The tricycle ride to and from the office gives me enough moments to think and reflect about many things. The road is adorned with many things- children playing by the roadsides, animals grazing on the green grass along the road, rice fields in all and varying crop stages (and with the advertisements of commercial pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals used in the farm), and at times, especially after harvest time, some men having their simple joy of sharing bottles of Tanduay, or Red Horse, or Gold Eagle.
Yet what captures my attention always is the presence of children- elementary school children, to be exact- on their way to school in the morning and on their way home from school in the afternoon. Some of them take the tricycle for their ride. But most of them walk. They may be enjoying the walk and the walk may even prove healthy and healthful to these kids. Oh I love this sight. And I turn sentimental when I see these kids walking to and from the school.
The sight reminds me of my (and my elder sister’s, and we had always been inseparable) earlier struggle for an education. Like these kids, I walked long distances at my early age going to and from school. For four of my young years, I walked a 3.5 kilometer road, graveled and dusty on sunny days and muddy on the rainy ones five days a week (at times six days a week when I was having my classes and training for my Pag-asa Awards of the Boy Scouts of the Philippines). For the first two years of my elementary education, I was studying at the primary school in our barrio. But when my sister had to go to the public elementary school in our town to continue her elementary education (Grades 5 and 6), I vehemently expressed my desire to go with her to the town school. My parents gave in to my ‘whim’, and there I was with my sister and some other pupils walking every day. I was on my third grade then. This I did until I finished my elementary schooling.
Was the walk cruel? Or was the experience cruel? I don’t think so. It may be true that we sweat on sunny days and are dripped and wet on rainy days, but those were formative years. I can still vividly recall the countless moments when I and my sister had to be carried on our father’s and grandfather’s backs because the water level in Sulong Bridge had risen, and as kids, we were not strong enough to traverse. But these experiences taught me (and I know my sister, too) very valuable lessons.
For one, the type of the road may be different but they are the same road. If you happen to pass this long stretch of road that I used to walk, you would be amazed to see that it is completely paved now, far, far better than what we used to tread. Another thing- it is completely lit. Yes, the looks may be different, but it is the same road. The call is to appreciate the ‘identity’ of that road. As I take a look at that road when I go home on vacations, I cannot help but reflect upon the lives of people who have trodden that road. That road had been the silent witness to, and instrument of many people’s dreams.
For another, the ‘cruelty’ of the road I used to travel prepared me for the negative experiences I would have later in my life. Walking that dusty and muddy road molded me to handle negative experiences. As it were, the road trained me how to roll with the punches. For instance, the cruelty of the road I walked was nothing compared to the cruelty of classmates and some teachers who have been blinded by the urban-rural divide. Yes, I was introduced to it at a very young age. And I am not bitter about it. I was thinking then that my purpose was to study and at the end of the school year I would be climbing up the stage to receive my medals and ribbons (with my proud parents sharing the center-stage). I can proudly say that this poor boy from the barrio consistently managed to put himself as one of the top three students of his class. Yes, the cruelty of the road (and the classroom) did not knock me down. In fact, it strengthened my resolve to be better.
And yet another, the road always points to a direction, a destination. It may be far, it may be near. But to reach it, one has to take the road. One has to follow the road. But people have the tendency to cut the road short or to cut corners. All I can say is that, take the road, enjoy the long walk and the road will certainly surprise you.
I am writing this as a piece in honor of the young kids I see walking to school. I urge them, don’t be afraid to walk the road. And for those of us who once have walked that road, let us help make the road a little friendlier, so that those who walk it now may become better persons and, in turn make the road a lot friendlier and better.
Who knows, by helping each other make the road a friendlier one, we can make this a friendlier and better one?