“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”
― Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to reach the summit of Mt. Everest
People who do mountain climbing are just bored people. You know, just people who don’t have anything to do in their lives. And for those who even attempt to reach the top of the highest mountain in the world called Mount Everest, I thought they were crazy. What were they doing?! Why couldn’t they just do volunteer work in helping other people? Be a man for others. Save lives. What’s up with this mountain climbing?
These were my questions back then, until I came across this article on June 23, 2007, from the newspaper Philippine Star, written by Rod Nepomuceno which not only gave me peace and comfort, but also gave me a new realm of understanding about my humanity. Here’s an excerpt:
“Whereas other creatures act on sheer instinct or react to what’s going on around them, man does things that are sometimes inconsistent with the nature of most living things or contrary to what his five senses tell him. Climbing Mt. Everest is a perfect example. Any other creature will avoid the trek due to the instinct of self-preservation. But not man. Man sees things differently. We see beyond what our five senses tell us. We try to explore the deepest oceans and we venture into the deepest recesses of space. All our five senses tell us, “Hey, don’t go there. It’s too dangerous.” And yet we do.
“Why? Because there is something in all of us humans that make us always aim high. It is innate in us to go beyond what is around us. And this is precisely what convinces me that there is more to life than what we perceive in our day-to-day experience. This convinces me that there is a greater meaning to all the mundane things we do—e-mailing, meeting, planning, texting, calling, there is something much higher than these activities, and our very nature makes us gravitate towards this higher plane, the highest level of existence.
“The Everest climbers are reminders that there is a higher plane that we always need to search for. Even if we tried to avoid it, we can’t. Because, as George
Mallory said, it’s there. Sure, I have to admit, there’s no one answer for everyone. My concept of a higher plane can be radically different from that of the next guy. But I do know that we all have to climb our Mount Everests to find the answer. In a way, that’s really what life is all about: finding the courage to climb your own Mount Everest.
“Are you still treading the long and winding road? Don’t worry, the time will come when you will hit that mountain, your Everest. And whether you like it or not, you’ll have to make a choice to climb it or ignore it. But even if you try to ignore it, it will always hound you.
“In the end, it’s your mountain to climb.”
Sources: Philippine Star, RolexMagazine.com, National Geographic
I am bloody thirsty for Original Pilipino Music (OPM). Because for a looong time since the millennium, cover songs have become the trend. How did it happen? What happened after the ‘90s? From high school to my college years, everywhere I went, I only hear original songs playing on the radio side by side with the music from foreign artists. The music industry was very competitive. We could compete with the rest of the world!
Though I remember there were still brave ones releasing their own songs, particularly the group artists or rock bands, cover songs continued to dominate the local charts. I remember many solo artists were happy that time. Because for a long time during the ‘90s—what was considered to be the second golden age of Philippine music (the first was during the ‘70s)—because of the many radical bands that sprouted and the very unique music they contributed that paid requiem to the soul of every tired and weary listener, solo artists were set aside in getting projects. I remember it even became news that solo artists were losing business because of these group artists that produce their own brand of music—unlike the solos who depend on another party called the composer and/or lyricist and the singer gets all the credit.
Cover songs made easy money to recording companies. It lessened their expenses and effort and like an avalanche, it instantly killed the vibrancy of the music industry. Group artists/bands that I have come to love disbanded due to zero projects/offers, the number of bands greatly diminished and the survivors are now can be called an endangered species. Talented singers who can compose their own songs have been discouraged by their record producers to release original songs and were ordered to capitalize on hit songs performed by foreign and other local artists. Their obedience to this order indeed ensure the brisk sales of their albums. What these people didn’t know—yes, both the talent and the recording companies—was that they were digging their own grave without realizing it. Because you know what happened next? Some recording companies closed down for some strange reasons. Piracy became worse. Nobody buys CDs anymore and opted for downloadable tunes from the Internet. The music industry went into a coma. And somewhere around the corner, a girl (that’s me) who’s been a supporter of OPM since she was a student was gripped with sadness. So for a long time since that day, she chose to enjoy listening to silence rather than hear foreign songs sung by Filipino artists who even have the nerve to put it in their album or worse of all, call it an album.
