A day before they found the bodies of Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo and the two pilots of the Piper Seneca, Jesse’s eldest daughter, Jessica Mae (“Aika”), faced the cameras tearfully but calmly. Their hopes were still up, she said, but they had also become realistic. They were hopeful her father was “just somewhere,” but they were also being “realistic dahil pangatlong araw na nawawala siya (because he has been missing for three days now). She thanked everyone for their prayers and show of support. “Though we’re in grief as it’s difficult for us to keep on waiting, it’s comforting for us to see the concerns and good thoughts of the friends of the family.”
Jesse’s older brother, Butch, sounded the same sense of realism, too. Looking tired and overwrought on TV, he said the family was prepared to accept the worst. “We’ve scoured the place already … and found nothing. It’s hard to admit but this could be the truth. If we can’t have him back, at least we can provide him proper burial.”
These are profiles in courage.
At the time they said that, people around them were trying to assure them that they were praying for Jesse and heaven could not be so deaf to their prayers it was bound to work a miracle. Fellow Bicolanos had been sending me text messages to participate in importuning Our Lady of Peñafrancia, also called Ina, in particular, to intercede on behalf of one of her stoutest devotees and get heaven to work that miracle. Several officials who were helping in the rescue operations themselves kept up the bright note, one saying that Jesse was a most resolute person he would have the “internal fortitude” to survive.
Ironically, only the Robredos had the internal fortitude to face reality, and not flinch.
I don’t know that there is a right or wrong way to approach these things. Unless you yourself have gone through that nightmare of anxious waiting, you can never really understand how it feels. You can never really know the depths of despair you can be plunged to and the need for shreds, or even shards, of hope to cling to. Outside looking in, I don’t know what you can say or do to give comfort to the ravaged, or most likely bereaved, and ease their pain. But I don’t know that one shouldn’t exercise a little more care, or caution, in the “I’m sure heaven will work a miracle” and “I’m sure he will survive” department.
Raising false hopes can be a lot unkinder than just giving people to know, however in dark hues, where they stand. That is so whether you are Christian or not. We have seen what false hope does. A few hours after Jesse’s plane crashed, radio reported that he had been plucked out of the water by a fisherman. That led to a burst of cheer and clapping by his family, who thanked God their prayers were answered. Which in turn led to the onrush of the darkest moods once the report was proven to be untrue. That was unkind.
I don’t know how Jesse’s family has taken the news of his death, though if Aika’s and Butch’s attitudes are anything to go by, it won’t be without courage and fortitude. At least the burden of oppressive uncertainty, of not knowing, has been lifted from them. I have an idea of how oppressive it can be from friends whose kin are desaparecidos or victims of forced disappearances: They told me how it is often better to find their loved ones buried in a shallow grave than to have to endure the not knowing where they are. The pain of knowing is acute but recedes over time, the pain of not knowing is a dull throb that goes on and on.
My heart goes out to Jesse’s family. As indeed it does to the families of the plane’s pilots, Jessup Bahinting and Kshitiz Chand, who have been going through the hellish wait all this time. The latter in particular, whose kin are in Nepal and who must have been straining at the leash, enduring the greatest torment, at not knowing the fate of their loved one in a country far away. My deepest, deepest condolences.
Sometimes you wonder if heaven’s ways aren’t just mysterious but damnably inexplicable. Naga City has just lost two of its favorite sons in seven years, the first being Raul Roco in 2005. Both Raul and Jesse were, if not in the prime of their youth, at least the prime of their lives: Raul was 64 when he slipped quietly away from cancer, Jesse only 54. (I was astonished to find out from the papers that Jesse and I have the same birthday.) With the Peñafrancia fiesta being just around the corner (Raul also died in August, an especially cruel month for Bicolanos), the revelry will be a little muted again.
I’m not knocking prayer, I’m not knocking miracles. The first has been known to move, the second has been known to happen. Who knows? Maybe what’s happened, or what has not, is also heaven’s way of saying miracles do not always take the form of Yahweh parting the sea, they can take the form of the miracle that is the sea itself. Miracles do not always take the form of Ina saving a devotee’s life, they can take the form of the miracle that is the life of that devotee itself.
Look at the Bicolanos massing in schools and churches and halls, bending their knees in prayer, grateful for what one of their own has done to make their lives better, honored for what one of their own has done to make them proud. Look at the Filipinos plunged into a collective grief, offering aid and comfort to the family Jesse left behind, showing love and appreciation for someone who filled the world with life and laughter, striving and accomplishment. Look at a nation inspired, facing the future with renewed confidence because someone has just shown them what an honest official could be, what a decent official could be, what a true public servant could be.
Isn’t that a miracle, too?
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