somewhere i have never traveled. . .

Thursday, May 24, 2012 

Of Ships and Stars - Reflections on Graduation Day

In reflecting upon the significance of this year at Harvard Law School, an image returned to me from my very first week at Cambridge.  As part of our LL.M. orientation, we went on the now-familiar Boston Duck Tour.  The amphibious bus took us around the city, and eventually, drove right into Boston Harbor.  Above the din of the engine of that bus-turned-boat, we watched as the U.S.S. Constitution came into view, with colorful flags flying on that fine sunny day.  It was a magnificent ship, one that Oliver Wendel Holmes, Sr., father of the great American jurist, called “the eagle of the sea.” I imagined it gliding into Boston Harbor, sails billowing, majestic against the sky.
Not more than nine months ago, my classmates and I set sail from every corner of the globe, across oceans and continents, most of us already “eagles of the sea.”  Yet finding ourselves in this most tranquil of ports, we were awed and overwhelmed at the breadth of what Harvard Law School had to offer.  The intellectual journey was clear enough: our classes spanned the spectrum of law as we knew it, from Indigenous Peoples Rights, to Comparative Constitutional Law, to Mergers & Acquisitions, to International Finance.  We discussed and debated with giants in these fields, and our work even brought us to far away places, like Ghana, Thailand, Libya, and Brazil.  And throughout these experiences, there was a silent yet perceptible feeling of gratitude and privilege for having been chosen, in place of thousands of others, to participate in this unique journey.  Indeed, in the last months, I have heard the statement said over and over again: “Only at Harvard.  Only here at Harvard Law School.”

But this journey was not confined to the lofty intellectual perches of the classroom or Langdel Hall.  Realizing very early the truth behind the old adage, in vino veritas, we lost no time in organizing socials, dinners, and gatherings, both big and small, to mark every stage of this shared journey.  And throughout the laughter and the gaiety, there emerged a comfortable camaraderie and an awareness of, and sensitivity towards, the cultures and concerns that marked the countries from whence we all came.  Indeed, we shared food and drink, but we also shared stories of the grave inequality between the rich and poor in Brazil, of the seemingly insurmountable struggle against corruption in the Philippines, of the fight for an independent Supreme Court in Pakistan, of the hopes, fears and frustrations of the Greek people with the inauguration of a new government and the continuing instability in the European economies.

Through these many encounters, shared in a spirit of friendship and openness, we understood an entirely new face of the law— law beyond our own parochial understandings; law beyond “my country,” and “my system.”  But what is more remarkable is the almost universal realization that no matter how diverse our experiences, no matter how alien and seemingly contrasting our origins, we were actually bound by the same basic hopes and motivations, the same anxieties and fears.

No doubt, we live in a world of great political and economic challenges.  From re-stabilizing the Middle East after the glorious yet tumultuous Arab Spring, to re-stabilizing world markets following the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, solutions will require not only creativity but also great courage.  I would like to believe that we, who choose to participate in this struggle, will not be overwhelmed by the task, confident as we are, not only with the knowledge that we have gained here, but also with the insight that we are not alone in our efforts.  We will be encouraged by the reality that colleagues and friends, not so different from us, are toiling away in distant lands, working for the same ideals, facing the same frustrations, and ultimately, sharing the same shared joys and triumphs. 

This is how the law school has marked us.  It has made us appreciate more keenly the complexities and sinews of the law, yes, but it has also provided us, through our contact we so many other people from so many other cultures and backgrounds, a broader context against which this complexity is to be understood and ultimately applied.  In the end, the time here at the law school has made us understand a little bit more of what “being in the world” and of “being in the world with others” truly means.  Dean Minow often speaks of Living Well in the Law.  If that be the measure of our experience, then we have indeed lived well in the law here at Harvard, and we have lived it well with others.  

Allow me to end, therefore, with another image, one more recent in the class’ collective memory.  Not too long ago, many of us stood at the roof deck of the Harvard Science Center, gawking in the half darkness in our jackets and scarves, as we stood overlooking the lovely Cambridge skyline, gazing up at the night sky.  We went stargazing.  And while we may not have seen many stars that night, it was, I think a worthwhile symbol of what we ultimately found here at the law school.  For that evening at least, we were not lawyers buried in our books or rushing our papers.  We were lawyers looking up. 

As we prepare to set sail for broader horizons and more treacherous seas, may we, as sons and daughters of Harvard, always remember to look up, especially in moments when we are lost and dishearted, to search for that ever fixed mark to which every lawyer aspires: Non sub homine sed sub Deo et Lege.  Not under man but under God and Law.  Let this ideal be our guiding star, our purpose and vision that directs our work and our passions.  President Faust reminded us this morning that with our efforts here at the law school, “[we] are ready to aid in the shaping and application of those wise restraints that make men free.” Let us strive, therefore, as we go forth hence, to be true “to the greatest of all sciences, the science of justice, and the greatest of all arts, the art of adjusting the rights of men.”