Then came one day, when I got to read this review by Rito P. Asilo about KZ Tandingan’s self-titled album.
“Her 10-track collection gathers KZ’s romantic musings about falling in love (the sunny, self-penned ‘Love, Love, Love’ and Toto Sorioso’s jazzy ‘Umiibig’), yearning to be loved back (Francis Salazar’s ‘Puro Laro’), getting her heart broken (Domingo Rosco Jr.’s Himig Handog entry, ‘Scared to Death’), and moving on (Jonathan Manalo’s ‘Un-Love You’)—a veritable pastiche of sophisticated tunes that drip with raw emotions,” writes Asilo.
KZ Tandingan is new in the music industry. A product of a reality talent search called X-Factor Philippines, I am not really so fond of her. She just doesn’t fit my standards when it comes to an artist that I’d like to admire. I admire people who are talented yet oozing with humility, and not oozing with so much confidence, if you know what I mean. I was surprised that she was the winner although I hardly watched X-Factor so who am I to judge? But because I was, I am bloody thirsty for something original, I bought her album.
If you ask me, after listening to it, to her album, I would have to say that she captured my soul. Her voice, it was like ice. So calming. I am saying these based on the first time I immersed myself with her music. The songs, they’re perfect to heal a tired spirit. They’re beautiful, too. Wonderful melodies and profound lyrics. I just wanna sit back and relax. And think. As of the moment, my favorite track from her album is “Bakit Lumuluha” (a straightforward ditty about being human).
In celebration of her tenth anniversary in the entertainment industry and her 25th birthday last July, Sarah Geronimo released a new album entitled “Expressions.” The artist that has captured not just my soul but my heart (because I’m a fan!), her album is 80% original tracks. So far, my favorites are “Ikot-ikot” (about the trials and hardships of a longtime relationship–I just love its classy tune!) and “Tayo” (an upbeat song about rejections, heartbreak when loving someone). I know when I’m in a different stage of my life, I would be able to relate to other songs there which are also beautiful.
These offerings to music listeners from artists KZ Tandingan and Sarah Geronimo are truly just like a breath of fresh air. And I just wanna relish this moment.
“A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is… A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.”
— C.S. Lewis
I took this picture early this afternoon today. Sunday. It was raining.
Surrounded by gray and dark areas, the baby plant that sprouted from the cracks of the pavement outside our house is to me a miracle. How is it possible that a soil found underneath the crack of the cement could produce a tiny green plant when we didn’t even bury a seed there?
You know, there is an advice columnist that I always look forward to reading every Sunday in Philippine Daily Inquirer. And she has been giving advice for confused people for more than ten years already. Her name is Emily Marcelo. I find her to be witty and straight to the point when giving advice. Her honesty also makes her funny because there is so much truth in what she says without being offensive. I also find her to be poetic when writing down her thoughts about a person’s problem. What follows was her advice to a guy who wants to move on from a breakup.
Trying to forget her now—right this minute—is like asking a baby not to cry! Emotions are not like faucets that you can turn on and off. But you are on the right path. You’ve already accepted that she’s not available to you for the long run.
Now, open your heart to other possibilities. Take solace in the thought that nature does not allow a vacuum. Weeds and grasses sprout to cover empty spaces. Hobbies, recreation, and good friends can help fill an empty heart.
You can’t move forward if you keep looking back. If your heart was awakened once, trust in the universe that another will come your way.
You lost a love that wasn’t meant to be. Just you wait patiently.
Emily said, “Nature does not allow a vacuum. Weeds and grasses sprout to cover empty spaces. Hobbies, recreation, and good friends can help fill an empty heart.” You know, I truly believe in this. And that green plant that appeared out of nowhere under the cracks of the pavement is the perfect proof of this.
Whenever I feel lonely, I always make a conscious effort to remember Emily’s advice. To remind myself that life has so much to offer. Because while there is sorrow, there are miracles of life to marvel about.
Now this also reminds of a quote by Ala Paredes.
