If I would go on a personal journey and had to take a good look at the books that lined the shelves in my room and pick among them those that would be part of the personal logistics packed in my bag, I knew that I ought to write about them. I knew too that I would write about them either in the gazebo in Legaspi Village Park, or under the shadow of the trees in the lawn of Redemptorist Church, or in the stuffy Periodical Section of the National Library smelling the musty several-decade-old newspapers and magazines, or anywhere in the metropolis where I could sit and comfortably write. I knew I just have to write about them if ever I would.
First is M. Scott Peck’s Road Less Traveled, a book I stumbled upon when a monk friend lend it to me when I ran from home more than a decade ago, pondering now that learning about and from it must be the sole purpose why I had chosen to run to them past over mountains and seas toward the South. I now have my own copy, courtesy of my girlfriend, lil feather, who returned all the books (RLT included) and stuffs I gave to her as gifts when I tried to break up with her, so there would be no valid reason now to seek their generosity. The circumstances is different now: I would not run away as a rebel youth unknowledgeable of the real world as I used to be then, but simply would leave the comfort of my parents house to be the grown man that I ought to be.
M. Scott Peck aptly says the painful truth in the first sentence of the book: Life is Difficult. Indeed, nothing can be truer than that; “a great truth, one of the greatest truths,” he adds. Knowing about this bit of wisdom can calm the agitation of the soul. This is how life is, boy. No bed of roses, as the worn-out cliché goes.
This book is accompanied by Scott Peck’s two more works: The Road Less Traveled and Beyond and People of the Lie.
These three books would form as the frontline triumvirate in my journey as basic logistics as clothing, crackers, and candies (they have glucose and can make you last for sometime without food) would as I sneaked out of the house into the unknowns of my journey. They are invaluable companions to keep my eyes keen on different maps of reality with their wisdom culled from mystics, bards, musicians, artists, and conglomerate of gurus from various religions that Scott Peck learned along from his experience at poking at the contemporary human psyche and life.
Another book that would be included in the pack but sadly had to be returned to its owner, Pi, my senior in college, and also to reduce the weight that I would have to lug around, is Grace D. Chong’s Gifts of Grace Book 2.
There is no other book that I have read that skinned the layer of superficial and ordinary events to expose what marvelous grace they are when seen with the right insight. It was as if Chong could see the hands of Grace everywhere: in the simple call “Auntie,” in the desperate and failure of pregnancy, the silent patience of a spinster, the practical jokes of a sibling, the sheer single-mindedness of her son, a client with relentless pursuit for perfection. Even the commercialized slogan “Just do it!” rightfully comes back to its ancient owner Miyamoto Musashi’s Book of Five Rings, to set up the unwavering human spirit to be bold, undaunted, willful, and win the fight. And it might be winning the fight of my life in the street as it would have been my case.
Then there is my paperback The Essential Hemingway, constant companion on important journeys. How does he say it in Nick Adams stories? “You have to be tough.” Or from The Snows of Kilimanjaro: “He could beat anything, he thought, because nothing could hurt him if he did not care.” Well said. Very well said.
If the thugs whom I would chance to cross path as I stay in the streets of metropolis would try to rob or maul me, I would put their faces in with the book, follow-up with an upper-cut under their chins then a turning round-house in their guts. They could get me bruised, but not my spirit. “After all, what can they do to you?… Worst one can do is kill you.”
Then what could be a better accompaniment to Hemingway’s hard, physical reality, an antithesis to his subscription with the world as you see it in one dimensional ‘the sun is the sun, the sea is the sea,’ but Carlos Castaneda’s Journey to Ixtlan: Lessons of Don Juan. “I don’t care what you see… How you feel is the important issue.” Hemingway from the short story The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber: “We all take a beating everyday, you know, one way or another” to Castaneda from the mouth of Don Juan: “What injures the spirit is having someone always on your back, beating you, telling you what to do and what not to do.” What could be a better combination than that?
Journey to Ixtlan is a sad anthropological book. Amid the laughter of Don Juan Matus comically mocking the writer Carlos Castaneda at his obvious puzzlement to his statements, there throbs a melancholy beat in the heart of the don, infinitely sad and lonely, in a journey without end. And aren’t we all lonely in our personal journeys, clinging to whatever we could hold on to, a palliatative to the sadness within us?
Nevertheless, the book has an effect of a conjurer’s trick; opening worlds within the world before us, marvelous and amazing, virtually giving off an aftertaste of peyote to the spirit. Reading the book numerous times, feeling the weirdness of the narrative of Castaneda, there is no other way to see the world deeper than this.
And like the worthy enemy mentioned in the book – an enemy I choose to chase – it is wrestling me now and would throw me past faraway mountains and deserts into the concrete jungle only to find back my way home again. Though I knew, like Don Juan, that there would be no way to get back home. The place and the house might be there, but something has changed that make them alien.
I would be in a journey anytime from now. And these books would be my companions as I stave off loneliness, keep the spirit intact and make me breathe in the vast desert littered by metal and concrete, hoping to find one day the soul of my existence and rightful niche in this world.
Note: This essay is my entry in Philippine Star 'My Favorite Book' contest. Hope to see it published anytime soon from now.