IT has been tough month as far as this column is concerned writing serious and tough topics what with us still observing Lent and writing those election-related materials. Thanks for Manny Pacquiao ushering in euphoria of early alleluia last Sunday in Superbowl Stadium, Texas, USA.

At least his victory was such the necessary break two weeks more going into Easter. And going back on the trail, I would like to treat you with different material –short story no less – as my reflection of Lenten season we’re still in. Writing knows no boundary. As writer or journalist, I think it’s just natural to explore other way of exploiting your talent in as many field you could effectively deliver your message.

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The many battlefronts you join, the better and merrier. No, I’m not yet going into serious storywriting. This material in fact is my third. But I’m just thinking aloud why not if you find fulfillment in this area like music securing your sanity in this troubled world.

Isn’t it that writing is 90% desperation and only 10% inspiration, Conrad de Quiros of PDI clears. Who knows if I might even make a mark here receiving dividend somewhere in the distant future or why not a book of this kind for posterity. Not a bad investment. Read on and let me know what you feel:

Driarco had probably short of two hours sleep when jolted by the ringing of telephone on the desk by his side. Putting on the light of the lampshade while rubbing his eyes as if clearing some specks out from their sockets, he saw it was still barely twenty five minutes before midnight on his wristwatch. The soft tone and resonant voice on the line was very familiar to him. It was his mother Illa Crispe. But what urgent message she had that ungodly hour, the thought taking him aback as he reached for the telephone.

“Sorry son disturbing and waking you up,” she said pausing setting the tone of her ultimate message hopefully to calm him down on the other end.

“Yes mom, what’s up?” Driarco retorted knowing something ominous happens back home gauging from her shivering voice.

Taking deep bated breath and mustering enough courage after gradually regaining her composure, she finally spills the sad news.

“Dead! Yes, your father is dead . . .!” Brief deafening silence ensued.

“Excuse me and I’m sorry. Come again please. . . , “he snapped back as if protesting emphasizing each word begging the question in disbelief, aghast even before the message sink deeper into his subconscious quickly sending fear and trembling down his spine. Like scalpel, it cuts into his very deep recesses the echo of the message blowing right before his face catching him practically off guard.

“He’s gone five hours ago after attending physicians declared that there’s no way of reviving him back to life,” she reiterated holding back her tears, the tone of her voice slowly tearing his spirit into bits and pieces away.

Silence was deafening as if the impact of the news registered too strong decibel for Driarco’s ear to hear. At lost finding appropriate words of comfort and empathy for her son, she just waited for his corresponding response. But there was none coming Driarco save for deep sigh of disbelief on the other end.

What a breaking news of all stories in the middle of the night yet, he thought griping. As he rightly construed from her calculated statement, something must have really gone wrong on her message. Knowing now the incident involving his father, makes the whole thing doubly outrageous. But what could he do, he was merely in the receiving end. Isn’t it that life is full of surprises anyway? Some like manna from heaven just fall down. All you have to do is pick them up and take and enjoy them; the rest, beautifully packaged items and stuff that you have to open it first and voila, share it with others.

Ironically, today’s gift was practically incomprehensible to Driarco. Sick joke, no less pure and simple. God must be crazy, he thought with reservation as he heaved sigh of relief feeling as if he was left in the cold. Giving away his father’s life in a casket – what a metaphor, he pondered

Holding on to his sanity, he mustered enough strength to be real. Death after all is celebration of life. We have to die to live again. It’s a special growth taking place in man’s life and there’s just no way of postponing it. The only catch is, you don’t recognize it until you experienced it yourself or party to the deceased. But what difference it makes? We’re all mortal in the first place anyway. It’s just a matter of time when it would come. It maybe now or later.

It’s fair game excluding none and indeed great life’s leveler like tax. That makes passing away mere transition, beautiful act towards fulfillment as you come and finally meeting personally God face to face. Great and no problem for such stage coming in its natural course. But not when it happens out of the blue. Worst still when death comes unexpectedly shrouded in mystery yet, the notion registering in his mind after he was emotionally drained from the shocking news over his father’s death.

