this story originally appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on August 6, 2013.

“Never look a gift horse in the mouth” is a common proverb that I have, throughout my life, utterly failed to live by. Whether that has been for good or for ill is still very much up for debate. What is not up for debate, however, is how it has directed my actions and defined me thus far.

I guess the earliest examples that I can give are, to the unending annoyance at the time of both my parents, my nearly fanatical attempts to spot, capture, and possibly interrogate the supposed fat, bearded man who left presents under the tree or (rather judgmentally) coal in the stockings on Christmas Day. I hunted, in my youth, the most dangerous game of all, and it was not for the glory, not for the prestige, not for the stuffed trophy to mount above the mantle of my imaginary fireplace, but for my insatiable curiosity that no one would slake. (Yes, I’m talking about Santa Claus.)

I eventually deduced that it was my parents’ handiwork all along when, come Christmas morning, my foolproof bait consisting of full-cream milk and double chocolate chip cookies was left untouched yet the bottle of wine left on the counter was suspiciously empty. Highly doubtful of an aged overweight man “sleighing” under the influence of alcohol, I was left no other conclusion. And with that I considered my first mystery solved.

Becoming but the first of many, that little Yuletide enigma led to a multitude of other mysteries, including but not limited to my tireless hunt for the mystical Easter Rabbit or my intrepid expedition to find the Tooth Fairy. My quarries may have been imaginary, but the thrill of hunting for the elusive answers to those puzzling and unanswered questions all the way to the tingle I felt when I finally found them was as satisfying as it was real.

Those puzzles have never left me. Instead, as I have grown up, they have merely become more cryptic, more inscrutable, and stranger than ever. I have reciprocated again and again by finding more and more ways to solve them. As I got older, the riddles only got better.

Growing up in a devoutly Catholic family and having been educated since preparatory school in a Jesuit institution, I find that one of the greatest mysteries (of biblical proportions even) that has continued to elude me is none other than religion. Most people who know me are genuinely surprised when they discover how adept I am at discussing and even debating about theological matters (or if they prefer quantified evidence, how high my Christian Living Education grades get) despite the fact that I do not outwardly appear to be any more religious than anybody else.

I myself admit that I am not. Having solved as many modern-day myths and contemporary legends as I have, I cannot simply deviate from my process and fully believe in anything without any doubts or reservations because I do not know unequivocally and unquestionably that I have the right conclusion, that I have the truth.

However, this only drives me to more voraciously yearn to discover and learn more in search for a definitive and cathartic answer. Only one thing concerns me once I commit to that, and that is to find the truth. That is the gift I am graced by this one perennially unsolved puzzle.

I am not so completely inept, though, at solving mysteries beyond Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster. In fact, some of my solved enigmas have shaped me in ways more permanent and perceivable than the deeply philosophical unsolved ones.

Last year I engaged in social immersion for my school in a small rural farming community in the hills of Antipolo. It was there that I witnessed a disturbing yet curious mystery.

While I was walking near the center of town, I noticed an unusually large crowd gathering at the covered court, which was the largest structure for several kilometers around. I saw, standing in front of their parked BMWs and behind their tables laden with boxes of pills and bottles of syrups, a group of what appeared to be “doctors” but I highly suspected were merely a group of “enterprising businessmen.” Unmindful of me, they continued peddling, with utmost showmanship and panache, their “medicines,” which, after a single glance, I not only suspected but in fact knew were anything but.

The mystery revealed itself when each and every person watching with me clamored and shoved for the opportunity of buying some “medicine” from those “doctors.” I could not believe my eyes. I had thought that the bigger mystery was why those “doctors” lied, but it was in fact why all those people believed them.

I of course deduced that it was because these people didn’t know any better. I found the answer almost immediately, but I kept remembering that solved mystery day after day, almost as if it had struck a chord inside me. It was then that I realized that finding answers to mysteries was no longer enough for me. What I had seen that day was no simple mystery; it was a problem, and problems don’t just need answers, they also need solutions.

It was then and there that I made what will probably be the most lasting decision of my life—my choice to pursue medicine. It’s a field ripe with a multitude of blossoming unanswered questions and mysteries, a place with boundless answers and opportunities to find solutions and help others, a place I would love to call home.

At first glance, I might be accused by many people of being obsessed with puzzles, problems and riddles. I find the veracity of this to be quite questionable. It’s not even the puzzle that I like the most, or even the answer. It’s finding the answer.

Finding the answer has always been an enlightening and cathartic process for me in more ways than one. It has shaped and defined me in more ways than I can remember, and if I have learned anything at all, it is that it will forever continue to.

Recalling another famous English proverb that fits better than the one I wrote at the start, I doubt that even with nine lives, I would live, even a single one, afraid of curiosity.

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