In this, the country’ age of narcissism and with the youth of our time, a “Me”-generation, Letran graduate Kevin Villanueva’s internet gesture is a sudden cool breeze in our parched land.
Five days after his graduation last March, Kevin went all the way from Pasig to a memorial park in Laguna where his parents were buried, donned again his commencement-exercises’ outfit, and had a cousin take his photo as he sat by his father and mother’s tombstone with even three roses for his Ma. He posted the photo in a social media site with the caption, translated from Pilipino:
“And you thought you were the only ones with pictures with your parents! Ma, Pa, this for both of you, I hope you are proud of me.”
The photo had gone viral, with over 200,000 people clicking the “Like” button and nearly 20,000 sharing it with their friends. Comments have flooded in with some saying they were moved to tears by Kevin’s posting. Even Filipinos in the US had taken notice of it; in fact it was an old friend who had migrated to California who emailed me Kevin’s photo.
That Kevin bothered to do what he did, his childlike gesture in this Internet age of telling the world how grateful he is to his parents itself is indeed touching.
What it makes it more inspiring is how this young man transcended the adversities of his life. His mother committed suicide when he was ten, yet he was so tranquil to narrate to a reporter what happened in a previous attempt: “I was sleeping beside her and I felt she got out of bed. The next thing I knew she was in the bathroom with blood (from her slit wrists) all over her. ‘
For some reason, he apparently didn’t live with his father when he remarried. Then seven years later, his father died of cardiac arrest, and he had to rely on his aunts and take on odd jobs to get through college.
With those experiences, one would expect Kevin to be a morose, bitter person and wallow in self-pity. But just look at his photo by his parents’ tombstone, it wise-aleck caption, and his vibrant answers to a reporter’s questions, and you’ll sense the sunshine in this young man’s soul.
His father had asked him to move to a technical school where the tuition would be lower, but he continued in Letran as he felt he wanted a quality college education. He certainly deserved that, yet in his interview with a reporter, he said that he could not help but feel guilty about it. “If not for my expenses in school, we might have had enough money for his medicines.”
One of the saddest things in life when people do not appreciate their parents or get to express their gratitude to them, as Kevin profusely did, even if posthumously. It is not even easy to do so especially if you’re in the middle or lower-middle class like Kevin (and myself), in which you’re so aware of the luxuries of the upper class, that its so easy to blame your parents for not being rich.
It is only after the years go by, after one realizes how much of life is a throw of the dice, and that each human being essentially has his own or her happiness to take care of that your parents didn’t really have to do what they did for you, that one gets to be grateful to them.
It was my father Amauri who hooked me into opting for a mainly intellectual life, with his love for books and especially with his favorite quote, “Knowledge is Power.” It was he to whom I was so proud to show my school card when it had all As or Bs. He was so proud when I won a literary contest and congratulated me that my first income in life was through writing. When his law practice failed, mainly due to his heart disease when by-pass surgery wasn’t still available, it wasn’t him but my mother Elisa who—through her meager salary as a high-school teacher, the cakes she baked and sold to friends, and her perennial debts from friends—got me and my sisters through the best schools, and in my case badgering the Ateneo to give us steep tuition discounts.
Even after I shattered their dreams and created nightmares for them when I became a fugitive communist revolutionary and later taken as a political prisoner, they didn’t say a word condemning my life choices. Without any bitterness, they and my sisters helped me and my late wife Raquel through the difficult years of rebuilding a life after prison. My father even risked his health when he defended—or tried to defend—my wife who was being tried by a military court in the 1970s for rebellion.
Things could have been otherwise, and I wouldn’t be this person I am today, if not for my parents. But I don’t think I realized that in those youthful years, so I had not really expressed my gratitude to my parents.
A book on Eastern philosophy claimed that the meaning of the Chinese virtue transliterated as xiào isn’t really captured by its usual translation of “filial piety”, nor the belief system that grew out it, jìngzu, by “ancestor worship.”
Rather, xiào is a deep realization that one has been brought into this particular moment in eternity, into this form of conscious being, which is really one of bliss, by a chain of other beings through the eons, with your parents being only the most immediate and visible. There might be something to the “filial piety “virtue we find unfamiliar, and to the belief reduced by the West as superstitious “ancestor worship”. Xiao in essence is a deep celebration of life.
Since obviously you wouldn’t be here if not for your parents and those who came before them, perhaps it is the least superstitious religion at all, and since it is prevalent in China, Japan and Korea, one of the biggest. That probably explains why Freddie Aguilar’s song that touched on filial piety, Anak has been one of the most popular in the Philippines and in Japan.
Kevin at 21 years old has reminded us of this deep, centuries-old belief. My gratitude to you Kevin, and you deserve the best of life!