January 28, 2016

The Accidental Tourist

            What do we mean by producing fruits from our repentance? To produce fruits from our repentance is the condition attached to the rewards of forgiveness that the angels have brought with them and this condition must be fulfilled.

            To produce fruits from our repentance is an edict of replacing what we had taken, of returning what we had borrowed, and putting back into the condition in the past of a thing or persons ruined and defiled by us to the extent of the condition taking place before our particular misdeeds had caused such ruin and injury. What is broken should be unbroken. A thief should give back the money he stole, and the fornicator should live a life of total devotion to the edicts of God, evading fully even the mere thought of lust and temptation. It is also to ensure our soul by giving back more than we had taken that for instance, if you stole a car, you must give back the amount of the car you stole and more in addition. That is to ensure the acceptance of your repentance.

            There is also another way of producing fruits from our repentance of countless sins throughout our lifetime, those that we could not trace anymore, for as we say to be human in a world despoiled of strong faith, is to have committed countless sins that are so countless that we lose count of them. This mode of repayment is the cultivation of your hearts by helping others to be uplifted from a life of hardship and misery. That is the power of the rewards of repentance. In the interest of everlasting peace and harmony among brethren, producing fruits from your repentance could be fitting in this manner. You shall be forgiven but only if you repent immediately and produce fruits from your repentance, in order to make a complete turnaround and turn away from a life of sin and falsity, to accept God fully and follow His edicts and judgments from then on.

            This convenient mode of producing fruits from our repentance however, should not in no way be abused for even a minute abuse of these would mean eternal damnation in hellfire so that it is still a primary edict that what you steal you must return, whom you abused must be disabused, whom you killed must be recompensed and what is broken must be unbroken.

            Indeed, even as we do not have to produce fruits from our repentance, the most beautiful manner of cultivating our hearts is by helping others get back on their feet, to uplift the condition of the poorest of the poor, those unfortunate brothers and sisters of ours who live in the slums and giant piles of garbage, living in ultimate squalor, endangering not only their lives but the lives of their children and their olds.

            One might argue that the idea of sharing that I am strongly professing would only promote and cradle a lazy society, establishing a welfare system for slothful and laggard people, a system where people depend on others instead of their own capability to survive and rise above poverty. There is nothing farther from the truth. Let us realize that the condition of poverty is never intentional anywhere in the world for no man chose to become miserable and it is not the desire of any man to suffer poverty.

            Even the richest nation in the world has a welfare system for the poor, in fact the wealthier the nations become, and the stronger their welfare systems are.

            Everybody wants to work and scurry for their own daily bread. Nobody desires to live the desperation of a beggar’s life. Man is by nature proud and dignified even from birth. If we think this way, it would be easier for us to accept the role of the brother’s keeper, to share whenever possible and whenever necessary.

            Poverty is an existence brought about by factors that are mostly beyond the control of any man like the lack of opportunity in a master-and-slave society, where the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer. These factors are independent of the poor man’s will. A master-and-slave society would always put him down, like a drowning man caught in the middle of a storm that even as he is able to swim, the giant waves would be too much for him to handle.
            In a society where opportunities are limited to some sectors, where monopolies abound and cartels persist unhindered; both in business and labor, as well as in the possession of arable lands, the drowning man is an everyday reality.

            Most rich people gained wealth by simply having the right opportunities at the right time. There are gains in wealth achieved by men who simply had the knowledge or initiative to recognize the key to gaining wealth and affluence. But in many societies however, not everyone has the opportunities and initiative because man and society as a whole is not made of intelligent people all, there would always be the less capable so that in a society where the only strong survive, the drowning man is indeed a pitiful reality. Now we ask ourselves as we encounter the everyday drowning man, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  “What good does it do a man to have faith and yet he has no works?” “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being alone.” [6]

            Let me tell you a story from my childhood. When I was still a child, I was living with my grandfather instead of my parents, compelled by circumstances the moment my first brother was born. My father then was working as a postman whose compensation was perhaps insufficient to make ends meet so my mother needed the assistance of my grandparents. Or was it maybe perhaps my mother had difficulty looking up for two sons while my father was always away. I could not surmise enough upon these particular conditions that happened so long ago in the past, when I still had a juvenile consciousness.

