Sunday, October 29, 2006

Life-Giving Pause

Whenever November 1 approaches, instead of an atmosphere of gloom descending on households, communities, indeed on the whole land, quite the contrary becomes evident. There is excitement and an impatient eagerness for this day to come. For Filipinos, November 1, the day of remembering our beloved dead is really a day of encountering the cherished living. Cemeteries literally come to life, metamorphosing into a fascinating mix of makeshift restaurants and shops of all kinds snaking around tombs, the most visible and explicit symbols of death. November 1 is a not a day of sorrow but a day of celebration. The whole day from early morning till late night, elements of partying are everywhere: food, drinks, music, laughter and an unceasing flow of stories and banter. There is however an element sometimes ironically missed out…prayer. After all the merriment, when food and stories seemed to run out and families, clans are about to say good bye, every so often someone remembers to ask, “have we already prayed?”

Forgetfulness of simple and basic things is a typical mark of our ever-busy and sophisticated lives. If we forget to pray for the dead on whose graves we sat, ate, sang and told stories on November 1, no wonder we forget even less important matters. On November 1 we transform cemeteries into virtual carnivals with kiddie rides, fast foods and entertainment of various kinds. Don’t we tend to do the same to our typical days? Is our forgetfulness unconscious or not? Do we go through life half asleep and unable to clearly distinguish between dream and reality? Is this the given circumstances of our lives, a result of how various factors collude to produce a dream-like, sleep-like environment? Is this now the very air we breathe, the atmosphere that surrounds and conditions our lives? Is this forgetfulness a condition or a choice?

Today, my parents, uncles, aunts and cousins will go to Loyola Memorial Park in Marikina. They go on the Sunday before November 1 to avoid the terrible traffic that transforms all roads leading to cemeteries into a long parking lot. There will be more than enough food and ample supply of current news and of course reminiscence of the past lives of our dead loved ones. After lunch, my father, the eldest sibling and patriarch is ready, rosary in hand and begins the recitation of the rosary. Before each decade, he offers a petition for both the dead and the living. Every Sunday before November 1 since my grandmother’s Pia’s death in 1981, it has been like this. There is always a break from the food and stories, a meaningful and necessary break for prayer, silence and remembrance.

Forgetfulness it seems is a necessary ingredient of consumption. Producers and manufacturers prefer that we forget how much we have already eaten. They are happy that we don’t mind how much we have drunk or thrown away in petty or big time betting. They are happy that we change our cars, watches, even houses for newer ones even if what we have is still good enough. Having something leads us to forget that life is more than what we have. At death, it is not what we have that will matter. Paradoxically enough, great lives have been marked by how much women and men have given up for something more and greater.

I will miss this year’s visit to our dead relatives. I will miss the food and stories. Most of all, I will miss that precious moment when we as a family pause for less than thirty minutes to pray and solemnly remember our beloved dead.

On November 1 almost everyone in the Phillippines regardless of creed, race, social rank and political affiliation would even for a moment remember the dead. I pray and still hope that they would take the further step of remembering the living, beginning with one’s self. There is so much accumulating, grasping to have more money, property and power. In the process, it has become so convenient to forget that all these which we now enjoy and so jealously protect will sooner or later in death become chaff. On this day, we must pray hard not only for the dead but for all the living, that we rise above the circumstances of our forgetfulness and pettiness and learn to let go before the end forces us to do so.

Recently, something good happened back home. The people’s initiative died. The man responsible for its death is Chief Justice Panganiban. By voting against the people’s initiative, Chief Justice Panganiban sounded the death knell. We wouldn’t know what he gave up by voting against the people’s initiative. At seventy years old, the Chief Justice knows well in more ways than one that the end is near. He retires this December and some years later, his life too will end. I am sure that the Chief Justices’ decision is not of whim or fancy. He too, like those who choose to pause and pray on November 1, did his own praying. By doing so, he remembered who and what he truly is. When we pause and pray whether for ourselves or others living or dead , we remember why in the first place we need to pause and pray. We need to remember and always remember how something hidden, something deep within is always true, good and beautiful. Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban remembered…

…surely he paused…he prayed. In the end, he was not alone in what he saw. He gave us a glimpse of the eternal, the ineffable, the un-quantifiable. Salamat po Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
October 29 2006


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