“You know they always say if you live in one place long enough, you are that place.” – Sylvester Stallon as Rocky Balboa in Rocky V

CURTAIN-RAISER: This writer hogs the spotlight one last time. But more than the traditional cheers and jeers blanketing his presence on the rostrum, he wishes only a simple token of departure from believers and naysayers alike in his reflective gallery – that he be allowed to express his gratitude and critical latitude by filling this space with the re-personalizing words “I”, “me” and “myself” before calling it a day on the cardboard stage.

***

TALK ABOUT serendipity.

(No, not the kind that projects a cinematic boy-meets-girl scenario leading to the mushy happily-ever-after ending. Yet to its unfolding similarities inevitably abound. Listen.)

While rummaging through my “ancient” collection of old books, readings and magazines last May for a quick year-end inventory, I was surprised to have “unearthed” one of my favorite Newsweek special issues, which lay heedlessly flat underneath the pile of my dusty acquisitions after supposedly “misplacing” it in some uncharted corner of the V office two years ago.

Published on April 2, 2007, that Newsweek issue vividly recounted the then five-year old Iraq war “in the words of America’s dead.” The cover header “Voices of the Fallen” was accompanied by a moving excerpt from the “farewell” letter of a Marine casualty named Travis Youngblood, who wrote: “Any day I am here could be the day I die.”

That Newsweek issue in all likelihood served as the inbox to the afterlife of a thousand US servicemen who braved the democratic, nay sectarian excitement of a freed people.

Among the letters that saw print in this heroic memoir which paid tribute to the “essential humanity of the warrior,” as Jon Meacham suggested, was that of 19-year old Lance Cpl. Anthony Butterfield who enlisted straight from high school to join the surge in Iraq. He died with three other Marines on July 29, 2006 after a suicide bomber set off a propane truck in Rawah, northwest of Baghdad, while they were on street patrol.

As if trying to appease his worried kin back in Clovis, California, the late Butterfield, in his “suicide” memo told his parents and siblings how “sorry” he was for leaving home. “But know that I’m safe now,” he continued. “I’m with God watching over you. I’ll always be with you all. You know when I’m around because you’ll feel me.”

Reading Butterfield’s antedated valediction reminded me of my father, who as a young man soaked in idealism, also enlisted in the military, hoping to slay the ideological Minotaur in that era’s geopolitical labyrinth that is Vietnam. At that time, whenever kibitzers try digging his Vietnam War motivation, nay fascination, my father, would earnestly quote US president John Adams to wit: “I will study politics and war so that my son can study mathematics and philosophy.”

READ
Law professor appointed CA associate justice

As it turned out, participatory learning was his mode of study. Hence the need to “explore” Vietnam. But he never really had the chance to partake in what he considered then as “the gathering of real men.” The night before leaving for Vietnam, somebody locked him in his room as he was napping his teenage years away…well, almost. It was his mother.

“Sana hindi ko na lang sinabi. Sana hindi na lang ako nagpaalam,” was my father’s constant regretful segue every time he would re-view Vietnam War-inspired films like We Were Soldiers and Good Morning Vietnam.

Just an earshot away from that burst of juvenile dismay was a ready rejoinder from the cranky matriarch: “Kung pinayagan kita baka namatay ka pa!”

“E ‘kala n’yo ba hindi ako namatay sa ginawa n’yo?” my father bitterly responded. “E ano ngayon kung namatay ako sa giyera? Ang mahalaga may kasaysayan ang pagkamatay ko!”

Wasted opportunities…and jilted aspirations – the mortar and pestle of mortal drifting.

***

Leave-taking…

To every journeyman, the word conveys fictional profundity, if not realistic vacuity.

True, distance reinforces longing and the acknowledgment of it conjures pain. Yet in the end, we are all destined (or rather doomed) to meet each other again in the baffling cycle of familial torment and social disenchantment.

Hence, the superfluity of leave-taking.

But goodbyes are Janus-faced. They are either petty or noble.

And I am a sucker for petty goodbyes.

“D’yan lang ako,” was my constant verbal shield against the “trivial” if not “capricious” inquisitive forays of relatives and friends.

This practice however has spurred the wrath of many a relative and friend, especially my late grandmother, who tirelessly barreled through my youthful elusiveness – and arrogance – with the million-dollar question, “sa’n ka nanaman nanggaling? Bakit hindi ka nanaman nagpaalam?”

My tenacious riposte en route to kneeling on the grained, nay “salty” pavement: “bakit ako magpapaalam, e magkikita pa naman po tayo e. Ang mahalaga nakabalik na po ako.”

Yet there are some instances plain logic cannot fathom. Taking the cue from my grandmother’s maternal quizzing, I asked, “bakit ba kailangan malaman n’yo kung nasaan ako? E sa tuwing magpapaalam ako kung sa’n ako pupunta, hindi naman kayo pumapayag?” To which my policeman uncle brutally replied, “para kasi malaman namin kung sa’ng impiyerno ka pupulutin ‘pag ‘di ka na nakabalik.”

