A burial is not exactly a happy day. But since I am taking this challenge, I need to find something “happy” about my day despite my sadness.
Let me just tell you that this is all the more devastating for my very close friend because her mother died of cancer. I did not know that today was the burial day so I scrambled from Makati to Malabon just to get to see a final glimpse of Nanay Teresita. There are no words to convey the expression of regret I have for not visiting her (and her daughter) as much as I could, even though technically my original residence is just three short rides away from theirs. 🙁 I am awful. It’s the curse of the working woman in the 21st century.
A burial jolts you back to the essentials. In a burial, there are no excuses. Everyone knows that sooner or later, it will be our turn. We realize how SHORT life is, how we are really grasping at straws, and how we allocate so little of the sands of the time to the people we love. We are so busy with our lives that it becomes hard to just sit back, relax, and have a good and meaningful moment with loved ones.
Just to put a silver lining to this dark cloud, I will write about the people who warmly escorted me to the location of Nanay Teresita’s final resting place. I found it hard to meander my way through the plot of land reserved for the dead. It’s not exactly the place you would go to for a field trip.
I was not wearing proper mourning clothes, too. But there was this woman sweeping by the cemetery entrance who helped me stay in the shade while waiting for my friend and her family there at the cemetery.
There’s the eerie silence, the smell of gravel mixing with dirt, and the smell of sweat from the heat of the midday sun. The girl who guided me hardly had any meals for herself but I owed her the kindness of giving me a concrete slab where I can wait and sit in peace.When the mourners arrived and they gave me my bread, I made sure to hand her a piece of it as a sign of thanks.
I met the guy who held the keys to the mausoleums of the entire cemetery, the guy who was about to seal off my friend’s mother’s tombstone, and the people who take care of the blocks of dead for a minimal service fee. They have a system with marked territories and acknowledgment of who’s taking care of which block.
They talk about the dead in the same way that professionals “talk shop” about their jobs. They just say things like “Nabawasan na naman sila, nadagdagan na naman yung toka ni ganito… Mabait yung namatay na yun, nakausap ko pa yun nung Todos los Santos…” as if they were talking about plants or computers. They regard death so casually. They are so used to sleeping within the confines of the graveyard. I only had two hours and I was totally freaking out. But they were just all Zen and casual about death counts and graves.
A group of gay dwellers chatted up with me for the almost 2 hours that I waited there and they even recruited me to join the “Mutya ng Malabon”. They were smiling but in their eyes, I saw hunger for human interaction and hunger for real food. I can no longer distinguish which is which.
These people are so frank, so simple, so clear with who they are and what they want. They are like children, but very hungry and dirty ones. One of them, the old woman, even had a stroke and could not move, and she peed on the spot where she sat. I watched awkwardly in the corner of my eye as her urine fell on the concrete floor like drops of tears. I silently thanked God for my ability to talk and urinate.
They are not the kings and queens of manners when it comes to waiting for the mourners to give them food after the burial ceremony. But it was really more of their hunger instincts that overtook them. Before all that mayhem with the food, I saw the stark face of poverty in its raw form, all ticks and dirt and tattered clothes or a lack thereof. I also smelled the poor casualties of this country’s corruption, the painful effects when all the taxes we paid went to selfish pockets right in front of me.
And that whole time I was there and watching all these, I kept asking myself “What have you been doing with your time and with what you know? What is your excuse for not being the very best possible version of yourself in serving others? Do you still have time for meaningless people, pursuits, and things with this social responsibility?”
And I realize that even my toughest of days as a proletarian pale in comparison to the toughness that these people have to experience every single moment of their lives.
I realized that while I had the best clothes, I was also prone to acting on my instincts of hunger for other things, because such is the nature of human beings. That despite all the seeming physical barriers, I am no different from them. And precisely because I have been given more, I need to do more and at least help out with this in my own small way.
One of the people at the cemetery community even offered to do a pedicure service on my primitive-looking feet and tried to commission a hair rebonding job for later. I politely declined in consideration of my location, my budget constraints, and my situation of mourning for Nanay T’s loss. I don’t really feel comfortable beautifying myself in the midst of the dead.
I was really humbled by them because despite those deplorable settings they are in, they gave me a spot in the shade and made so much effort to make me feel as comfortable as possible. They tried to make my stay “normal” by offering salon services, in the thinking that it will make me feel more comfortable around them.
It’s the one amenity they could offer to a complete stranger like me, a spot in the shade free from rain or too much sun. It’s the spot where the fruits of the trees do not fall off and the temperature is just right. It was the best spot in that area, a spot that they themselves do not have as a luxury everyday.
They looked at me like I was made of porcelain. The elder grave diggers chatted me up and asked about my age, and the gay beauticians fawned that I look so pretty and my skin looks nice. For them, I already look good enough. Whenever I look in the mirror at home, I see a lot of things that I still want to improve.
Isn’t it ironic? I go to functions with other educated people wearing my best outfits and with my best efforts to present myself well and despite those efforts, they see many things that they can criticize about my appearance.
But with these people, there is only appreciation of the basic things often taken for granted. They may be unschooled, but the educated, unappreciating, and complicated professionals like me can really learn from their simplicity and ability to appreciate the little things.
I sat with them and they made sure I was safe from the hooligans that were lying in the outskirts of the cemetery. They were not angels, but I am thankful because they watched over me while I waited for my friend. Somehow, this assuaged my grief and renewed my hope in people, in general. A month back, I was close to concluding that people are generally fucked up or untrustworthy and that I should stay as far away from them as possible.
But strangely enough, with this experience, I realized two things: 1.) I got to keep going in finding my purpose to help out in this country’s chaos, be it in my field of industry or otherwise, and 2.) There is still hope for me to trust that people are innately good, because even the most disadvantaged members of this society can be generous with acts of kindness.