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‘Carpe diem,’ Mr. President

Most Filipinos lament the state of moral degeneration in which we find ourselves. We are disgusted with the social cancer we read about every day in the newspapers. Anomalies, such as the Napoles pork barrel scam in which unscrupulous government officials have taken part, are considered standard fare. We have become callous to corruption and immorality. Heinous crimes, like the Maguindanao massacre (as yet unsolved after five years), no longer cause an outrage among us. Natural calamities like earthquakes, floods and typhoons exacerbate the situation, making our world a fearful one.

This is not to say that all is lost. Once in a rare while comes a ray of hope that is most refreshing. Columnist Conrado de Quiros once wrote of a 9-year-old kid who lost everything in the tsunami that hit Japan several years ago. A Vietnamese cop gave him food rations as he lined up for food. In a surprising show of self-sacrifice, the boy returned the food to the officer, so it could be redistributed to others.

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The response from readers was quite encouraging. One remarked: “When will we produce a generation of Filipinos with a capacity for self-sacrifice and concern for the greater good?” Another reader lamented the “degenerating moral values.” I could not agree with them more, but we must take heart. If the country is going to change for the better, it must start with us—each one of us doing our share, for silence and apathy spawns evil.

It is difficult to translate the aspirations of the Filipino people into the written word. Stories I write have to be rewritten several times to work well in print as they do in life. But as you read this, Mr. President, slow down. Listen to the words with your mind as well as your heart. Let them touch you. Ask yourself: What do they awaken in me? What do they suggest for my life? What feeling or action do they call forth from my inner being as President of the people?

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There is no right reaction. Your reaction is uniquely yours. I hope it gives you a warm feeling all over. Some points may hit you right between the eyes. Let it happen and let it be. Some of the greatest success stories of history have followed a word of encouragement or an act of confidence by a loved one or a trusted friend.

Many Filipinos consider your statement “Kayo ang boss ko” (You are my boss) with disdain. Many consider it a mere act of flattery (“pangkiliti lang”). Let me rephrase your statement. You are the duly elected president. You have the right and duty to unify the Filipino people and lead them to greater heights. Come to think of it, every time there is a need for unity, an Aquino is involved. The nation wept when Ninoy was felled by an assassin’s bullet. All Filipinos feared for Cory’s safety during the Edsa Revolution, and cheered when she was installed as the new president at Club Filipino. Now I ask you, Mr. President, will you be equal to the task of unifying us again? It’s said that people who believe in the incredible somehow manage to do the impossible. Can Ninoy and Cory’s son do any less?

I realize that there are many voices whispering in your ear. In the scaffolding of human values, utang na loob (debt of gratitude) ranks high. But even this is not absolute. You have all the power and resources to end needless emotional suffering that many people are experiencing. Greatness and heroism are available to anyone willing to take the time to pursue them.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, and a soul generated by love.”

Most people seem to have lost sight of their dreams and ambitions. They feel defeated. But it takes only one man who stands as a shining example of courageous expression to take a group of spiritually impotent human beings and inspire them to make their lives extraordinary. One such man was John Keating, the transformative teacher portrayed by Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society.”

In that masterful film, the young men have lost sight of their dreams and ambitions. An early scene shows Keating taking the boys down to the school lobby where a trophy case displays photos of earlier graduating classes. “Look at these pictures, boys,” Keating tells the students. “The young men you behold had the same fire in their eyes that you do. They planned to take the world by storm and make something magnificent of their lives. That was 70 years ago. Now they are all pushing up daisies. How many of them really lived out their dreams? Did they do what they set out to accomplish?” Then Keating leans into the cluster of preppies and whispers audibly, “Carpe diem! Seize the day!”

Let me reinforce the message of this letter with an anecdote from Patty Hansen. Two seeds lay side by side in the fertile spring soil. The first seed said, “I want to grow! I want to sink my roots deep into the soil, and push my buds through the earth’s crust. I want to open buds to announce the arrival of spring. … I want to feel the warmth of the sun on my face and the blessing of the morning dew on my petals!” And so she grew.

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The second seed said, “I am afraid. If I sink my roots into the ground, I may get hurt and die. And as I start to grow, a child may uproot me from the ground. No, it is much better for me to wait until it is safe.” And so she waited. Later, a hen scratching around for food found the waiting seed and promptly ate it. Moral of the story: Those of us who refuse to risk and grow get swallowed up by life.

So, Mr. President, go for it. Carpe diem and good luck!

Zenaida T. Nucum is a retired teacher of chemistry at the University of the East, Miriam College, University of Asia and the Pacific, and Global City Innovative College. She is the author of books on chemistry, biochemistry and pharmacology published by C & E Publishing Inc.

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TAGS: “Dead Poets Society”, Aquino, Aquino administration, Carpe Diem, Janet Napoles, John Keating, Napoles, pork barrel scam, pork scam, President Benigno Aquino III, Robin Williams, Seize the Day, Sona, Sona 2014
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