(I wrote this last year for the book launching of Billy Esposo’s “Kidney Diaries.” I never got to read it because I didn’t get to make it to the launch; traffic was unusually bad that day. This is how I prefer to remember my friend, who went in the dead of midnight last Saturday, not in the quietude of death but in the riotousness of life.)
Billy once told me this story. He had just had his kidney transplant and gone to Rome to offer his thanks for its success. While there, he was wheeled about by an Italian whose many talents did not include how to properly wheel a wheelchair. One day, they were at a street that went up and down. When they got to the crest, the Italian gave his wheelchair a mighty push.
The wheelchair did not just get over the hump, it got out of control. It rolled down the street with Billy on it. It didn’t just horrify Billy, it horrified the onlookers. Finally, the wheelchair hit bottom, Billy was pitched over, and he sprawled on the street. But before the petrified onlookers could move and help him back to his chair, Billy pushed himself up, and though quite wobbly, got to his feet.
The onlookers, seeing how God had made the lame walk, crossed themselves and cried, “It’s a miracle.”
Since that miracle, Billy has gone on a roller-coaster ride with his affliction, being well for the most part but also lapsing into a bad way now and then, some of those times worse than others. I remember in particular getting a call from him sometime in 2005 telling me he was about to be confined in a hospital. He could do with all the help he could get, he said, and didn’t mind friends praying for him. I said I’d gladly offer him one on the principle that God being partial to prodigal sons, he was bound to listen to me. Billy did get better after that, and remained convinced afterward that I had something to do with it.
Then a couple of years ago, he was in a truly bad way, his transplant showing signs of rejection. He was confined for about a month, and needed a male nurse to help him out of bed to attend to his needs.
He recovered from that as well, which he celebrated in his own inimitable way a month or so later. We were at a gathering and the fare included lechon, a whole plateful of the skin having been laid out at our table. I imagined that having just been chastised by his hospitalization, he would approach it more cautiously. But no. A believer in Napoleon’s dictum, “When in doubt, attack,” he attacked it without doubt, or hesitation. I believe he accounted for much of the bandehado’s demolition.
But all this made me wonder how it felt to be under the shadow of a perpetual affliction. To wake up wondering how the day will find you, to constantly check yourself for signs of improvement or deterioration. To have medicines and hospitals as a part of your life. To worry about the havoc all that is causing on your finances. (I asked Billy once: How much do you spend a month for medicines and medical treatment? He said, P75,000-P80,000. Jesus, I said, that’s a rich man’s salary.) To be confined to home, barely able to get out except on certain occasions. And added to all that, to be facing an uncertain future.
I don’t know how I can cope with it. I myself am just home most the time, but I also like being able to go out and enjoy friends whenever I want to, or need to, preferably with the aid of much wine and song. Most of us thrown in the same state as Billy would probably be horribly depressed, abject, resentful. Most of us would probably rail against fate, even if Billy also has a habit of tempting, or taunting, fate. Most of us would probably give up, surrender, resign, bahala na si Batman, ganyan lang talaga ang buhay, ganyan lang talaga ang malas.
That’s what makes this occasion a marvel. It’s a testament to Billy’s spirit. It’s a testament to living. It’s a testament to life. I did say in my blurb that his book is not just for the sick of body, it is also for the sick of soul. It is not just a blueprint for surviving adversity, it is a blueprint for living life.
Some people survive disease, others overcome it. Billy has done so, in every sense of the word “overcome.” His condition has not kept him from doing what he wants to do, which is writing columns, which is tormenting the tormentable. I know when he is well because he would call to unburden himself of his oppression in the form of people who just marred his day, who just marred his consciousness, who just marred his cheerfulness.
His condition has not dampened his spirits. He has not dwelled on his affliction or turned himself into a subject of sympathy, or worse, of pity. I myself have not seen him less than cheerful or unenthusiastic about things. Of course his wife, Meyang, may have a different opinion and may have quite a mouthful to say about it.
His condition has not killed his lust for life. I know that not just because he continues to send me lustful images in my e-mail. I know that not just in that he continues to crave gustatory delights, the deprivation of which being the one thing he monumentally minds. It’s in that he continues to preoccupy himself not with the ways of death but with the ways of life, engaging the world in a lively, life-affirming, life-giving way. Such as by writing a book that keeps the fires of life burning, his own as well as that of others, in more ways than one.
I am happy for him. Particularly today, particularly on this occasion, when he stands, or sits, before us, as alive as ever, as larger-than-life as ever, give or take a few pounds, after going through much adversity, after enduring the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, finding himself in a joyful moment, a blessed moment, a moment of triumph.
What can one say?
It’s a miracle.