Today is José Rizal’s birthday and the day I got to watch “Man of Steel.” Two heroes with a universe of a difference—one real, one imaginary, yet both permanently etched in history as beacons of hope in mankind’s inherent goodness.
I had planned for this to be a tribute post for Rizal, hence the subtle nod to the way he dressed. He was quite the dapper gentleman, sharp and handsome in his coats and jackets.
But writing about one’s hero can be a challenging task. How do you tell the story of someone whom everybody on this side of the world is familiar with? As for the things about him that are not widely familiar, how do you condense everything you know and admire about someone you’ve looked up to your whole life, into a few paragraphs?
Rizal is one of the first national heroes that Filipino children encounter, in their one-peso coins and school books. We all know his life and death story. We all know of his famous novels and his equally famous loves. We know that there are monuments and parks and museums and streets and establishments named after him. What else? Well, he is a polymath—excellent in many fields, and a polyglot—conversant in 22 languages. If he were alive today, he’d be receiving awards left and right for his interdisciplinary achievements: educated in Ateneo and UST, attended universities in Europe. He practiced medicine, trained in mixed martial arts, dabbled in visual arts (painting, sketching, sculpting, woodcarving, and get this: comics making). He wrote poetry, essays, novels and papers in various topics and using various languages. He was one of the first proponents of non-violence, perhaps even before Gandhi. He was a visionary: his literary works and his words are just as relevant (if not more so) today as it was during his time.
I have always been awed by him. His greatness inspires and frustrates me at the same time—the hope that if Rizal could be all of these things, so could I, and the awareness that few are destined for his kind of greatness. This afternoon, I sat down and tried to articulate it all but drew a blank. Giving up, I went out with my mom to see “Man of Steel” for inspiration. By now I’m sure most of you have watched this movie. I’ve read some comics spanning different universes and seen past movies, and while I’m not about to delve into how this particular reboot inevitably veered away from some well-established Superman canon, I will say that I for one appreciate the efforts to ground it more on reality and plausibility. Unfavorable reviews notwithstanding, I enjoyed the film. (Plus, Henry Cavill is smoking hot. Hee.) It underscores how being good and making a difference in the world is not so much reliant on some pre-determined path laid out for us, as on our own choices.
After the movie, I remembered a Vsauce video I watched this morning about honor, the Great Man theory (that mankind’s history is impacted by only a few men whose destiny it is to be great) and the Accumulation of Advantage (that given the right advantages and circumstances, anyone has an opportunity to be great). The latter is a criticism of the former, but I believe the two are intertwined. I thought that for my Rizal tribute I’d also touch on Kal-el—ordinary in Krypton, and on Earth raised on an ordinary farm by ordinary folk, who just happened to be stronger and faster and more powerful than humans but is a good man with or without superpowers. How Rizal, born to a wealthy family with access to the best education that schools and world travel can give, made use of his gifts for the good of his people. And then I remembered the cover of my History textbook in Ateneo.
It’s one of my favorite books by one of the foremost experts on anything and everything Rizal: Sir Ambeth has dedicated his life and career to discovering the person behind the legends and myths. The ordinary individual with his foibles and human failings, the funny anecdotes, the contexts of his actions and words. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this image of Rizal as Superman came to mind on the same day I encountered them both and also happened to see the video. It is all a reminder of the importance of heroic imagination—to borrow from Vsauce, “thinking socio-centrically, not ego-centrically. Most heroes are everyday people who emerge as heroes in particular situations.” Here’s to the hope that when our chance comes, we would. •
Outfit details: Mango tailored jacket, Paper Dolls button-down blouse, Marithe+Francois Girbaud jeans, Cole Haan Lunar Grand wingtips, Dooney & Bourke bag, Guess wristwatch, SM Accessories necklace and bangle.