Rizal after my own HSP image

- Mary Ann C. Tamayo () - February 21, 2010 - 12:00am


MANILA, Philippines - Mary Ann C. Tamayo, 31, graduated from the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila in 1999 with a degree in Mass Communication. She works as instructor in Academy for Koreans and Japanese. She has changed jobs eight times since she graduated 11 years ago. She has been a TV production assistant, marketing officer, government program writer, scopist, and instructor. She is part of the online group Hungry Young Poets.

Rizal is a household name. Sure, in the Philippines one doesn’t leave high school or graduate from college without getting to read his two great novels. But I sense that not a lot of people really appreciate their classes on Rizal or what he did that paved the way to Philippine independence. I’m not even sure the word “independence” holds any meaning to Filipinos anymore. Those born after the last foreign occupation and its atrocities would be strangers to it. 

Now if that’s the case, then many today are estranged from our national hero and what he represents. But what does Rizal really symbolize? The easy answer would be “nationalism.” But the term may sound too abstract nowadays, especially in this age of Facebook and Korean pop culture. I think he comes across to the average Pinoy solely as a distant, stellar figure. Ironically, that’s what the accolades made of him. What’s with the “scientist Rizal,” the “economist Rizal,” and even a “prophetic Rizal”?

I guess this lack of connection with commoners was what Carlos Quirino successfully remedied in his writing of a biography of our far-off Rizal. I chanced upon its paperback edition unscrupulously tucked onto a low shelf in a bookstore. And thus began my education of the so-called Great Malayan for the second time.

In using descriptions like “sensitive spirit,” “too sentimental,”“heart too tender,” “immersed in melancholic reflections,” “undefined melancholy,” “his usual malady of loneliness” and “profound melancholy gripped him,” the author paints a melancholic temperament of the national hero. 

Dr. Rizal admitted to this malady in his diary: “I am very sad. I do not know what vague melancholy or undefined loneliness has crushed my soul. This is similar to the profound sadness of cities after a tumultuous celebration or of a widow being pensioned after a blissful marriage.” 

The seemingly general impression of Rizal struck a chord in me. I have had my share of this confused state of mind. I’ve had my unusual vulnerability, which I decided to name simply as “depression” to give me a sense of understanding. Until recently, an elaboration by Dr. Elaine Aron enlightened me. 

Some 15 to 20 percent are born with a finely tuned nervous system, according to Dr. Aron. They process external and internal stimuli more thoroughly. They feel deeply and strongly. If my suspicion about myself and Dr. Rizal is right, then I have something in common with my hero other than Malayan lineage. Not his roster of achievements maybe, but his neurological makeup.

Dr. Aron calls a person like this a highly sensitive person or HSP. She goes on to say that an HSP is more aware of subtleties resulting in having a deeper appreciation for music and the arts. It’s no wonder our hero dabbled in music and the arts himself. He studied solfeggio, attempted learning to play the flute. Implicitly, he even hoped for an opera singing career. My affairs with music included learning to play a harmonica and guitar, a liking for melody when singing, and some dreamy songwriting. But the wet mess and brass taste of the harmonica, the nasty blisters from guitar strings, and the discouraging reception from my household got me to giving it all up, too.

As a boy, Rizal took up drawing and sketching as a hobby. And this hobby carried on in his travels as a grownup. With a notebook as companion in his journeys, he did some fine sketches and descriptions of people and places. I was amused by an entry in Quirino’s book relating Rizal’s observation of a couple co-passengers on a train: “The man was young and not bad to look at, with a reddish mustache that curled upward at the tips. The woman was old and rather ugly. Evidently they were on their honeymoon, for they acted like turtle doves. She often touched her head to his brow, as if to kiss him.” These lines are a glimpse of the very human side of Rizal: mean in his characterization but funny, too. But again with other missing elements of his being, I’m second-guessing he must have written them matter-of-factly. 

I keep a notebook handy myself, a plain one that’s ideal for accommodating images and words alike. I’ve lodged in it drawings of the weirdest kinds (cell-like ones) and thoughts of the strangest kinds. So strange, in fact, I exploited my superb skill in Gregg shorthand to keep prying eyes from having an unwelcome impression of me. But here’s a peek into it: a recent entry is my fascination with the rich ochre color of my four-month-old niece’s excrement. So much so that next to indigo, ochre is now a favorite color.

But while HSP-ness can appear to be a likeable trait, it is this same sensitivity that sends us “panic attacks,” the frequency of which can be very stressful to an already sensitive being. This is due to intuitiveness and conscientiousness, an addition to the qualities of HSPs.   They easily spot dangers and become wary of them even before the other average person figures them out, giving the appearance of premature and irrational decisions. 

Rizal is no stranger to this. And I may just be doing my hero a favor in explaining away his notoriety with women. Why, before the fruition of a romance, Rizal would flee, was dictated by his principled and conscientious mind. Mostly, encounters with these women took place at the time of his engagement to Leonora Rivera and while he was well into the realization of his patriotic mission. There was Consuelo whom he pushed away from his thoughts and somewhat passed on to Lete; Gettie was equally forced out of his mind by leaving London. The same fate befell Consuelo Ortiga y Rey, O-Sei-San in Tokyo. 

Quirino writes, “During his stay in Europe he ran away from love several times. He couldn’t help becoming fond of women, but he fled in full retreat whenever he became aware of any danger.” 

Unlike Rizal, though, I don’t have many running-away-from-loves tucked under my belt.

But there were the jobs I left. And like what must have been recurring broken-heartedness, Rizal endured. I hurt myself several times in a “lover” kind of way. I loved my jobs and loved the people I worked with. Resignations were nasty breakups for me. I mostly intelligibly explained myself. However, I knew deep down inside lurks the driving force of it all — that sensitiveness I didn’t understand fully.

Not that I fully understand myself now, but certainly, I’ve come a long way from those days of shutting off the world four, five days with every sensitivity issue. I’ve developed coping strategies with the passage of time. And now, I’m looking forward to wonderful things. I’m convinced now more than ever that I can do more with God’s help because a presumed HSP became the greatest Malayan to Quirino’s eyes and the national hero of my country.

But I’m afraid this writing appears a little like a desperate attempt to connect. Also, I feel I have dangerously humanized Rizal. Why do I have this nagging feeling that I have unwittingly trivialized some aspects of the man I respect wholeheartedly? I’m deeply sorry. There, now, I’m depressed.   

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