Sunday, March 04, 2012 

Remembering Lola Mommy

Aleph mulierem fortem quis invenient procul
et de ultimis finibus pretium eius
[Who shall find a valiant woman?
Far, and from the uttermost coasts is the price for her.]
Proverbs 31:10

The reality of Lola Mommy’s passing has yet to fully sink in for me. Being so far away from home, and learning of the events in Manila only by cellphone and Skype, it is difficult for me to fully internalize the reality that Lola has indeed gone away. The last time I saw her, of course, was before leaving for the United States, on 21 August 2011, when I visited her to say good bye. It was evening then, and she was resting in her room. She said that she was proud that I was leaving for Harvard, and that I should continually pray for her even if I would be so far away – it is a request that I shamefully have not been able to diligently keep, but one which I do now, as we remember a life much filled with passion and strength.

Of all her nine grandchildren, I am perhaps the longest who had stayed in her care. With Lolo Ped, Lola Mommy was my daily companion until I was a good six years old, when my family finally left 12th Street in 1986. Together with Ate Lala, therefore, I am often called Lola Mommy’s alaga, and I remember sitting by her bedside on long idle afternoons watching her complete cross-stitch after cross-stitch, while the music of Nat King Cole floated in the background. On other days, I remember accompanying Lola Mommy to loud, boisterous gatherings with her siblings at Lolo Papa’s house, where she would hold court and talk about the latest tsismis and family kwento.

She was, to me, therefore, larger than life. In a sense, she reminded me of Imelda Marcos, with her flair and flamboyance— aside, of course, from their actual physical resemblance, especially at parties, when Lola would wear her big hair. Like Imelda, we all know of her affection for Ferragamo shoes. On one family trip to Hong Kong, Lola Mommy entered a boutique rather shabbily dressed, so that none of the salesladies paid her any attention. Impatient at the shoddy service, she called them all together and, with much fanfare said, “How much? I want, I buy, I get.” Syempre, nagkagulo ang mga saleslady. She ended up going home with three pairs. Indeed, it is not difficult to think of Lola Mommy this way, because, as I am sure you will agree, Lola Mommy, like Imelda, is quite a character on her own. And as perhaps similar to Imelda as well, what Lola Mommy said was law, everybody else be damned.

As I grew older, and from her own stories and recollections of the past, I had learned a little bit more of the life that Lola Mommy lived, especially with Lolo Ped. I think it would be fair to say that her life can rival even the most popular of Korean telenovella, with its share of tragedy, joy, hardship and challenge. Marrying a poor man from Bulacan, she had no choice but to support her family through odd jobs, including raising pigs. By dint of hardwork (and the support of relatives like Lola Luming), she, with Lolo Ped, sent five children through college, business school, and medical school.

Hers, therefore, was not an easy or charmed life.

It is no wonder, then, that Lola Mommy had raised her children sternly. Because life was hard, she, too, had to be hard. Because life was difficult, she had to fight for what seemed, at the time, so difficult for her and for her family to achieve: respect, stability, comfort, and acceptance. Her love, therefore, was a tough love, because she lived a tough life. She is mulier fortis— “with the fruit of her hands she has planted a vineyard.” [Proverbs 31:16].

Indeed, even in her twilight years, when she had achieved some measure of comfort, she was still true to what she had struggled with all her life. She still scrimped and saved, and continued to actively manage her affairs. All this, according to my Dad, really flowed from an innate desire to “save” more for her family. Indeed, if she had appeared too conscious of material security, it was only because she had very little of it to begin with, so that whatever she had, she knew she had fought for, and she did only what she knew she had to do. This is why, I think, later in life, she struggled very hard to let go of this “fighter’s disposition,” this battle to gain respect, stability, comfort, and acceptance. And so, sometimes she was difficult and stubborn— and it drove everybody crazy! But her stubbornness did not dimish the fact that she was always, always proud— of what she had made of herself, yes, but prouder still, of what she had made of her children. My dad would often say that were it not for the hardship that they had gone through growing up, and Lola Mommy’s disiplinarian ways, he and his siblings would probably not have striven so mightily to make for themselves a better life. And for this, and many other things, we have to be thankful.

Now that the telenovella has sadly ended, I am left with fond memories of that passionate and strong-willed woman that was my Lola Mommy. And as we know, she loved to recite this particular spanish poem, which she learned, line by line, from her father, Lolo Papa. At a drop of a hat, she would, with all flare and bravura, take center stage, and, with gestures and intonation (much like Madamme Imelda herself), recite from memory, the lines which tell of the youthfulness of a woman long grown old. It is fittingly entitled, “La Abuela,” “The Grandmother,” and for us, this evening, it our mind’s eye, let us listen to her once more, as she fittingly tells us of how, in spite of her age, her soul continues to soar to the heavens, sin prisa y sin miedo a las flores, al sol y al viento: without haste, without fear, to the flowers, to the sun, and to the winds.