There are so many new things just raring to come into your life as soon as you make space for them by throwing out all the junk you’ve been holding on to. Somebody once told me that as a rule of nature, a void cannot exist as the environment around it will always rush in to fill it. She said that the same holds true for life. Always, there will be something more. Always.
I’ve seen those LPs (long playing record, or vinyl records) that my mother would play in our turntable. Through her, I learned about the songs of the Carpenters, Paul Anka, and some Hawaiian and country music, and ‘80s tunes inside our home. So as a child with impressionable mind, what my parent liked I also liked as well. She was my first teacher in music education. She collected LPs and cassette tapes which delighted me as a young girl.
I’ve also heard those loud sounds that my artist brother played after coming from school and I got acquainted with his taste in music which comprised of Def Leppard, Pearl Jam, Motley Crue, etcetera. As a teenager still seeking her own identity, the noises I heard, the loud drumbeats, the screeching of the guitars, the part-howl, part-growl singing of the vocalist, they were all music to my ear.
I’ve also heard those catchy and melodic songs of the Beatles courtesy of my other brother who returned home after living with our grandfather for several years. He could mimic the mannerisms of every Beatles member who are John, Paul, George, and Ringo. The way he talked about them made me like them as well. In fact, I became a huge fan of them. I still have this Beatles songhits containing all the songs of the Beatles. A collector’s item. Priceless.
I’ve also heard those upbeat and disco sound from my sister’s cassette tapes. She liked New Wave so I liked that as well.
It was in high school, when I was 15, when I started collecting cassette tapes and listening to my own kind of music, my own stuff after being exposed to my older family members’ musical preferences. So my taste in music is basically just a combination of all their likes but with my personal touch. Because the loud music that my artist brother listened to, I diverted more into that.
Rock music was just so different. It could penetrate me, soothe me like no other. Whenever I listened to it, I get some kind of release, I felt free. I’d like to think that my strong liking to rock music was attributed to my being quiet and well-behaved. Rock music was my antidote. So in college, even if I only had limited allowance, I would buy cassette tapes because I love music! I had a great appreciation with not just rock but with other genres as well, and I still have that same appreciation but with less intensity now that I am older. I remember eating just egg sandwich (which was only P6) or if I got tired of it, a footlong sandwich for days just so I could save money and buy an album of not just my favorite artists but also of other artists that my older family members haven’t heard before.
This is my remaining cassette tape collection (I’ve sold the others in 2004 for P50 each with a goal to discard all my cassette tapes and buy CDs instead which included The Beatles Anthology which I now regret). I am now keeping them safe in a box in case of emergency. And I now look at them with so much sentimentality. Sure it had many inconveniences as compared to CDs but they were very affordable which made music more accessible to poor people like me. If I’m not mistaken, there was no piracy during the period of cassette tapes.
In this box, if you dig deeper, you will find albums by Cynthia Alexander, The Jerks, Jose Mari Chan, Joey Ayala, Fatal Posporos, Jessica Zafra, Eraserheads, Yano, and record tapes of songs that I personally compiled (read: while kneeling in front of the TV or radio, holding a recorder near its speaker, and praying that my companions at home would remain quiet) from Sesame Street or from a live concert of my favorite bands.
Incidentally, I just learned today from newsfeed that two days ago (September 13) marked the 50th anniversary of cassette tapes. Children today may no longer be familiar or got no clue about the significance of cassette tapes, but to my generation who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s (and still growing up), cassette tapes are dead but its memory lives on.
I think it was her sweet, soothing voice that won me over, her kindness and warmth that made me say yes to her invitation. I liked her. With all the jerks and assholes crowding this planet, I appreciated her being nice and gentle to me. So I trusted her. We talked about guys, a topic that she was very intrigued to get to know from me and I was open to share my feelings about it, shared a few little secrets with her. She knew I no longer have a mom so she was sort of advising me, sort of sharing her observation, I felt like I was special because she showed some concern. I wanted to trust her more. And though I was reluctant, I said yes to join Cursillo.
