Monday, February 08, 2010

Coming Home

And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son! - 2 Samuel 18:33

I wish I were writing of happier times now as I am making plans for coming home.

I haven’t been in the Philippines for twenty months – longer than usual for me, but not so much as for others who have made a life here in Saudi Arabia.

There was so much drama going on in my life the past two weeks – from the fateful decision to turn my back on my company, to the amazing opportunity made available by one of my former bosses, up to the time I accepted the job offer. That would have ended it, except that I couldn’t travel back to the Philippines because of formalities in processing my documents.

It’s been a week since that day that my life had been stopped and started – a few more dramas like not having funds available from the bank, the tension of waiting --- and waiting. I had packed Saturday evening since my flight was scheduled at 1:10 Monday morning. I could hardly sleep – anticipating, with half ruefulness, that the drama was about to end.

But another moment for drama came --- I received a text from our mutual friend Charlie that Kuya Josue was being revived at the hospital. The gravity of the news hadn’t sunk in yet --- he was being revived as he had already flatlined.

My own story wasn’t over – my passport hadn’t been stamped, it had taken some time for the Labor Office to un-cancel my cancelled work permit. I was on the verge of apoplexy – notice the parallelism – but I decided to let it go.

I couldn’t twiddle my thumbs for the next few hours waiting for a ride home, so I decided to call for a cab and commute to the hospital where Josue was.

What I noticed (even in my somnolent state) on the cab ride was the various roadworks being done around the hospital. It would have been hell trying to get to the hospital – memories of watching my father dying in an ambulance en route to the hospital welling up – I was certain that it wouldn’t be like that with Josue. The man was bantam-sized in all respects – soft-spoken, slight in stature, self-effacing for the most part – but in courage and compassion he was colossal.

I was numb at that point, but I was certain – he’ll get through it. He always delivers in the clutch. There could never have been a more clutch moment he will go through.

I was wrong.

I climbed up the emergency ramp and was met at the lobby by my favorite doctor and the father of one of my former students. His first line was something like, “You heard the news about Josue, right?” and before I could stammer an answer he dropped an anvil on me, “He’s gone, you know.” He had been pronounced dead just five minutes before I arrived.

I made my way to the Cardio-Thoracic ICU at the 5th level of the hospital and came upon a scene from a movie. The camera shutter moves and squeezes out pain from the very air of the place. Death has come into the room, and his grip is unrelenting. Oh, how he has fallen. Would that I had the power to prevent suffering such as this!

One of the things that helped me cope with my father’s sudden death so many years ago was re-telling the story of how he passed away. I watched over him in a lying-in clinic the night before he died, was with him when our family made the decision to move him to a larger hospital, and was in the front seat of the ambulance when he flatlined and died before we got there. There is nothing so excruciating as torturing oneself with those memories, it was such catharsis than facing the alternative – mourning such grievous a loss.

My other friends were doing just that – re-telling the story of how things unfolded, because it helped them cope. He was complaining of some bodily pain the previous night, so they said, but Josue never gave an indication that he was suffering. He was somewhat of a healer himself, he touched other people’s flesh and relieved them of their pain.

In the morning he picked up his wife, Lai, as she got off her shift at the hospital where she worked. He made it to the office, complained of some pain, and instead of going to the hospital, he called his wife so that she could accompany him to the hospital. Perhaps it was some kind of precognition working – we will never know, of course. He drove over to their place, collected her and then drove to the hospital (navigating through all the road work I mentioned), found parking(!), and made it to the emergency room.

After standard triage the attending noticed something irregular (this part isn't clear to me, and I didn’t want to inflict more torture on the storyteller) with his vitals and he was rushed to the ICU. At one point oxygen saturation level in his blood went down, and thenceforth he went flatline, and his doctors called for a Code Blue.

To their credit, they did all they could do to revive him. Two hours later, they accepted the inevitable – he was dead.

There was another movie-like scene as we trooped inside the ICU – life imitating art imitating life. Someone delivered a short eulogy and prayer – and then the tears began flowing. This was a big scene, even so, in a place where death is a familiar guest. Tears are a sign of the living; they are no good for the dead or dying.

I wish I could have shed those tears for Josue, by being a better friend, while he was alive. No portion of life is free from regret.

Looking at him, he seemed at peace. Gone from his face were his cares, his worries. After so many years of waiting, just three or so years back, he and his wife welcomed a child, a boy, into their lives. Life was good, things were getting better. He and his contemporaries were looking forward to seeing the older children finish college and to bring in the younger ones soon enough.

All gone, all seemingly too soon.

I am certain Kuya Josue lived a good life; it is because he left so many things unfinished. No one knows the hour where the Lord will take back the life He has given us; no one knows when his or her time is up.

All we can do in this life is to do as God has shown us. As the Prophet Micah wrote, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you -- to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

That we have lived, loved, and fought the good fight, should be enough.

We may have been cheated of having the privilege, no, the honor, of having Kuya Josue a little longer in our lives. I know I have been touched forever by knowing him, by having him as my friend, by his acknowledging me as his friend.

I pray for him so that the angels guiding him will speed him home, to guide him to where he truly belongs, where the Lord, will, in his justice and mercy, say to him, “Welcome home, my son. Welcome home.”

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me."

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me." - Isaiah 49:14-16

Hindi kita malilimutan, Kuya Josue.

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