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‘Life, death, and the best of us’

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Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III

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The title of this essay does not belong to me. It is Tony La Viña’s. It is the title of his Rappler essay (Jan. 6. 2016), which gave tribute to diverse people whose deaths gave meaning to him and others.

In an act of remembrance on the fourth death anniversary of my wife Mae (she passed on Aug. 30, 2015), I found meaning in re-reading an essay I wrote for BusinessWorld titled “Celebrating life” (Jan. 18, 2016). In this piece, I quoted Tony’s “Life, death, and the best of us.” Tony wrote: “But when those deaths are meaningful because of the lives that were led and the people who loved them grieved and carried their loss with such dignity and love, there is something to celebrate there.”

In “Celebrating life,” I likewise quoted two friends, sociologist Randy David and economist Noel de Dios. Both of them lost loved ones recently — Randy lost his wife Karina in May 2019; Noel lost his elder brother Lito in December 2018. Randy’s and Noel’s messages have an immediate palpability in light of their current sorrow and bereavement. And theirs are indelible words.

In his Philippine Daily Inquirer column titled “Time, lastingness, and gratitude” (Jan. 3, 2016), Randy wrote about the “intimation of mortality.” Without being explicit, Randy had a foreboding of what Karina’s fragile condition would lead to. A foreboding nevertheless does not mitigate the shock and anguish of losing a beloved wife.

In the wake of Mae’s passing, Noel wrote me a private message. I would like to think that it is a message for everyone; hence, I quoted him in my own essay. Said Noel: “We ought to strive to see as much of the compelling movie of Life as we can — even though one knows one can never see the absolute end.”

I also read Noel’s tribute to his brother Lito (whom he fondly calls Gio) which The Philippine Reporter titled “Lito de Dios: My Brother’s Big Heart.” (Feb. 22, 2019). Here, Noel narrated the life of Gio and their closeness.




The part of Noel’s story that was perhaps the most interesting and intriguing to me was about the brothers’ involvement in the revolutionary movement in the early 1970s. In particular, Noel asked: “But where we used and fooled? Were we willing participants in the deception ourselves? How I wish I could I could have had time to discuss this matter at leisure and dispassionately with Gio, the same way we discussed things when he would come home on weekends from seminary. I can imagine how much we might clarify things to ourselves. But alas, that will not happen now.”

I surmise though that the dark chapters in the movement’s history did not make Lito (or Noel) regret that episode in their life. As Noel said, “While the motives and methods of some in the underground Left leadership may be debated, I don’t think the idealism of the many of the youth at the time… can be denied.”

For Lito (or Gio), as Noel described it, life was about the “aesthetic of love.” Noel concluded, “His love proved too big for his heart.”

Accordingly, we return to Randy’s column which I cited above and Noel’s note to me.

Randy ended his essay by quoting several lines from William Wordsworth’s ode, “Intimations of Immortality.” In particular,

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:

The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,

Hath had elsewhere its setting,

And cometh from afar:

Not in entire forgetfulness,

And not in utter nakedness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come

From God, who is our home:

Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

Life is colorful, and it contains many happy memories, even magical experiences, which we tend to forget as we near death. Our grief will not vanish all this.

Noel, surely not a Wordsworth but nevertheless a rare kind of poet, has a similar message in his note to me. To repeat: “We ought to strive to see as much of the compelling movie of Life as we can — even though one knows one can never see the absolute end.”

My wife Mae had a short life, but she celebrated life and had a meaningful life. She did not see the absolute ending of the “compelling movie of Life” But her signature smile would tell us that she had resolved that the ending would be a heavenly one.

 

Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III coordinates the Action for Economic Reforms.

www.aer.ph

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