By Fr. Rolando V. Dela Rosa, O.P.
Life is beginning to resemble an ASEAN summit, lavish with bombastic words and expensive pageants that are often bereft of meaning and lasting value. Participants in the summit make contacts without any commitment to personal engagement. They take part in dialogues that are not real conversations. Daily events in the summit are like a rush of orchestrated filmic images without presence, plots without any fixed purpose, and colorful spectacles that “start with a bang and end in a whimper.”
What if, at the opening ceremonies of the summit, ASEAN and world leaders discarded their self-importance, their prepared speeches, their grandiose plans, and overweight intentions? What if, together, they allowed themselves to be captivated by the unbearable lightness of these verses of the great Ophelia Alcantara Dimalanta?
Who says dead men tell no tales?
Here in this dead country
It is really the dead who speak.
The living are silenced;
They brew them thin,
Cream them thick,
Blanch them white.
Here where happen
The weirdest tales.
Only mad fabulists concoct.
For the living, dead,
Breathe them not.
For the living, dead,
With such restrained and delicate verses, she describes the fate of what often transpires in international conferences. What goes for truth is the cacophony of evasion and double-speak that overhangs these affairs like the clouds of cigarette smoke. Ophie’s words express the nuances of grief, moral infirmity, and spiritual dislocation that remain buried under the immaculate table cloth prominent in every ASEAN conference hall.
Here is another gem from Ophie which can serve as a post-summit meditation piece: “Stranger than Fact”:
More than half of my life
I spend searching for lost objects
old letters, pills, and whatever else)
And causes and the rest,
losing and finding, and losing them again.
Losing what I have and in good measure,
finding what I can’t almost have,
one perpetual lifetime probe
Forever rummaging through
bureaus and drawers and pages
Of my life’s disarray..
The poem is not about missing objects. It is about diplomats searching for meaning embodied in things that are often dismissed as unimportant. Amnesia and deception are the two little beasts that chase each other’s tails in the revolving wire-cage of diplomacy.
Reading Ophie’s poem, the summit’s participants might realize that the greatest obstacle to unity and progress is not terrorism, racial discrimination, political and economic disparity, not even religious intolerance, but the horror of insincerity. They might even become aware of the shockingly cruel concealments veiled by such words as off-shore investment, mutual aid agreement, globalization, and foreign debts. For, in many diplomatic conventions, what is offered as “assistance” is actually just another form of bondage.
Life, as Ophie describes it, is like an ASEAN summit. After a few days of media extravaganza, we find life “flowing in, flowedt hrough, flown off to where beginning is terminus, soon simply saying: EXIT TO.”
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