"I thought then that I would give anything to get a peek into the life I was meant to lead."
This afternoon, Ateneo de Manila University’s Rizal Library is launching a book to commemorate its 50th anniversary.
An essay I earlier wrote, and which appeared in the March 2018 issue of The Guidon, Ateneo’s school paper, is among those included in the book.
I reprint that essay below.
I spent an insane amount of time at the Rizal Library when I was an undergraduate student more than 20 years ago. It was tambayan
, rest area, work area, happy place and sanctuary combined. Between 1993 and 1997, I was a student on full scholarship, but I was many other things, too. Just before sophomore year, at age 18, I got married. By the time I graduated, I was a mother of two. For obvious reasons, I never had an org, a fixed group of friends, and any free time. With hard work and sheer optimism I earned my degree in four years, with the same batch I entered Ateneo with.
It was difficult, in fact near-impossible, to study at home given my domestic responsibilities. This was how I discovered the Rizal Library and came to see it for more than what it was. In the 1990s, the library was housed in another building, the one beside the Ateneo Art Gallery. What is Faber Hall now used to be the library annex. Only the first floor, the Filipiniana section on the second floor, and the reserve section on the third floor were air-conditioned. Everywhere else, you got natural ventilation.
Sometimes I camped out at the air-conditioned areas, but more and more I came to appreciate the individual tables by the windows. Alone time, al fresco! Then as now, Ateneo had lots of trees that lined the roads, and often I found myself gaping at, and deriving solace from, the greenery. It was especially beautiful when it rained and you could hear raindrops hitting the concrete, while an occasional car drove by creating swooshing sounds on the pavement.
Music was a constant companion. I lugged around a Sony Walkman, a present from my uncle, and some cheap earphones that would often just function on one ear days after purchase. It tuned the radio dial to City Lite 88.3 if I could pick up a decent reception from where I was. I had my two favorite cassette tapes—Sting’s Fields of Gold and Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill—with me all the time.
Rizal Library was very much a part of my college education. There I did my homework, read my books, wrote my papers, but also scribbled furiously on my journal (the old-school, steno-notebook type) and daydreamed about the life that was ahead of me. I remember staring out into the tree-lined driveways, wondering: Where am I headed? Where am I meant to be? I thought then I would give anything to have a peek into the life I was meant to lead.
Now it’s 2018 and I am—heavens!—over 40, mid-career.
I’ve learned quite a few lessons. Foremost, that teenage marriages almost always end up a disaster, that women even in this so-called modern age still need to be empowered to determine their own destiny, that classroom learning is just one form of education, and that you should not immediately believe everything you hear or read.
I’ve raised the kids on my own. The babies I had when everybody else was enjoying the perks of college life? They are now 24 and 22, much bigger than I am. Both, along with their younger sister and younger brother, appear to have found their place in the world.
As I have. I now work for a national daily, finding meaningful work observing what is happening (or not happening) in society and writing about them. I have also been given the opportunity to go back to Ateneo, teaching journalism and sharing what I do.
One of the best things that came with this homecoming of sorts was rediscovering the Rizal Library. It’s a surprise I feel the same about it even when a generation has passed and it is now housed in a different building. Now the entire library is airconditioned. CCTV provides a measure of security.
That wonder called the Internet has exponentially increased learning opportunities. Productivity tools and entertainment devices of all kinds are available. Spotify provides music on demand—no need for the right frequency or bulky cassette tapes. Netflix gives you access to movies or shows if you don’t have them stored in a drive somewhere.
And, of course, what will we do without a laptop—an extension of our lives?
I find staying at the library at least once a week a treat—no, a necessity. As before, I appropriate a table for myself, look out the windows, get a lot of work done, listen to music, sort out the details of my life, and ponder still—where am I headed, what can I learn from the scrapes I have gotten myself into, what more good can I do?
It is like 20-something years did not pass by. I am amazed I am still able to revel in silence and beauty, and see the world through the window panes. I may be teaching now, but I will always be—as we all should be—a student.