They jolt you. They shake you up. They send you off your seat and bring you rudely back. At some places they delude you into thinking you're a baby again and it's just your mother's arms rocking you once more, gently, rhythmically to the tune of her lullaby, and you start to believe the illusion, leading you to succumb to sleep. Until the jolt becomes a shock. You have just hit a major snag.
I'm talking about the bad roads (which the Inquirer called "roads from hell" [PDI, 11/21/2008], a rather strong phrase but to which we can't object) we in Eastern Samar suffer from these days. But I could also be speaking of our Philippine socio-economic-political realities. Doubtless, nearly all of them jolt and shock the living daylights out of our consciousness. That is, unless we have given up on our situation and now take everything as mere indications of the damaged culture we have caused on ourselves. Nonetheless we can never give in to despair. No Christian worth the name does. With faith comes hope and hope must lead to love. Or we are not who we say we are.
It's Christ the King Sunday as I write these words in my room. We had just concluded the four-o-clock Mass with a solemn procession, attended, to my happy surprise, by a good number of young people, followed by a benediction to which they also obliged. But my mind already races to next Sunday, the first of Advent. The booming voice of Advent's crucial-and-at-once-tragic figure, John the Baptist, rings in my ears as he echoes Isaiah: "I hear a voice crying out in the wildernes, 'Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Make his paths straight. The valleys will be filled, the mountains and hills made low. Every crooked thing will be made straight and rough roads will be made smooth. And every mortal will see the salvation of God" (Lk 3:4-6).
Rough roads. Ah, how they make travelling from point A to point B so unfriendly and so harrowing, you wonder if you'd ever do it again. And, oh, in my home province especially, how they multiply (I strongly suggest the government subject them to zero population growth control, and only rightly so, at least at no further expense from the taxpayers for contraceptives). On my trip homeward from our annual retreat in Tagaytay City recently, for which I had to travel from Manila to Tacloban City and from there to my hometown, Borongan, I was so amazed at how fast the rough roads worsened and multiplied. I had to go through what the open letter to the president from our local bishop and the clergy describes as "an agonizing experience" negotiating our roads "characterized by crowding craters and potholes, of an increasing number and sizes." Imagine taking a ride over an uninterrupted series of humps from Glorietta to Mega Mall. And you are just close to having an idea of Eastern Samar's road conditions in their pre-Advent phase (close because humps tend to be of the same size, unlike our craters). I say pre-Advent phase, given that Advent is the time when rough roads are being made smooth in preparation for the Messiah's coming. This is exactly what isn't happening now in our province and all indications do not point to it happening in the near future (letters from our local authorities simply counsel patience, as they are preparing to defer action and wait it out until the seasonal rains stop). (And I could hear our Latin 4 teacher repeating the words of rhetorical lament, "Quousque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra? (Until when will you abuse our patience, Catilina?")
Rough roads inspire rough humor. From Bgy Buenavista to my hometown, I noticed people responding to the jolts and bumps with protest humor, if cynically. For instance, in the thick of the bumpy ride, a fellow traveller said, 'Ramdam na ramdam ang kaunlaran (Progress is being felt)" in reference to the administration's nationwide slogan. Another passenger even suggested, "We should ask the Supreme Court to declare Eastern Samar's roads unconstitutional." "Why unconstitutional?" someone asked. "Because," came the answer, "these roads are abortifacient. And isn't abortion banned by the Philippine constitution?" We laughed. The upside of Pinoy humor is that it allows us to express otherwise repressed anger and frustrations. The downside is that it didn't make the jolts and bumps go away. We should make our humor work in our favor. It's good we can laugh at our problems; it's even better if we do what we can to solve them. This is a lesson the local Church has learned the hard way.
But look at the big picture, we must. There are lots and lots of rough and bumpy roads in our society's realities. Take our own country, la patria adorada. On our way to being a first-century Philippines, we keep stumbling onto the rough roads of corruption, the ever widening gulf of social inequality and injustice among Filipinos coupled with our massive poverty, and the ever ineffectual governance we experience, bedevilled as it is by patronage politics. The constant threat of Cha-cha endlessly keep us from confidently arriving peacefully at our democratically destined transition to new leadership. With the string of scandals, from the never-say-die allegations of a stolen presidency to ZTE to the fertilizer scam via one Joc Joc Bolante, the roads to a 'strong Republic', even just to a 'respectable' one, are extremely bumpy, not unlike those of Eastern Samar. Perhaps ours are, as it were, a parable of the national malaise.
And my suggestion for Advent and beyond? Let's make John the Baptist our national secondary patron saint. Or, even better, let's be John the Baptist for our local Church, for our country now. But why, you ask. So the Messiah might more easily reach our shores and make us "see the salvation of our God".