HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated August 01, 2010 12:00 AM
Redford White: The author’s friend was a fellow diver with a private passion for charity.
We were doing a noontime TV show together some 13 years ago. That’s how I got to know Redford White. I had met him years before but we never went beyond the customary “Hi.” Looking back at the way our friendship played out, I never imagined that I would ever get close to this Bisoy (Bisayang Tisoy) comedian.
We did not hit it off working in front of the cameras. I was probably too serious and he was way too funny. It was behind the cameras where we got along. In fact, it was the lure of the depths of the sea that made us friends. We were both divers and one time, I invited him to join G Toengi and a few other people to a dive. After just one adventure under the sea, we knew we were kindred spirits.
Far from his public persona, Cipriano Cermeno II, better known as Redford White, was actually quite a serious guy. People would be floored, as I was, if they knew that he liked to talk about philosophy, religion, Christianity, Buddhism and other such topics.
Red was a searcher of truth. A no-frills guy, he liked to get to the bottom of things, exploring questions about life and its meaning. Sometimes, he liked to talk but there were times when he just wanted to be silent. It was during those long drives and deep conversations to Anilao and back where I discovered that Red and his wife Elena had been involved in community and charity work for a long time. In their property in Novaliches, they had built, over two decades, a community of more than 150 people where they took care of batches of kids whom they generously housed, fed and sent to school. Some of them have graduated from college and now work successful jobs and careers here and abroad.
Redford and Elena even built a beautiful Church inside the compound with the help of the people they have helped — neighbors and devotees of the Santo Nino de Maligaya, to whom they dedicated the entire charitable effort.
I was dumbfounded to discover that this comedian, whom everyone loved for making them laugh their heads off, had a much bigger life outside of how the world knew
him. In fact, this life of service and giving was his main life, something that he kept low-key and shared only with a few friends. He liked things quiet, simple and without fuss. In this way, he was, to me, a pure soul.
Once in a while, he’d talk about his and Elena’s work helping flood or calamity victims by organizing relief efforts, or their travels to places where they set up shrines in honor of their favorite Santo Nino icon, in Guam, Canada, the US and other places. When Red shared such stories, I sensed a deep humility and a sense of fulfillment that no amount of success and fame in showbiz could give him. Sure, he enjoyed and took pride when his TV shows got high ratings; but he knew that the world of showbiz was impermanent and while he relished the highs while they lasted, he felt no real attachment to them. His true fulfillment came from somewhere else.
With the number of hours we shared talking in the car on the way to Anilao and back, which averaged around six hours at a time, plus the number of dives we made (160 to 170) not only in Anilao but also in Davao, Cebu, Bohol and Tubataha, it is no surprise that we became really close. Maan de Ocampo, Jon Santos and I were Red’s closest dive buddies. The long trips and the time in between dives, the meals and the bumming around, were precious bonding moments.
Such deep camaraderie and friendship is easily developed among diving buddies since, when you think about it, diving under the sea can be life-threatening. No one can be casual about diving because casualness can cause carelessness which can have deadly results. Under the “buddy system” rules of scuba, we were responsible for each other. We were always looking out for each other’s safety. This reality made us all present and quite open to each other.
The last time I saw Red before he got sick was in December 2009. Our meetings had been downgraded to lunches and dinners since he had developed high blood pressure and Elena had asked him to stop diving. He had become a heavier smoker. We had lunch at Adarna restaurant in QC with Maan. There was the usual exchange of jokes, storytelling and catching up with each other’s lives. Red was his usual self — calm and attentive, easy, accepting, sometimes deep, but also hilariously funny. His eyes had that twinkle, especially when he made funny comments.
After that meeting, I called him a few times, texted him, but got no reply. I figured maybe he was abroad, or busy, or just wanted to be by himself, which he
was sometimes wont to do. It was only last July 20 when Matt, Red’s assistant, texted me a message that disturbed me deeply. It said, “Kuya Jim, kelan kita pwede tawagan tungkol kay Red?” I immediately replied. That night, when Maan and I met with him, he told us that Red had finally requested that we be informed he had a brain tumor and lung cancer, which were diagnosed last February.
“Why did he wait this long?” I asked. Because, true to form, he did not want friends fussing or worrying about him.
The very next day, Maan and I went to Red’s Novaliches compound with a cake in a red box that had a white diagonal line on it which made it look like a diver’s flag. When we entered the room, we saw Red on his bed, his face bloated due to steroids. He didn’t look good. The twinkle in his eyes had dimmed. We went straight to him, had a group hug and he started to weep. He shed tears of relief, sadness, joy and love, all thrown in together. Then he uttered with both a chuckle and a seriousness, “P’re, malapit ko na makita si Lord.” We hugged each other even tighter.
I whispered to him to prepare the way for us since we would have many things to answer for before we could probably get in. After a few minutes, he seemed more relaxed and we talked about this and that, just like before. Maan and I knew our friend was in a bad state and would not last long. After about 25 minutes, we bade him goodbye so he could rest.
I had one more opportunity to see Red on the day before he died. I had asked a priest friend, Fr. Arnold Abelardo, if he could borrow Tita Cory’s rosary which was given to her by Sr. Lucia, the visionary of Fatima, that I wanted to bring to Red. On that final visit, Red looked worn out. He could hardly breathe. We said a prayer as Red clasped the rosary. Lydia and I also gave him a wooden holding cross. Throughout the meeting, he kept saying, “Love you, p’re,” as we held each other’s hands.
Before I left, I looked into his eyes and reminded him that a rule in diving was, if dive buddies lose each other, each is obliged to go up and wait for the other for a moment before he starts any rescue effort. I told him that since he was going “up” first, to please patiently wait for me.
For a brief moment, I saw his eyes twinkle, and amid his laborious breathing, he let out a hearty laugh, loud enough to be heard outside the door. I then held his gaze one last time, clasped his hand, hugged him tight and said, “Ingat pare.” I had to force myself to turn away and walk out the door, knowing that was our last goodbye.
He died at 6:47 the next morning. I found myself spontaneously awakened about the same time and feeling refreshed despite having slept late. After a few minutes, I got a text from Matt saying that Red had passed away.
Redford, I just want to say that I have not met a more decent man than you. You taught me many things by simply being you — simplicity, humility, dedication, lightness of being, deep uncomplicated friendship, laughter and the great capacity to love the manifestations of God that may not even be readily attractive and lovable.
Love you, P’re! Wait for me, please.
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