What is Cursillo? It was my first time to hear about it, only from her. At first she was very thrifty in saying something about Cursillo, for she just gave me a clue by saying that it would be a wonderful experience, that I would learn more about it once I am there but later on, perhaps pitying my ignorance on the matter, she briefly explained that Cursillo is a Spanish word for “short course”. If I will define it in my own terms, it’s a part-retreat, part-seminar religious activity of the Roman Catholic. It is held for three days in an isolated venue.
My friend offered to fetch me from my home even if it would take her a million miles away to get to where I live, which would be her first time. I said okay. Though I was worried she might get lost.
On my first night in Cursillo, it turned out my friend and I arrived late because the speaker I heard that night was the last speaker, a speaker that spoke of things that made me think that I was in a wrong place, made me feel emotionally sick right then and there. There were 26 all-female participants (mostly young girls, in their early 20s and below). I was the 26th female attendee, the last one to arrive.
Note: My father confessed that he attended Cursillo during the ’90s and he was happy to know that I was participating. My father shared that there were crying moments but he didn’t elaborate and similar to what my friend had said, he said Cursillo would be a nice experience for me. He also said he shared a room with three other guys. It was airconditioned. And that was all I know.
After listening to the last speaker (an old lady), telling us about what would happen in the next three days (the three-day session will teach us how to pray, will teach us about the importance of confession, attending Mass every Sunday without fail etc.) and telling us to “Love God,” saying it like it was an order, like I was listening to a dictator and we were all her slaves, we were treated after to a very late dinner at around 10:30PM. Food was already served and all we needed to do was just sit and eat. It was a cold dinner. The viand was chicken adobo, my favorite viand, but the chicken adobo I ate there tasted something else. It wasn’t delicious. Chatting was prohibited during that late-night dinner and there was a third old lady reading verses from the Bible aloud while we were eating. I whispered to the girl beside me why was the old lady reading the Bible while we were having our meal, it was so distracting. And why were most of the “facilitators” there mostly wearing baro’t saya like I was taken back during Maria Clara’s time or the 19th century. One of the facilitators approached me and handed me an interview sheet. Again, I felt like walking out, raring to go back home. I asked the girl where I could find my friend who invited me. I said I would no longer fill up the questionnaire because I want to leave. I remember the way the girl looked at me, yes, not an old woman but a young lady. She seemed like she understood what I was going through.
Then I saw our bedroom. As I was to discover, all 26 of us girls would be sleeping in one room. Not four girls per bedroom like what I imagined it would be but 26 girls in one room. It wasn’t airconditioned. There were, however, two or three ceiling fans to fight off the heat and the congestion. Our beds were double deck and all beds did not have a mattress on it. Mine did not even have a pillow and a blanket. It only had a native mat on it and I had no clue how many people have used it, if it was clean. It was a hard bed, uncomfortable. It hurts if I lay straight on my back so I had to sleep sideways. I was sick that night, in the middle of having coughs and cold, and I thought being in Cursillo would help me get better. As I was to discover, being there made me feel that I would get a terminal disease if I stayed there longer.
When my friend met me and I was like a child complaining about the “indignities” I saw and felt during dinner and during my visit to our room, and the discomfort and disappointment I felt about the preachings of the speaker that night (giving me already a feel of what would happen in the next three days), I asked for her permission to allow me to leave that night. She tried to pacify me, tried to convince me to stay, tried to explain better about this thing called Cursillo and all I remember that she said was that it’s about experiencing the suffering of Jesus Christ to be able to understand him, to deepen my faith in Him, to be close to Him, that even rich people have attended Cursillo and liked it, something like that, all I remember saying to her was that each day is already filled with sufferings so why does it have to exist here also? Life’s hard already. And the rich, they’re probably sick and tired of their leisurely life and wanted to try something new. And I kept repeating, complaining that my bed did not even have a pillow.
An old woman who just like my friend was one of the officials approached us and asked “Anong ginagawa nito dito?” Really, she was referring to me like as if I was an object, not a person. She didn’t even mention my name. My friend told her that I wanted out. The old woman asked why, my friend said to me, “Tell her.” I got tongue-tied. I felt I only owe my explanation to my friend.
