Sunday, November 02, 2008


There is a poignant line in the first ring of stories in "The Gunslinger" (first of the Dark Tower series by Stephen King) where Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger, is forced to make a choice - whether to pursue the Man in Black, or to leave behind his young ward, Jake Chalmers, a boy transplanted from our reality to his world.

Jake says, "Go then, there are other worlds than these."
... and from there he plunges to his death.

El Día de los Muertos - the Mexican expression for the Day of the Dead - is a national holiday of celebration, of mirth, in Mexico. It has, somehow, crossed the Pacific with the galleons to the Philippines, where the animistic rites and Chinese traditions also have a high reverence for those who are past. One of the most common customs is the making of elaborate altars to welcome departed spirits home. Families go to cemeteries to fix up the graves of the departed, and oftentimes vigils are held.

Filipinos have an obsession for the dead, sometimes more so than for life. In death, slates are wiped clean, and fond memories, once embittered by too much pain or too little affection, come to surface once again. A person, once fallen and clasped by the Hand of Death, undergoes beatification and becomes a saint.

It isn't really like that with me, only...

Sometimes I dream of the what-could-have-beens, lives hidden within the possibilities that were left hanging when the dearly departed pass away. Or at other times, I think about the never-weres, but still more powerful are the potentialities of the what-should-have-beens --- the events of my life that should have been the correct course were it not for crucial missteps, careless mistakes, losing struggles to venality or convention, and most of all, glaring omissions.

Of course, there are truths which are but shouldn't be, because we could do better. Or that we should do better. I can't say much for the rest, but I know this world could be a brighter place if I smiled more, or if I gave much more of myself.

There are worlds, and there are worlds of possibility. For some, the possibilities have been too palpable, too reachable, only to be stymied in the end.

It would have been great had my father lived longer, if he had not driven himself to drink in the last few years of his life. But that, too, has its own worlds of possibility - if my brother hadn't suffered a mental meltdown that would eventually become the cross our family would bear - it's frustrating to think what kind of present we would have had. My brother had always been the good son, the helpful one, the supportive one. Just thinking of what he could have been - a successful architect, for one - is so painful it could make my heart stop.

I wonder how things would have turned out had I gone on to be a lawyer on the one hand or La Salle Brother on the other...

I stopped this post just right here. I received an e-mail advice that Marcial Soriano, co-founder of SHARE and one of my mentors and "big brothers" during my high school and university days, was murdered this morning by one of his domestics. Details are sketchy.

A part of me is saying I should mourn more --- but the shock, like the shock from losing a limb, is still paramount. There is the foreknowledge that our lives could end any time, but there is also the hoping (or the denial) that it wouldn't happen to me or to anyone I knew personally. This loss is devastating --- the only way I'm protecting myself is to think of this in abstract terms.

Of course I'm just fooling myself.

Last night I lit a candle for the souls of the departed in my life and prayed for them. There is the faith that these dearly departed have gone on to a better place, and that's just it, all I can go on is that faith.

There are more worlds than these, but this world in itself, with all its beauties (and mirrored in ugliness as well), can be so fleeting if one doesn't take the life one has in hand, and, in Thoreau's terms, suck the marrow out of it. Sometimes the road is hard, and wishing is so much easier. But we do walk this road, and death is waiting at one end. I believe something else awaits on the other side, but all I can do right now is live this life as best as I can, as much as I can.

It could end a lot sooner than I would like to believe.

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