Ruminations on death and life

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated July 15, 2012 12:00 AM

Dolphy is dead.”

The news came as a jolt while I was reading tweet questions on my Samsung tab as host of an online streaming show on music. A series of tweets from friends flooded my timeline outnumbering the questions that came regarding my RadioRepublicPH show. I was shaken and had to pause for a while then I went off-topic and announced that Dolphy had passed away.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012, just before 9 p.m. will be remembered as a moment when all Filipinos felt a collective sadness and sorrow. It was when the familiar showbiz mask of laughter finally gave way to the mask of tears. Yin had turned to yang. The King of Comedy had breathed his last.

Dolphy entertained many generations of Filipinos with his brand of comedy. He was a man who was loved by all. I even once met a man from Japan who told me that he would fly to the Manila when there was a new Dolphy movie out.

We have already read and seen a lot of things about Dolphy since his death last Tuesday, so this will not be a bio on Dolphy but a rumination on Death and Life.

Death has been called many names — a thief in the night, a transition, a passing, a crossing over, the end of suffering, the final adventure, the great liberation. To those who would demystify it by avoiding its full implications, death is reduced to “collateral damage.” And death is guilty as charged of all of the above.

That there are many names for death is probably because it is one of the great mysteries of life that literally gives us great pause. Why? Because death is the opposite of life. When death happens, life’s many concerns stand still.

Like love, sex, and even God, death is one of life’s unsolvable puzzles that will forever remain a mystery to man. It makes us think deeply about our own lives and how fragile and transient we really are. Sure, we know that we will die one day. But that is at best a mental concept until we see it happen to our loved ones, and until it finally happens to us.

My uncle described martial law in the ‘70s as something that was not real until it happened. Death is very much like that. We are in great denial of it for the most part. How does one explain the great shock, grief and sadness we feel when death comes, even if we already know that it is inevitable?

“Dying is fearsome. It hath been often said that it is not death, but dying, which is terrible,” wrote the novelist Henry Fielding. There is the pain, the loss, the contraction, the aloneness, which are anathema to everything we crave for in life. We want comfort, the spaciousness and abundance of life, and we want to experience all these with the people we love. But the time will come when life’s rent money runs out and we must give up our space among the living. It will happen to everyone.

But life goes on even after death, as it will for those left behind and, from all accounts and practical projections, it always will in some form or another. The living must move on until it is their turn to face death. Meanwhile, the bills must be paid, the job done, exigencies attended to. The drama, joy, tears and struggle of staying alive must not stop, until it is time to stop. That is the mandate given to those who are left behind.

There is so much to wonder about the meaning of life, and what the afterlife could be about. Some are sure of the answers because of faith; some because of science. Some do not know. The faithful, the scientific and the agnostic may have little to agree on. And to be quite realistic about it, no one really knows for sure who is right. Life and death never reveal enough to give us answers we can securely latch on to.

What stumps me is this: we are unborn, then we are born into this world, and then we disappear without a trace. We start from nothingness, we come to life, and we eventually die. Coming from the eternal void, we become finite mortals and we die unto the eternal void. We are like shooting stars. Our life is a blaze of glory lighting the night until it ends without a trace.

“A comet streaks across the sky, but the hum of the universe remains the same.”

Among the three stages I mentioned, the living part, tough as it already is, is still the easiest to make sense of. Think about it. We seem to be mortals addicted to immortality. We are transients who think we will last forever. We are the eternal beings playing in the fields of time and space. We are earthbound creatures who like to look up to the stars. We are imperfect creatures who can conceive perfection. We are as big a paradox as death is.

Death reminds us of who we are and what we must do while we are alive. And what we must do is live as though our contributions will be forever enshrined in the continuing story of mankind. In a sense, despite the march of time, everything we do will live forever, not in its original form, size, impact or dimension, but as part of the entire human effort to evolve into higher beings and experiences.

“Death is the dropping of the flower, that the fruit may swell,” said the 19th-century social reformist Henry Ward Beecher. Our lives may be a speck of sand in the eternal desert but they form part of the pillar that holds up the sky for all. Like beads in an endless rosary, we all have a moment that comes up momentarily and passes, but we can be sure we have contributed somehow to the sacred ritual of life.

Life is a blink in eternity. For some it is a moment of lucidity when ones’ eyes are open. For others, it is a moment when one’s eyes are closed.

I would like to think the message of death is that it is part of life. That is its craziness, and its paradox. We must therefore embrace death and face it with the same passion and purpose as we embrace life.