“Tell me, who are the people in your neighbourhood?”, went a song in a Sesame Street segment. My old neighbourhood in Bulacan was quite interesting. I remember my block neighbors so well and they’re a mixed lot. There was Elisa who used to play “luto-lutuan (pretend cooking)” with me; Abu, her younger brother, who would always hide our toys; Onyok, who always had stuffy nose; Aling Kaye, who would always cook champorado (chocolate rice porridge) for us; Mang Kario, the cross owner of the small sari-sari store near our house; and many other personalities that were significant to my childhood.
I too remember this particular neighbour, Aling Julie. She was tall, slim, and hers was a beautiful face, framed by the soft tendrils of her light brown hair pulled back in a bun. Allegedly, she was a half-sister of a popular 1960s film actor. Whenever she passed by our house, her head, slightly bowed; and her eyes cast down. She was always carrying an umbrella that must have served a dual purpose: shield her fair skin from sun tanning, and conceal her face from gloating neighbours!
I remember a story circulating around our block that Aling Julie was a battered wife. Her husband, Mang Kario, would always beat her up whenever he came home drunk. Their eldest daughter, Olive, ran away from home at a young age of 17 but came back a year later to visit her family. This time, she was driving a nice car; her face, fully made up. There were talks that Olive became a mistress of a rich Chinese in Manila.
Yet no one had really confirmed if the story was true. Nobody wanted to chat with Aling Julie. Sure, they would smile at her, but I could see everyone avoiding her. Aling Julie must have been lonely then!
Because I was just then a small kid, to even bother about adult affairs around me, I would always go to Aling Julie’s house (which was only about six houses away from ours) and chat with her in their not so bright, small living room. She’s softspoken and quite withdrawn. She never participated in community gossips, hence, she had become a “juicy” topic herself.
Rumours have wings
Back then, in the mid-70s to the early 80s, rumours, depending on the subject, were confined among family members, neighbors, and communities. Entertainment gossips were catered by a few local talk shows on TV such as the late Inday Badiday’s Nothing but the Truth (spun off to See-True, then Eye to Eye, and much later, by Cristy Fermin’s Cristy Per Minute. Today, gossips become more far-reaching because of social media aided by the emergence of mobile devices. Gossips that are meant for immediate family members spread to other kins, their friends, and even friends of their friends (Thanks Facebook)! Gossips have become headliners, so-called “viral” topics, and conversation centrepieces, that even the current state leader and his cohorts (RE: the infamous “oust” matrix) and mainstream journalists would pick up to report on TV or on online news; In my opinion, it is Yellow Journalism hitting rock bottom. The line between facts and rumours have been conveniently blurred out by …I think, laziness to enquire, to analyse, to research, or to communicate.
My family has been a subject of gossip too by idle-minded neighbours. I remember my niece telling me that Aling Pearl, who owed mom a huge amount of money but never paid back, gossiped about my family during my mother’s wake last December! Diverting focus from her misdeed to fabricated lies was her agenda for gossiping.
To whoever would believe the gossip, without finding out the truth, woe to them. Gossips are poison to the spirit of the bearer, the receiver, and the perpetrators. I wish them a hundred years of toxoid existence.
The 2008 movie, Doubt, was one of my favorites! Sister Aloysius (Meryll Streep) and Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffmann) personified the sinner or saint discourse. Of course, who would doubt the character of Sister Aloysius, a supposed emblem of truth and light, or wisdom and moral ascendancy, who would mollify her contempt against Father Flynn by gossiping about him?
Her gossip infected other people, including Mrs Miller (Viola Davis), the mother of the boy, alleged to be molested by Father Flynn, and the young nun, Sister James (Amy Adams) who almost doubted the priest’s integrity, if not for the latter’s wise discernment of standing by her take on the issue.
The most memorable takeaway of the movie is the sermon of Father Flynn. It encapsulated what gossip is about and how it can shoot out toxins, farther than the eyes can see, and more extensive than the mind can scope.
“A woman was gossiping with a friend about a man she hardly knew- I know none of you has ever done this- and that night she had a dream.
A great hand appeared over her and pointed down at her. She was immediately seized with an overwhelming sense of guilt.
The next day she went to confession. She got the old parish priest, Father O’Rourke, and she told him the whole thing. “Is gossiping a sin?” she asked the old man. “Was that the Hand of God Almighty pointing a finger down at me? Should I be asking your absolution? Father tell, me, have I done something wrong?”
“Yes!” Father O’Rourke answered her in his strong Irish brogue.“Yes, you ignorant, badly brought-up female! You have borne false witness against your neighbor, you have played fast and loose with his reputation, and you should be heartily ashamed!”
So the woman said she was sorry and asked for forgiveness.
“Not so fast!” says O’Rourke. “I want you to go home, take a pillow up on your roof, cut it open with a knife, and return here to me!”
So she went home, took a pillow from the bed, a knife from the drawer, took the fire escape to the roof, and stabbed the pillow. Then she went back to the old priest as instructed.
“Did you gut the pillow with the knife?” he says.
“And what was the result?”
“Feathers?” he repeated.
“Feathers everywhere, Father!”
“Now I want you to go back and gather up every last feather that flew out on the wind!”
“Well,” she says, “it can’t be done. The wind took them all over.”
“And that,” said Father O’Rourke, “is gossip!”
The bottom line is, thoughtless words can cut, poison, and break. Words cannot be taken back when uttered. But there are some who are lucky to take back their words by twisting the meaning of the words. Yet again, they are founded on lies and deception; and ultimately, the falsehood results in guilt, unhappiness and, regret.
Let words become an instrument for joy, strength, encouragement, and healing. The energy expended on gossiping is the same energy expended on speaking words of inspiration. We all have the free will to do what is right for our spiritual growth. And that free will, a divine gift, is NOT for gossip.
DISCLAIMER: Names in my personal anecdotes have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals