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High Blood

Pebble in my shoe, stone in my heart

04:10 AM November 10, 2019

The rainy season came early that year, and I was forced to abandon my stone-gathering expeditions in the mountains. So it was that I found myself having time to kill, and one night, I went with my friend, a stone hunter, to Laoag to attend the wake of one of his major buyers, who had suddenly died of cardiac arrest at age 44. This man belonged to a family of stone merchants and suppliers; on his own, he had already established a chain of rock garden centers all over the Ilocos provinces.

Before the dead man’s coffin was closed for viewing, I noticed that his son had placed a piece of black lava rock in the shape of a mother and child in the dead man’s hand. It was his father’s favorite, the son told me, of all the viewing stones in his father’s collection of suiseki.

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It got me thinking then: Will the dead man’s soul be able to bring that with him when he goes to the banks of the River Styx, to embark for The Land Beyond Beyond? Will Charon the Boatman accept the stone in lieu of his requisite coin? Isn’t it set in stone that we take nothing with us when we go? The one thing we can bring with us is the very thing we leave behind — the unwritten yet indelible record of our days and deeds while we lived, the fossil of our reputation.

I was moved and shaken by such thoughts, floating out of the darkness of the trees in my mind like fireflies, providing moments of illumination for this stone-blind man. I realized that my life till then lacked something I could not quite get a hold of. I felt as if I were a man who must jump from stone to stone to get across a river in flood, but has now been stopped at midstream because he’d run out of stones to step on. Life was good but I was bad, and that’s not good at all.

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Memories oozed out of the dry riverbed of my mind like rising floodwaters to wet the stones, to bring the past to living color once again. I remember the people who had loved me for the lithic, petrous, stone-hearted thing I was, but whom I had discarded and chucked away after I found other stones with better marbling, finer streaks, stones more green, more red.

In the end, I ended up with only me to come home to. I’m just a rock hound, after all, an amateur collector of stones not even good enough to make soup with. I’ve run out of stones to step on, I’m in midstream, and the river is rising, rising.

I am weighted down by the bag of stones I carry on my back, collected over a lifetime of sinning. My soul, as a consequence, has become heavy as a boulder, over the years sinking deeper and deeper into the mud and muck at the rock bottom of the river we call Time, drowning me but not nearly to the point of killing me. Perhaps it is not intended that I die quickly, for that would be such an easy way out, a misplaced kindness wasted on one such as I. Maybe it is right that I should suffer first.

And I do, I do suffer exceedingly, excruciatingly so, petrified with saudade, relentless and unforgiving. My sins sit in my heart like a stone, pester me like pebbles in my shoe.

Only God, my bedrock and my foundation, can remove them.

* * *

Antonio Calipjo Go ([email protected] yahoo.com), 68, is academic supervisor of Marian School of Quezon City.

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