A little bit after lunch last Wednesday a tragedy struck and changed the life of one of my closest friends.
It is funny how one is so completely unaware of what happens as the world turns. We all exist in our compartmentalized lives, functioning within the domain of our schedules and appointments --- and completely unknowing of what else is happening to the rest of the world. For instance, my friend was attending a seminar somewhere in Makati for the telecommunications company that he worked for. He did not even have an inkling of what was happening to his family residence in Cainta.
My friend did not know that at half past one in the afternoon, a fire broke out in the house possibly brought about by faulty electrical wiring.
In less than half an hour, everything inside the house was burned down. That included his eight year old nephew who, together with his younger brother, were watching tv and the first to see the flames burn the wall behind the television set in the living room. The older of the two boys rushed to one of the bedrooms to get water to douse on the flames but since the residence was made of old wood and built some time in the 1960s the fire spread too quickly.
No one was able to retrieve the boy who was now trapped in his grandmother's bedroom since the corridor leading to that part of the house was suddenly engulfed by flames. The windows of the bedroom had grills and even the air conditioner was boxed in by metal grills thus making it impossible to pry open to give room for the boy to escape.
The little boy's body was retrieved later. Autopsy pointed to asphyxiation and suffocation as his cause of death.
The friends were all stunned when we got the news.
Of course, our friend was devastated. He kept saying that he did not mind losing everything ... but not his nephew. His partner was also saddled with guilt: he was able to save the younger boy but failed to retrieve the kuya because of the circumstances and the speed that events took over. And no amount of explanation or rationalization can seemingly provide a credible answer to the question --- why.
Why did this happen? Why did it take only thirty minutes to completely obliterate all the fruits of hard work that my friend and his brothers put in to provide their seventy year old mother with a sense of security and the best of comforts in the winter of her life?
Now that they have literally lost everything, where is the fairness here? The family did not make their money out of corrupt practices or abusing the weaknesses of others. They were honest middle class people who struggled with budgets but loved each other very much and dedicated their efforts for a better life for their kids. They were the most humble of the remaining sector of the Filipino middle class. So how can you possibly justify this horror that befell them right at this time in their lives?
There is no answer. Maybe someone can cite that world-weary observation that life was never fair, is not fair and will never be such. But still ...
Does that also explain why an eight year old boy should die? Because life in unfair? Try telling that to his father.
To snap into a situation realizing that you literally have nothing left because everything you owned (except for what you are wearing and carrying at the given moment in time) has burned into ashes is something that we all refuse to imagine. But for my friend and his family, it is a reality. And frankly we do not know how they will literally start from scratch again especially in dealing with the senseless death of a child.
But then again, there are certain realizations indeed. They are not explanations. They cannot be justifications. They are only realizations of things we have known all along but are suddenly brought right in front of our faces to deal with and recognize. We hear of tragedies such as these. We read them in the papers. We hear them reported in the nightly news. But when it happens to someone we know ... it jolts us into the most painful territories of reality.
There is indeed great truth that what you cannot take with you to your grave really does not and can never matter.
All these trappings of material acquisitions which we equate with security and success are perishables. These are volatile. These can be taken away. If we choose to define ourselves with what we have, with what we possess ... if we choose to calibrate the quality of our existence by the brands that we foist, the lifestyle that we brandish to others ... then all these point to something really quite evident: an impoverished life.
Yet there lies the irony. A great number of us --- nay, a majority of us --- think that success and happiness can only be measured by how much we have. It is all the tangibles, verifiable and accountable in our lives that we use to prove to others how far we have gone or how high we fly. There are those who dedicate all their lives in acquiring what they think as the best --- because they do not only feel they deserve it but because this is the only way they think they can prove their worth.
One's success story is always measured by the distance traveled from there to wherever --- and all the bundles acquired along the way.
Yet they can all be taken away --- just like that. Then what? Then how do such laws of definition function?
As we got together to console our friend, we too were rattled into confronting what governs this universe. Somewhere along the way, we are all conditioned to believe in what is important --- and what should constitute a good life. More often than not, we are deluded. We are lost by the machinery of politics and economics. We own things but sad enough ...we lose ourselves.
Hugging our friend and telling him that all will be well is perhaps the Universe also taking its sense of balance. Of course all will be well. Life will go on. Life will move on. And it does not require the heavy load we carry on our backs to prove to everyone that we are indeed at the forefront of the games we play.
It is not the things we can lose to chance that matters in life. It is what we do with what is given to us that makes all the difference.