Bidding goodbye to passing on

A dear close friend passed on this week. We knew each other from elementary. He is best remembered as kind and sensitive, intelligent as well. Unlike most of us, who experienced the gross declaration of martial rule and lost bits of our dreams and ambitions under the dictatorship, he left the country quietly for the United States a few months after our high school graduation. We would learn later on that even in high school, the plan was already final for him to be in the Midwest.

He came back with much aplomb with a thick twang that turned off some of his acquaintances, but for those who knew him as a friend his newfound character and language were merely veneer. He remained the grounded, practical person we knew from way back, the individual who could amuse us no end. To our youthful timidity in high school before adults, he was sociable, and displayed great conversational skills.

We held on much longer to our adolescence compared to him who then seemed to rush into professional life. While we were grappling with career paths, he came back to the country with a tony trajectory in corporate banking. He provided us with a template for a success story that we may not have followed but nevertheless admired from afar.

His death still came as a surprise to those who knew him even after long reclusive years due to some unforeseen circumstances only he, in solitude, made sense of. At first we questioned what had become of this man, this friend who was the last person I, we, ever thought would opt for isolation after decades of bright existence. In the last six or more years, he had refused to see any one of us. Between him and those who cared about him, there was nothing left but a respect for what we thought to be his desire for aloneness. But during class reunions or gatherings of friends, we would think of him. We talked about him and thought of ways to draw him from his cave and life with shadows. For me, there was not a day when I looked to that moment when he would reappear before us and in that loud, gregarious voice greet us again as if he just came from an aberrant affliction.

I was there on the second night of the wake. The first thing I noticed was the profusion of flowers and wreaths, the colors all in white except for one or two arrangements with yellow blooms among the designs. I wondered if he would be loving these expressions of sympathy; I almost was about to ask his only brother if the sky blue casket was his choice. These thoughts may come across as odd but I knew so much about my good friend; he was particular about his home, the antiques he collected, the paintings he curated for himself, the tidiness of his surroundings, and most of all, how outstanding are these material elements that pertained to his life.

You might say, but he is dead and the dead cannot care anymore for earthly matters.

Did my generation talk about death or did we bracket our living by considering only life? In one of those amusingly loud conversations we engaged in, did my friend and I find the time, and did we offer ourselves the leisure of a pause, to quietly tackle the discourse of dying?

As a writer, I have mined wakes and funerals for the insights of humanity that could be drawn from those events. The end-results were essays that were piquant, saddled with irony and bristling with faithless sarcasm. The truth of the matter, however, is that there is nothing to be learned about death by the living. Pardon the absurdity of this idea: if there is one person that should learn about death, it should be the dead person. Here is the most obvious lesson: living has nothing to do with dying, and Life cannot learn anything from Death. This is the most merciless equation to solve and yet it is not open to any resolution.

We spend our life wondering about life, wandering in life. The life of a person is a never-ending quest for the meaning of life. We may not directly own this aim but this is what happens to all of us. Then death comes and all that search that should make life matter is dissipated. An end takes over. Some call this the Unmeaning. A blank slate. A vanished horizon. Nothing of the surplus of emotions, the effusion in e.e. cummings’s “here is the root of the root, and the bud of the bud/and the sky of the sky of a tree called life…”

My good friend’s brother must have been surprised when I asked him, what about the properties? The social beings in us have been persuaded by religions of all forms how we should not treasure material objects because we could never carry them to our grave. But precisely because we cannot bring these benevolent things of the earth that we should value them. Not of course the flippant things but the writings, the home, the garden, the dogs and cats that were our companions, the tiny candles from the cake your parents had gifted you, and many more. These define us in our life.

There is one more important thing to remember when we bid farewell to friends, to kin, to loved ones: let us not say, Rest in Power. That is a troubling goodbye. It burdens the dead with the most mortal of condemnations. Let us say, Rest in eternal happiness, and allow the unknown to take care of the business of sleep from then on.

Kaya, pahingalo na, amigo.


Image credits: Jimbo Albano


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