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I Hate Filipino Culture -Society/Politics

Monday, September 29, 2008

Her Name was Katherine

The internet has become a record keeper for all sorts of personal information, from the most trivial to the most intimate. Wittingly or unwittingly, almost everybody has left a left a trace on the internet open for google to find. If a person mattered then there might be an article created for him/her by those whose lives he/she has affected Or he might be a subject of an entire article on wikipedia if he affected the lives of a lot of people. If a person wants to matter then he may create a dent on the internet himself by creating a blog like the one you’re reading right now.

Every year, my family gathers in a small patch of land somewhere within the forest of crosses and tombstones of manila north cemetery to commemorate the life of a person we lost 11 years ago. Her name was Katherine. We called her Kathy. She was the 2nd youngest of us four siblings.

She had a lot of things going for her. She was pretty, she was smart, she was studious and she had the gift of gab. She was too young to have decided on a career path but my mother used to suggest to her a lot that she be a dermatologist (I think she had expressed some interest in the idea as well). One, because it’s a lucrative career. It’s common knowledge that dermatologists are professionally trained to suck every peso out of their clients’ wallet. Two, so she could cure her own skin problems.

She had a lot of infectious and unique mannerisms. I think she started the trend of babytalking in the family. Both of my other sisters do it now quite extensively. She also was into the habit of inventing words. A habit which I think I may have picked up from her. Whenever she would watch TV, she had this weird mannerism where she’d face the tv sideways and she’d watch from the corner of her eye. Whenever I would try to access an image of her from my memory, the image of her watching tv always stands out as the clearest. It’s funny how the habits that I used to think were annoying are the ones that I remember the most.

She was born on the 6th of December, 1984. She succumbed to asthma on the night of September 17, 1997. She was just about to turn 13. I remember waking up to the sound of commotion. My mother was panicking and Kathy’s struggle was quite audible. My parents tried to calm her down (because stress would just aggravate her asthma) and then they rushed her to the hospital
I tried to ignore it but at the back of my mind, I had a very strong feeling that she wasn’t going to make it. I also had suffered from severe asthma attacks in my youth and I knew the feeling of fighting for every breath to the point where you feel like you don’t want to anymore.

It was like drowning but, in some ways, more torturous. When you’re drowning, your ordeal would just last for about 10 or so mins and then you’d pass out and die. My worst asthma attacks lasted for almost a month and the apex would last up to 5 days, during which I’d be bedridden and any attempt at exertion would leave me close to losing consciousness.
I saw what she went through and I knew that it was worse than anything I had ever experienced. That night, before my parents rushed her to the hospital, I heard her say “ayoko na” (I don’t want to anymore)

I think the call came at around midnight. I think It was my mother who delivered the news. I remember vague details about what happened exactly.  My youngest sister was playing jackstone. I was on my bed. I don’t remember the exact sequence of events but I think I slept again after I heard the news. Maybe because I wanted to wake up and realize that it was all just a bad dream or maybe because I wasn’t quite sure how I would react yet and I wanted to postpone it till morning.

It was strange because I felt sad but I didn’t feel as sad as I expected to be. I got a bit teary eyed but I don’t remember crying. The full impact of what happened didn’t catch up with me till much later.

I used to call her “bispringe” (bestfriend). Kathy and I were quite close when we were much younger but we weren’t in good terms when she passed away. I think we weren’t speaking for more than a year. It was a long time ago so ¬I don’t exactly remember what started our fight but I remember calling her “ketong” (leper). Kathy had allergic dermatitis which caused certain areas of her skin to form scabs. We were calling each other names at the time. She brought up some of my insecurities so I thought it was a fair trade. But of course it wasn’t and it was really insensitive of me. She cried so to say that she was affected would probably be an understatement. I never got to say sorry. We never got to make up.

She was already a young lady when she passed away but my clearest mental image of her is when she was much younger, when we were still quite close. She didn’t have a lot of pictures in her latter months and we didn’t get to interact much so it’s hard for me to remember clearly what she looked like. I remember that she grew her hair longer, her skin improved and she got slimmer. (she was chubby when she was younger) but it’s hard for me to assemble a full picture in my head. There’s very little to remember her by.

I never got to know what kind of life she got to live in her latter months. She kept a diary but due to a misdirected gesture of sentimentality, we never got to read it and we never will. Her thoughts and secrets were buried with her literally.

She passed away before the internet went mainstream here in the philippines. She never had a friendster profile, no myspace, no facebook, no blog. You won’t find any picture of her online. There’s no record of her thoughts, no record of her hobbies, her favorite movie, no record of whether her status was “single”, “in a relationship” or “it’s complicated” when she passed. No information about her will appear in any google search.

