A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: Alber Husin: Go gently into the night, dear friend

DAVAO  CITY (MindaNews/14 February) — As I write this, Alber Husin – a Tausog peace advocate, anthropologist, teacher, partner to Irene and father of two children – is on a journey from Pagadian City to Zamboanga City where he will be buried before nightfall.

All those who love Alber – and they are a multitude representing all kinds of people across religious traditions, ethnicities, cultural legacies, genders, ages and classes – are presently inconsolable at his tragic death.

I find myself being consoled by the words of the poet Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

However, despite the tragic circumstances around Alber’s death, I would rather not echo Dylan’s words; instead I would say to him: go gently into the night, Alber Husin. And bring along on this journey to light the love that you so dearly deserve from your family, clan, friends, colleague and associates.  And you did choose the most appropriate date for this journey when all those you left behind face a bittersweet celebration of the day of love.  The ironies of love, indeed: love finds its greatest external manifestation when the loved one is gone!

Each one who knew and loved Alber  have their stories to tell as to how they encountered this person who was truly one-of-a-kind. Where his family and friends will now gather to celebrate his life, the narratives will flow and if Alber would be there to eavesdrop, he will find it all most amusing.

I have my own stories and I write them now, mainly to console myself and perhaps others who will find meaning in them. The facts are no longer accurate as the memories are now a bit clouded with the passing of time and the advancing of my own years. But the retelling of the stories still bring back the depths of feelings – of joy and laughter,  of pain and anxiety, of hope and excitement!

Prof. Alber Husin talks about his experiences as a student and as an anthropologist to students of MA Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University on November 10, 2012.  MindaNews photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas
Prof. Alber Husin talks about his experiences as a student and as an anthropologist to students of MA Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University on November 10, 2012. MindaNews photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas

I got to know him when the scholarly field of Anthropology was expanding in Mindanao. Through the efforts of Paring Bert (Albert Alejo SJ) and Dr. Erlinda Burton, the Anthropology consortium was set up at Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro City. The Mindanawon Initiatives for Cultural Dialogue which we set up in Davao City more than a decade ago was a main supporter of this initiative to get Mindanawon graduate students to do their MA and PhD Anthropology at XU.

I got fielded to be part of the panels when some of them were ready to defend their theses and/or dissertations. I was in Alber’s panel and his study was on the kris.  One of the first things I told him was that when I was a boy growing up in what is now Digos City, there were Moro traders who sold all kinds of cultural products and I still remembered very distinctly one of those souvenir items was this plaque-like thing with miniature weapons from Moroland, including the kris. When I was growing up as a boy, Alber was still a twinkle in his parents’ eyes so he had no idea what I was talking about!

In other circumstances, the gap between us (teacher-student, older-younger, Christian-Muslim, Moro-Bisaya) would have marked the boundaries where friendship would not prosper. But the gap was kept to a minimum and I found myself  being welcomed into his world. I met his whole family when his younger sister got married in an Islamic ceremony in a hotel in Zamboanga City, which was truly an experience of a lifetime! I met his girlfriends (and boy! did he have a number of them, which was not surprising as he had the looks of a matinee idol!) and was delighted when he finally married Irene (who like the song is truly sweet Irene, but strong and would not be the subservient wife to a macho Tausog). Then the children came and there were a few times we had outings when I visited them later in Cebu City when Alber decided to pursue his PhD at the University of San Carlos and Irene worked in a call center.

Part of why his friends and admirers were drawn to Alber was because he was fun to be with; his charm and positive energy was,  in Cebuano – nag-uros-uros (bursting out). No dull moment for this guy who had such passion for life. One can engage him in serious discourses but the conversation would spontaneously veer towards funny narratives. And you can tell when he is about to shift into a naughty stance; the mannerism is in the way he puts his hand at the side of his mouth and the smile is flashed as if there is no care in the world at that particular moment.

At one time, Paring Bert brought Alber along to a gathering of Jesuits and their lay collaborators somewhere outside Rome. Owing to schedules he had at the Ateneo de Zamboanga, Alber could not stay too long in Italy.  As their meeting was quite far from  Rome, he didn’t see much of the eternal city until the last day of his stay in that country when they were allowed a free day.  The following day he had to return to the Philippines. But friends and colleagues at Ateneo de Zamboanga had asked him to buy religious articles in Rome. So poor Alber – a Muslim – was going to the tourist shops in Rome buying rosaries, stampitas and crucifixes to please his Zamboanga friends; this meant the little time he had to see the delights of Rome was cut even further.

