When I got off the bus on the evening of December 2, there was a single tricycle waiting at the entrance of the provincial road that would lead me home. Its LED lights shined brightly as the driver waited silently in the dark.

I approached him and asked, Can you bring me to Sitio Bayog? He spoke gently, respectfully, almost in a whisper: No, I’m waiting for someone.

Since it became clear to me that I had missed my last ride, I turned towards home to start walking. But the driver spoke again. If you want, you can ride with us. My child is already at Tebag.

And so I went back to the tricycle and sat behind him. Your son is studying? I asked. Yes. Third-year engineering student at UCU, he said.

After about a minute or so, his son arrived across the road around the same point where I got off the bus a few moments ago. He ran toward us when the road was clear and went straight inside the sidecar. The driver turned the engine on, and we started our way toward Payas.

Throughout our eight-minute ride together, in between long silences, we talked about the rising incidence of holdups in the area and people we both know (mostly my aunts and uncles). When we arrived at the entrance to Garcia Street, he stopped and asked if I wanted him to enter. I said, No need. I can walk.

I got off and held his shoulders with my right arm. Thank you so much uncle, I said. May I know your name? Again, with his gentle, almost silent voice, he said, I’m Oscar.

After saying another round of thanks, I saw the father and son off and started walking the short walk home. It was around 6:30 pm, and the sky was dark enough for me to see the stars.

I’ve been here for more than a week and have intentionally walked in the evening to stare at the night sky. This is embarrassing to admit, but before the Ginhawa Breathing Space event at Tanay, which I attended last month, I never really knew what lights I was looking at at the heavens when I raised my head at night. All I knew then was that the lights that flickered were stars, while the lights that shined steadily were planets.

Using the SkyView app on my phone and the pointers I remember from the stargazing session we did at Tanay, I can now identify Mars, Jupiter, Neptune, and the constellations Orion, Taurus, Gemini, Aries, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces. Some nights, when I feel more geeky than usual, or when there is too much cloud in the sky, I would identify a completely unfamiliar star, usually, the one that shines the brightest.

Construction site

I’ve been doing this walking and stargazing for more than a week now that yesterday, I started to feel something—something both familiar yet seldomly felt. When I look long enough at celestial beings—the stars, the planets, and the moon (especially the moon)—something unexpected happens.

I start to feel small and insignificant.

I remember that the star I am looking at now was probably already dead thousands or billions of years ago, and what I am seeing is only the light it has emitted long ago—a light that is older than me, older than anyone alive on earth today, older than my great, great ancestors.

And with this reminder comes the recognition that everything I am looking at above came before me. And, like them, I arose from nowhere. This existence that I possess came outside my volition. I was brought here by someone (or something) that is way more powerful than myself. My existence was never my choice. It was beyond my control, much like almost everything else around me—aging, illness, and death.

Interestingly, I recently came across Thich Nhat Hanh ’s English translation of The Five Remembrances of Buddhism.

I am of the nature to grow old.
There is no way to escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill health.
There is no way to escape ill health.

I am of the nature to die.
There is no way to escape death.

All that is dear to me and everyone I love
are of the nature to change.
There is no way to escape being separated from them.

My actions are my only true belongings.
I cannot escape the consequences of my actions.
My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

Irrigation road at night

When I look up at the sky, I am also reminded of the question that has troubled human beings for millennia—a question that continues to perplex philosophers, scientists, and theologians: Where did all of these come from?

When I think about this question, I remember Aristotle and the notion of the ”Unmoved Mover” in Book XI of his Metaphysics. The most basic argument behind the notion of the Unmoved Mover is that everything that is in motion was moved by something else. However, there cannot be an infinite cause of moving things because this goes against the rules of logic. Infinity in the physical universe cannot exist! This means one thing: there has to be an ultimate cause.

Once this agreement is reached, we face a new problem: What is the nature of this Unmoved Mover? This ultimate cause could never be moved—it is unmoved. Otherwise, it was also caused by something else. Likewise, it shouldn’t be made of physical matter. Otherwise, it is subject to change and, therefore, moved. As if that isn’t enough, it also must lack potentiality. Therefore, it is simply actuality.

The nature of this “thing”—this Unmoved Mover—is so mysterious that I cannot help but feel awe as I contemplate it while looking up at the night sky. And this feeling—this awe—is interesting because it feels so sharply in contrast to the ego expansion that happens when I am in the social world.

When surrounded by people in broad daylight (or electric light), my ego wants to be seen. Like a hungry wolf, it cries—cries for attention. But whenever I walk under the dim light of the stars or the soft light of a full moon, enveloped by this constellation of darkness, silence, and slowness, my ego shrinks—quite rapidly. And with this shrinking comes the peeling off of layers and layers of my onion self until what is left is emptiness—the empty space where everything else flows.

In this space something weird happens, something which Jeanette Winterson caught accurately:

I have noticed that when all the lights are on, people tend to talk about what they are doing—their outer lives. Sitting round in candlelight or firelight, people start to talk about how they are feeling—their inner lives. They speak subjectively, they argue less, there are longer pauses.

To sit alone without any electric light is curiously creative. I have my best ideas at dawn or at nightfall, but not if I switch on the lights—then I start thinking about projects, deadlines, demands, and the shadows and shapes of the house become objects, not suggestions, things that need to be done, not a background to thought.

Isn’t this exactly what we need right now?

In a time where it is so difficult to love others let alone love ourselves, we need the darkness of the night more than anything else to allow the possibility of vulnerability and, therefore, love and compassion.

Carl Sagan said it precisely:

For small creatures such as we the vastness of the universe is bearable only through love.

Love is what will get us through this wonderful yet frightening existence. Love is what will get us through all of the things beyond our control—growing old, ill health, and death—all the more so because, while nature is beautiful, nature can also be very, very harsh.

This seemingly paradoxical quality of nature was articulated beautifully through this quote from Terrence Malick’s brilliant film Tree of Life, which I shall leave here to end this essay.

The nuns taught us there are two ways through life, the way of Nature and the way of Grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow.

Grace doesn’t try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries.

Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things.

They taught us that no one who ever loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end.

I will be true to you. Whatever comes.

Cloudy night sky