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Friday, April 15, 2011

A Piece of Suffering

One cannot weep for the entire world, it is beyond human strength. One must choose.
Jean Anouilh
I saw the old man again yesterday. 
He was sitting on the curb right in front of the bakeshop. He was wearing ragged clothes that must have been new many summers ago.
The old man’s skin was blackened by countless days out in the hot sun. A result, I suppose, of roaming and dragging himself around the concrete pavements of the metropolis, whose inhabitants barely notice him and others like him. His face was leathery, loose skin tiredly draped around the facial bones, barely hanging on. The lips were sunk in, betraying lack of teeth. And then I looked into his eyes.
They were glazed, unfocused; and it was as if the old man was staring at something faraway, something that only he could see. I shuddered a bit at the thought.
His hand was held out, in the classic pose many Filipinos are familiar with—the hand of begging. But the old man looked as if he wasn’t aware of what his own hand was doing. It must have taken years of unbearable hardships, years of begging for a few coins from strangers, to have that indifference to one’s begging hand. It was heartbreaking. 

I first saw the old man about a week ago. I saw him on the sidewalk, shuffling along, his right hand holding on to the concrete sort-of bench that lined the street’s sidewalk. He was bent over, painfully so. His face etched with a mixture of pain, suffering and something else: world-weariness? Life-weariness? 
Whatever it was, it was something I would never forget, and I hope nobody I knew would get the occasion of wearing that expression. I hope I would never get to wear that expression.
It was easy to see why he had difficulty walking; his feet seemed to be swollen, encased in a pair of flip-flops that were about to fall apart. He was clutching a length of plastic string, the kind that you use to tie packages with.  I was briefly reminded of Maupassant’s old man.
But this old man was no Maitre Hauchecorne; I didn’t think he was conscious of anything or anyone at all when he picked up that piece of string. It occurred to me that he would be using it to keep his flip-flops from falling apart altogether. It was a punch in the gut seeing him painfully shuffle along, holding that piece of string, and realizing what he intended to do with it.
But what was really heartbreaking was that people didn’t even give him a passing glance. They just continued on, unconcerned, oblivious of the suffering around them, not even taking time to look around and notice that the world is an old man painfully shuffling along. That instant seemed to me a microcosm of the whole world.
While others are worried about their car’s mileage, this old man is worried that his flip-flops will fall apart, and what little protection his dirty, battered, swollen feet has, will be gone. While others are worried that their favorite hotel in Boracay will be fully-booked by the time weekend rolls around, this old man doesn’t even know where he might rest his tired, broken body.
I don’t know where the old man came from, but somebody told me he frequents that place near the bakeshop.
Do people give him something to eat, I wonder. And where are the church people, where are the do-gooders, where are the government officials who gets misty-eyed at the plight of the poor people, especially during an election year? Where are the priests, where are the bishops? What’s keeping them busy nowadays?
Can’t they give even a new pair of flips-flops to this old man?
Surely, we can’t all be apathetic.
After all, apathy is one of humanity's greatest sins. Isn't it?

Sometimes, there is nothing left to do but scream.

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