There were other interesting anecdotes. How he had tried his best to be a practicing Muslim in the face of a lifestyle that can sometimes not facilitate the practice of the praying five times a day or of going into puasa. It was a struggle, he honestly claimed.  There were stories, too, as to how he tried not to be a misogynist and be gentle in resisting the advances of  some women friends drawn to his charm. This was also a struggle but this has dissipated a bit when he got married. Recently most stories centered on his son and how often he had been called by the child’s teachers in school lamenting on the limits of their patience and asking him to help them get the boy to behave. This struggle was his main lament when I  had dinner with him and Irene in Pagadian City just after New Year, the last time I would be with him.

But the funniest story that he never tired of sharing was an incident that took place in Iligan City. I was then based in our monastery there and I invited him to stay with us if he had business in that part of Mindanao. The time came but on the day that he was going to arrive, I was still outside of the city. So I texted him to proceed to the convent and look for our cook, Lilia who was going to make sure that he would have a room. Then I would see him in the evening.

Now to appreciate the humor of this story, one has to know that our convent in Iligan is one-half of a building; the other half is the church. One immediately sees the church when one arrives there. The door of the convent is just beside the church.  No one was in the house except Lilia when Alber buzzed the doorbell; naturally, I had informed Lilia that my friend Alber was around and to make sure he would find his room. But I forgot to tell Lilia that Alber was a Muslim.  When Lilia opened the door, this is how the dialogue with Alber went:

Alber: Maayong buntag. Ako si Alber. (Good morning, I am Alber).

Lilia  : Dayon Father. (Come in, Father. But then Alber did look like a priest and had been often mistaken for one).

Alber: Ako tong bisita ni Bro. Karl. (I am the visitor of Bro. Karl).

Lilia: Ah ikaw diay Father. Palihug lang Father, pangitaa si Jesus. (So it is you, Father. Please look for Jesus).

Alber: (taken aback, asking himself, why he would look for Jesus. But since he was in a Catholic compound, Alber thought Lilia was asking him to look for Jesus of Nazareth, so he was perplexed and asked this question): Nganong pangitaon man nako si Jesus? (Why should I look for Jesus).

Lilia: Kay naa man sa iya ang yawi. (Because he has the key.)

(To this response, Alber thought Lilia was engaging him in a theological discourse on keys to the kingdom of heaven)

Alber: Ug asa man nako pangitaon si Jesus? (And where would I look for Jesus?)

Lilia: Diha o tapad ra dire, diha sa simbahan. (Over there just beside this, there in the church).

(At this moment, Alber was in panic. He really could not tell if Lilia was serious about finding Jesus in the church to give him a key to his room.  Fortunately at this moment, a man named Jesus comes out of the church and approaches them.)

Lilia: Ay Father, nia ra si Jesus o! (Father, here is Jesus).

Well, Jesus was our lay staff  who helped clean the church and the grounds. He was born on Christmas Day so his parents choose Jesus as his baptismal name.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons in the early years of the Church said that the glory of God is man fully alive!  In Alber’s case, we can paraphrase this into: the glory of Allah is a person like Alber who was fully alive!  Blessed are we who knew him as son, brother, teacher, student, colleague, friend. We are so much poorer now that he is no longer in our midst.

But what makes our lamentations intense are the circumstances of his death and why he died at the prime of his youth! We grieve his death as we rage at those who kill the innocent and who – because of their connections to those in power – may not be brought to justice. We can only pray that the police will find Alber’s assailant and take them/him/her to court. We also pray that this violent act will not spawn more violence as we know Alber would wish that the rido will vanish from the face of the earth.  We pray for Irene and their two young children that – despite this terrible, terrible tragedy – in Allah’s mercy, their needs may be provided for.

And we pray for ourselves that we may be comforted as our weeping will not stop for a while. And when there are no more tears to shed, we can move on as we hold Alber’s memory deep  in our hearts while doing our best to sustain our shared commitments for peace and harmony among peoples in Mindanao and beyond.

This one’s for you, Alber Husin as we sing… “oh the saints go marching in!”

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is author of several books, including “To be poor and obscure,” “Mystic Wanderers in the Land of Perpetual Departures,” “The Masses are Messiah: Contemplating the Filipino Soul,” and “Manobo Dreams in Arakan.” He writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English [A Sojourner’s Views] and the other in Binisaya [Panaw-Lantaw].)