August is the eight month in our calendar. My grandmother must have been a closet fan of the French Structuralists, you know those thinkers who were so obsessed with the binary structure of the human brain and the binaries they produce. For my Lola Miling, August is one hell of an anomalous month. It is neither here nor there, between and betwixt (cf, Victor Turner). Of course, she did not know Turner. In fact, Turner should have known her.
For my dear lola when she was still alive, children and adults should be extra cautious during the month of August because the month was a poisonous month. When one got sick in August, the affliction lasted longer. When one was wounded in August, the healing took longer.
August marks the transition to months that ends in “ber,” September, October, November and the greatest “ber” month of them all—December. Of course, you know already what these “ber” months stand for. One starts the countdown to Christmas in September. We are aware, though, that there are people who are fond of what seasons can implicitly allow them to do. These people are those who start their countdowns in July.
August could be significant for some of the political families in the country. For the Aquino clan, in particular, Cory died on August 1, 2009. Her persona got a boost when her husband perished on August 21, 1983. Launching the group ATOM, or August 21 Movement, Butz Aquino, the prime mover of that movement who also served as senator, died on August 17 this year.
President Manuel L. Quezon died in New York on August 1, 1944. The presidency of President Sergio Osmeña began on the same day.
The invention of the A-bomb has made the month of August a potential candidate for the most horrible month in history. On August 6 the US dropped a bomb over Hiroshima and, on October 9 another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki both had significant populations of Christians in Japan.
I was very young when I worked at the A-bomb Peace Center in Hiroshima under the then Geneva-based International Christian Youth Exchange Program. In those few months, I managed to visit the A-Bomb war memorial and museum many times. In the museum, some of the artifacts were awesome in the real sense of the word. An “o-bento” or lunch box was on display. The shadow of a horse was captured on the wall by the massive flash of light the explosion created.
Each Friday, there was a meeting in the A-Bomb Peace Center of “hibakusha,” the special terms given to those who were victims of the bombing. Even as of the late 1970s, the effect of the bomb still manifested itself on the second and the third generations.
I would visit Nagasaki years and years after. In Hiroshima people thought the city would never be alive again because of the toxin the bomb had spread. In the 1970s, Hiroshima had clean rivers. Nagasaki, for all the numerous clustering of churches, gave me this impression of a city that appeared to grieve forever. Its parks are dotted with memorial signs and statues, some are in the form of goddesses and female figures that looked like they were cradling tragedies in their womb.
A Japanese once told me the non-Christians in Nagasaki were blaming the Christians for the bombing of the city. There are no documents attesting to what the Japanese had told me. What I remember seeing when I was in Nagasaki for the beatification of Fr. Peter Kibe and the 187 martyrs in 2008 was the overwhelming support of the local government and the communities. Before we left Tokyo, my brother-in-law, Sadahito Tanaka, had secured for my sister who is his wife a purple ID. That Christian badge allowed us to get free rides everywhere in the city. It was eerie and, at the same time, inspiring to be singled out as Christian in a place that executed thousands for their Christian faith in 1600s.
That was a cold November when I was there. The night before the beatification, there was an announcement all over the city that the next morning would be rainy. Umbrellas were not to be allowed as they would block the vision of those coming to the stadium. Raincoats were made available instead. The next day, not one umbrella was in the stadium.
After the Vatican representative declared the beatification of the martyrs, a huge canvas with the images of the martyrs was slowly unfurled. There was no time to applaud because the moment I looked up to see, doves were released. Then the bells of Nagasaki started to peal.
In 1948 Nagai Takashi wrote a book entitled “The Bells of Nagasaki.” In that book, the author wrote about the bells of Urakami Cathedral: “These are the bells that did not ring for weeks or months after the disaster. May there never be a time when they do not ring! May they ring out this message of peace until the morning of the day on which the world ends.”
I remember closing my eyes that cold November in Nagasaki and praying that no August month, or any month, will ever stop bells from ringing again.