Thursday, March 16, 2006

A Riddle for Kübler-Ross

There’s something so sad about a dead man with shiny shoes and a lunch bag.


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I got this email today, about somebody who got hit by a bus crossing Ayala Avenue in Makati.

And the first thing in my head was, “What shiny shoes.”

How neatly the shoelaces were tied. And the lunch bag. These little things, how strongly they remind you that this headless corpse used to be a person; that people cared about him enough to shine his shoes or wash his socks or prepare his lunch.

It makes you remember all those times you’re going out for a new day at work and tying those shoelaces and thinking of that old Stephen King line, SSDD (same shit, different day), and hating everything.

I’m probably just being silly and hopelessly melodramatic; maybe this is what I get out of “unintentionally” watching Gulong ng Palad on most nights. These days, when things like Rotten or Philippine politics have killed an enough number of brain and heart cells to leave us so jaded, there are still some things that make you stop and wonder, in a Milan Kundera sense.

Of course, all of us die a little, every single day, if you believe people like Sylvia Plath or Courtney Love.

If you’d ask biologists, they’d say things like you replace your entire skin every some months or so, or each of your cells is gone and replaced every seven years. It’s one way of saying that the person you were seven years ago, that’s dead now, and the only thing that creates the illusion, the semblance, of continuance is memory. And stem cells. But let’s not even go there.

Maybe, yes, we all die a little every day, but at least, those little deaths are nothing dramatic; just a bad hair day, a broken tooth, a night of heavy drinking that decimated thousands of your neurons.

But if you end up lying on the pavement and staring at your own squashed brain, right there, on the same metropolitan road so many of us beat everyday, it just makes you stop.

Or maybe I’m not as hardened as I think I am, after all; at least, not as dead-hardened as any regular faceless, nameless Iraqi. Not as neuron-fried or fed-up as those vendors in Quiapo.

Somehow, the first image that flashed in my head was that scene in Fallen, where the serial murderer is being gassed to death and he’s singing that Rolling Stones song,


“Time is on my side, yes it is…
Time is on my side, yes it is…”


Says a character in that Nicholas Kazan film, death is probably what you get when you finally figure out the answer to the Big Why.

That when finally, in that small moment you figure out why there are six billion of us here on this blob of mud and nothing seems to make sense, death strikes you to shut you up. So that the secret remains a secret forever.

So that the answer to the Big Question remains heartbreakingly inaccessible.

Sometimes, I imagine Death as something formless that leaps from person to person, unseen, flying above your head as you walk the roads of your days; it brushes past you, breathes down your neck even during your happiest of moments. And then one sunny day, it finds you and smiles at you. It finds you to shut you up.

When the Roman town of Pompeii was unearthed in the mid-1700s after almost two thousand years of being entombed under volcanic debris, one of the graffiti on the walls the excavators found said something like, “Let’s eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow, we’ll die…”

You can’t stop it; nobody can. And because we know it’s a losing game, we sing our songs and drink our beer and fornicate whenever we can.

Like that murderer being gassed to death, the Pompeiians would have also probably sung that Rolling Stones song in the last moments before Vesuvius came raining down on them—just to mock and spit in the face of the inevitable. That is, had they known the Rolling Stones.

That dead guy on Ayala, why is it so easy for me to see him in those last critical seconds as he crossed that road, humming that same song because finally, on his way to the office that morning, the Big Answer to the Big Why struck him. Like Archimedes’s eureka. Like Tony Kushner’s “blue streak of recognition.”

And as swift as the Big Answer came, death arrived to shut him up. Just like that.

So that the secret remains a secret, the Big Answer remains, forever, so heartbreakingly out of reach.


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“People walk during the rush hour mindless, automatic, vapid, safe. I am walking past lives I will never know and faces I will never fall in love with.”
– from an old Eric Gamalinda piece of fiction.


***
For similar posts, see Random Acts of Strangeness.



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12 comments:

Evelyn said...

The Big Why is... Why Are You You? What Is Your Purpose?
The Big Answer is... God, through Jesus Christ.
Seek him and find yourself.

Ian said...

