Jose Rizal and I share the same birth date, June 19. I thank my Mom and the heavens for choosing this date for my day of birth. One trivial reason is that it makes it hard for my loved ones to forget my birthday!
Seriously, I consider it a beautiful coincidence that the sun was in the same position in the sky on the day that Rizal and I were born. After all, there are 365 days in a year and sharing the same natal day with your National Hero is, in itself, a wonderful and sweet twist of events. I remember that, as a child, my curiosity about Rizal made me think of him as a kin of spirit. Someone whose ideals remind me of my roots and the meaning of being a Filipino. Someone who constantly nags me to read more, to write more, to create more, to learn more of the world, and share my gifts with others.
Perhaps, our common “personal events” do not end in sharing a birth date because my friend, Rory, smilingly reminded me a few weeks ago that Jose Rizal’s initials, JR, is also the nickname of my husband. It is indeed another interesting ‘twist’. The JR in the imagination of my youthful days, the hero of my youth, has indeed happened in the flesh later in life, and this time, I am conversing to a real live JR–a hero in his own way–a person who also joyfully nags me towards an existence of constant learning and creation.
And so, we retrace the footsteps of Lolo Jose, as he celebrates his 150th year. It was the day that my JR meets my other JR. They met face-to-face, measuring each other, as if comparing how well they know this (common) woman in their lives. Who is loved more? Who has seen more of her light and dark sides, the shadows beneath the sunshine of her smiles? They both end up scratching their heads, not wanting to admit that the other may be the greater one in her eyes.
It does not matter though. For today, they are sharing this woman. Her laughters that tease. Her questions that do not wait for answers. Her unique way of looking beyond what is visible. Her fondness for arts and living and food and music. They nudged each other, reminding each one that this woman is both an unfathomable puzzle and a familiar place. There is comfort in her warmth in the same way that there is mystery in her touch.
We got our Lakbay Jose Rixal @150 passports stamped for the first time. My other JR (my childhood hero) smiled at me from the blue skies. He winked at me and said, “Not bad at all (gesturing at my JR)! You have done well. And wait, we share the same initials!” I had to wink, too. After all, these two different men, by a sudden twist of fate, share this connection now and may really have to learn to like each other.
They are smiling now, even grinning, perhaps thinking, counting each moment through the flickering of the sun’s rays on the wooden window sill. Their smiles lingered in my mind. Our footsteps on the brown-skinned floor followed me relentlessly, even throughout my dreams that night. The letters engraved on them–like the evening stars strewn around a velvety soft sky–danced wildly, sometimes embracing me, other times eluding me, as if wanting me to run after them.
And the walls talked and listened at the same time. The door suddenly opened and they appeared, looking for me, wondering where have I been. They began to laugh, immediately figuring out the answer. My childhood hero looked at me and touched the walls. He made me promise to always listen to the silence. To listen to the walls because they carry messages from yesteryears. I began to move closer to the walls but he stopped me. He said, “Not now.”
We walked to the next room and proudly showed me this stone sculpture of a naked woman. He asked, “What do you see?” I replied, “Not now.” And we both laughed, two souls many many years apart, but laughing, anyway, at this moment in time.
We reached his Contemplation Room. Suddenly, he was no longer laughing. I felt his pains. I saw tears streaming down his face but I dare not say anything. I patiently waited, torn apart between wanting to comfort him and leaving him to his own sorrows. When it was all quiet again, I simply thanked him for what he has done. He gestured towards the door, gave me one last glance, and disappeared into the shadows.
I celebrate his wisdom. I celebrate his arts. I celebrate his courage. I celebrate his dreams for the Filipino people.
I then whispered, “Happy 150th birthday…I know you have a sense of humor so please forgive me for this late greetings.”
I took tentative steps, away from the room, and saw JR waiting for me at the end of the hallway. He held my hands and together, we walked to the sunshine outside, believing in heroes and the messages that they leave behind.
Note: The Lakbay Jose Rizal @150 is an ongoing campaign of the Department of Tourism and other agencies to celebrate the life of our national hero through visits to the places that figured prominently in his life. The campaign covers 26 Rizal shrines scattered all over the Philippines. The first 100 pilgrims who have visited all the sites (with proofs of visits through the stamps on their Rizal passport) will be given tokens and Kalakbay ni Gat Jose Rizal certificates. The campaign runs for a year, from June 19, 2011 to June 19, 2012. However, pilgrims can continue the visits (and have their passports stamped) even after this period although there will no longer be tokens/certificates at stake. For more information about Lakbay Jose Rizal@150, please visit this link.
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