Eventually that old woman left. Then came another old woman. She sat in front of me and my friend and tried to convince me to stay but I didn’t like her intro in speaking to me. Beginning it with a question, “Weren’t you baptized when you were born? Blah, blah, blah” and before she could finish her sentence I cut her abruptly then looked at my friend, I said, “I don’t want this kind of dialogue. I am very argumentative when it comes to this.” My friend told me to calm down. The old lady got the hint and left us alone. Anyway, my friend begged me to stay until the following morning because she was tired after fetching me. She couldn’t let me go home that late (it was around 11:30PM) and it would be dangerous for me to go home alone. I agreed to stay until the following morning. Of course, I said sorry to her. She said it was okay. That it was alright. Sometimes our plans do not go the way we planned it, she said something to that effect.
In our room, my friend lent to me her pillow and her blanket so I could cover my mat. Chatting was also prohibited in our room so when a different old lady came to the room, she was shouting who opened the door to our bedroom, which made me feel like I was a prisoner of Hitler’s concentration camp. Then she saw us. She was telling us in her authoritative voice to sleep once and for all. (In Cursillo, there is a strict schedule to follow. Participants should conform to the rules all the time.) She didn’t recognize my friend for she was telling my friend to go back to her bed. When this different old lady finally recognized her and learned why my friend was there sitting beside me, she said, “Wasn’t she the one that you fetched all the way from Montalban?”
Then she asked why do I want to leave. She said she had invited somebody from a different religion (Iglesia ni Cristo) and liked Cursillo and even converted to being a Catholic. So why on earth do I want to leave? I didn’t answer her. I left the following morning, Friday, at 4:00AM. My friend accompanied me to the jeepney terminal. My father was surprised to see me at home. I was so angry and disappointed telling him what I experienced.
A few days later, I noticed a big change. My friend was no longer warm to me like she was before. When I greeted her, I remember her eyes, it was cold and dead. Like I was a nobody. Whenever I see her, she would ignore me, obviously had marked me as X among her “liked” people. Bothered, I asked her if she was mad at me. She said no. Then continued giving me a cold shoulder after that. It made me feel bad but since this story I am telling happened a long time ago—though not really long ago—I’ve now reached that stage of acceptance.
When we were young, my father would force me and my siblings to pray the rosary with him. And I hated praying the rosary because it would always occur on the hour that my favorite TV show would start. And I would complain. And he would reprimand me or give me a whip if I oppose him, particularly when praying the rosary. So I developed resentment towards my father growing up. I developed dislike on anything “religious”. Knowing now, after more or less than 20 years later, that he attended Cursillo during the 90s—which the time that I remember our father started becoming religious and demanding from us, his children, to pray the rosary—I now understood why he was that way, like a dictator. I made a conclusion that religious practices, like Cursillo, can be very bad if you take it literally. Fortunately, my father has mellowed in his old years and just let us be when it comes to our faith. He has become open-minded. He would still remind us to pray, not necessarily the rosary, but to pray to God whenever we need help using our own words that come from our heart.
God knows I tried in my own initiative to follow the Roman Catholic practices like confession, praying the rosary, pilgrimage, visiting the church, novena to ask for a miracle, reading the Bible in order to feel what it means to be a member of the Roman Catholic but none of them stuck with me, or I just did them once. They just didn’t make sense to me. Up to this time, I always try to challenge my beliefs and the last was attending Cursillo. Still didn’t make sense. I just feel they were just created by men so that people would have norms and standards to follow and since they were created by men based on what they believed to be true back in the old days, or based on what worked for them in the past, I guess that also gives me a right, as a human thinking-breathing-in-and-out being, to create my own ritual in expressing my faith as long as I’m not hurting anybody. Cursillo, as I discovered, is not what I need. To others it may be effective, maybe it has changed their lives but not to me. The first thing I felt was revulsion.
I am a non-practicing Catholic but I have no plans of ever changing my religion. For my religion taught me about God, about a savior named Jesus Christ who once lived with us once upon a time, who had a mother and a father just like everyone else, who is perfect but suffered just like the rest of us, and who sacrificed himself to save us from our sins. I am just not what you would call a devout Catholic who’d follow every religious practice without understanding why I should do it. A devout Catholic, a man with two daughters studying in a Catholic school, once told me my ways is called “self-imposed shelter.”
