DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 14 November) — Eager to escape the nightmare of travel and security restrictions for the holding of the APEC summit at the Philippine capital, my mother-in-law left early for Europe, my wandering boots in tow. On her way out she texted to remind me that she won’t be around for my father-in-law’s death anniversary.
“I’ll take care of it, ma,” I texted back, wishing her safe travels.
The world commonly celebrates Fathers Day in June. I reckon mine on the Ides of November. This year marks the 15th year since my father-in-law died. My father, on the other hand, would have turned 80 on this day, except that he, too, breathed his last three weeks back.
Understandably, in the last 14 years, I’d roll on a tide of mixed emotions as the Ides of November neared. This year, with the 15th a day away, I don’t know how to feel.
Yes, any day of the year, someone dies and someone is born. The longer you live, the more personal rituals you add to your annual calendar, tying you up in circular motions that re-enact loss, remember the good things, or mark your coming of age. Sometimes it dawns on you that you’re going round in circles, mostly on those times when you need to start again. But every day is just another day. The beginning ends and the ending begins. It just is, however you feel about it, whether you’re ready or not.
Maudlin meanderings too noisy I can’t hear myself. I lost the words.
Yet my daughter finds them. Late in the night, she writes of life and death:
Once you’ve committed yourself to sitting down with the figures from those who contemplate death or are celebrating life, at some point in the math you’ll fall onto the realization that these are two constants. It almost doesn’t matter what happens in between or after, or even how you manipulate the equation and from which side, because neither and both have been the independent variables capable of determining the equation. In other words, life is multiplied by life, but it still ends in death.
I say almost because we aren’t who we are without that in between. Life and death are collectives; when you’re alive you’re part of the green, breathing symbiote – you’re in the trees and the soil and the air and the sky. When you’re dead, you still belong to the cosmic dust that makes up our stars. You aren’t gone.
You’re sitting in front of a flashing screen at 3am, your fingers typing words that have long since stopped making the right kind of sense, even when you’re sleep-deprived and tired and busy, because your heart is leaking and you need to pool the poison blood.
You’re on your back on the surface of water, forgetting everything you’ve known about adhesion, absorption, buoyancy and density, because the miracle of floating where you can is temporarily magic beyond explanation.
You’re staring out an airplane window, and maybe man was never meant to fly, but the cities look like Christmas lights and the seas are dynamic blankets that roll and billow with the wind.
You’re lying on the road, the few seconds feeling like forever, and the flash that blinded you before it hit you is still blinking in your head.
You’re trying not to bleed on the car seat.
You’re falling off of trees, and the pain is swallowed up by that momentary sensation of what it must feel like to be a bird that flies; with the wind behind your arms and back trying to tell you the secret of how.
You’re sleepless on clean, cool sheets listening to the breathing rhythm of someone you’ve always loved, or are helplessly falling for.
You’re selfish, watching other people say what you wish you’ve said, and take what you wish you took, even when it’s not your name written on that special paper. You’re practicing insanity, retaking tests, looking up questions you’ve answered before and rereading the red marks because hope makes you repeat yourself by giving you glimpses in dreams of another outcome.
You’re stuck in the rain and utterly without shelter, and the rain is soaking through your clothes and dripping off your hair and pooling in your shoes.
You’re posing for pictures in arrangements so tight you’re threatening to osmose. In a sea of people, you’re the only one who sees the camera, panic, and brandish your most inconvenient smile.
You’re ignoring the party behind you, ignoring the balloons, ignoring the blasting music, ignoring the clamor or people because a stray dog demands to be petted.
You’re counting your breaths and closing your eyes because you’re running out of time for that someone to be playing with your hair and running their fingers on the surface of your skin.
And that is your present – that, you are a series of what happened to you and who happened to you and how you happened to other people and to other things; how we live in a planet that’s mostly water, but we don’t grow up afraid of drowning; it’s how you could live vicariously through book characters and live inside pillow forts, or spend your days pinwheeling or roadrunning, tempting both fate and physics; and how you could either go out with a bang like a bullet where it counts, or lose a little every night until you just pass away in your sleep.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Gail Ilagan is the director of the Center of Psychological Extension and Research Services at the Ateneo de Davao University. Her daughter, Sage Danielle, is a biology sophomore at the University of the Philippines – Visayas.)