My Uncle’s Metaphor

Years ago, I chanced to talk with the late Uncle Badong during a Christmas reunion in the family’s dakulang harong (big house) in our libod (backyard).

I was then returning from Iloilo, working for a UP-based consortium churning out profitable researches and advocating the welfare of the local farmers and fisher-folk.

At the time, I was having a great time traveling places not only within the region but also across the country, attending meetings, seeking out indigenous agricultural technologies and going to farmers’ field days under the funding of the Department of Science and Technology. (Yeah, DOST. You could say it was really a good job—given the name of this well-funded agency.)

I was very eager to share to my folks my experiences. But more than anything, I was also happy about being able to provide for myself very well.

Sometimes I would travel three times in a year (from Visayas to Manila and Bicol always in those perennially late Cebu Pacific flights). It was a great time to be alive, going places, getting to know people—and yes, feeling I was being important.

So when I came up to my uncle, seated in the ubiquitous bamboo chair in the sala, I told him about all my new work—my “busyness”, as in “bago kong pinagkakaabalahan”.

Uncle Badong looked happy to see me after another year or so. He smiled a bit and told me in Bikol that it’s good but then he also said to me that “rolling stones gather no moss”.

I probably heard that proverb many times before. So immediately it sounded cliché to me. I laughed it off, dismissing it more as a passing comment if not a joke.

So I was a rolling stone. Was I? So I gathered no moss. Didn’t I?

But then it occurred to me: he was probably only concerned about me not “growing roots in one place”. He was worried about me not establishing myself somewhere.

From that metaphor, the moss or “lumot” is something good, because it means growth—and not something “na linulumot,” which means being stagnant or unproductive.  The latter comparison does injustice to the moss since it ignores how this plant, this growing organism benefits human life at all.

Up to now, I have been caught up and cannot move on, still thinking hard about the metaphor that my uncle threw at me—but rather only intellectualizing it. Rationalizing it:

On one hand, I see that my uncle belonged to the older generation which put a premium on stability as prerequisite to growth and longevity and yes—impact or significance.

For my uncle, I was a rolling stone, trying to do almost everything. For him, I wasn’t gathering moss because I hardly stayed in one place so I could “grow from there” and so I could be of consequence.

On the other, I realize that I also belong to a generation “other” than his, one which champions activity and change—as inevitable to growth. That is probably why for me the meaning of the “linulumot” carries more weight. Getting stuck in one place makes one’s life stagnate, if one were not too creative.

Yet, I see that my uncle’s metaphor, for the time being, is the more desirable—if not the one true thing, indeed. In these most challenging times, I need not go around places to do something in order to matter.

Nowadays, I ought to really stay in one place—and from there “grow roots”. Continue doing what I want to do if I were to make myself useful and do things consciously for others if I were to make a difference.