Cache of memories | Inquirer Opinion

I recently visited the National Museum of Fine Arts in Manila for the first time after eight years. Though I stumbled upon particular sculptures, relics, and visual arts like I had seen them before, I realized how little I knew of these pieces. What I remembered vividly was marveling at that retablo during that field trip when everything was still wondrous, even the fish in Manila Ocean Park.

In our dirty kitchen in the province, a traditional stove made of clay is still used for cooking over charcoal or burning wood. It used to be one of the essential kitchen tools found at our banggera, an extension traditionally built as part of a kitchen window in the Philippines. When our house was first renovated, our banggera was removed. Despite this, I can still remember watching the woods burn, piece by piece, as the fire cooked our rice for dinner. I can still remember helping my mother cook sopas for the farmers one cropping season, or running barefoot toward the farm to count how many farmers were working in the field so we could prepare the same number of bowls.

I remember that summer when my sister moved out all her things to our house after living for several years in Lipa. I remember that truck loaded with objects: mammoth sofas, vases, boxes, heels, etc. My playground, our sala, became cramped instantly. That summer, my introverted self never played indoors again.

After staying that holiday season in Bangui, Uncle’s family reserved a bus ticket only for me for I was “brave enough” to travel on my own. It was the same bus they would usually ride when going to Divisoria to buy items for their store. The family gave me a lot of stuff and asked me to share some with our relatives as pasalubong: local brooms, toys (for my little sister), bottles of sukang Iloko, a box of fresh produce and seaweeds, etc. Contrary to being brave, I felt anxious deep inside of me throughout the travel. It was then when I first met an old friend: loneliness.

I remember my Inang holding my hand as we walked through the alleys of the Pamilihang Bayan. We stopped in front of the display of bagoong and asin. She looked at me and said, “Stay still.” For several minutes, I just stood there waiting for her to come back. She did, holding a basket full of items. I can’t remember the last time I saw that basket, but I do remember that strong, unperturbed version of my Inang carrying it so well.

I remember my father teaching me how to dry palay on the pavement. He handed me a rake and asked me to push it over the grains until evenly spread out. I did exactly that. But the task did not end there. I had to prevent birds and chickens from feasting on the grains as well. Once I spotted them approaching, I would shout “Shoo!” or tap my foot on the cement to scare them away. But they kept coming back. So, I also tried throwing things at them—stones, sticks, my slippers, etc. I did not succeed, of course. But I learned the value of patience and hard work.

Before my 22nd birthday, my mother felt a tinge of pain in her chest and some discomfort in her stomach. She insisted she could manage. But then we rushed her to the hospital after she vomited several times. I remember grabbing every essential item and placing them in a bag. My father drove to the barangay hall to obtain a travel pass. At that time, my province’s quarantine classification was general community quarantine. Only one person was allowed to accompany a patient. Holding a pillow in one hand and a bag full of items in the other, I watched my mother being assisted and observed by medical personnel under a tent outside the hospital. The first opinion before that suggested signs of coronary artery disease. Two years later, her diagnostic tests showed no complications in her heart.

I remember my first overseas travel when I rode an ultrafast elevator in Taipei 101. It took us 37 seconds to get from the fifth floor to the 89th. From the observation deck, I saw the view of the sprawling Taipei metropolis and beyond. The buildings dwarfed by the skyscraper beneath me might have looked like well-lit pieces of Lego. But all I wanted to remember that night was the immense feeling of bliss, transcending the endless lights and the nocturnal streets in Ximending. I hoped the night would not end. But it did, like those memorable nights before.

I placed pink memorabilia in the paper bag, one by one. The last item I put was a pink ribbon, which I hung on my door for almost six months until the day after the elections. Disheartened by the results, I crumpled it, as if all the hope in me crumbled simultaneously. I went to work that day with a heavy heart. My officemate, clad in pink to support our “president,” told me something was wrong. A few days later, we found ourselves again standing for hours and shouting our voices out—this time—to thank the woman who fought dragons with and for us. Together with thousands of volunteers at Ateneo, we sang “Sa Susunod na Habang Buhay” and remembered the fight of our lives.

In recent times, cyclones ravaged communities. Earthquakes shook homes and foundations. The COVID-19 pandemic altered physical distances. Wars against territories, or drugs, took a toll on innocent lives. Elections barely got rid of systems permeating the nooks and crooks of society. Eventually, our mementos and possessions will fade away, and so will we. Not sooner or later, but not never. Only the memories we made would stay with us.

We are each other’s time capsule. We hold the memories of our lives, of the people we loved and met, and of the kind of world we lived in. But we get to choose whether to remember or forget. I hope you choose the former, so we can teach the next generation not to choose the latter.

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Mark Christopher Viuda, 24, works at a publishing company in Quezon City. He says this is his subtle way of telling #NeverForget.

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