I’M attached to yearenders. This year has seen me at my mawkiest ever so it’s not surprising that I’ve even taken note of not just the last homework but the second-to-the-last-paper to pass before school closes for 2012.
For this assignment, I had to make sense of systems theories.
I hardly understood the subject when I was an undergraduate more than 20 years ago.
But now that I’m facing classmates who could be my own daughters and sons, there’s no stronger incentive not to show off my idiotic tendencies.
After hitting the books, this is what I remember: there are two kinds of systems. Open systems interact with the environment so as to grow and live. Closed ones don’t need to because they’re not alive.
Stars, for instance.
I must have been absent from science during my entire second grade because I swear stars seem alive. When I step out of my evening class, the air stings and the furtive scents of the night make something in me uncurl and stretch. I could tiptoe and pluck a handful of stars from the velvet sky.
The perk of a campus perennially short of state funding is that the poorly lighted premises cannot rival the evening sky. I stroll under the trees before diving in with the other lemmings swimming to beat the pre-midnight rush hour.
Less than two weeks before Christmas, other stars have also sprouted on the campus grounds and buildings—stark white, more Soviet than Bethlehem-like, with flashes of American Idol, framing the Oblation, converting this symbol of self-annihilating sacrifice to the people into rock star royalty.
Though earth-rooted, these wrought stars scintillate by night and day. Yet, they’re dwarfed by those celestial pinpoints that flash with distant fire.
According to systems theory, closed systems move toward internal chaos and disintegration, heedless of the needless environment. When there is no life to sustain, can there be death?
Is that the attraction of stars to life lived among roiling humanity? That the power to burn and annihilate can be reduced by light years to the harmless twinkling of a child’s bedtime rhyme?
When I step inside an Ikot jeepney that slips me into the stream of commuters, I leave behind the swirl of stars. Mass transport, mega cities, timetables—who remembers to look at the sky while negotiating from point A to B along Edsa?
At a red light, a boy, solemn as an acolyte, boards the jeepney. He lays envelopes on the passengers’ laps, bags, books. He goes back to the stepboard, sits and waits, facing the traffic.
After an interval he alone knows, he stands up and collects the envelopes. Sometimes someone gives, but after taking this route beyond count, I know what the child knows. His harvest is poor; some locust or pestilence beyond memory has long scoured the ground of its thin cover.
Is it kindness or cruelty that we give back the envelopes? What is his daily quota of jeepneys? In less than two hours, it will be midnight.
The dingy pieces of paper carry an appeal written by a hand that could not possibly be the child’s. It says a lot about how far this traveler still has to go in his quest among the dust, fumes and terminal blindness of the streets.
In morphogenesis, the open system gives back to the environment the matter and energy it receives from it. We don’t have to be stars to look down, burning, implacable, once human.
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* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Dec. 16, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday main op-ed column