Noble folks’ spirits linger

“I am watching videos of Lean [Alejandro] being interviewed or speaking. And I can close my eyes and it will seem like I could be in some overnight study group, or in a symposium at the AS [Arts and Sciences] Theatre [University of the Philippines]. It could be Arroceros, with him and his bullhorn. There were days I chafed at hearing that voice – it did not stop in the day in and day out of study and analysis. And now – what I’d give to sit in an audience and listen to my friend speak again. The young have no real understanding of death. At least not yet. They go about thinking of invincibility and forever. They pass up opportunity like it knocked at every turn.But you cannot blame youth or the young – they should be unburdened by loss and death. They will be marked by it inevitably. They will be claimed. For now let them be. Lean will celebrate his 30th death anniversary in September. The funny thing about death is that it does not mean the end. Our loved ones may be gone but they are not really dead. They are alive. And the relationship continues without physical presence. We continue to repair what can be repaired of past pains and hurts. Or we accept. And try to keep accepting. Some of us will be gifted with long lives where we bear the burden of being repositories of memories and stories of those who had gone on ahead of us. Some of us will be gone, even before we are dead because our minds disappear into no memory land. And no one remains young forever. Death and loss will age us. And mark us. Loss is what ages us. You wake up to the reality that nothing is forever. And you begin to understand. And when we have suffered loss, that is when we remember keenly. You never focus more closely than when you realize that return on opportunity will never come. – Claire Navarro Espina

She is reminiscing about a common friend, a wonderful human being, Lean Alejandro, who lights up any place he walks into. It never failed. Like when he joked about eating crabs near the Pacific Coast. It was a simple story, he used his bare hands, yet, when he told friends about that incident, we all felt compelled to listen to every word he said.

Even as 30 years has passed, folks commemorate his birth and his death. Gary Granada wrote the libretto and music for Lean, the Musical. In one scene, Lean was immortalized as saying, “Di tayo mga gunggong/Na hanap lang ay away/sa halip na gulong ay magsunog ng kilay/Dahil di ang mga bagay/ang dapat na basagin/Kundi isip at malay na naaalipin.” (We are not idiots who look for needless fights, Instead of a circle of setting on fire eyebrows, we are not into shattering object, instead our minds and our enslaved consciousness.).

Long after Lean has died, we still recall how he has changed many of us.

I suppose that is what others would call charisma. But, it was more than his charisma, it was how he made you feel when he shook your hands, it was as if you were the only person in the room for that moment with him.

Think for a moment, have you met folks who made you feel as if you were royalty?

I attended a fundraiser for Senator Barbara Boxer years ago, that was headlined by President Barack Obama. The event started at 5 p.m., but I was at the California Science Center at noon to reserve my seat, second row, behind then Governor Gray Davis. After the President spoke, I was intently observing as to which direction he was going to start shaking hands. I noticed he went to the left, so I moved right away. As he was about to shake my hands, I could not contain my enthusiasm and blurted out, “Dream come true, Mr. President!” He smiled back and for that brief few seconds, I locked eyes with him and I felt a warm connection with him.

Another time, we had Grace Lee Boggs in our house, celebrating her octogenarian birthday. A bunch of students and friends were at my house sharing stories. Grace was quick in her wit and she had a longer view of the world to share. It was always about hope, it was about how empowered we were. But most especially, how to care for the other person at the other side of the world. What time would it be for them, as opposed to simply a focus on our time here in the US? It was a source of bewilderment for me for a long time, but the more I think about time in the other side of the globe, I got to think more about how they lived in that part of the world, and how each moment becomes a struggle to live one’s humanity.

Consider Joey Lianza, a survivor of tsunami of Typhoon Haiyan, and who described to me floating bodies from the second floor of his apartment. Recently, Leyte experienced an earthquake, 6.5 in magnitude, last July 6 2017, yet his noble spirit rises and inspires: “Yes we have no electricity for a number of days already. Streets are dark at night, except those who have the luxury of their generators, whose noise can’t make us sleep, plus the mosquitoes eating us all, and of course the heat at night [that] make us sweat the whole night, making us all barebones. On the other hand, we can’t rehearse for a repeat performance of  “Abugho” as personally requested by Palo, Leyte Mayor Remedios “Matin” Petilla for their town fiesta. This performance will be another form of healing to our traumas of supertyphoon Yolanda/Haiyan and the recurring earthquakes, which led to total black out of Leyte and Samar. Hopefully [we] will be able to appropriate our narratives to the condition of the time as we experienced tragedies, and transformed by local folks to comedies as our social-psyche, so we can act and laugh, sing songs, and dance to the delight of the audience’s empathy for the realistic theater we are confronted in our day-to-day lives. However, the LNU Sirang Theater Ensemble will always give its share through post-theater development in Tragedy in Comedy: Resistance and Resilience Amidst Disaster. Watch out for its coming in Palo, Leyte Public Plaza.”

Will you in the midst of no power still have these noble thoughts, to think of others and their emotional and social conditions? Or would you fret, like I do at times, waiting for power to come on, as my life on the computer is interrupted momentarily?

This is what Grace Lee Boggs spoke of, when we project our time at present in another part of the world, we get to see our privileges, our God’s blessings, and somehow, we might be able to extend ourselves as well to care for others, as Lean did, as Grace did and even now, as Joey does at present.

My wish and prayers are that rebuilding be quicker under this new administration in the Philippines and that the military personnel be harnessed for people development in Leyte, Samar and Cebu, areas all affected by the earthquake.

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Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 9 years now. She contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Mexico and 22 national parks in the US, in pursuit of her love for arts.

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