“Lola Mating was undoubtedly an exceptional person by rural Filipino standards in that although she was a grandmother (as the honorific implies) she chose to live alone, away from her family who were down in the village. She was visited daily by her son and her grandchildren who are now muscular teenagers with feet calloused from climbing trees. They came as much to feed the pigs as to see Granny but to all appearances relations between them were reasonably cordial. However, the old woman refused absolutely to go down and live with them. Probably nobody had actually pointed out that it was unseemly for a woman in her seventies to live on her own in the semi-wilderness: it would have been superfluous in a culture where the principle of family proximity is supreme and where the question Who is your companion? is habitually asked whenever any activity such as eating or sleeping or merely walking home is proposed. In a land where nobody does anything alone from choice, where a bamboo floor densely packed with sleeping bodies is considered far preferable to luxurious solitude, where superstition as much as a lack of torch batteries keeps people indoors after dark, Lolang Mating chose to live alone in her hut.”
Playing With Water:Passion and Solitude on a Philippine Island
“James Hamilton-Paterson is generally known as a commentator on the Philippines, where he has lived on and off since 1979. He is one of the most reclusive of British literary exiles, sharing his time between Austria, where he moved recently from Italy, and the Philippines. His work defies accurate definition, containing elements of travel writing, autobiography, fiction and science. Hamilton-Paterson was born on November 6, 1941 in London, England. He was educated at Windlesham House, Sussex, Bickley Hall, Kent, King’s School, Canterbury, and Exeter College, Oxford. Some of his other books include A very personal war: the story of Cornelius Hawkridge (1971), The View from Mount Dog (1987), and Gerontius (1989).” Amazon.com
I started reading this book recommended by a friend during a 4-hour bus ride. Now half-way through the book, all i could say is this is a very beautiful book about solitude and Filipino culture, both from the eyes of rural residents and of a foreigner in James Hamilton-Paterson. The writer no doubt is a very gifted one. Hope every Filipino will have the chance to read this obra.
As to the title-question of this post – my answer is a categorical yes. Solitude is the grandmother of compassionate, mindful, communal living. It is a moral wellspring especially for a culture often mindlessly steeped in Sunday gathering and festivals yet low in self-esteem made more manifest in our submissive dealing with foreigners or being opportunistic to get wealthy and powerful as quick as we can regardless of how devious the sources are.
In solitude, one gets face to face with ones insecurities and discover the true power within. In Playing with Water, Lolang Mating, in her passion for the impermanence of life, manifested this power both vulnerable and dauntless even before death and the darkness of her place.
A toast to all Pinoys who love solitude!