For me, faith is something personal. Each of us has our own spiritual journey to realize, to walk on by, to pursue. A person with a drinking problem and making the efforts to solve it is having his/her own spiritual journey. A husband and wife who are not getting along in their marriage are having their own spiritual journey. Because sooner or later, one of them will reach out to initiate peace. Or perhaps, both of them will decide to separate. And we have no right to condemn them. We could only give advice but in the end, that is their own spiritual journey as a couple. Their actions according to their faith. A person healing his/her broken heart after splitting from a girlfriend/boyfriend is undergoing a spiritual journey. The gems of lessons he/she will learn will be priceless (let’s just hope his/her heart won’t be hardened by the heartbreak). My glimpse of the Cursillo in my short time there is now part of my own spiritual journey. A friend of mine who is a self-confessed alcoholic and now got a brain cancer and fighting for his life is having his own spiritual journey.
You don’t have to be part of a club, a Cursillo, a group, a congregation to be called a faithful. I believe that doing a good thing for your fellow human being, even though it is easy to do bad especially to do bad against the people you dislike, is like a person who came to visit the church. I believe the world is our Church. Our good deeds, even when nobody is looking, is one way of expressing our faith. Because the source of our own goodness comes from Him.
If you love praising God with a large group of people, like, for example, attending Mass, Bible study, or many other fellowships and community worships that each religion has, no one is stopping you from doing it. Because that is who you are. Because that is how you exercise your faith. To me, I just want my relationship with God to be something that’s just between me and Him. No debate, no pretension, no preacher to tell me what to do. Just a pure conversation with God. A place of worship is not just in the Church, or in front of an altar. It’s not the only place to pray, to praise God. I believe God is everywhere. He’s not out of reach. He’s just there– right inside of us, in our hearts.
Call me finicky for having walked out on a Cursillo which embarrassed my friend, which resulted to her rejecting me as her friend. Call me self-centered for strictly conforming only to my own liking. Call me a devil’s advocate because I got scared, overwhelmed when I was there. All I knew was that I didn’t wanna be there.
The Misconception: You do nice things for the people you like and bad things to the people you hate.
The Truth: You grow to like people for whom you do nice things and hate people you harm.
Seabiscuit, An American Legend is a book that my friend Alex lent to me late last year. So it is kind of embarrassing that I only finished it this time or, almost a year later. I just have a tendency to give more priority to books that I bought or actually wanted to read more than the ones suggested to me. Alex wanted me to read this. So I did, but with so much effort.
On its first page, the awards and accolades are listed. The rave reviews are on the succeeding pages. I don’t easily trust “good credentials” of a book. Even negative comments, if I found one. As a reader, to see is to believe. I have to experience it before I believe in it.
Seabiscuit, An American Legend, is a true story that happened during the Great Depression. An inspiring one that is why Alex wanted me to read this. And he shared to me how much he liked the book. He has always been a fan of underdog stories, or stories of people who triumphed over their own personal tragedies, stories of unlikely heroes, and in the case of Seabiscuit, a horse who forgot what it was like to be a horse. With the help of Charles Howard (the owner), Tom Smith (the trainer), and Red Pollard (the rider), they were able to bring out the best in him. And they were right to believe that Seabiscuit, despite his quiet demeanor and weak and “unfit” appearance, was more than what he seems. Investing all they’ve got to turn him to become a fierce racetrack horse than he was before, they’ve managed to build up the career of Seabiscuit once more. And Seabiscuit, in return, pulled up these unknown people from obscurity to become sports celebrities.
As a reader, it was fascinating to witness how from their humble beginnings they were able to catapult themselves to a position of superior status. Because Howard, Smith, and Pollard also got their own sad stories to tell about their journey before they became well-known. And once they were on top, they really seized that moment of glory while it lasted.
I used to think that horse racing is a sport for the poor, a gambling sport, unlike equestrian or horseback riding which I think is a sport for the rich. But with the help of this book, I’ve come to see jockeys in a different dimension now.
