Seeing my irate nanay raise her middle finger at a jeepney that had just barely shaved past us and left us gagging in a cloud of black poison, the six-year old in me sensed that this was a powerful gesture. I asked her what it meant. Nanay must have realized that she had let slip the veil of propriety that mothers are expected to wear.
"It's a curse," she said perfunctorily, and taking my hand she walked briskly down the street as if to usher me away from the spot of my almost-awakening to something adult.
I was delighted to learn something new and magical. From then on I went about surreptitiously giving the finger to condescending adults (always have loathed them), channeling all my childish indignation through my middle finger. I firmly believed that henceforth these unwitting adults were doomed to live unhappy grownup lives. (Pero redundant pala ang curse ko.)
I can't remember when or how I finally learned what the middle finger signified. But I think that by the time it hit me it simply made sense, so much so that the rebellious adolescent in me was thrilled when Teddy Locsin appeared on the front pages of the national papers in 1987, caught in mid-stride giving the finger to the press. Here was an important grownup after my own teenage heart! The striking image is forever etched in my mind. And it moves me that the same man who made that gesture can speak of knighthood and chivalry when serving his sovereign and working for democracy.
Here. His eulogy for our beloved Cory Aquino.
Throughout thirteen years of martial law, until I laid eyes on her again, I never thought that I would ever see the end of it. Least of all that my father would survive it. I am not much given to prayer or pious reflection but when I could set aside my anger, I prayed my father would see democracy again.
Late one afternoon, in San Francisco, I got a call. It was from Cory Aquino, for whom I had written one speech after her husband’s assassination. She said she had accepted Marcos’s challenge in a Snap Presidential Election. I put down the phone, and packed my bags, and reported to her at the Cojuangco Building.
I knew then she was the answer to my prayers. What I did not notice was that the closer we came to victory, which is to say the farther the prospect receded that the Marcos regime would survive, the less I felt the anger inside me. As each day passed, bringing me closer to the day I could get even, the less I felt the need for it as I spent more time with the woman who alone could make it possible.
I did not notice, but I was no longer looking back in anger, or looking forward even, to victory and vindication. Only now do I see. I had lived with my anger so long, only for the day to come when it no longer mattered to me. The only thing that counted was that I was living every day to the fullest, bringing out the best in me—for someone else. A dream I hadn’t had since I was a boy, feeding on stories of chivalry, had been achieved. I was serving a woman who was every inch a sovereign, all the more for scorning the slightest pretension to the role.
I did not realize it, even when I was already in the Palace, by the side of the President—among all her advisers, I like to think, the one who loved her most.
It never again occurred to me that I had scores to settle. And not until today, that I had passed up every chance to get even.
From the moment I came in from the airport and reported for duty, and she gave me in return the same smile she gave me on her deathbed, I never noticed… Not when I was with her in the campaign when she corrected me for not looking at the people I was waving at… Nor when I was with her in the presidential limousine looking intently, for her benefit, at the crowds at whom I waved… I never noticed anything. Except that I was with the only person that I would ever want to be with.
I certainly never noticed that I had left my anger behind. I don’t know how it happened. Except that Cory Aquino ennobled everyone who came near her. I have tried to say it publicly but never could finish. If you saw me as I felt myself to be, anyone would fall in love with me. I saw myself in that hospital room, a knight at the bedside of his dying sovereign, on the eve of a new Crusade, oblivious to the weight of the armor on his shoulders for the weight of the grief in his heart.
And because she always doubted my ability to be good for very long… Indeed, when my wife told Ballsy that I prayed the rosary at Lourdes for her mother’s recovery, Cory said, “Teddy Boy prayed the rosary? A miracle! I feel better already.” Because she doubted my capacity for self-reformation, she made it effortless for me by being herself. I did not notice that I was doing right by serving a woman who never did wrong. I am not sure how to take this moral self-discovery. It is so unlike myself. But if it will bring me before her again, I am happy.
Sniff, sniff. Please pass the tissue.
For the record, I think that the finger that will matter for 2010 is the index, marked with indelible ink.