Monday, December 22, 2014

Pining For Home

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Like many netizens all over the world, I am not particularly trustful of or comfortable with Google, that global internet presence which, whether we like it or not, insidiously intrudes into and then profits from almost everything we do in the online world. Its multinational hugeness and its pervasive dominance in all things related to cyberspace worries a lot of concerned individuals even those who regularly use its many services and who benefit from them in the personal or economic sense or both.

Yet occasionally, this internet colossus comes out with something that manages to surprise us all. Something that in this selfish, money-centered and cynical world (of which Google is, whether deservedly or undeservedly, in the eyes of many, a personification of) somehow pulls and tugs at that emotional core that hides in all of us, something that whispers and resonates to that softer side of our human nature, something that affirms that universally held hope that even in this selfish and cynical world, there is a premium still for love, friendship, generosity, loyalty and all those other pure, virtuous and noble sentiments of the human heart.

Last Dec. 14, Google Philippines published a video on You Tube that has been viewed and shared by more than a million people to date. Titled "Miss Nothing", it is basically a tribute to the more than two million Filipino overseas workers abroad who have left their families and homeland behind in order to work for a living all over the world. In less than two minutes it emotionally paints through images and music their loneliness and sense of isolation and how through the magic of modern wireless digital communication they desperately struggle to keep their tenuous links to their loved ones back home alive and meaningful.


The video, coming out just as the entire world is poised to celebrate the Yuletide week is a poignant reminder of the bitter sacrifices these Filipino expatriates have to make in their desire to secure the economic future of their loved ones and how their absence from home is impacting on the lives of the families they have to leave behind. I happen to be a member of one such family and viewing that video online struck me right where the heart is.

The last time our whole family, all five siblings and our parents, were all together for Christmas was in the mid-1980's. In the years that followed, two of my brothers left the country and now live and work permanently abroad. My two sisters got married and left Lianga to raise their own families elsewhere. As the years turned to decades, our family house here has become more of a sanctuary and repository of memories, an empty shell and no longer the bustling family home at Christmas that it used to be.

Its old, musty rooms no longer echo to the excited conversations of people rushing about. No more thudding feet shaking the old staircase as impatient legs run up and down its length while other voices vainly shout for everyone else to slow down and keep things quieter. No more bodies jostling for their places at the dinner table or quarreling for the choice cuts or slices of whatever is the piece de resistance of the Noche Buena feast.

No more huddling together for warmth during the midnight mass. No more sleepy heads trying not to doze off in the midst of the seemingly unending prayers and rituals or trying to dream of ways to find an excuse to slip outside the church and loiter with friends in the church courtyard until the mass ended. No more rushing out in the piercingly cold, early morning chill after church services and shouting Merry Christmas to all and then running home to be the first at the front door in a yearly race that never made sense to me then and even now and yet simply had to be done as a matter of tradition, senseless thought it may be.

No more mouths oohing and aahing and drowsy eyes gazing upward in wonder as Christmas rockets explode in fiery bursts of colors in the skies above the roof of the house, the fireworks display courtesy of the male siblings feverishly working next to their makeshift launch platforms in the backyard, the acrid haze of gunpowder smoke drifting in and filling the entire house. No more of the happy times spent together secured, comforted and rejuvenated by the love of family and the sense of a shared unity against the strangeness and indifference of the outside world.

Of course today, all I have to do is use my smartphone, tablet or computer to start a video chat with all of the members of my family who far away. The long, invisible tendrils of the internet can bridge continents and oceans. It brings home to us the voices and images of our loved ones even if their virtual presence is a poor consolation and an illusion at best.

Yet beggars can't be choosers. This is the great sacrifice that must be made. This is the new reality, the way we now, whether as Filipinos or as any of the many other nationalities whose own families have been torn apart by their own version of modern day diasporas, must live.  This is the future we must face.

Google knows this and spares no effort to assure us that love always finds ways to connect even from the most remote and almost inaccessible places. It effectively seeks to give credence to our eternal hope that the love that binds all whether we be family, lovers or friends can and will transcend all obstacles and cross vast distances and even time itself to find its way home.

For that video alone then, I think Google Philippines deserves a pat in the back. It may never be able to shake off accusations that it is part of a ravenous and monstrous multinational corporation seeking control and domination of the internet for power and profit but, hey, it is Christmas and there are battles that can be put off and postponed for another day. For now, a wary ceasefire and a congratulatory handshake for a job well done is in order.

Let me close this post with the story of the unrepentant atheist who, despite his vocally fervent assertions that he did not believe in God, Jesus Christ or any deity for that matter, still decided to go through the motions of celebrating Christmas. While sitting at the head of the Christmas table and surrounded by his family in the family living room lavishly decked in Yuletide finery including a magnificently lighted Christmas tree, he was chided by his fellow non-believers and asked why he bothered wasting his hard earned money and precious time with what was clearly sheer nonsense.

With a smile and a roguish wink, he replied, "It is all bullshit really but any holiday that celebrates love for family and for all humanity can't be that bad. Never mind the theology and the philosophy. If Christmas is simply about families and all peoples celebrating love and togetherness even for a day or two then God and the Devil be damned. I am 100 percent for it!"

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all.

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