            My grandfather then, Hadji Unih Bandaying, was a grower of coconut trees where through his labor and persistence, the land he tilled had carried two generations of our family. He had also been a Muslim preacher that we call as imam. The coconut plantation that he had tilled was not very substantial that he oversaw it all by himself in order to save on labor expenses. Every three months or so, he would go to the farm to make some work, mostly to clear unwanted bush growths and to repair some fences and then to oversee harvest time. The farm was located relatively far from the city that in fact he had to travel by sea to reach the place. I had grown so emotionally attached to my grandfather that I would insist on going with him whenever he leaves for the farm and he would take me despite his firm opposition to the idea. In one of those memorable travels---a journey where I could usually be closer to the natural grandeur of the rustic countryside, to smell the healthy soil and to witness radiant sunrises not easily found anywhere---I am particular to an incident that has been etched in my mind since it happened, an event that was not so commonplace that it somehow taught me my first lessons in the humanity of man and in the power of sharing.

             This particular childhood memory however, would not bring us to the seminal beauty of the farmlands. It all happened in the ship that my grandfather and I were to embark for our trip to the island of Suba-Nipa. As usual, we went early long before the scheduled departure and we spent hours waiting for the boat to depart from its docking.wards its point of destination, most of the passengers were already on board.  As it was usual, the passengers were busy arranging their baggage and some took their meals packed in plastic canisters and banana leaves.

            I could always feel a sort of exhilaration whenever we had the island travel. There is always that shared excitement of a group of people leaving for the same destination, crossing waters on a long trip and spending the night adrift the sea together, to be one in purpose and destiny, at least for that moment, with a certain rising in everyone’s spirit.

            I gazed towards the wooden plank where people traverses in order to reach the ship from the docking, silently observing the flow of people and the kind of camaraderie they had, when I noticed a fat man wearing unruly and discordant clothes. His shirt was dirty white and over-sized even for his wide body. It was not a dirty cloth but it was sort of disconcerting to the eye, declaring that the fat man had not much choice for wardrobe. He was carrying a fading small black bag and in his hands was a “Tasbi”, the Muslim version of the rosary beads, declaring to the passers-by that he was a Muslim. And as the man drew closer to us, I was a little bit taken aback by the fact that he was a foreigner with a middle-eastern look, wearing a lengthened beard on his face, and his skin was white as any white man’s skin. He was conversing to every man as he walks past the passageways, gradually towards the direction of where I was situated. He did go closer and closer to where I was seating, until I finally realized that he was begging for money. It was indeed a surprise that a foreigner was on the streets of our country begging for coins, speaking in straight English. What really takes me out of my wits is the fact that aside from his features, he seems to be so unlike other beggars. He spoke as if he was making a contract with each man he approaches, making a business engagement, with full dignity and pride, as if he just decided not to be ashamed altogether despite the desperation of beggary. I was drawn to this fact so keenly that I observed more closely his actions and words. As he approached each man he would greet “Assalamulaykum” and went on to state, “You know I am Amir, a Pakistani.  Do you have one peso? Just one Peso my brother.”   He kept on repeating and reasserting that he needs a peso from each man. He would continue saying “You see, if you give me just one peso, it would help me buy a plane ticket back to Pakistan where my family lives. If many brothers would give me one peso each, that would help me so much.”

            He was sort of making a contract to each and every one that he had approach, without any hint of shame in his face but pure humility, to declare to each and every one he met that the consideration for giving a peso for each and every one of us was the altruistic feeling of enlightenment that one feels after helping a less fortunate person while his cause and consideration is to enable him to escape that particular desperation---a contract indeed with minds meeting somewhere in the middle of understanding. And because of his foreign look and the way he talks, some of the passengers got so interested in him that they inquired into his person and his other conditions in life. One passenger, an acquaintance of my grandfather who I remember to be Hadji Ahmad, inquired so much about him and conversed to him as if the Pakistani was a long lost friend.  As the two men talked, many others circled around the Pakistani, curious still about the foreigner. The “accidental tourist” relayed rather deliberately (while I was listening nearby) that he was a tourist on a business trip and looking for opportunities in the selling of carpets and other goods from Pakistan. While he was billeted in one of the hotels in the city many months ago, he was robbed of almost all his belongings including his money. He was so careless he admitted to the crowd, but he did not expect so much to be put in such a quandary. Luckily he said, a friend he had known while staying here allowed him to live in their humble house in a nearby slum where poor Muslims lived, until the time that he could find a way to solve his problem of being stranded in a foreign land.  The friend of his was not affluent so he is not much of help in getting him back home to Pakistan. So he thought of a plan to help himself and this was by reaching out towards his brothers for assistance, to go to the streets to solicit for money. He said that if twenty thousand persons of Zamboanga City would give just one peso each, which is not, as he often declared, so much to ask for from each person, it would enable him to buy his plane tickets all the way to Pakistan. Many inquired upon him why he did not ask the help of the government or the rich Muslims, maybe they were willing to help. Or why did he not seek assistance from his consulate. He just stated that walking the streets was the only way he thought of since their consulate is in faraway Manila and there was no assurance that they would give such assistance.  He could have gone to Manila to pursue assistance from the Pakistani embassy but felt more secure here in Zamboanga City than in Manila because of a friend that could help him survive from day to day and survival was foremost among his concerns.

