Four teenagers, aged 14 to 18, died early last Saturday morning in a senseless car crash inside the posh and secure village where they all resided. They were all boys --- scions of upper middle class families, students of exclusive schools and bearers of such great promise for the years to come. Two of them were brothers.
In an instant --- in some strange design of fate, destiny --- or whatever you choose to call it --- their young lives came to a violent end.
When news about the accident spread in the suburbs south of Manila, there were questions asked. Aside from the curiosity as to why these kids were driving around at 4am (Did their parents know they were out this time of the night even if it were a summer weekend? Who owned the car and who was driving it? How fast were they running to elicit such an effect --- leaving the vehicle a total wreck after it rammed against an electric post and then a concrete wall?), the bigger question remains.
Why do things like these happen?
Of course we can name a whole list of reasons. We can try to rationalize, re-create what transpired --- then shake our heads and say, "There is a lesson to learn from all this." That is easy for us to say.
We are still appalled by this tragedy --- but the four boys remain as names. We fear that these things may or can happen to people we love. And we embrace our relief that it has not.
Amid all the conclusions, hasty or otherwise, there are the parents of these young boys who never thought that all it took was a split second for them to lose the lives of young people who were so much a part of their existence.
I remember what my late father said as I stood beside him the day we buried my eldest brother: "This should not be. This cannot be. It should be the other way around. There is no pain greater than this." That was the only time in my life I saw my father cry. For indeed, there is no pain greater than a parent burying his child.
I am not a parent but I understood my Dad. I understand what that pain could be and is.
I cannot imagine how a mother and a father could look at the body of the life they created, cared for ... and loved ... stolen from them by some predicament or circumstance. I cannot even dare estimate the degree of anguish that stirs in the hearts of parents when they see the lifeless form that was once their child.
They never thought that this was possible. But it is.
I still remember the cries of anguish as I held Gerry Perez, father of the young actor AJ, the day I went to the wake. His was one of the most beautiful young men I have had the chance to know and work with. Perhaps it is because of his goodness that he was taken away from us all too early.
But how do you console a man who was right there when his son breathed his last?
Those are the rare moments when you realize that no amount of words ... or reasons concocted for the sake of easing the pain ... can diminish the brutality of the wounds left on the heart. You just watch the father in his pain knowing that he has to go through this.
You wish it never occurred.
But it happened. These things happen.
Parents bury their children. And you wonder how much faith is needed, how much love for God there could be in order to accept and understand events ... more so, to accept the fact that they have to move on. They have to live the rest of their days --- individually and together --- minus their child. It happens.
I sometimes listen to my friends' talk about their children.
I tell them they worry too much ... although I understand how and why they do.
They tell me that you have to embrace your child as often as you can ...while you can. One day they will not want you to do so. When they are toddlers, they will tell you they love you. But they reach a certain age when you have to understand the ways they tell you how much they care. There are children who are generous with hugs and kisses.
There are also children who grow into adults who think that how much love shared within the family is assumed and not necessarily demonstrated. As you grow older, it becomes more difficult to tell your parents you love them without sounding childish or even stupid. That is all part of the package. That all depends on how the parents geared them up for emotions ... whether to show or hide, display or disguise.
One time, a friend of mine was in near tears as she discussed her problems with her teenage son. She kept blaming herself for what has happened to her seventeen year old --- pointing out all her vulnerabilities as well as her so-called sins for being an irresponsible mother because she too had to work and did not have time take care of her offspring. She went on and on as I listened --- even though I knew that her other two kids were doing just fine.
But, of course, it is the assumption of failure that stares at you right on your face --- and not the reasons to celebrate your achievements.
At a certain point, I told her to stop.
I told her it was not her fault.
But she insisted, "It's all my fault ... he is like that because of the way I brought him up."
I said not necessarily so.
My explanation was quite simple: children have their own lives.
Yes. You take care of them. You protect them. You want nothing but the best that you can afford for them. You pamper them. You want to make sure they are safe, strong, healthy, happy. You make plans for them. You want to design their lives because you know better ... and because you are a parent.
No parent --- at least the ones with sane mind and possessing a decent soul --- would want his or her child to be unhappy.
But unfortunately, no parent can define much less dictate what should or could make their children happy. That is the sad part. And children cannot and should not live by their parents' definition of happiness if it is not their own as well.
I told my friend that she cannot be with her son 24/7. What you teach your child at home is the foundation of the building that should be his persona and character. But it is he --- not the mother, not the father --- who should put together who he is and what he wants to be. Despite all safeguards and parachutes and early warning devices --- the child will still lead the life he chooses --- if the parent sincerely wants his child to be happy. And fulfilled.
Similarly, he will make mistakes because he has to. The errors may be fatal ... but that is all right. They are necessary. And they are not also the parents' fault all the time. Or at all.
I assured my friend that what they say about children is true. They have to go some time or the other. You spend time with them ... but when it is time to go, you just let go. That is the way it should be. And if you leave things as they should be, parents have no choice.
It is the parents' responsibility to take care of their kids because they did not choose to be born. Parents gave them life and they are answerable for them. But it does not work the other way around. These kids are answerable to their families and it is their choice to be responsible for their parents. Children who truly love their parents will hold them close to their hearts not out of a sense of obligation ... but because love is not a requirement but a choice. As much as parents love their children, so they will love them back. Simple as that.
I remember my Dad and I talking about showbiz kids who stop schooling in order to be breadwinners for their families. My Dad shook his head and told me, "Children are not investments for the security of parents."
That is why, I surmise, that there is so much pain when parents bury their children. It is not only for the loss --- but for the end of promises. It is for possibilities cut short and years meant to be shared suddenly stolen.
There is no greater joy for a parent than to see his child genuinely happy. Not successful (because that is relative) but full, filled and happy. And death ends that joy.
I cannot imagine the pain felt right this very moment by the parents of the four boys who died on the road inside their exclusive village. But life will go on. And there is love far greater than what us mortals can give or share.
That is the only kind of love that explains why senseless things like these happen. For a purpose. We may not necessarily understand it. But there is a purpose.
There is, after all the tears have dried, a lesson to be learned.