I have not written to you for quite some time, and there is something I would like to say. Would you mind if I tell it as I often tell it to the refugees in the Camp here?

When I was a boy, I hated going to school, not because I was dull and incapable of learning, but maybe because I did not like being made to learn. I was a naughty boy, and sometimes used to play truant; perhaps I was the naughtiest boy in the school— I cannot think of anyone who was naughtier; I was caned many times.

When I left school, I was very happy to do so, but now, after all these years, I realize that I never left, and that I am still in school, but that the school I am now in has a roof but no walls— the sky being the roof. There is a difference now, though: I enjoy learning; my life, day-by-day, is an adventure, an unfolding, a journey of discovery.

I learned many things from you, and some of the things I learned have surfaced only in recent years, so long after. And did you not explain to me, several years ago, that what is not in a painting is just as important as what is there? This is redolent of Eastern philosophy— Chinese in particular. Like the empty space between the notes of music, or between words: without the space between, there would be meaningless confusion. Did you ever study Eastern philosophy, Sir?

I’m writing this to express my belated gratitude to you for your patient efforts with me (even the canings were good for me— maybe I should say: especially the canings!) It takes time for a seed to germinate and grow; it does not immediately become a fruit-bearing tree. As I look back, I don’t know why I didn’t receive more canings; I certainly deserved them! Now I am somewhat in the position that you were then, and I understand how difficult it is to be a teacher trying to impart knowledge to others. People call me ‘Sir’ now, and expect me to know things that they don’t know. Well, what I feel I have to say is that we should break out of the habit of always waiting to be taught, and, in all humility, become a learner— which is something quite different than being a student, wouldn’t you say? I feel that everything is trying to tell us something; should we always think that all knowledge lies in a person or persons? The nature-studies we had in school were excellent lessons; I only wish there had been more of them.

Once, I had a desire to become a history teacher, but that never came about. Now, although I realize that the present rests upon the past, like the snow-cap on a mountain-peak, I have lost interest in history as it is recorded— after all, it is ‘his story’, and is often biased and distorted. To be sure, there are many things that we can, and should, learn from the past in living in the present, but it has gone, beyond recall, and cannot ever be changed. There is only one 6-Aug-1982; there has not been such a day before, and there will never be another. Life, with all its pain and sham, is still worth living, as long as we learn something from it; we will then not depart empty-handed.

(Bataan Refugee Camp, Philippines. 6-Aug-1982).

There is something I should add to this, as an up-date. You see, I returned to England at the end of 1985, and on New Year’s Day, 1986, went to visit Mr. Ravenscroft. I found him old and shrunken, and so senile that he could not remember me. But I could remember him, and that was the important thing; I could remember him and thank him, in person, for helping me understand something. I left feeling lucky to have seen him again.

Ten years later still, I was again back in England, and went to visit my home-village. There, in the church-yard, among the ancient moss-covered tombstones, I came upon a new granite slab marking the resting-place of my old school-teacher and his wife. I gazed for some moments in remembrance.

Since I wrote that letter in ’82, there have been many changes, of course. One change in me has been the resurgence of my interest in history, because, although it is no less true now than then that recorded history is his story, the past is an immense treasure-trove for us to enrich ourselves from. We can make sense of the present only by means of the past; otherwise, it has no meaning.

The present is the past, with a little added to it; without it, there would be no present. Perhaps we may compare it to a coral-reef, slowly and imperceptibly being built up by countless tiny polyps. The past has not gone, as many of us think, but is still here, speaking to and teaching us in so many ways; we are so indebted to it. As stated elsewhere in this book, we accomplish whatever we do accomplish, not simply by our own efforts, but because we are enabled to do so by others before us; by ourselves, alone and in isolation, we can do nothing. Being a member of the human race should inspire us to contribute whatever we can to its continuous unfolding.

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