            The crowd felt so sympathetic to the Pakistani’s flight that everyone including my grandfather fished for more money to assist the hapless Pakistani. The man was misty eyed all along. The crowd became so involved with Amir’s flight that in fact the Pakistani went with our trip upon the invitation of Hadji Ahmad.

            What happened finally to the Pakistani is now beyond me, whether or not he was able to get that fare fee back to his homeland is not a memory to me anymore. But one thing I was sure of that day, that all of us in that particular trip felt enriched by an unusual event that had somehow opened us to a reality where men could be generous without limit, that all of us shared the experience of sharing and the enlightenment it brought forth. At the least of it all, it made me realize what a good feeling it is to share and help others to get back at their feet by the meager amount of a peso or two.

            The story of the “accidental tourist” made me realizes that a man might beg but at the same time retain a certain honor; an amount of dignity that could be had when one still has faith in the basic goodness of man. It was not easy for him to walk the street for money for you could see the Pakistani to be holding something heavy inside him, swallowing so much pride and dignity that he was misty eyed whenever he approached each man to solicit for a peso. A stain of embarrassment perhaps, for his helpless condition was somehow patent in how his voice would crack at times, as if losing composure and determination to go forward like a boxer about to raise his hands in surrender after a frenetic pounding of punches. Yet, he decided to roll with the punches and held in his heart the belief that men are still good and are still brothers’ keepers.

             The Pakistani was making a legitimate contract with each and every one of us and if we recognized this as legitimate, then he did not have to be teary eyed at all. For a meager some from each one of us, he could be back to his homeland and at the same time for a meager sum, we could be enriched by our humanity by assisting others whose plight has turned from bad to worse, conditions brought about mostly by causes not completely of their own liking. For certain, Amir had not intended himself to be robbed in our country. And definitely, he did not desire to walk the streets begging for money.

            There is a feeling of enlightenment whenever we share genuinely. That feeling is unexplainable in concrete terms except that it is the desire of God, the Great Divine, and divinity is at the same time unexplainable in concrete terms. This is the enlightenment we gain in engaging in such form of “contract”, an enlightenment to the fact that indeed we could still be our brother’s keeper.
            In the present world we live in, there are many of those who desire to make the legitimate contract of “the accidental tourist”. To be poor was never the intendment of the unfortunate among us for poverty is not a condition desirable. The beggar with limbs injured makes a contract to us every day. “Look at me,” they say, “I was unfortunate to lose my limbs that I am incapable of work anymore but with a meager amount, you could help me extend my sojourn here on Earth as you also had the privileged of sojourning in this beautiful world full of water and air and sunrise and misty mornings, of radiant trees and blossoming flowers, a world so full of colors and vibrancy.”

            With the meager amount, you could make a man’s life much more sufferable and on the other hand such form of giving will further enrich our spiritual life as Jesus Christ had imparted in his teachings and as Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him) had commanded and as Moses had declared. “Love thy neighbor” Moses declared. The produce of our repentance may also appear in other forms such as assisting a dying man on the ground, a poor cousin seeking harbor after a long journey, a desperate neighbor soliciting loan for a crying infant, a friend in dire straits, a hungry child on the streets.

            It should be a gain of principled men to create a world where everyone is brothers and sisters all, regardless of gender and creed or race and nationality. Conflict is of no benefit to anyone and violence is a stain to peace and harmony. We should carry our brothers and sisters like we carry our own children.

            For certain, this is not an edict to let your persons be abused by those who misrepresent their incapacities, for even our own children we castigate when they overdo the limit of our patience and harbor. It is in our hearts that we are able to know when to give a helping hand or when to shy away from those who take advantage of generosities.

            If we ever doubt our propensity for sharing, we should always remember Amir, the Pakistani, the accidental tourist who makes a contract to us in order to uplift himself from an unfortunate situation not of his liking and intensions.

            But you may ask: “Is it an obligation for us to share our blessings? If that is the case, what is the limit then?” This must be the question of any rich man. “In my hurried life as a big banker or as an investment broker, or in my occupation as president of a multinational company, I simply have no time for the works of a Good Samaritan, for I have to work and feed my family and look out for myself and my family. This is the life I live in” and this must be the thought of any rich man.

            To think, how does helping others become an obligation when we only have to live our own lives first and foremost? To this I say sharing is never in the form of an obligation, as we understand the word “obligation” today, for it is blind faith to have a sack of money and go to the streets to look for beggars and poor people just in order to distribute such money---while there is no genuine intention to share. Are we buying faith?

            Generosity could not be faked and sharing should always be genuine. If it were genuine, there would be no question as to how much to give or when to offer a helping hand. It becomes automatic and spontaneous to the man of great heart.

            Sharing is a consequence of our humanity, of us being human beings. When we have already reach the point that we fail to feel sympathy for the misfortunes of others, then we must have reached a point where some parts of our hearts have already been closed through numbing indifference of the suffering around us. Where we could care no more in a world of a dog-eat-dog existence, a fast and furious way of life where only the strong survive and the weak wither. Where being strong is sometimes to have the strength to kiss the foot of other men in order to gain richness.

            Charity is never an obligation but a consequence of our humanity.

            For if there are two man walking an isolated street of the city, one is a rich man who is busy with his work and occupation, in order to generate more wealth for himself or in order to further his ambition of reaching a higher position. And then there was the other man who is merely a laborer with merely enough wealth for his subsistence. And in that isolated street, an old man with a wooden cane lie on the ground, half-conscious and fallen from tiredness and hunger, clearly unable to stand up as general weakness had encroached upon his body. The rich man would pass along the street and come upon the sight of the fallen man. He would take immediate cognizance of course of the tragedy of the fallen man but he has a meeting to attend and time is of the essence. He could not pass this business deal. He would walk ahead and disregard the silent appeal of the fallen man.

            Then the laborer would walk along the same area of the streets and come upon the sight of the fallen man and surely he would recognize the pain of the fallen man, for him himself have been hungry and tired before. Seeing this tragedy, he would approach slowly and enquire if the man is still breathing, and if he is still, he would fish for some coins for the man’s sustenance or he would even buy the bread himself from a nearby bakery, and bring some water.

            In the instance above related, who is the man of great faith? Who is more human and has more humanity? To be sure the laborer had encountered no law or ordinance that makes it an “obligation” to assist a fallen man. The rich man would not have committed any illegal act by disregarding the appeal of a hungry man. But is providing a helping hand an obligation?
            The man of great faith would not even have to ponder upon the obligation of a helping hand for it comes to him naturally. The man of lesser faith also has no pondering upon the obligation of a helping hand because sharing is in fact not an issue to him anymore for he even does not reach the point where he would ponder upon the nature of this act.

            This only we must realize God is like a father who has many children. If some of his children were more benefited and became wealthy while others languish in misfortune, to be sure he would appeal upon his wealthier children to assist their suffering brothers and sisters, for the suffering of the children is also the suffering of the father.

            And all the fruits of this earth were meant for everyone to share, so that everyone will eat. How come there are many still that have no food on their table?

            If it comes to you that in your own self, there is doubt as to the genuineness of your faith---I shall point you to the right way, in order that you would be cleansed by the discomfort of this uncertainty. And this “right way” is by being men for others. There is nothing more that would endear you to the Lord God than by being a Good Samaritan.

            If it comes to you that you already doubt yourself if you ever shall enter the Kingdom of God or not---I shall show you the way. Live your lives as if to live is living not only for yourselves, but also living lives for others. And surely you will not be lost. For certain, there must be some other ways, but this is the clearest path to the destination that the Lord had promised us.
            Even when many of us are the most steadfast of a hunter, not all of us could be good hunters. The children, the women and the old are not good hunters.

            Let us all hunt in packs like many ancient people do. If a people would hunt as a pack, it is a people who shall have no hungry brother or sister left out in the cold. A people who hunt in packs looks out more for the weakest member---the children, the women and the old---those who could not join the able men on their hunting trips.

            But when we became individualistic by nature, many would be left out in the cold, especially in a dog-eat-dog existence we have today.

            “What does faith do to you if many lie naked in the streets?”

            “Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.”[7]

From my book "The Night of Angels".

1 comment:

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