days in and out of school, stressed and tested to my limits, I often feel like I have no time to immerse myself in society’s affairs. Already, my grades are plummeting, my hair needs cutting, and the papers for this and that course are due. I must get back to work. Briefly, I go online to check Facebook groups for homework and tips; as I scan my newsfeed, however, I am greeted by a barrage of pictures and words—friends’ puppies and get-togethers, mixed with news on the pork barrel scam, tropical storms brewing, celebrity gossip, earthquakes in Bohol and Cebu.
I am shocked and then saddened by the news—the devastation, the collapsing buildings, the people displaced, the churches toppling, the relics of our country’s cultural heritage gone in mere seconds. I mull the news over in my head for a few more minutes, whisper a prayer or two to the heavens. Sometimes, I even leave a comment. Then, I check my school assignments and start making plans with my group mates. And then that’s that.
Now, it is my professor’s reflections that go through my mind, as I ponder on this ailment of forgetting. When the three individuals had raised their hands in answer to his question on our electoral participation, he shook his head in response. He turned to the window, as if thinking, and asked us if we knew the Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel, “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” Some of us nodded, this time including myself. In the book, the mystic town of Macondo was struck by a terrible sickness of forgetting. So much so that each man had to label all his things to remember what they were called, and then eventually, wrote their functions, to remember what they were for. In the end the malady progressed to such a point that it caused “the recollection of [each man’s] childhood to be erased from his memory, then the name and the notion of things, and finally the identity of people and even the awareness of his own being, until he sinks into a kind of idiocy that had no past.”
And I imagine that this is how a country’s problems can stay the same, after years and years of attempts at change: its people afflicted with this plague that has caused each of them to remember nothing of true value—not their past, not their purpose, only the skeletal outline that forms the schedule of their daily life.
We live in a world irrevocably interconnected, each one of us a result of the accidents, calamities, failures and triumphs that have built the foundation of our collective history. At the same time we are struggling to live out lives distinctly our own, and most of the time, this takes center stage. Sometimes, though, I fear we do more of the latter; we zero in on our present-day selves, and we neglect to observe our surroundings, notice the way we have unknowingly shaped the story of our country, even of this earth. We forget that so much of us is rooted in the past. We forget that the things we long to achieve in the future—happiness, peace, prosperity, belonging—are also tied to the longings of others, and that in many ways, we lift ourselves up higher when we lift others up with us. And we forget that to care starts in simple, fundamental ways—to vote, to be concerned, to help, and most of all, to remember what is vital, and to remember to never forget.
But this, most nights, even I forget.
Katrina Gaw, 20, is a senior legal management student at Ateneo de Manila University.
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