Life loves on
I thought of the word “decimated,” admittedly too dramatic, when I read that the deaths registered in 2021 were the highest since 1957/1958. (Which, many people are not aware, was during a flu pandemic.)
With or without the statistics, at gut level, we Filipinos did feel the losses last year exceeded those of previous years. I lost three first cousins, two classmates from my batch in college, with the counts blurring when it comes to all the other friends and colleagues.
It has been a year of fear and paranoia. One friend texted and asked me to please respond because she was worried about my silence. You never know these days, she explained, and she was right. I would get word from the most roundabout routes, from friends of friends, or from a small item in the newspaper, or a social media post. One time, it was the widow of a friend, a fellow speaker in a webinar, who told me of her loss … using the chat function on Zoom.
The deaths were not all from COVID-19, in my case becoming reminders of our mortality as I realized how many deaths there were among people my age, from cancer and strokes. I feel my generation being decimated when I’m asked to speak as an elder, or among one branch of cousins, as the oldest remaining one.
I found solace in an article that came out a few weeks ago in The Atlantic about Bobby McIlvaine, who died in the 9/11 tragedy in 2001 at the age of 26. For two decades now, he has haunted his parents and his girlfriend with the diaries he left behind. The Atlantic article zeroes in on a cryptic entry, “Life loves on,” which had struck his parents and became a family motto, but it took the writer, who knew McIlvaine, to point out something deeper to those three words.
We hear “life moves on” and it does. But life loving on makes us pause for another take on life.
I thought of the close friends and relatives—my own parents passed away in 2018, three months apart—and of lingering residues of grief, the Filipino “latak” is a better description.
During this pandemic, I found myself thinking more often about them, more of speculating how they would have reacted to the latest news and how they would have tried to console me, and their friends. That was how they were, in life.
Among colleagues, I think of fellow veterinarian Bo Puentespina, who started Malagos chocolates in Davao, reviving an appreciation for heirloom chocolates and a revival of tablea. Bo, who passed away in November, was also an environmentalist, especially concerned about preserving birds and wildlife.
His widow, Olive, was the one who told me about his death via a Zoom chat. Olive has spun off Malagos into making very good (and hard to find) artisanal cheese.
We have our collective bereavements as a nation. I think of people like National Scientist Ramon Barba, about whom I wrote in my column and what a difference he made finding a way to get mangoes to ripen all year round.
I thought, too, of National Artist Amelia Lapeña Bonifacio, who passed away in December 2020, and her Teatrong Mulat, using puppets for theater, and how her little theater in UP Village captivated hundreds of children, including my own, transporting them into new worlds that can never be duplicated by streaming video.
Beyond the Philippines, the world was bereaved many times over. Just the last two months, we lost two world religious leaders, Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and Thich Nhat Hanh of Vietnam, Thay or teacher to his many students of life. Both were peace warriors fighting the most formidable odds: apartheid for Bishop Tutu and, initially, the Vietnam war for Thich Nhat Huan. Exiled from Vietnam, he introduced active mindfulness to the Western world.
We all can leave legacies, young or old, famous or not. Mangoes and chocolates and puppets. Mindfulness for the world, and advocacies for peace, for the environment.
Most importantly, the ones we loved most left the most valuable of legacies, of companionship and compassion. Now gone, they continue to inspire us into lives that love on as their lives did. No, decimated is too dramatic a word, and even if the numbers stagger, we know that because life loves on, we are never diminished.
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