Over coffee after a sumptuous dinner to celebrate her 60th birthday two years ago, a dear friend had this confession to make: She had banished all mirrors from her ancestral house in Iloilo, given them away, broken some herself.
This Ilongga used to be a beauty, with wealth and brains to boot. Inured to praise and admiration, she was naturally conceited, so much so that she never married despite the many supplicants.
Part of her morning ritual was to admire herself in the mirror, preening before her god for hours on end, unable to detach herself from the shimmering moiré of her reflection.
One day she was startled to see an old woman there, staring back at her from the other side, a crone without makeup, unbeautiful.
Where did all that beauty go? she remembered asking herself, with pain in her voice.
For living the good life to the hilt, she had irreparably ruined herself. She realized she had just about shed all the things she used to be extremely, excessively proud of: Her hair was like sickly grass, thin and yellow; she’d shed most of her natural teeth; her skin had turned sad and crinkly, like crushed parchment.
And soon she came around to understand, with such a shock she recoiled and spilled coffee over the dresser, that she’d of late been extra coy and cozy with her driver, but 28, married and with two kids. She resolved to change from then on.
Being deep down a creature of unfulfilled proclivities, the moment she cast off her many mental and emotional baggage she became lighter, more productive and useful. Shedding her former belle-of-the-ball image, she went on to find her own light, her own inner self. She became kinder and gentler, donating part of her vast landholdings to a few surviving relatives, adopting a child. She recently got hitched to a Swede with whom she plans to see the world.
The mirror is the perfect bezoar against the poison of excessive pride.
Here at home my rock python is shedding its skin; the cat sheds hair all over the sofa. The ground glistens with the shed wings of termites, the aftermath of epic nuptial dogfights. Elsewhere in the world, birds shed feathers, crabs their shells. Everybody just seems to be in on it! When we are sad, we shed tears; when we make war, we shed blood. The full moon sheds a lambent light on the sleeping garden tonight as I write this, while the jasmine sheds its fragrance into the cold night air. Time sheds its minutes and its hours, the calendar its hoard of days, and both move on and are no more, no more….
On a windy bluff overlooking the sea in Bangui stands a lone tree, a narra, that, in all the time I was there, did nothing but shed its leaves till not one dot of green may be seen in all its brooding bulk. Against the stark, jade-green sky, its bleak black skeleton drew a picture of a man lost in reverie, as of someone deeply desirous of hearing the rattle of an oncoming train that’s long overdue. It is not dead, merely asleep, waiting to be nudged awake, anticipating the call of whoknowswhat from somefarwhere, for it to live again.
The week before I left for the city, it began exuding nubs and nodes in places here and there, that in time would rupture and unravel into leaves again. Right there and then I understood the reason I lost my mother and my father and people I have loved, why there must be shedding in our lives.
It gives us a chance to have a second chance, a try again, a play it one more time. It is an opportunity for us to grow bigger and stronger, to correct an error, to right a wrong. To say I’m sorry and to promise to love better the next time around. To bear fruit and not wither.
I, too, will shed, leaves and leaves, day on day. I will be shed, I will be. But by then I will not care at all. I will discard my crutches to walk with God in the sand in His kingdom by the sea, where there are no sheds for hiding the uglies in us, our monsters, teratoids and grotesques.
God’s love must be like a cloth that sheds the water of intolerance, like the plumage of a duck that sheds the rain of bigotry and hatred. Heaven is a place where we can, once and for all, shed our fears, our shames, our vanity and our pride—all that we should not be. It is a place where we do not have to be what we are not. It is a place where we can simply be.
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Antonio Calipjo Go ([email protected]) is academic supervisor of Marian School of Quezon City.
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