Living stones, dead men
Let me tell you about that summer day I went down to the garden at the back of the house to cry. It was the last sweltering summer my mother was to endure, the summer she died. It was high noon, but there on the cheek of the granite buddha I saw something wet that was not dew or rain. Was the statue feeling what I was feeling then? Can we draw pity from stones? You must have heard of statues shedding tears or bleeding blood. What moves these stones? It’s not given to us to know.
But shouldn’t rocks be made of sterner stuff? Shouldn’t boulders, with hearts of stone, be bolder?
Do rocks and stones have feelings? The poet William Blake saw the world in a grain of sand. The story of Pygmalion and Galatea is the story of the breath of life in a statue. Basho the haiku master recounts how “in the lonely silence, a single cicada’s cry sinks into stone.” In some remote deserts and beaches, dry sand will sometimes make a singing or whistling sound as the wind passes over the shifting dunes. Basho’s reactive, receptive stone; sand so stoned and saturated with joy it cannot help but burst into song; Galatea’s lips gradually becoming warm to Pygmalion’s kiss—they are unlike many of us who are bereft of emotion, who have lost the capacity to feel. Apathy is the hardest stone to break.
In the garden, beneath the bamboo grove, granite gargoyles gather, all growing gray like Go. What ails them? Are they sad? Only the buddha with the tear on the cheek, donning its coat of orange lichen and fur of virid moss, seems to me to be growing old with grace, recalling it must be, with gladness and gratitude, the hammering it endured from the stonecutter to become the placid and content monument it is now. The buddha remembers its maker.
Here they congregate, forming a fellowship of the unmoving and the quiet, deliberately deaf and dumb to the world of angry, noisy men. All day they endure the hot tropic sun and hold out against the cold dark nights and rain. They suffer the indignity of being pissed and pooped upon by birds and bats. And yet, deep in their hearts of stone, they must be happy not to have been visited by the plague and virus of being human. For men are notorious for having hearts as soft as talc or gypsum, crumbling at the merest breeze. They are never content. They must always be satisfied.
And yet, what rock can’t be crushed, what boulder doesn’t break? Even a mountain cannot resist the incessant licking and stroking of a tiny brook, which will in time pulverize this monolith to the fineness of sand. And if rocks do break, how can mortals like us presume to be more solid and substantial?
What happened to us? Where did love go? The earth spun. Time went. And you, grown wise to the ways of the world, quite simply forgot. That for a time I was all that made you want to live, that I was the reason you were so afraid to die! Now you love only your roses and orchids.
Only I remember that one summer afternoon. Only I remember my mother, who, though she lived a very long time, took to eternity in an hour. Even then, each day I do not forget to fulfill my duty—to remember my mother, my father and my God.
The seeming permanence of these granite statues serves to remind me of my impermanence, my transience and evanescence. My own mortality. When it is my time, I hope to go like the falling leaves in this secret garden, gliding down to earth so full of grace. The rock I imagined myself to be will in time revert to the dust whence I came, will in time be returned to the quarry of my Stonecutter somefarwhere, in the garden of God where the leaves of trees evergreen will fall no more. And because men are like that, I will in time forget and be forgotten, too.
Nevertheless, my gritty ash can still be useful to you, my perfidious one. Use it to scrub the soot off your pots and pans. Or to fertilize your confounded roses, to pamper them some more. Do whatever you want to do with it, I don’t care. And don’t bother with the memorial stones. I’ve only one request to make. Fulfill your duty: Remember to remember me.
Antonio Calipjo Go ([email protected]) is the academic supervisor of Marian School of Quezon City.
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