What survives

The Philippine STAR 03/25/2007

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown

And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.

And on the pedestal these words appear:

“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,

The lone and level sands stretch far away. — Percy Bysshe Shelley

I remember on reading this poem how it absolutely boggled my mind. Here was a towering man, Ozymandias, a once powerful ruler who built monuments believing they would make him immortal, only to be unceremoniously reduced to rubble, subjected to the cruel ravages of time. The poem by Shelley is based on Ramses, the king of ancient Egypt. And even while Ozymandias, strictly speaking, is a fictional character, the poem is a slap to the face of anyone who has fancied vain ideas of leaving behind works and deeds that will live forever.

As an artist, I must admit I have pondered the idea of leaving an immortal legacy. Will I ever be remembered for anything? I used to ask myself this question many years ago. It’s a nice, romantic and sentimental thought to entertain especially when people tell me that, in their opinion, I have written songs that will last a long time. All that fawning can make a person pompously vain.

The question stopped bugging me at the onset of my spiritual journey which began with my introduction to Zen practice. I have accepted the incontrovertible temporal fact that everything within the dimensions of time and space is perishable. All this (fame, youth, money, and all things that comprise our sense of who we are in our comfort zone) and everything else shall pass. And at my age, I can see much of my youth and my hair going really fast. Nothing lasts forever. We can’t take it with us. This is a mantra I never fail to invoke during both the high and low points of my life.

On March 17, 2007 was the 50th death anniversary of my father. If someone had told me that fact about his own father, I would probably just politely nod and shrug it off. Why? Because it’s hard to imagine how anyone would care to remember, or even honor, the life of anyone who died that long ago. My father, unlike Ozymandias, built no great monuments. He was recognized in his time but he was not as nationally known like President Ramon Magsaysay whom he died with in a plane crash in Cebu on March 17, 1957. All he left behind in this world were his wife and family.

We, his children, remembered him on the 50th anniversary of his death. My siblings in Manila attended a Mass where each one paid tribute to Dad by way of remembering their moments with him when he was still alive, and interestingly enough, his “presence” in our lives even after his death. It was a moment of tears and nostalgia for a man who loved his wife and family and left a positive, lasting imprint on everyone he touched.

I am in Sydney and so was not able to attend. But away from home, I had my “moment” with Dad as well.

Last Saturday, I was driving the car on an errand to buy food for my granddaughter when, all of a sudden, Dad came to my mind. Actually, it was more than that. I actually felt his presence in my car, as if he was sitting beside me. Of course he wasn’t there, not literally. But I knew he was there in spirit.

I told him how much I loved and missed him. I even asked him how he was, and he said he felt great. I also told him that I believed someday we (Mom, him and all 10 children) would again be together. In my mind, I even told him that I knew that when we all die, everyone will realize that he and us are actually one and the same spirit. There are no individual spirits, not the way we know it. We are all One, waiting for everyone to wake up to the reality of our Oneness. I felt a warm smile from him, as if he affirmed my statement.

When I asked him when we would be together again, he answered, “soon.” And here is the strange part: instead of getting scared by his reply, it gave me such an assurance of the beauty of life, how we must pay homage to it and show appreciation for everything, knowing how unsure our tenure on earth is.

I do not know what he meant by “soon.” But if “soon” means I will not be living long, it does not freak me out in any way. Perhaps there is another, more cryptic meaning. I don’t know. Of course, there are those who will say that it was all just my overactive imagination at work. “Talking” to the departed is understandably dismissed by many as crazy. That’s because stories about “otherworldly” or divine presence are almost always difficult to prove empirically. All I can say is I felt this one intuitively to be real. I just knew that Dad was there with me at that time.

Shakespeare said cynically of Julius Caesar (through a monologue by Marc Anthony), “The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.” I can believe that happening to people who have karmic debt — evil men who killed many, or affected the lives of others in negative ways. Whatever good they did will be overshadowed by the bad they have done. But even that, I suppose, will be forgotten by time.

Thinking of my Dad, I realize that love, such as he gave, has survived 50 years, perhaps because it’s the only thing that’s real in this fleeting world. He must have performed his daily chores as a father, husband, provider, teacher, citizen and member of his community with joy and love because that is how people remember him. His laughter could fill any room. He affected people in very positive ways. And though he may eventually be forgotten through time even by our children’s children, his love will live on. I know because I see it in our family. The love he planted when he was alive has grown into a tree inside us. Unlike Ozymandias’ cold temples and monuments of stone, Dad’s legacy was a giving tree, and its fruits will nourish his progeny for generations to come.