The Poetic Ascent of Hope Beyond Life
by Danny Castillones Sillada
Surrender, pen & ink by Danny Castillones Sillada
“Death is the opening of a more subtle life. In the flower, it sets free the perfume; in the chrysalis, the butterfly; in man, the soul."
~ Juliette Adam, French writer (1836 - 1936)
WHEN I WAS nine years old, I had this scary dream about a faceless man drifting on a wooden boat from our town’s river heading toward the Pacific Ocean. I tried to warn him by shouting and signaling my hands that huge waves were dashing on his way, but to no avail. Then, in an instance, the turbulent waves gorged him and his boat into the womb of the sea.
I was terribly horrified when I woke up as if I had known the faceless man but I could not tell who he was.
That morning, I told my mother about my dream. Her countenance suddenly turned morose and then into anger, scolding me for telling her my unpleasant dream. She, then, dragged me outside the house, brought me face to face in front of a tree, and instructed me to whisper my dream on its bark.
At first, I thought it was a joke. However, looking at my mother’s ashen face and reddened eyes, I knew I was in trouble.
“From now on,” she said with apoplectic voice, “whenever you dream of a wooden boat or a faceless man, you should not speak to me or to anyone. You have to whisper it on the bark of a tree to ward off the ‘busaw’ or bad spirit!” Then she hugged me tight explaining that my foreboding dream signifies the death of a family member or a close relative.
Few days later, my father died from a cardiac arrest!
I was suddenly stricken with fear and terrible guilt, and from my naïve mind, I thought I caused his unexpected death. It was intensified when I realized that the faceless man in my dream resembled my father.
Unable to bear the overwhelming pain inside, I confided to my grandmother, Ompô Calî, about my dream defying my mother’s admonition not to tell it to anyone. Instead of reprimanding me, Ompô Calî just smiled and said: “It’s not your fault, my boy; it just happened that you saw the omen of your father’s impending death.”
“In that case, Ompô,” I said with a very sad voice, “I could have done something to prevent his death!”
“No!” said my grandmother, “The looming call of Death is not like a raindrop that you can just prevent from dripping on your holed ceiling, but a journey toward a ‘transcendent hope’ that someday, it will bring you and your father back in each other’s arms.”
The Harrowing Absence of Presence
Guilt, denial, anguish, regret, and abandonment are the prevalent emotional convulsions during loss and bereavement.
The death within a family circle is always a devastating experience, an awful reality that will forever haunt the family members. Why? Is it because of the frightening reality of losing a loved one or the condition of living a disrupted existence, which makes the lives of the surviving family members almost unbearable to live?
If a child dies, for instance, it can be a terrible loss for both parents because their lives and relationships revolve around raising a family, nurturing and laying the foundation for the children. If a father or a mother dies, the children will suffer not only from the loss of a parent, but also from the absence of parental love and material support, like food, shelter, clothing, and education.
In most cases, the most difficult period of loss is the transition from the tangible presence to the agonizing absence of the person who just died. In this stage, there is an abrupt discontinuity of normal life as if the meaning to live had been defaced altogether by the blatant reality of death.
Its ominous condition will always leave an indefinable void on those who witness and experience its tragic presence. And that same experience will bring the individual, intimately, to his or her own taste of death as a humbling reminder of the brevity of human existence.
The Fear and Anxiety of Death
The death of a loved one or a stranger will always create an echoing emptiness in one’s soul because death is awful and abysmal. No one is immune to die; neither power nor wealth can save a man from the inevitable hands of death. Its impervious presence is irreversible, much less inescapable.
Because of that awful reality, man substitutes its haunting presence with something metaphysical. The human mind, in relation to the dreadful concept of death, creates a contingent reality by rationalizing that there must be a sublime place out there to continue what has been curtailed in the temporal world. It is something that most individuals, if not all, look forward to after death.
Different cultures, different religious beliefs, and different races have a different perception of death and its respective promise of eternal life.
Conversely, religious faith gives man a reassurance of everlasting life after death. It brings the believer face to face with one’s commitment and responsibility, how to make life as much as death bearable by living and witnessing the spiritual values with others, as prerequisite of conquering the fear and anxiety of death.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death," as the psalmist said in the Bible, "I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4).
Depending on how an individual perceives the eschatological meaning of death based on religious and cultural beliefs, it is and will always be a defining moment of individual existence.
When death calls, it justifies all even the unjustifiable!
Life, Death, and Society
Society does not begin from birth neither does it end in death. The birthing of an individual is the continuity of a discontinued life, in a manner of speaking, which proceeds from what has already been completed in death by other members of the society.
When life is conceived, it is not conceived by parents alone, it is also conceived by the society where individual existence is delivered, lived, and nurtured. There is a consensual responsibility in bringing life into this world, which is participated not only by family members, but also by the community or society as a whole.
The birthing of a child brings the continuity of the offspring. The death of an individual, on the other hand, is the completion of task and responsibility through a consensually participated existence with others.
The society brings humanity together for a certain purpose and meaning, and humanity creates society to nurture and embrace that same purpose and meaning. The failure of the society to provide the intrinsic values of living a harmonious life is also the failure of every individual to live what is worth living or dying for in the same society that he or she embraces to live.
A just society respects life and environment; it upholds human rights, individual freedom, and the basic needs of its members. Humanity thrives in the modern world because society binds them together, in life or in death, toward a shared vision of living a harmonious life enlivened by freedom, justice, and prosperity.
When life ends by choice or default, it is a life that has been lived, given, and surrendered to the society. Whether the one who dies is powerful or just an ordinary person, the society will continue to live and conceive life toward the preservation of humanity.
The Poetic Meaning of Death
When a man embraces life, he also embraces death!
Even if a man denies his being, he cannot avoid the haunting reality of death, because human life is a journey toward the inevitable end of corporeal existence. Without death, human life will lose its sense of urgency to live with purpose and meaning. And it is only through death that life can speak for itself when it is completed at the end of one’s journey.
The completion is not how a person achieves a particular goal or dream in life, but how it is consummated through a fully lived existence in the physical world. The completion is the execution of task, based on human freedom, how an individual life has been lived and affirmed with other beings in a community or society, however short-lived that life may be.
It is only through the inescapable presence of death that a man can take his existence and the existence of others seriously with utmost respect, commitment, and responsibility. Every death as much as every life is an encounter with others, creating transcendent value and meaning for everyone to cross safely from this life to the other side of the world.
To sum, the immutable condition of death compels man to make his life and others sufferable and meaningful to live. A just society nurtures the reason and meaning of individual existence toward the highest good of humanity, constantly seeking and aspiring what is worth living or dying for.
The condition of living has its own reason to endure, while the condition of dying seeks its own reason onto death as its own eschatological meaning. The ‘eschatological meaning’ is the poetic ascent of hope toward a sublime promise that someday somehow somewhere there is a ‘transcendent life’ where there are no more tears, hunger, or sorrow.
© Danny Castillones Sillada
How to cite this essay:
Sillada, Danny Castillones. “The Poetic Ascent of Hope Beyond Life.” Manila Bulletin (Art & Living) 13 December 2010: E1-2.