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Sunday, March 16, 2014

WHAT lives inside of us besides us? Besides the tall tales we tell our parents of having outstanding grades, what else do we tell every waking hour? Stories. They live inside us. And we tell them every day.

Let me tell you a story.

But first, my mother and aunts love to tell the famous story of the time when my grandfather was driving in Iligan City. “Taga-diri ko,” he was fond of boasting to his children. Then, in an unexpected moment, a traffic enforcer stopped him gave him a ticket for speeding. And my grandfather sheepishly replied, “Sorry, sir. Dili man ko taga-diri.”


Another story is about the time my father (then my mother’s suitor) joined them for dinner: As Tatay was taking a slice of lechon, suddenly, Daddy Lo stands up from his seat and grabs my father by the collar. What never ceases to make me double over in laughter is the comical image of my tall, scary-looking father forehead-to-forehead with my tall, scary-looking grandfather.

History books remember today as the 493rd anniversary since Ferdinand Magellan arrived in the Philippines, but my heart remembers something else: Being fetched from school one day and my father telling me the news that Daddy Lo was “with Papa Jesus.”

I was six years old when my grandfather died on March 16, 2004.

I remember the cold when I think of Daddy Lo. I remember soft, blue cotton sheets and fluffy pillows. I remember a rough, hoarse voice telling me not to jump on the bed because I might hurt myself and will you please be quiet? I remember the stern, serious face of an old man in a white polo shirt, carrying me in his arms, and the smile that up his face made his eyes disappear. Pictures remind me of the old man we used to visit in the hospital. I remember the smell of flowers, the sound of the television propped up on the bare walls. I remember the glaring white sheets of my grandfather’s bed. I remember how soft his pillows were. I remember the distinct stench of the hospital corridors, littered with silence and prayers.

It is a remarkable aspect of human nature to immortalize the dearly departed in the finite treasures of life. Growing up, whenever butterflies are near, my mother would tell me it’s Daddy Lo paying a visit. “Hi, Daddy Lo,” my ten-year-old self would say, pulling down my shirt to hide scabbed knees and my collection of band-aids because I hurt myself and will I please be quiet?

In his book “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” Stephen Chbosky once said, “Times change. People change. And life doesn’t stop for anybody.” It did not stop when people laid roses on the sleek, white surface of my grandfather’s coffin. It did not stop when they buried my grandfather six feet under the grass. It did not stop when all that was left of him was a marble slabstone embossed with his name, date of birth and death, and the parting words of family. It did not stop when my cousins, siblings, and I each grew into worlds parallel from our days of playtime and building forts out of blankets and pillows.

But in a wild play of parallelism, on March 16, 2012, eight years later, I came home to the news: A welcome addition to our family was born—a little bundle of diaper waste and bloodcurling shrieks called Mateo Zachary. Truth be told, I did not like babies. I still don’t. I looked at that tiny thing—an increment to our overpopulated nation, a potential for stress and impending mischief, and the future of our society placed in his drool and golf ball-sized fists.

But when I held it in my arms, it was a source of love and memories and laughter, a glistening hope for our fatherland. Suddenly, I wanted to share with him my love for Harry Potter. I wanted him to love writing as much as I did. I wanted him to grow up believing in the magic of believing. He was not a baby; he was my cousin.

I play with Zach and remember what it was like to walk for the sake of walking and not because I had an errand to run. I listen to Zach’s laughter and remember what it was like to laugh and be happy in spite of how minute I felt in the greater scheme of things. I look at the moments in his life through the videos my aunt posts on Facebook and marvel at how, to a child, the little things could be herculean achievements.

With that, I end my storytelling with a quote from Jonathan SafranFoer’s novel “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”: “So many people enter and leave your life! Hundreds of thousands of people! You have to keep the door open so they can come in! But it also means you have to let them go.”

Happy birthday, Zach!

(Maria Karlene Shawn Isla Cabaraban is currently taking up Bachelor of Arts in Sociology-Anthropology at Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan. She spends her non-studying hours writing or reading or both in coffee shops. She spends her studying hours hoping it will make her a lawyer someday.)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on March 16, 2014.


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