I’ve got an acquaintance named Nate, easily a close friend were we in close geographical proximity but it is quite a distance between Houston, Texas and the Saipan lagoon. He and I joined others in reflective sessions at the Realistic Living Institute in Bonham, Texas in the last 10 years where we self-consciously lived a resurgent community life for a week twice a year, replicating the “spirit” methods we used among ourselves and in the communities where we resided. A couple came from Canada; I was normally solo off continent.
Methodist self-defrocked in 2004, I relate to the Jesus Christ heritage where there is corporate commitment to the reality of an unbalanced social process married to individual responsibility of earthrise consciousness and earthbound commitment.
My Texan friend Nate is a pleasant memory but the Nate of my current encounter is a comic strip character pasted on my refrigerator by an 8-year-old Cody who returned briefly to Pea Eye but used to occupy the premises. He moved to a unit closer to the gate. The 11-year-old cartoon strip character Big Nate is known for school detentions, and considers himself a renaissance man, a sarcastic genius that pester teachers, friends and kin.
Cody and his friends reminded me of my childhood in Sanchez Mira by the provincial road along the northern shores of Cagayan in the Philippines on the way to Claveria. I spent four years of childhood in the place before my father got into partisan politics. Under threat of his safety from slighted Pinoy machismo, his career moved us to the delta town of Aparri three river crossings away.
I was a happy-go-lucky kid. Eldest in a family of five, Pa hightailed it to graduate studies in Kentucky when I was 10 so I was propelled to adulthood “as the responsible eldest male in the family,” an early role for which I am paying dearly with the delights of a second childhood, ah, but with lots of glee!
Cody who pasted the comic strip Big Nate on the refrigerator door was oblivious of any responsibility over the social milieu of his time, nor the pressure of defining his identity. Benedict, his friend of the same age, often stares at me at my office table next to the windowpane.
If I was propelled to adulthood by force of circumstances at an early age, contemporary children are driven, nay, thrust into a future that is already here—by an electronic tablet for a tool and a toy, games galore for the downloading, and Mama impelling her young to be at the top of ze class, often assisting with the child’s homework so the child can leave the island on scholarship to a school of higher education that promises a lucrative paying job after finishing a Bachelor’s degree.
Benedict brought three boys and a girl once to gawk at me at work, saying, “that’s him!” The exclamatory looked is triggered by this column’s tri-weekly printed picture. I seem to be a celebrity in his eyes.
Benedict is of Pinoy extract like Mia, the girl he brought along. He learned Chamorro in school, she, Chinese. He passed, she failed (her Dad is my auto parts manager); but the learning of a second language, failing or passing, can only be good to the brain. Brains can retain 24 languages but we tend to be dependent on a singular native tongue that is used when learning a second language. Besides, even Einstein used only 10 percent of total brain cells!
The education of babies starts early; forced into weekend tutorials to pick up English as a second language in China, though I think they would equally benefit in the calligraphy of Sinosphere’s Hanguk/Chosun and Nippon, and the gutturals of Russia; Slava from Moscow in our Shenyang staff speaks impeccable English. Not a big surprise. The last Moscow Tsar was cousin to the British throne.
A China mother dragged her 3-year old to me so I could tutor him in English. On Mom’s cue, the kid counted his numbers and recited his A-B-Cs to impress me. I promoted a pedagogy that hammered sound before the third level cognition of read-write meanings but I was ill prepared to structure a 3-year-old when he could be running freely around the street market naming products. Mom anxiously wants her boy to get to Princeton, Yale, or Harvard.
Back to my friend Nate whose multi-colored tomahawk haircut is an alternative mode, current to modish hair and accoutrements, he treads the pathway of ancients, medieval, and contemporaries in wrestling profoundly what it means to be human (once the province of theology until the Death-of-God death-knelled the field).
While theology has new metaphors, its archaic cosmology remains. Besides, theology is not our subject. Benedict, Cody, and Nate are—the gawking fellow, the comic strip paster and my fellow wayfarer on profound humanness. We tread on being ordinary humans.
Nate’s lifestyle is hopeful. Benedict and Cody will broaden comic strip taste with age. This old man lives the sunset of his years at peace with Jaden Smith’s skirts and dresses. We are fine!