On Thursday, Nov. 1, the Catholic world celebrates All Saints’ Day. As far back as I can remember, it has been a family tradition to make an annual trek to the cemetery to visit the graves of our departed loved ones. In many provinces around the country, this visit is actually scheduled for the following day, November 2, which was designated by the Church as All Souls’ Day. This tradition of visiting the dead dates back to the Spanish period and is part of our Hispanic legacy.
The original idea behind All Souls’ Day was for us, the living, to remember and pray for the souls of our departed in the so-called purgatory—the “half-way house” between heaven and hell. Obviously, if a person went straight to heaven, there was no need to pray for him. If he went to hell, no amount of prayers could get him out since the sentence was for eternity, or so our religious instructors stressed. Since we could never be sure whether a soul had joined the angels and saints in heaven, or was being held in purgatory, or was languishing in hell, it was always best to go out and pray for them on this particular occasion.
Today, what is it like to visit the cemeteries in Metro Manila or in urban centers all over the country on All Saints’ Day? First of all, there are the huge traffic jams on the roads leading to the cemeteries, and as one gets closer, all movements slow down to a snail’s pace. If you are an early bird, parking may not be much of a problem but after a while, you would be lucky if you get to park within a kilometer of the gravesite. The atmosphere is more like that of a marketplace with hawkers, vendors peddling their wares or services, and people either eating, sleeping, playing cards or mah-jongg, gossiping or socializing with friends and relatives. For most of the day, the last person on the minds of people is the one who was supposed to be the focus of attention, the person six feet below.
Our population is bursting at the seams. So is the number of our dead. The transportation system is overburdened and the price of gasoline is headed north with no significant relief in sight.
As I have mentioned several times during the last few years, there are some traditions worth observing. There are others that can and should be discarded because of developments in our society that make the continued observance of these customs and traditions impractical.
Perhaps, the trip to the cemetery that we intend to make on November 1 or 2 can be saved for another day, a day of special memories that connect us more closely with the departed loved one. It is likely that on such a day, fewer people would be around and your visit would be in an atmosphere of quiet dignity and attention, unlike that of a crowded marketplace during the early days of November. If we are to move forward, we must be open to change.
* * *
In this period of remembrance, allow me to share some personal notes on a boyhood friend, almost a brother to me, who passed away recently after a battle with the big C.
Henry Farolan Nivera and I grew up together in Baguio City. We were raised by our aunt, Cristeta Farolan Nivera, and shared many moments that I can only describe as some of the happiest in my life. In those days, Baguio City was truly the City of Pines and, together, we discovered the many joys and thrills of young boys roaming around a city full of greenery and the fresh scent of pine. The small trees that surrounded Burnham Park lake were our main source of some of the best spiders that we kept in matchboxes to challenge other boys in the neighborhood. Henry had a special gift of knowing which spider would fight and which one would back away. As my older brother, he built me the best slides made of discarded GI sheets and we would join some of the races that were held on hills covered with slippery, dried pine needles. We won some, we lost some. Whatever the result, it was great fun.
When I entered the Philippine Military Academy, I lost track of Henry. But after a few years, we reconnected. He had joined the US Navy at Cavite naval base. At that time, the US Navy was still accepting young Filipino men for enlistment in the service. He finished with an outstanding record as a member of the submarine fleet known as the “Silent Service.” I would say he was a pioneer in this regard since for a long time, submarine duty was closed to many of the minorities in the US Navy.
Two weeks ago, I received word that Henry had passed away. In a Long Beach, California newspaper section titled “Passages” was this obituary:
“Henry F. Nivera quietly passed away on Sept. 16, 2012 in Long Beach, California after a brief battle with lung cancer. He was 80 years old. A former resident of Titusville, Florida, he was born in Baguio City, Philippines and became a man of the world, thanks to 23 years in the US Navy, including service in Vietnam, followed by several more years in the merchant marine service where he participated in Desert Storm. His naval tenure brought him to duty stations throughout the Pacific and included several stints on submarines, the ‘Silent Service,’ which is fitting for a man easily described as quiet and unassuming. . . . Final interment with military honors will take place at Fort Rosecranz National Cemetery in San Diego, California.”
* * *
We also remember the living.
Sunday was the 18th birthday of our eldest grandchild, Christine Farolan of Woodridge, Illinois. We sent her the following greetings from the Philippines:
“In 1987, your Dad and Mom were married at the Manila Cathedral. It was the culmination of a friendship that started at the University of the Philippines where they were classmates preparing for a medical career.
“We thought that after a year or two, we would be welcoming our first grandchild. But apparently, they wanted to settle down in their careers and prepare well for your arrival. And so it was in 1994, seven years later, that you finally came into our lives.
“You are now officially an adult, and this means there’s a whole new world opening up that translates to more freedom, more choices, more opportunities for you. Don’t forget, it also means that a greater sense of responsibility is expected of you.
“During one of our visits there, I drove the family car and picked you up from school. You were seated at the back and one of the observations you made about the ride home was that you could see the trees along the way. Apparently, your Dad always drove so fast that the trees were often just a blur.
“As you go through life, remember not to drive too fast. You may miss—not just the trees—but also some of the Lord’s loveliest creations.”