God...the answer to everything they will tell you. And you seek your answer in that dark crevice they call faith. And what do you learn from these preachers and annointed teachers? Life is a mystery. The nature of god is a mystery. Stop asking your questions because the devil had littered this world with those to bring you farther away from the truth which also happens to be a mystery.

Evelyn, I know it sounds romantic: "seek him and find yourself..." but please!!!!!!!!

You cannot go about life answering everything with "Jesus".

Why are you here? Jesus!
Why is the sky blue? Well...Jesus made it that way.
Why are you pregnant? Well, Jesus wants it that way.
Why is there poverty? Jesus...
1 + 1 = Jesus...

JESUS!!!

- Ian

ALVYN said...

WHY? .... maybe he didn't use the pedestrian lane.

or maybe he was tying his shoe lace in the middle of the road.

seriously, my deepest condolence to his family
...to the one who prepared his lunch.

jemmi said...

just dropping by... link to ur blogsite was posted in sugarfree yg...

BIG Q: why do people suffer? get old? and die? then ppl tell u its what God wants?

BIG A: hell, i say no...

sin = death (romans 5:12)
knowledge = life everlasting (john 17:3)

:D

jencaalim said...

tnx for dropping by on my site...

Rob In China said...

I like your point on that a little bit of us dies everyday physically. The skin sheds, and over time, we virtually have a brand new body.

The picture of the man with the shiny shoes and lunch bag is a little sad. It seems like he was just left there for others to see (or take pictures of). So, in a way that you have taken this picture and created an opinion piece that stems from his death is doing him justice.

Often, we just look at a picture like this and move on, but at least you have written something for everyone to think about.

JB said...

Evelyn, I think "Jesus" is a nice word, like "Haagen-Dasz."

Ian, you remind me of that college-era joke about God as the easy answer. and "Jesus" plus three exclamation points feels like an overkill. it's too much of a homerun already. baka may mapikon na. he he =p

Hi Jemmi, wow. Sin equals death. that just stopped me: why everybody is still so frigging alive? =p


Alvyn, i think you're right; the shoelaces that did it. dang.

Jen, ill be coming back. wait for me at your door. wearing a nice lingerie wouldn't be too bad a welcome. =p

hey Rob, thanks.

jemmi said...

hi jb... well adam & eve didnt die the instant they made sin ryt... they suffered the consequence of their sin and then died... as their children, same thing happens to us - we inherited the sin then suffer then we die...

MyLifeInCoffeeSpoons said...

I will admit that I was entertained how such a very profound reflection on death has been reduced to parroted responses like "God" or "Jesus" being the answer to the Big Why.

Doesn't such writing deserve some deeper responses. Can't we just leave some things unanswered?

I hope nobody judges me in the way I write here. For your information, I am a very faithful person. I start my morning with the day's scripture readings and go to mass, almost daily, at noontime.

We are not God who has the answer for everything...so let's leave it that way. Let's not proselytize by jumping at every opportunity to inject the word "Jesus" or "God" in anything. God's name deserves due respect and should not be dragged down to anything we come accross with.

Let's not answer but just let the question linger and make reflect on our individual lives.

Marco Van said...

to the people who just posted "jesus", "god" or "sin=death" without fully reflecting from your heart...

please just see it for what it is, the man died because a vehicle made of steel that is hundred times stronger than the poor kid's skull is running at maybe 60 miles per hour, real fast.

it could be the driver's fault for being reckless or the poor man jaywalked and unexpectedly hit by the vehicle. it's their actions that caused the consequences. one of them is responsible or maybe both of them is responsible but we will never know. as for the poor man, rest in peace. life is unpredictable, indeed and change is always constant.

a star will burst, the sun will set, rocks will chip away and the leaves will rot. the end will always be there, part of the natural cycle.

ace uson said...

well well well mamamatay din tyong lahat kaya magpakasaya na
mahalin natin ang ating mga magulang
gawin na dapat lahat ng magaga
patayin na c gloria arroyo
pati c mike arroyo
pati ako patayin na

Marci Van said...

"Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive - the risk to be alive and express what we really are."

-Don Miguel Ruiz