Days left

I had the unfortunate chance of sitting through a career goal seminar of sorts for Literature Majors sometime in March. For a panel composed of professionals who had been exposed to great literary works during their undergrad years, you would expect to hear something original from them. Instead they maintained the shaky connection between humaneness and the humanities. As if one needs to earn a Liberal Arts degree to unlock the virtue of empathy. As if becoming an artist means becoming a paragon of goodness.

Now I've just set myself up to say something original. This isn't, but here it goes. What I've learned from studying Literature is death. Christmas season is such a wonderful reminder that we are all fellow passengers to the grave. The power of storytelling is the power to postpone a beheading for a thousand and one nights. Chronicle of a death foretold. Death of a salesman. The death of Ivan Ilyich. As I lay dying. God is dead. The author is dead. Oedipus: complex and dead. Juliet is pseudo-dead, but will die, and so will her beloved Romeo, before the story ends. Richard Cory puts a bullet in his head. We jazz June. We die soon.

Even my most vivid memory of poet and past professor, Marjorie Evasco is her asking us in class to put Death on our shoulder. Like a bird perched on its home.

Maybe my world-class equanimity has been shaped by those poetry, fiction, and theory classes. There are two ways to live life: As though nothing is a disaster, and as though everything is.

The art of losing isn't hard to master. Lose life every day.

*

Last Friday I got a missed call followed by a direct message from two friends. Our professor for god knows how many terms, Cirilo Bautista was at the Heart Center. "It's critical. He maybe has two days na lang." I neither felt panic nor — to be completely honest — sadness. I knew it was coming, not in that general sense that we'll all die someday, but that someone already has a foot across the line. A knowledge and feeling that I realize I have documented here as well:
In all honesty, when my classmates-turned-friends mentioned that there's a lunch invitation by Doc Bau, I was eager to join because I thought time was running out for him. 'The neighborhood knows me, and why wouldn't they, the ambulance always comes for me,' he said.

The same goes for me. After I publish this I might be hit by lightning or a speeding bus.
He has two days left. The math was rather accurate. On May 6, Sunday, Dr Bautista was reported dead.

*

Cirilo Bautista was the first editor to ever publish my poetry. As I recall this, I must add that he also published works from fellow creative writing students and other writers whose creative output failed to excite me. But that didn't diminish my joy when I heard the news. He texted me personally and I jumped up and down and might have let out a big squee.

He edited three words. And me reading how he had read my work was magic. I share the nostalgia with his former students, the jokes and the anecdotes. But I would say that I deeply connected with him in that early attempt at poetry. And good luck with time trying to erase that from my memory.

Naturally I revisited the said poem. You won't see this coming — it's about evanescence. I remember being so proud of these lines: The falling of the lone leaf / in a gyre is Grief's calligraphy / on air.

No grief today. Just the most comforting thought that words are messy and true happiness is a silence. That silence — that peace — is death.

Class picture. 2004, I think.

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