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Not exactly perfect heaven

/ 02:37 PM April 06, 2011

Nothing entertains quite as much as success and of all possible successes one might put on the table for discussion, nothing entertains quite as much as one’s own success. You must not blame anyone for thinking this way. God or was it evolution so designed organisms to behave this way. Everything that’s alive today got here by virtue of solving problems that confront them all the time. These problems were sometimes life-threatening. All the better to make them stronger. Humans especially are problem solvers. If problems did not exist humans would have to go and invent them. Which leads us to the idea of a perfect solution and perfection itself.

The late former congressman Bukad sat alone in a theater in Heaven watching the Maker write this particular piece you’re reading now. He shared the Maker’s annoyance. Plumb as he wood the depths of memory he could not find a Sugbuanon word exactly meaning perfection. There was of course the word “tukma”. But he recalled “tukma” to mean simply correct or something which fitted well. He wondered if it meant even the English concept exact. For when he recalled the course of his life he remembered always using the word “eksakto” to mean exact. Eksakto is not even a true Sugbuanon word. Where he needed to say perfect, he always said this in English. Perfect. The closest it could come to Sugbuanon was “Perfek”.

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Bukad felt the Maker’s thoughts. Perhaps we do not have a concept of the perfect, not anyway, in the selfsame way it is understood in English. This was not impossible. And the best way to understand it is by looking at the indigenous practice of constructing a house. The indigenous way did not employ stones the same way the ancient African and European cultures did. Structures using stone as building blocks required high level mathematics to back the production of stone blocks cut exactly to size otherwise the buildings would not turn out well. When we think in terms of the large structures these cultures built such as the pyramids and numerous temples one can well imagine the need for exactness, the striving for perfection, which guided these works and the other arts of Western cultures.

Filipinos on the other hand used un-lumbered wood, especially bamboo. Even to this day, the best method for measuring bamboo is still by counting nodes. The nodes are points that would efficiently hold the “tarugo” or bamboo spike for “nailing” 2 stalks together. To go with this are the native organic measures: dangaw which is the hand span, dupa which is equal to outstretched arms down to the finger tips; and when a fraction of this was required then there was “gapsanan” which means still the outstretched arms but only to the wrist. This cultural practice of building things finds interpretation to this day in the practice of most basic carpentry. Most Filipinos qualify as carpenters and construction workers. But it is rare to find one who has the skill for measuring things exactly. More often than not the popular practice is still the use of “mm”. Not millimeters, but mata-mata.

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And so the perplexity of the Maker in contemplating these things is understandable. He wondered if he had a concept of the perfect exactly the same as his Western counterparts. He thought, probably not. There had been times when he had been accused of having poor discipline. But always he wondered what was meant by the accusation. Certainly, he always had a problem lining up as straight as his classmates in grade school. But then he also had a really good capacity for hard work whenever this was required. And so he realized that what people expected of him was not exactly discipline. What they truly meant was exactitude, which was something else, and which also was something he liked only on rare qualified occasions.

He theorized, this exactitude is not innate or indigenous in the Filipino. Indeed, it must be colonial behavior. Which is not to say it must therefore be bad. The world has admittedly changed and even the post-colonial Filipino will have to acquire all the skills required for surviving the demands of contemporary times including pretending exactitude. But where the Maker was concerned, everything he did he did with broad inexact strokes more the product of emotion and gesture rather than perfectly targeted reason. Even this essay is not going for a pinpoint goal. It merely points to a general direction, like a good sign on the road.

For his part, Bukad sat alone watching the Maker at his work and enjoyed the thought his own Heaven was not exactly perfect either. Instead, he found wherever he went the touches of chaos and chance, freedom. He thought: This Heaven would be Hell if it were perfect.

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