At the start of the new year, I was surprised, but in an agreeable way, that two prominent public intellectuals wrote columns not about joy and hope but about life and death, suffering and grief.
I refer to the columns of Randy David, “Time, lastingness, and gratitude” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 3 January 2016) and Tony La Viña, “Life, death, and the best of us” (Rappler).
Both columns have struck an emotional chord with me, especially in the wake of my wife’s Mae passing. Both Randy and Tony are friends; thus I attach personal value to what they write.
Randy and his wife Karina are neighbors and family friends of my wife’s family, the Manalangs. Karina and Mae’s sister, Yeb, grew up together at Area 1 on the University of the Philippines campus, and they remain the best of friends.
Tony is my long-time colleague in development work. We have collaborated on issues, projects, and campaigns. We belong to civil society organizations like the Legal Rights and Resource Center and Samdhana Institute.
Randy wrote about their US visit for the birth of their grandchild and about Karina’s delicate health condition, her sudden internal bleeding, emergency procedure, and confinement during their US stay. Randy’s essay is about life and mortality. Said Randy, “what seized me in an uncanny way was an intimation of mortality.”
Tony’s introduction captures the essence of his column: “It seems strange to start the New Year with an article about death and grief. But when those deaths are meaningful because of the lives that were led and when the people who loved them grieved and carried their loss with such dignity and love, surely there is something to celebrate there.”
Tony gave a eulogy not only for famous people like Supreme Court Justice Florentino Feliciano, Inquirer editor-in-chief Letty Jimenez Magsanoc and law professor Alfredo Tadiar. He also extolled the common people, namely the lumads murdered by paramilitary squads, the Special Action Force policemen and the Moro rebels who died at the Mamasapano encounter, and his departed Jesuit friends and mentors. Last but not least, he gave tribute to friends — Tin Loren, who died of lung cancer despite her healthy lifestyle, and my wife Mae.
Especially for grieving persons like me, Randy’s and Tony’s articles are must-reads. Their stories have not only evoked memories of Mae. They have likewise reminded me of other departed ones and of kin and friends who are critically ill. Several friends are fighting cancer or are recovering from it. Luis, one of the best writers of his generation and Mae’s nephew, is under intensive care. The best of the doctors cannot pin down his immediate illness. Nancy, a meditative, healthy and lovely woman had a double stroke. She has been in coma for more than a month. Through the invisible hand, Randy and Tony have also written for them.
What have likewise stirred me are the honesty and dignity of their writing and the power and immediacy of their message.
I told Tony that although he has written many good articles, the one about “life and death and the best of us” is one that is most moving (and not just because the piece also pays tribute to Mae). He writes about common people who are likewise uncommon for being heroes albeit unknown. Tony’s essay is very personal yet public. He connects personal stories to the challenges of our society. A part of his message is that the good people who leave us, even the nameless ones, deeply affect our lives. They inspire us to become better persons and make us change our world for the better.
Randy’s essay on “time, lastingness and gratitude” is a departure from his usual rational and erudite if not complex and scholarly writing. The writing is raw and bares his vulnerabilities — the hint of mortality and the fear of losing Karina. Yet, he expresses hope, symbolized by the birth of their grandchild.
Randy’s “intimation of mortality” does not suggest fear of death. Rather, it is about awareness and acceptance.
And to paraphrase Tony, part of grieving is celebrating life. In my case, I celebrate my wife’s “worthy life,” which is how Babeth Lolarga describes Mae.
To end, allow me to share a note from a friend, Noel the economist, who himself is going through a delicate procedure: “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 say amen to that.
Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III coordinates the Action for Economic Reforms.
This article was first posted on BusinessWorld last January 17, 2016.