by Ma. Cielito G. Reyno

      Of all the persons who had the greatest influence on Rizal’s development as a person was his mother Teodora Alonso.  It was she who opened his eyes and heart to the world around him—with all its soul and poetry, as well as its bigotry and injustice.  Throughout his brief life, Rizal proved to be his mother’s son, a chip off the old block, as he constantly strove to keep faith the lessons she taught him.

      His mother was his first teacher, and from her he learned to read, and consequently to value reading as a means for learning and spending one’s time meaningfully.  It did not take long before he learnt to value time as life’s most precious gift, for she taught him never to waste a single second of it.  Thus as a student in Spain he became the most assiduous of students, never missing a class despite his activities as Propaganda leader, or an examination, despite having to take it on an empty stomach.  By his example, he inspired his compatriots – those who had sunk into a life of dissipation, wasting time and allowances on gambling and promiscuity- to return to their studies and deserve their parents’ sacrifices back home.

      From his mother he learnt the primacy of improving oneself- thus growing up he took pains to comprehend the logic of mathematics; to write poems; to draw, and sculpt; to paint.  Sadly, for all these he earned not only glory but also the fear of myopic souls.

      By taking the lead in running the family’s businesses- farms, flour and sugar milling, tending a store, even making fruit preserves, aside from running a household, Teodora imbibed in him the value of working with one’s hands, of self-reliance and entrepreneurship.  And by sharing with others she taught him generosity and helping to make the world a better place for those who had less in the material life.  All these lessons he applied himself during his exile in Dapitan, as he improved its community by building a dam; encouraging the locals to grow fruit trees, establishing a school, even documenting the local flora and fauna.

      His mother also taught him to value hard-earned money and better yet, the importance of thrift and of denying oneself, and saving part of one’s earnings as insurance against the vagaries of life.  Thus he learned to scrimp and save despite growing up in comfort and wealth.  These would later prove very useful to him during his stay in Europe as he struggled with privation, considering the meager and often delayed allowance that his family sent him (by then his family was undergoing financial reverses due to land troubles).  Whenever his precious allowance ran out, he went without lunch and supper, putting up a front before everyone by going out of his dormitory everyday to give the impression that he took his meals outside.  But, as he walked the streets of Berlin or Barcelona, his nostrils would be assailed by the delicious aroma of the dishes being cooked within buildings and houses, increasing his hunger pangs and his suffering all the more.  Other times he saved up on rent by foregoing breakfast altogether, his breakfast consisting of biscuits and water for a month.

      Above all, it was from her he learned about obedience, through the story of the moth that got burned by the flame because he disobeyed his mother moth’s warning not to get too near the flame.  But life as it often happens has poignant way of turning around, for it was obedience to the Catholic Church, as his mother taught him, which proved too hard to live by especially when he struggled with a crisis of faith in its teachings.  Teodora took none too gently his defection from the Church, which she saw was an apostasy from faith itself.

      One of the turning points of his life, which had a profound influence on his becoming a political activist later on, was the unjust arrest of his mother on the charge of conspiring to poison a relative, despite the lack of evidence against her.  But what made the arrest even worse was her humiliating treatment at the hands of authorities who made her walk all the way from Calamba to the provincial jail in Santa Cruz, which was 50 kilometers far.  There she was imprisoned for two years before gaining her freedom.  All these she took with calm and quiet dignity, which Rizal though only a child of eleven about to embark on secondary school in Manila would remember and replicate during his final moments just before a firing squad snuffed out his meaningful life on that fateful December morn in 1896.