Ever since I can remember, there’s this mindset, or tendency, or personality trait, that runs deep in me: I have this keen smell for approaching adversity. It’s a constant anticipation verging on a perverse wish, or sense of challenge, for some looming adverse event to unfold so I can see if I, together with people around me, can face it head-on.
In grade school, there were two outlets for me to exercise this mindset. One was joining the Boy Scouts and becoming very invested in its motto, Laging Handa (“Be Prepared”). The other was the dream to join the SVD seminary and become a missionary priest deployed to what I imagined to be a still-uncivilized sub-Saharan Africa. As a 10-year-old, I already loved camping, trudging in the rain, and eating out of tin cans. It was as if I was physically preparing myself for what I imagined to be the kinds of stresses and storms I would face later out there in the vast world.
In high school, again, there were two outlets for the same mindset, which was stronger than ever. One was joining, not just the Philippine Military Training (later renamed Citizens Military Training) or the high school equivalent of ROTC, but its candidate cadet officers corps. The other was becoming a Leftist revolutionary activist of the MKK, later KM. In both cases, I had this deep sense of needing to temper myself in all kinds of physical adversities and mental stresses to prepare for the social storms to come.
Just imagine these thin slices of my attitudes and actions as a child and as a “tweener”:
- I was never afraid of typhoons. In fact, their arrival (together with the torrential rains and whiplash winds) excited me no end. I would bring out my raincoat and rubber sandals and slip out of the house to roam the neighborhood, looking for people to help.
- Although like any kid I was terrified with the concept of death, it wasn’t hard for me to overcome that terror and gradually come to terms with its possible visit. Once I reached a certain point, many of my other physical and metaphysical fears simply evaporated away. This requires a much longer blog piece, but I’m just putting this here for the record.
- As a kid I was abnormally obsessed with war. For related blogs, click my vicarious D-Day memories here and my other war fantasies here.
- I have this habit of keeping a survival kit close by. At first it was just a simple satchel containing my Boy Scout black beret, a small jar of Vicks Vaporub, a devout Catholic’s rosary, and a small pen and notebook. Later this kit grew more complex in concept and actual contents.
There are more indicators. I’m still trying to unpack the many factors or influences in my childhood that must have contributed to this oddly continuous personality streak. At least some of these may have to do with how our parents—typical Ilocanos who grew up in adversity—consciously raised us. A few might have to do with the environment of the urban community, Kamuning, where we grew up, as well as frequent visits to our parents’ rural hometowns in Abra and to the then-wilds of QM in Baguio where we had a second home. Finally, these were of course reinforced by the socio-political developments in the country and elsewhere in the mid- to late 1960s.
Quite a number of my childhood recollections will probably be closely linked with this notion of learning to live closely with danger. #