Young and beautiful (for James, Em-J, Bianca)
I USUALLY make plans for my days off work, but of late, the plans I have been making were all about paying respects to those who have passed.
My friends and I compose a circle that’s very wide; we are cliques within one giant clique, but we are all friends nonetheless. Sometime last year, we experienced loss when a friend of ours from school, Bianca Reyes, passed away. We gathered at her wake and I remember someone saying that, for once, we were all complete, only… It was a shame that it had to be under those circumstances.
Fast forward to the second week of July. One morning, as I was getting ready to go to work, I received a call from one of my best friends; she told me that James Panchal, another good friend of ours, was gone. At first, my friend had just said “James.” The first friend with the name “James” that first crossed my mind was a James I could not imagine ever disappearing from our lives. It did not—could not—register in my head. I wanted to be proven wrong in thinking it was that James, but I was not.
I asked my friend if she was being serious, and she replied in effect: Do I look like I’d joke about something like this? I knew she would never make a sick joke like that, but I guess it was just instinct to not want it to be true. I cried on the way to work that day. I was utterly heartbroken for the parents, as well as for the girlfriend and two-year-old son he left behind—they who were too young to experience this tragedy. I kept trying—and failing—to imagine how they must be feeling. Every time I imagined someone I loved so very much being taken from me so suddenly, I would be gripped with an intense fear and a desperate hope that I would never have to go through it.
Ten days later I learned that a dear family friend, Em-J Pavia, who was a beloved teacher at Ateneo High School, had fallen victim to gun violence. I immediately asked his youngest brother if all the terrible things that I had been seeing on social media were true. It was too much for me to take at that point. We were losing too many people way too early. It was not fair. Yet again, I shed tears for a friend.
The following day, I went to his wake, and the day after that, I attended James’ interment.
There are several things I want to say. First, this piece I am writing is not to remember them, for they will never be forgotten in the first place. James and Em-J, as well as Bianca, were all people who lived and loved well.
James was one of the best young fathers I have ever met; everyone who knew him will attest to that. He was also a good friend. He had such an easy nature and a kind heart. He would always poke fun at me, but he did it in a way that I would also laugh at myself. The last time I ever saw James was at our friend’s son’s first birthday. His girlfriend asked me to take a picture of her, him, and their son. That is how I want to remember him always: filled to the brim with life and so much love that it will last two lifetimes.
Though we were the same age, Em-J was a kuya (elder brother) to everyone, to his brothers, as well as to his younger cousins. The sheer number of people who offered their condolences and showed up at his wake was proof enough of how much he positively affected everyone he met. I remember that he would always randomly send me a message on Facebook. I think no one else knows that the first time I ever had my heart broken, I was walking around school aimlessly when I found Em-J in an org room. He saw me with tear-streaked eyes and a red nose. I don’t even remember how anymore, but he managed to make me laugh.
Another time, I remember asking him to teach me the concept of probability because we did not take that up in high school or college, and I did not know how I was going teach it to my own students. That teaching-the-teacher session we had turned into a catch-up. I remember being both shocked and impressed when I found out that he got inked, and even more so when he showed me what they were. The first night I was at his wake, his younger brother said, “There has to be a heaven for this guy.” I agree.
Going to these affairs, I kept thinking about how it was always the good ones that were taken away. God must have a good reason for taking them back. These people gave so much love and were loved back so dearly that maybe their passing had the power to bring people closer together.
At James’ funeral, his parents took his girlfriend in their arms. They said, “Our family is bigger now… You will be our daughter.”
Em-J’s younger brother told me that in the past, you could count on one finger the number of times their other brother had said “I love you” to him. Now, it was all the time.
They are the people who gave so much of themselves to others and got so much back. Em-J’s brother is right. There must be a heaven for people with beautiful hearts. I want to believe that their passing draws from us a kind of strength that we didn’t even realize we have in us. It makes us value each person in our lives a little bit more. It makes us remember to say “I love you” to our parents before going to sleep, or putting down the phone. It makes you remember who your friends and family are, and how you should treat them.
James, Em-J, and Bianca are reminders of what life should be about. For that, we love them always and always.
Louise Nichole P. Logarta, 24, studied biology at Ateneo de Manila University. She is currently a learning coach at the Ultimate Learning Accelerator.
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