Saturday, December 27, 2008

Heroes and Saints

Father Andres Soler regarded the crowd with a firm but fatherly gaze, the cold dawn breeze blew and stirred the parishioners, those deeply in prayer and the ones already deep in sleep on their seats like Tomas, gray-haired and chubby now, but whom the priest can still clearly recognize from a fair distance in the middle of the throng. (At least his wife and kids are wide awake). He spoke to the people about the journey of three gift-bearing magi's, and how that journey ended in a shack under the starlight. He spoke of heroes and saints, which according to the advisory from the diocese must be the theme of today's homily.

These are difficult times, he admonished the flock, but the heroes and saints among us make it all worthwhile just to be alive. Afterall, this is not the first time it happened in the history of mankind, but an episode that keeps repeating itself like a bright light in a vicious cycle, heroes and saints providing the saving grace from the time of Christ to the rise and redemption of the everyday man right here, right now while we all live.

Again, he assured them it's going to be alright. Gas prices are starting to mellow after going on a crazed vicious romp. At the Vatican, the Pope had shown once again his very human side by making yet another controversial almost ridiculous quip against the gays, the pan de sal had grown a little bigger because of dropping flour prices, and Manny Pacquiao had beaten Oscar de la Hoya in what could be the greatest triumph of the filipino people to date so what more can we ask for? He chided himself for the near-blasphemy, mentioning the Lord Jesus, the papal paus fax, and Many Pacquiao all in the same message of holiness, but he looked at the faces of Tom and Lyn and their three kids, and with that the priest himself believed what he just said that yes indeed everything will be alright. Then he delivered the punchline.

"We are all heroes and saints at some point in our lives but those of you who are already asleep on their seats right now... I hope that at least in your dreams you will find yourselves as heroes and saints... Let us pray..."

It was the 70s once again and the bell tolled for the Christian faithful on that very cold dawn, while Andy Soler sat on the courtyard's wooden fence, his best friend Tom by his side. They were both fidgeting and perspiring heavily, inspite the biting cold. The previous dawns, the two teenage classmates, both 15, would gorge on bibingka, cochinta and puto bumbong, gulp down huge servings of salabat (ginger juice) from a hot tin mug, and practically feast to death, which is the real purpose of their giving up hours of pleasant sleep for nine straight days just to be at the traditional misa de gallo as an after-thought. But that is not the case today.

"Are you sure she's coming?" Andy inquired nervously.
"Jesus Christ, Andy, you've been asking that question a million times, besides, we're more than an hour ahead, so we just wait now. Stop biting your finger nails, chrissake".
"I can't help it man, remember, you said you'll be sending me part of your allowance each week, don't ever forget that Tomas..."
"I knew it, the allowance again, damn it Andy, how many times do I have to swear?"
"Just so you don't forget, Tom, we're running away with nothing, and if Lyn's parents should catch me, I'll be skinned alive and burned at the stakes, so do as you say you will, Tom. Don't you ever forget that, or I'm dead."
"I will steal from my parents for you Andy, if that will make you feel fine but please, let's have a bite, I'm starving".
"Damn it, Tomas, I told you I need every cent I have, how did I ever come to believe you, my goodness, I knew you're hopeless, so that's it, damn you Tomas, I'm dead meat."

And so he was, or indeed Andy came close to dead meat. A resounding slap on the cheek nearly decapitated the boy, as he toppled from the fence, a ringing in his ears obliterated the choir's chorus of Silent Night emanating from the church, and he saw stars, not the colorful lanterns hanging everywhere or those up in the heavens but stars that deliver a shocking pain. When finally he regained his senses, Andy found himself being dragged by his father to the bus station, to catch the first flight to Manila where an uncle, a new school and a new life came to abruptly accept him, tolerating, and finally repairing his damaged life during the next five years after which, as a gesture of defiance and contrition, he entered priesthood.

But on that very cold lonely dawn, at the churchyard within minutes after Andy and his father had left, Lyn came, yes she did Andy, Tom would later say in his letter to his best friend. That letter spoke from the heart and resonated with pure insufferable guilt, the kind that would haunt and begrudge a man until it became reciprocated with the alms of compassion.

"She had nowhere to go Andy, I just saw you get bludgeoned by your own father at the plaza right before my eyes and I cannot stand the same scene happening again with Lynn on the receiving end. You know how ruthless her father can be when he's enraged. He might even kill her. I took her with me, Andy, I took her. I was ready to claim the baby for my own. Yours and Lyn's baby Andy. I just have to do it. Lyn and her baby deserve better. Pease Andy, I hope you forgive us. We love you Andy and you know that. I'm sorry... I'm so sorry..."

It took all of his Christian faith and all of twenty years before Andy could give to Tom the absolute compassion that he craved, which Andy's father unfortunately never lived long enough to receive from his son, one of the greatest regrets Andy knows he will bring to his grave. When at last he was sure his heart was completely cleansed of hatred and indignation, Andy took the first step to reclaiming his life from its silent sins. He returned home to Dumaguete to administer to Tom and Lyn, the holy sacrament of matrimony, and more importantly, to belatedly kneel before his father's tomb to ask for forgiveness and assure the dead man's soul in return that this prodigal son had forgiven him...

1 comment:

AnAestheticBard said...

This beguilingly poignant and well written story did some thing to me, really. You have again with your craft, shaken and kept a few bronchial nerves vibrating. Like with W. Somerset Maugham, the dramatic end shocks you to an extreme ‘emotional void’ where one is kept literally hanging on a …
precipice desperately ……