By Dr. Placido Matta*
Paramount, California. I have been into photography for several years now. One afternoon, as my wife and I drove around the countryside, my photographer’s instinct told me that I have to stop and take a picture of an old farmer who was busily finishing his chores as the sun began to give out a dying golden glow.
Approaching the old farmer, I saw myself in him.
Like me, he appeared like a man in his early eighties. Deep furrows mark his tanned forehead, lines that told of those years of thinking, using, and sharing his knowledge.
Wrinkles crested underneath his eyes, which were glowing with sincerity as the long, thick beard and mustache revealed two dry lips stretching for a warm smile in answer to our greetings.
I admired his strength as I gazed around and saw the newly tilled ground marked by overturned grasses and uprooted dry corn stalks.
Unlike myself, I had to bear the nuisance of having a pacemaker, regular check-ups, limited diet, doing some activities, and just making my life productive though old age is telling me to quit.
Shadows of surrounding trees and a nearby barn started creeping on the grounds as the sun emitted a reddish glow, slowly sinking into the horizon.
Two swallows gave out a lonely chirp as they hastened and glided into a nearby bush for the night’s shelter. I was determined to carry out something that afternoon.
Thus, I asked the older adult whether he would mind being photographed. He shrugged his shoulders, and cheerfully said, “No, not at all!”
As I moved backward, lifted my Canon camera, and was about to peek through the lens, the farmer asked, “But how do I pose?” I looked at him, smiling and beamed, “Well, just be yourself!”
Looking through the camera now, as my left hand adjusted its zoom lens, I saw him instinctively half-turned to the setting sun.
As the sun’s last burst of radiance illuminated his old face…the camera’s shutters made a scratching sound as I took the image of a MAN LOOKING WEST.
This so far is one of the best pictures I have. This had won first prize in a photo contest in Texas.
Iloilo City, Philippines. The student introduced himself as Jonan Castillon, the Managing Editor of Central Echo, the student publication of Central Philippine University.
I was in the CPU Library holding my photo show. He told me that he was greatly impressed by the photographs. I told him that photography had kept me going over all these years when most of my contemporaries had settled on rocking chairs while the clock of old age slowly ticked.
I beckoned the young man to come near as I showed him the winning photo I entitled “Man Looking West.” Looking earnestly at him, who began examining the photo closely as if trying to figure out the frame’s message, I gave him the reflection.
I said, “You see, our life is like the sun that shines from the east, and after giving out the energy that would nourish the creatures on earth, it slowly disappears into the west. Like me, I am already 83 years old, and they say that the moment you have crossed the 50-year age line, you are already looking to the west. And I longed for that moment when like the sun, I would slip into the horizon, leaving my relatives and friends in a moment of sorrow but would soon burst forth into rejoicing knowing that I am now with God.”
There are lots of things to be done for the Lord. When I arrived in Manila a few weeks ago, I told my 86-year old brother that, contrary to his belief, God is real. I told my Manong that this might be the last time that we saw each other. “You or I will go first, and I want you to know that there is a God who is waiting for us.
He is either a judge who will judge us because we did not believe and obey Him or a loving Father who will joyfully welcome us into His arms because we are His children. You must believe that God is real,” I told him.
Manong sat motionlessly. His eyes looked tired and were staring at a distance, perhaps thinking deeply of what I had just said; he slowly raised his head, looked at me, and nodded. His lips parted to say almost inaudibly, “Yes!”
Then he asked me to help him stand because he wanted to embrace me. We both were teary-eyed as we remained locked into each other’s arms for a while.
Indeed, it would make us sad thinking that someday we will leave this world like the sun setting in the west, but the promise of eternal life in Jesus Christ assures us that we need not be.
Instead, we must be like the MAN LOOKING WEST, who firmly believes that sunset promises another day-a a new day with God.
“That’s a very inspiring testimony, Sir,” the student told me. He then asked me whether it’s all right to have an article about my testimony published in their school paper. I said, “Please do! I would appreciate it.”
Dr. Placido B. Matta was born in Estancia, Iloilo. He was 83 years old when I met him. He was living with his family in Paramount City in the Metro Area of Los Angeles. He was a student in the 6th grade in 1920-21, 2nd-year high school in 1923-24 in the old days of Jaro Industrial School and Central Philippine College (now CPU). He practiced dentistry for 30 years before retiring. He was deeply involved in photography.
I wrote this narrative of our meeting in 1991, but instead of writing using the third person narrative, I decided to imagine that I was Dr. Matta and wrote in the first person as if Dr. Matta was telling the story of our meeting.
My brother and I met Dr. Matta and his assistant taking photos at UP Diliman a few months before his CPU exhibit. Then I was surprised to see him again in November 1991 during his photo show at the CPU Library, which was then at Eugenio Lopez Hall.
Central Echo published this write up in their Vol. 72 No. 3, November-December 1991 issue.
It is such a blessing to have met Dr. Matta, who for me was the “Man looking West”.
The photo used in this blog post is not Dr. Matta’s “Man Looking West” photo but a different image used for illustration purposes only.
By Jonan B. Castillon