Hillenbrand wrote: “To pilot a racehorse is to ride a half-ton catapult. It is without question one of the most formidable feats in sport. The extraordinary athleticism of the jockey is unparalleled. A study of the elements of athleticism conducted by Los Angeles exercise physiologists and physicians found that of all major sports competitors, jockeys may be, pound for pound, the best overall athletes. They have to be. To begin with, there are the demands of balance, coordination, and reflex. A horse’s body is a constantly shifting topography, with a bobbing head and neck and roiling muscle over the shoulders, back, and rump. On a running horse, a jockey does not sit in the saddle, he crouches over it, leaning all of his weight on his toes, which rest on the thin metal bases of stirrups dangling about a foot from the horse’s topline. When a horse is in full stride, the only parts of the jockey that are in continuous contact with the animal are the insides of the feet and ankles—everything else is balanced in midair. In other words, jockeys squat on the pitching backs of their mounts, a task much like perching on the grille of a car while it speeds down a twisting, potholed freeway in traffic. The stance is, in the words of University of North Carolina researchers, ‘a situation of dynamic imbalance and ballistic opportunity.’”
Seabiscuit, An American Legend is not just about a horse named Seabiscuit and the struggles and triumphs of Charles Howard, Tom Smith, and Red Pollard. This book, I believe, is also dedicated to every jockey who won and died on the racetrack, every jockey who competed with an empty stomach just so they could bring food to their starving families.
Hillenbrand wrote: “The racetrack casualty list was full of stories of the cruel, the bizarre, and the miraculous. In 1938, leading Agua Caliente jockey Charlie Rosengarten gave up the mount on the favorite, Toro Mak, to a struggling rider named Jimmy Sullivan, who needed money to feed his wife and newborn baby. Rosengarten watched in horror as Toro Mak, sailing toward a sure victory, inexplicably crossed his forelegs and fell, crushing Sullivan to death. After a spill that knocked him unconscious, facedown in a puddle, Eddie Arcaro would have become the first jockey in history to drown on the job had a photographer not rushed out from the stands and turned his head to allow him to breathe. Steve Donoghue, who rode in Europe and the United States in the interwar years, was once on a horse that clipped heels and fell, spilling him onto the track in front of a mob of onrushing horses. He was an instant from being trampled to death when an elderly woman suddenly materialized out of nowhere, grabbed hold of him, and dragged him under the rail. She left him in the safety of the infield, and vanished. Donoghue never saw her again.”
With all these danger and death that awaits every rider, no matter how they great they are, why are there still so many young men desiring to become a horse race rider or a jockey back then, like Red Pollard and George Woolf?
Hillenbrand wrote: “For all its miseries, there was an unmistakable allure to the jockey’s craft, one that both found irresistible. Man is preoccupied with freedom yet laden with handicaps. The breadth of his activity and experience is narrowed by the limitations of his relatively weak, sluggish body. The racehorse, by virtue of his awesome physical gifts, freed the jockey from himself… For the jockey, the saddle was a place of unparalleled exhilaration, of transcendence. ‘The horse,’ recalled one rider, ‘he takes you.’ Aboard a racehorse in full stride, wrote Steve Donoghue, ‘I am so completely in the race that I forget the crowds. My horse and I talk together. We don’t hear anyone else.’ At the bottom of the Depression, when wrenching need narrowed the parameters of experience as never before, the liberation offered by the racehorse was, to young men like Pollard and Woolf, a siren song.
“On the ground, the jockey was fettered and muted, moving in slow motion, the world a sensory vacuum after the tenfold high of racing speed. In the saddle, emancipated from their bodies, Pollard, Woolf, and all other reinsmen sailed eight feet over the world, emphatically free, emphatically alive. They were Hemingway’s bullfighters, living ‘all the way up.’”
After reading Seabiscuit, I was wiping my tears away. Now I believe why it got so many awards and became a motion picture starring Tobey Maguire. Then I texted Alex about it who was on a sick leave (until now). I told him I cried because of the book.