La Abuela

Me dijeron un día vieja y me miré al espejo.
Vi arrugas en mi cara y blanco mi cabello.
Miré mis pies caminando cansados, lentos,
pero con risa burlona también le dije al espejo:
- ¿Qué me importa que mis pies no caminen ya ligeros,
que haya arrugas en mi frente y nieve en mis cabellos,
si mi corazón está como pájaro en su vuelo
y quiere subir muy alto llegando hasta los luceros?
¿Qué me importa que la vida
y sus huellas con zarpazos
me dejaron marcado todo mi cuerpo,
si en mi alma todavía hay voces
de canciones e ilusiones de niña
que aún palpitan en mi pecho?
Quiero como la alondra cantar
y contar sin prisa y sin miedo a las flores,
al sol y al viento y,
¡como no!, a la escuela como regalo del cielo.
No digáis que ya soy vieja
aunque los años hicieron huella en mi cuerpo
porque en mi corazón de niña la primavera
no ha muerto.

The last lines are particularly beautiful and appropriate:

No digáis que ya soy vieja
aunque los años hicieron huella en mi cuerpo
porque en mi corazón de niña la primavera
no ha muerto.

“Do not tell me that I am old,
Although the years have made their marks upon my body,
Because in my heart still filled with youth,
Spring has never died.”

I am saddened that I am not there with the rest of you, dear family and friends, to mourn the passing of this feisty fighter of a woman. In the cold of this Cambridge winter, though, I am comforted to know that I am not alone in these rememberings, as many of you have come to share with us the life Lola Mommy that can only be described, to my mind, and fittingly enough, as trully and gloriously epic.

Langdell Hall, Harvard Law School
Cambridge, Massachusetts
14 February 2012

Saturday, December 31, 2011 

Thoughts on the New Year

January is named after the Roman god Janus, who is depicted in antiquity as having two faces, one looking back, and another looking forward. From his name is also drawn the Latin word ianua, which means door or doorway, a passage from one place to another, from one stage to the next. Both images are useful for us today, who are commemorating the passing of yet another year – looking back at the year that had passed, and looking ahead to the one that still lay ahead; passing through the threshold of 2011 and stepping into the promise of 2012.

I was standing last night outside Hastings Hall with Clemens, after midnight, shooting the breeze, while his and Dominique’s wildly successful New Year’s Eve party was going on in his flat upstairs. The conversation turned a bit somber, and in a moment that certainly rivals the great German philosopherswhose wisdom, I am sure, runs in his veins (aside from alcohol, of course), he told me, quite honestly, “It is good for us to be here.” And by here, I understood to mean, at Harvard, together, at the turn of 2012, celebrating as friends.

It was indeed a difficult year for many around the world. The continuing financial crunch in Europe and the United States, theearthquake in Japan, the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the floods in the Philippines, and the challenging birth of democracy in the Middle East, only to name a few. Amidst these crises, we arrived in August, from every corner of the world, bringing with us an abundance of hope and expectant anxiety at what still lay ahead.

We are now half way through our shared journey (Imagine that!). And looking back, I am amazed and gladdened at how we have all become friends and shared so much of our lives with each other. For some of us, it was a year of leaving home for the first time, of living in a foreign country away from things familiar, and realizing that there are many things that we can actually do without: like cars or televisions or even telephones; but also reaffirming the reality that there are things that must always be there, no matter what: like family, and friends, and good conversation, andlaughter. For others, it was a year they found love – quietly or passionately, in many shared conversations (and a couple of engagements!), against the backdrop of the wonderful cities of Cambridge and Boston. For others, well, they are still waiting. . . . and waiting. . . .. but hopeful that 2012 will be the year, not only of ski trips and classes and more alcohol, but of falling in love as well.

For me, personally, it was a time of quiet epiphanies, prime among which is the value of, and gratitude for, my parents. Not that I particularly missed them over the time that I have been away – I am content to know that I am where I am supposed to be at this point in my life – but that, mixed with the realization of one's independence, is the acute sense of gratitude for those to whom I had been so dependent for so long. And coupled with this is the knowledge that they won't be around forever. And so, as sage advice goes, “Get to know your parents, you don't know how long they will be around.” Have we thanked them enough?

And that is the thought andthe sentiment that I would like to carry today, and for the rest of this year 2012, and one which I would like to share with you, my dear friends: that of thankfulness and gratitude – for actually being here, where we are, doing what we are doing; for the friends that we’ve met, the challenges that we’ve faced, and those that will still come our way - challenges which we will certainly surpass with determination, moments of panic and good humor; for the families, friends and loves we’ve left behind, but who always think of us, and to whom we can always come home to, in the cold of the Cambridge winter, if only in our hearts and minds.

I therefore end with my New Year’s musings with a quote from one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman:

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books andkiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the nextyear, you surprise yourself.”

Happy New Year!

About me

  • I'm Peej Bernardo
  • From Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
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    Alice Walker
    Expect nothing. Live frugally
    On surprise.
    become a stranger
    To need of pity
    Or, if compassion be freely
    Given out
    Take only enough
    Stop short of urge to plead
    Then purge away the need.
    Wish for nothing larger
    Than your own small heart
    Or greater than a star;
    Tame wild disappointment
    With caress unmoved and cold
    Make of it a parka
    For your soul.
    Discover the reason why
    So tiny human midget
    Exists at all
    So scared unwise
    But expect nothing. Live frugally
    On surprise.
    Harvard Law School LL.M. '12

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