There is no significant record of her existence outside the memories of her immediate friends and family. I’m not even sure if her friends still remember her. She may just be a tiny speck of memory to them now. All we have left of her are the very few pictures that she left us and memories that get more and more vague as time passes.

When I first created this blog, I wanted it to be a shrine to me. A record of my existence that exists outside of the people who know me. A depository of my thoughts at different stages of my life that I (or anyone interested) can look back to someday. It doesn’t matter if anyone cares to read it. It’s for me.

I write this entry now for her so that the memory of who she was would not just exist in our heads and in our old photo albums. So that if you’d search for her name, it would appear somewhere within the deep recesses of google. As a record that she existed and that she mattered! …a humble shrine to her existence and an apology that is 11 years overdue. It doesn’t matter if anyone finds it or cares to find it, it’s for her.

Her name was Katherine M. Zosa and this is her online memorial

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

On the Meaning of Life

“What is the meaning of life?” The question has been pondered about by countless philosophers for centuries. It makes me wonder why… because I think it’s a pointless question. I don’t think the question is pointless because I think that life has no meaning. I think it’s pointless because the question assumes that there should be a general standard for meaning and that it has to be defined external to the person asking the question.

There was a commercial by the World wildlife foundation which I found to be a bit intellectually substandard. The commercial was about wildlife conservation. I don’t remember the exact words, so I will paraphrase: “It is perhaps the greatest question man has ever asked. We know that plankton exist to feed the whales, we know that zebra exist to feed the lions, we know that (insert species here) exist for (insert species here). What about us? What is our purpose?

I didn’t like the commercial for a variety of reasons. One, because it states that the inane question “what is our purpose” is the greatest question man has ever asked. Two, because it seems to assume that there is a universal purpose for why we are all here

From a lion’s perspective, a zebra’s purpose may be to satisfy its hunger. But from the zebra’s perspective, the purpose of its existence may be to get through life without satisfying the lion’s hunger. Purpose comes from either the lion’s or the zebra’s intent to achieve its own respective goals -Goals that are diametrically opposed to each other.

One may say that the purpose of fire is to give us warmth or to heat our food. But fire didn’t come into existence to serve man. Fire existed and then man found purpose for it. That purpose only exists to those with minds to see benefit from fire. From fire’s perspective, it doesn’t care what man does to it. Fire itself has no intrinsic purpose for existence except for the subjective interpretations of purpose that man assigns to it.
Meaning is defined as the overall purpose of one’s existence. The claim that there is an overarching purpose for the existence of everyone or everything is a circular claim. The question “What is the meaning of life” is a question that proposes its own answer 

Purpose requires intent, can only exist in minds that are capable of intent and is perspective relative. From a theistic standpoint, it’s a valid question since you may be of the belief that you were created by a mind that is capable of intent, for a purpose that it defined itself. It is valid to ponder what intentions your god had for creating you. Though I don’t see how you can get an answer unless you can ask him yourself.

However the question just doesn’t make sense in a secular forum because it presupposes true the assumption “purpose precedes existence”; That we were put here for a purpose that preceded our capability to define it and that the birds, lions, the whales and us are pawns fulfilling a purpose that was devised by a mind that is capable of intent –by asking such a question, you are already presupposing true the existence of a sentient creator

One of the most irksome questions that theists ask me is “If there is no god, how can our lives have meaning?” 

Believers who can’t see meaning or purpose in life without god bother me. I just don't understand why some people can't grasp any concept of meaning or purpose without god. It seems like they’ve surrendered so much of their thinking process to their chosen deities that they’ve forgotten that purpose could also be defined from the first person perspective. They believe that they have a purpose, I believe that I have a purpose. The difference is that I don’t need other entities to define that purpose for me

It’s not just believers who misuse the word “meaning”. Some atheists claim that according to evolution, the meaning of man’s life is to spread his genes. I think that “meaning” is not the most appropriate word here. Evolution is a mindless process that is incapable of purposeful action thus it cannot ascribe meaning or have reason for anything that it “does”. Evolution gave us the capability and the motivation to procreate. Whether that will be the purpose of our existence will be determined by the individual who has the mind to conceive of purpose

The question “what is THE meaning of life” makes as much sense as “what is THE favorite color” which cannot be answered unless you have a reference point. For the question to have sense, you have to replace “THE” with “you” or “my”. So instead of asking: “What is the favorite color”, ask what is your/my favorite color

Instead of asking “what is the meaning of life”, ask: “what is the meaning of your life?” “What is the meaning of mine?”