Sitting one night in a house with walls made from assorted pieces of wood and a roof of corrugated iron, I wondered at the teenage girls clustered around a black and white television. The programme was from Manila or somewhere and seemed to be about people living show business lifestyles; having not a word of Tagalog, I couldn’t be sure.
It seemed bizarre; there they were, sitting in a shanty, watching pictures of people who lived unimaginably extravagant lifestyles; why weren’t they organizing to change things? Why weren’t they protesting?
Perhaps one can only take so much reality; perhaps television took the place of religion as the opiate of the people; perhaps the Internet has now taken the place of television as the place of escape, except that television viewing is passive and the Internet is participative.
Had the Filipinas in that makeshift house in 2001 had access to the Internet, what would they have made of what they saw and read? If the people of South Sudan this evening could go online, what would they think? If my Facebook page was exposed to the world , wouldn’t it be thought silly and trite? If any particular update happened to be the very last posting I made, what impression would it leave?
If one’s life ended in the next five minutes; what damage would have been left unrepaired? What memories would remain in people’s minds long after the grass had grown over the grave? Reality is an uncomfortable thought..
What would one aspire to at the end? Perhaps being able to sing with integrity the opening verse of the traditional Irish song The Parting Glass:
Of all the money e’er I had, I spent it in good company;
And all the harm I’ve ever done, alas was done to none but me;
And all I’ve done for want of wit, to memory now I can’t recall,
So fill me to the parting glass, goodnight and joy be with you all.
Wouldn’t that be a grand ‘goodbye’? To be able say, with honesty, that one hadn’t done much harm in the world?
Perhaps the young Filipinas with their escapist television programme had a wisdom beyond their years; perhaps they knew there was not much they could do to make the world better, but, for certain, they would not make it worse. Their glamorous programme, my Facebook page, maybe each is a moment of escape from an inexorable reality