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Monday, June 24, 2024

In the presence of ghosts

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Human evolution comes to its end in a sudden or a slow leap—from love to unconcern, from life to death. The end can occur like a thunder clap, in the flinch of an eye.

Cemeteries serve as a home to the dead and to the living, with their snaking little streets becoming the playground of children.

Some people have lives that seem to last forever, with gums emptied of teeth and backs curved in a permanent question mark. Others have lives spent in only as long as a commercial break, just another transient going through a passing phase.

Life and death—separate yet inseparable—are analogous realities. We all have even chances at some governable options, some control over our lives. We all intend to alter life’s unalterable course—the big spin stopping on our number, making all efforts to somehow lengthen the mortal sojourn futile. 

It’s over when it’s over. It’s as definite as that. No one lives forever.

Dying is a one-way ticket to nowhere, an irreversible process. We grieve at the loss, sort out the feelings, the shapeless stupor, the undetermined dread, the daily banalities that become familiar patterns of merely occupying oneself through just another day, and acquiesce to the hands-of-death finale.  

Brother and sister pose for a photo in the cemetery.

We recall their lives and cast our eyes on their mortal destination to grave, mausoleum, or urn in a final glimpse of their vanished lives. The loss unhinges people and destines them through rollercoaster emotions panning out from memories that flush like little points of light.

Cemeteries seem to be cursed places, with ghosts of deeply melancholy hearts wailing all day long, where skeletons dance each night while cadena de amor blossoms reach their pink perfection as they weave themselves into the lattice of tall talahib grasses streaming out toward the darkened sky.  

There is always that sense of space and stillness in an old cemetery—a corrupted resting place, unchanged for decades, with tombs undisturbed, and sucked out of all signs of life except those of ghosts hiding behind embrowned skeletal trees. Most times it gets a bit too surreal; we sort of tend to muffle our reaction to reality by shutting out the memories despite the agony pangs.

In spite of the cracked tombstones, the winding narrow passageways unpaved for years, a cemetery, especially an old, decaying one, is a place waiting to be rediscovered. 

Streaks of sunlight flash across the morning sky, roosters crow, scrawny dogs bark and scavenge for scratches of food, mothers reheat the previous night’s meal on a stone stove, and fathers, usually gravediggers, with skin burnished by the sun, set out to go about their task.  

A dog keeps watch, probably over a human friend who passed.

The snaking little streets become a make-believe battleground where children of these cemetery dwellers play, using twigs from decayed trees as pretend swords or rifles, swish-swishing or making gunfire sounds, and fall to the hard ground, playing dead.

Life breathes functionally within a cemetery. The sun’s passage on each day, from a cock’s crow to dusk, matters not at all.

As skyscrapers hurry to cast their silhouettes along the cemetery horizon, graveyards similarly get a make-over, re-landscaped, and generally spruced up to keep pace with the demands of the new times. (A modern columbarium is set to revive an otherwise slipshod patch of land within the Makati Catholic Cemetery.)

A rainbow shows itself through even in the most gray-drab cemeteries. We find our own rainbow, skip over it, and find the pot of gold. Share the happiness with those who are still with us. All grounds settle, most concrete come unstuck, flowers bloom then die. Life goes on.


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