My life’s mountain range
I tried pressing the elevator button three times before the hospital staff offered to do it for me.
“Third floor,” were the only words I could muster. At that moment, the air was taken out of my lungs and my heart was stuck in my throat. Strength left my body that I couldn’t even properly press a simple metal button.
There was a scene in the last episode of the hit Korean drama “Reply 1988” that kept replaying in my head. It’s when the main character, Deok Sun, said in the final episode that she wants to go back in time to her younger years because she wanted to meet her parents again “when they were young and seemed as big as mountains.”
My father is as big as the mountains. He is the Sierra Madre that protected the Cagayan Valley during the onslaught of typhoons. Steady. Strong. Immovable.
When my mother told me that my father had a mild stroke, there was a surge of anger within me — a feeling of sudden betrayal. It was as if the Bogeyman had taken away the security blanket I had since I was born. I couldn’t recognize the weakened figure that was lying on the hospital bed. I remember the powder blue hospital gown he wore, and the small, rickety bed he was in. I realized then how I had never noticed the gray hairs on his head, the little creases on his forehead that were never there before. The strong arms that used to carry me to bed when I was younger, every time I fell asleep in front of the TV, were now trembling and hooked up to tubes and weird-looking machines.
I have always thought that parents are forever. I held them up on a pedestal like gods; they are immortal, or at least the type of persons that never need to be taken care of. These childish and naive thoughts were on my mind along with my firm denial of reality. Yet even in the middle of self-pity and selfish brooding of making his affliction all about me, my sick father was the first one to pull up a smile and ask how I am.
Right there and then, I couldn’t look at my father the same way I did before. Much akin to that scene in “Spider-Man 2” where Peter Parker was accidentally unmasked after stopping the train. The passengers looked at him in a new light, like finally taking off the rose-colored glasses, when they saw the hero’s vulnerable and unconscious body. He is just a human.
It painfully dawned on me how parents are neither great mountain ranges, gods, nor heroes in movies. This epiphany on my end is something that, I believe, every child goes through in their lives. Whether it was a gradual or a sudden realization, the experience comes with the feeling of both awe and disbelief. How do our parents do it? How do they manage to keep their own lives, their jobs, and their children’s lives together? I was too self-absorbed that I never realized that my parents are humans—with ambitions, flaws, real needs, and vulnerabilities. They are fallible beings who needed to act like mountains and heroes, so they could protect their loved ones to the best of their abilities. Parents carried the weight of the world on their shoulders while preparing us to take on the same for when the time comes that we have to brave life alone. They are strong and dependable not because they simply are, but because we needed them to be.
In this new light, I saw my father for what he really is — a selfless, consummate survivor. I do not know when I will stop needing him to be my Sierra Madre, my superhero. I think children, no matter how old they’ve grown, will never stop needing their parents. From painful wounds on the knee from learning how to ride a bike when we were little to the heartbreaks and failures we face as adults — we will always turn to our fathers’ strength and our mothers’ warmth. Someday, when the time finally catches up to us, hopefully, we can be our parents’ Sierra Madres and superheroes, too, not because we are but because they will need us to be.
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Odeza Gayl Urmatam, 24, is a student at San Beda University College of Law. She loves to write personal essays in-between reading assignments and case digests.
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