In His hands
Now I understand why my father, after he turned 80, became quiet and reserved, at times ill-tempered, and most of the time choosing to be alone, seemingly in deep thought. I did not realize that in the ending chapter of one’s life the mind becomes a gathering ground for many thoughts: sad and happy memories, cares and concerns.
In my own time now, as I walk my last road, I recall the storied stretch of my life—the stains and the accolades, the dreams and the struggles, the loves and the hurts.
Time was when we called the shots. Responsibility was ours. We led, we ordered, we instructed, and we taught. And we were followed and obeyed. Now, like shadows we’re shut in a corner. But still we’re lucky, as in every man’s wish, to be accorded the blessed opportunity of preparing to be fit and worthy when the inevitable moment of reckoning comes.
I remember when I was younger, some four decades ago, when imminent violent death stared me in the face. I was helpless and shaken by the grim thought of having to go so soon. This was in my first trip abroad, when I was excited to be on a continental flight to a desired destination, the United States. I was being sent to Washington, DC by my office, the premier investigation agency of the land, for a 6-week training course.
We had good liaison with the airport and airline security at that time. As I was checking in, the airline security boss happened to be in the area. He assisted me, then we walked to the predeparture area. As we were talking about security matters, our flight’s crew passed by and I was introduced to the pilot. We exchanged pleasantries and without much ado, to my happiness, I was upgraded to a first-class seat.
We were few in the first-class section—not more than 10, with then Secretary Rafael Salas among us. It was the beginning of a long-awaited respite from our hectic daily operations in the bureau. Knowing it to be a long flight, I arranged myself conveniently in a window seat and looked forward to being in America, wishing that I would have time to visit my sister and some friends in the West Coast.
I was thus musing when there was a sudden announcement: “We are returning to Manila due to some mechanical problem.”
I took the announcement matter-of-factly, although wondering what it could be all about. But it didn’t disrupt my ruminations, until a few minutes later when a flight steward quietly approached me and said the captain was requesting me to come to the cockpit. I responded obligingly, but I was taken aback when I reached the cockpit: The captain, another pilot, and some crew members were all pale-faced and in very serious mien.
“We received word from Manila, Attorney, that there is a bomb in our plane,” the captain said, speaking slowly but undeniably looking upset.
At once I felt a burning sensation in my ears. I asked the captain our location, and said that perhaps it would be best if we landed in the nearest airport. The captain said we were in the vicinity of Guam but that we had been refused landing.
After discussing our extremely bad situation, and with the captain requesting that I not tell anyone of our predicament, I returned to my seat. Knowing how long it would take to fly back to Manila—that is, if we could make it—I pulled up the window shutter, and seeing the blank world outside, pulled it down again. I then closed my eyes and prayed.
It was the longest and deepest prayer I ever made in my life. Then, composing myself, I playfully imagined the presence of my family around me—my good wife, four sons aged 14, 12, 10 and 9, and a daughter of 2. I fantasized talking with them, giving them advice, with my naughty little girl on my lap and pinching my nose. In the back of my mind was the somber thought that at any moment, one violent explosion would put an end to everything.
Anxiety mounted as the seconds ticked by. How unfortunate it was, I thought, to be in a situation where there was no way out. I then remembered the courage and heroism of Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos who, given a chance to live by just raising his right hand and pledging allegiance to the conquerors, chose to die for his country.
Little by little, I felt relieved as I sensed that the plane was descending. Soon the system blared to announce our landing, but the ill-advised announcement included the information that there was a bomb in the plane. The scared passengers, hundreds of them, rushed in panic to the exit doors. Lined on the runway were fire trucks, ambulances, and military vehicles.
After we had all disembarked, the luggage was brought down and we were told to identify our suitcases. There was one unclaimed—a blue duffel bag about one-and-a-half feet tall—that was immediately attended to by the military.
This was in 1977 during the martial law era. Arriving at around 2 a.m., we were all restricted to the airport. No one was permitted to leave until the flight was resumed. There was a good hotel nearby, but no one was allowed to pass the night there, even at his or her own expense. A number of passengers, mostly foreigners, were furious.
But there was one passenger—Rafael Salas—whom the airport military commander, a general, approached. The general offered to bring him home and to collect him when the flight was to resume. But Salas refused the offer and chose to stay throughout the night with the rest of us. Such a character!
The years rolled by, and through all the vicissitudes on the roadways of life, fate has been kind. My wife and I celebrated our golden wedding anniversary five years ago, My boys then are now 54, 52, 50, and 48, respectively. And that naughty 2-year-old girl is now a 41-year-old lady.
When one is young, time seems to move so slowly that one scampers to catch up with many things, like being a teener, then an adult, and so on. How one wishes that time would move faster. But with the passage of time, after having lived a full life, one is mellowed. And this time, one’s wish is for time to creep a little slower—that one may yet see more of one’s remaining future, with ample time to further strengthen one’s faith.
Gerry T. Maglaya, 78, is a lawyer and government retiree.
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