How to love a nation
To think that I can love the idea of strangers and fictional worlds, and not be in love with my own country.
Sometimes, that thought bothers me enough to be embarrassed by the level of my patriotism.
I was once asked, during a screening for outstanding youth, “Would you die for the Philippines?” And with very little hesitation, I said no. At the back of my head, I knew I was not going to get in because of that answer, but I was being honest and I knew that honesty didn’t make me a bad citizen.
Recently, I became part of the Ten Outstanding Students in Calabarzon, and for four days of formation, we talked about nation-building. No, scratch that. We ate, drank, breathed, and bathed nation-building, and I was forced to confront myself: Am I really a nation-builder?
I have but simple dreams. I want to make a good life for myself and for those I care about. It is a small circle, but the people to whom I want to dedicate my life are there. And as close-minded as it seems, I only dream this small because this is the only dream that I believe is achievable enough to invest in. A simple life is not coveted that easily.
And so, you see, it is hard for me to commit to grand-scale change. I do not hope to change the world. I hope to touch lives individually, personally, intimately. A nation is too big to care about, too intangible to grasp, too muddled to identify clearly.
Who is a nation? I could point to a face in a crowd of commuters on Edsa, and he or she wouldn’t be enough to be the Philippines. Is the nation good or bad? I wouldn’t know. I grew up comfortably, but in the news, I learn about deaths, theft, and the foulness of the streets. Do I love the nation? I love my parents. I love my friends. I love the people from my former organization in college and all the children I have had the honor of teaching. But do I love those I do not know about, but share the same Philippines with me? Well, “love” is a strong word.
Why would I love a nation? For 20 years, love to me was never automatic. I choose the people I love and fall in love with simply because love is an investment, a choice, even if the choosing was done within a split-second of insanity. That’s why I’ve been looking for reasons to love the Philippines, and all this time, I have to admit that given how it’s been presented to me, a group of islands with a ton of problems and laughter, it’s been hard to love, much less hope in.
But hear this. There is a pit at the bottom of my heart that itches every night. It has some things with which it cannot settle, given what’s happening on Philippine soil.
I cannot stand people dropping dead in the streets with only a cardboard sign to justify their sudden nonexistence. I cannot stand how women, walking in broad daylight, tighten their belts and their grips, afraid of being touched in places that for them are sacred. I cannot stand the should’s and shouldn’t’s that dictate how we should see the color of our skin and why we should have deadlines for falling in love. I cannot stand how words are taken for granted and thrown without caution, as if they mean less in contemporary society.
These continue to burn within me, in my stomach, so much that I realize: I do not care if I do not know who these are happening to. It is the very fact that it is happening, and there are real people who are hurting.
How do you love a nation? Like with all loves, you surrender to emotion. You do not think about what it costs you, why you are doing it. You just need one thing to get the feverish passion started, and that is the drive to love and do something for that love.
To dream a grand dream provides vision, foresight and direction, and that works for some people. That is how they show that they want things to be better, because they care. For me, I have wanted to focus on the now, the things I can touch and can do, because that’s me, the girl who lives in the present. Because of that, it was easy to find excuses, to justify the guilt of not loving this country enough. (There was no real measure but the guilt allowed me to measure myself.)
This is the embarrassing truth: I just did not care enough. The issues here are sad enough, and mourning for them would be an inconvenience. And if I loved this hurting nation, I would share its pain, and I still had mine to get over.
This is another truth: I was afraid of what nationalism could do to me. If I loved too much, I would want to do everything; heaven knows I can only do so much.
Like all loves, loving a nation eventually caught up to me. I allowed it. It came in the silence of my mind. It burned my skin with the advocacies that I could no longer tame. And it washed over me in the form of the people around me, who I see now; they are alive, like me.
It is beautiful, the Philippines, when I met it on its own as I wandered the streets and opened my life to accept the stories of countless others. It started with the people, this change of heart, and then with their dreams, and then, with my own dreams. By then, it was hard not to love.
This is how I learned to love a nation: Think outside the self. Good is not limited to me, the people I know and what I can do, for goodness happens despite my existence. But, since I exist, I should share the goodness within me.
This: Be compassionate. There is always enough concern to give, and that does not always involve dying in battle.
This: Stop impeding oneself from loving. Rationalization works with plans and strategies, and though loving a nation may seem like a battlefield, in reality it is just one big nursing station.
Pauline Navarro, 20, describes herself thus: “Lasallian communicator, spends most of her time inside her head.”
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