“E pa’no kung magpaalam nga ako pero ‘di ko talaga sabihin kung sa’n ako pupunta?,” I countered. “Kunsensya mo na ‘yun. Kung kaya ba ng apog mo na pag-alalahin ang mga taong tunuturing mong mahalaga sa’yo, nasa sa’yo na ‘yon,” my uncle quipped.

READ
Print media group holds reading drive

In so stating, my grandmother then asserted that given my callousness, the biblical prodigal son would even pass off as a far better “scoundrel” than me, for despite his hedonism he still took the time to bid his father goodbye prior to embracing carnal rupture. Now I know. Leave-taking is respect-giving. I should have listened earlier.

Hence, the walking – or more precisely the “sneaking” – tragedy I have become. To the ones who worried…and cared, my sincerest apologies.

***

Perhaps the most appealing send off ritual (for a leave-taker) which I picked up while listening to my late grandmother’s nocturnal prattling was that of the ancient Spartans. She related (and historical accounts attested to it) that before launching their husbands and sons to war, Spartan wives and mothers pose the customary reminder, “come back with your shield, or on it.”

For every Spartan male at the time, marching to war in defense of the state – and their loved ones – is the ultimate telos. And such lifetime commitment to the state and its citizens begins at age seven when they will be sent to the Agoge to learn – by rod and lash – the art of Spartan warfare. And so with the approval and caution of their wives and mothers, Spartan men graciously fulfill their destiny or meet their doom in the battlefield.

But Spartan military training and valor pales in comparison to Athens, Pericles hinted in his Funeral Oration, a copy of which I managed to “smuggle” from my late grandfather’s library. Pericles, paying tribute to his fallen comrades during Athens’ campaign in the Peloponnesian War, alluded to wit: “…in the matter of education, whereas they from early youth are always undergoing laborious exercises which are to make them brave, we live at ease, and yet are equally ready to face the perils which they face.”

Setting aside the ancient bickering of the two most powerful city-states in Greek history, my late grandmother, in her deathbed, whispered to my rattled spirit: “Think like an Athenian, fight like a Spartan.”

***

While lecturing on Bienvenido N. Santos’ The Day the Dancers Came three years ago, one of my literature professors compared “memories” with shards of broken glass for “they can never be put together again – in detail – even by the most vivid recollections”. What lingers to the mind is context reinforced by the living mementos of shared experience, my professor said.

At this juncture, let me take this opportunity to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the living mementos that shared with me their experience – our Varsitarian experience. Cheers…

READ
Thomasians named new National Artists

To the outgoing staff, for your boundless cooperation, hardwork and dedication.

To the incumbent staff, for your unceasing willingness to learn and lead.

To the new staff members, for the brief yet unforgettable summer encounter.

To my fellow ‘pearls’, for withstanding your “anti-social” batchmate.

To Levine, for all the loyalty, trust and support. You have been a dependable tag-team partner as we grappled with the hazards of our editorship for the entire year.

To Ketch, for somehow convincing a “brute” like me that gayness is next to happiness. No conversions, please.

To the gatekeepers of yester-years struggle and glory – Sir Ipe, Sir Ian, Sir Adrian, Sir Jere, Dr. Don Rob, Kuya Wacks, Dumy, Dex, Eldric, Nick and TL for the free lessons in economics, business, journalism, law, politics, dating, courting, boxing, basketball…and life.

To my “elder” V siblings Llanesca, Kalai, Jason, Jordan, Rian, Maje, Jam, and Marc, for the enduring bond of friendship.

And to the “Phil Jackson” of our creative dugout, the kingmaker, the polemicist par excellence, the master basher, the defender of the faith, the “lean, mean and sexy” Sir Lito Zulueta.

To the Rector, Fr. Rolando V. dela Rosa, O.P., for all the praises and get-togethers.

To Emil and Prinz., take care of the household. Defend the realm. Continue the promise of 1928. Never forget our “Confession of Faith.”

Outside of the V, allow me to recognize a few guiding souls who kept me company for the last two years…and counting.

To Madam Nina Cabral, Madam Net Garcia and the rest of the Office for Student Affairs, for all the patience and understanding.

To Madam Evelyn Serador for instilling in me the values of office work.

To my PolSci professors and classmates, for inspiring me to always outwit the “others.”

To all the guards, janitors, and other UST personnel for always extending a hand whenever we feel burdened by the physical and technical intricacies of both editorial and extra-editorial activities.

To Jade for the bliss of companionship.Remember 2012.

To my “Spartan” mother, your son will be home…soon.

To YOU, whose nose often (?) bleeds while dissecting this piece (every issue), bear in mind that knowledge makes a bloody entrance. A (few) slap(s) on the nape also helps. Read again. Read a lot. Read to breathe.

And to the One Up There, for showing me the way. Rephrasing Sarte, heaven is other people. Thanks for all the memories.

Hail to this 82-year old institution.

Once a V staffer, always – and forever will be – a V staffer!

***

The noblest – and most memorable – goodbyes are never said. They are written. ‘Til we meet again.

Now I rest in crimson splendor…

LEAVE A REPLY

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.