Like any ordinary mortals, Driarco didn’t have any foreboding it was coming that way; let alone, fast, expecting such frightening news knowing his father’s Ora et labaora – Just do right and make things happen.

Stay in the middle when in doubt because that’s where virtue lies. Don’t touch any livewires for they will in the end, electrocute you – and no nonsense Take everything with moderation lifestyle, the reason he extended his vitality that far to his over ripe mature age of sixty five still very strong and healthy.

Unfortunately, that death snuffing his life out that night spoiled what otherwise would have been his rare and best chance of enjoying life to the fullest with his family. Who could have done this must have very important and urgent reason knowing that his father had no perceived enemies, his reaction for the first time feeling the heat of the incident facing the blank wall.

Life is not ours to spend nor cherish. It’s God’s. We are just here to share His love to each one, he recalled vividly his father’s advice imbuing him greater sense of understanding the immediacy of time. We are living on borrowed time Driarco so do what you can accomplish today, the timeless instruction he’s always reminded of.

He would definitely have that epitaph inscripted on his exquisite tombstone as his way of returning the compliment and gesture of gratitude back to his father for such didactic wisdom instilled in his heart.

Lord God blesses his soul. Make it whiter than snow. We commend that You accept his soul as token of his sacrifice and our humble offering the way You did when Your Son expired on the cross dying for our sins in Calvary, he finally come into his senses breaking his long silence on the phone with silvery tears now falling freely from his eyes to the cheek touching gently his whiskers as they flowed down. The words were sincere and earnest, full of entreaty coming only from the heart of a religious convert.

“Amen, amen and amen,” his mother intoned at the other end.

Cerebral death, she qualified was the cause of Clioneo’s untimely death. That after relating how in five straight long hours, his brain didn’t register any semblance of activity as shown in an electrocephalogram administered by attending physicians after he was brought by friends in government hospital.

Cardiac arrest before passing away is the clearer and most logical explanation then,” Driarco concluded listening the graphic narrative reconstruction of the incident – rare drinking spree with friends spiced up with songs, humor, anecdotes and stories ; no questions whatsoever until they called it a night before separating their ways probably leaving the poor Nong Clioneo on his seat where he perhaps caught his last bated breath. Or who knows the Grim Reaper strike under cover of darkness with stillness of the night as mute witness while he was on his way home. But there were no indications of foul play, he learned from his mother, the idea further aggravating his confusion on the issue all the more.

“Strange and incredibly even more than fiction,” is all he could utter summarizing thus far the event surrounding the circumstances. Clearly constituting legal death then in jurisprudence it seems, he further ventured without any slightest hint surrounding his father’s mysterious death.

“Any conduct then of post mortem?”, explored Driarco taking aback her mother.

“Pardon me . . . !” she retorted.

“I’m sorry. I mean I got your point and that explain everything,” he rectified himself avoiding pricking her innocence and securing her from any untoward complications given her fragile health his unfounded theory might cause and drag her into. Some other time maybe when all is set after an inquest have been conducted to get into the bottom of the incident. Besides there’s that time-tested tradition of honoring the dead first whose premium over other practices has been religiously observed and followed to the letter over the decades. There’s definitely time for everything as there is time for every season. For now it’s the moment to grieve and remain silent unless you wish to be cursed, his reflection on the matter taught him.

“Be sure then to catch the first flight tomorrow so you can hug your father first before others will do,” she reminded.

“Yes please before you put him in the casket,” he requested.

“God bless then! Take care and I love you son,” she ended dropping off the telephone to its receiver.

What a revelation it has been as Driarco dropped back on his bed for needed rest. Fixing his gaze to the ceiling, various images were playing on his mind but can’t exactly figure out what precisely happened and who could have done it. With consoling thought that the devil who perpetrated his death would soon be confused and have his day full when he comes back home finally lulled him to sleep. So be it, the wall clock seemed to agree as it striked exactly twelve o’ clock midnight.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

What a journey it has been for Nong Clioneo. Life was like one hell rollercoaster ride full of ups and down but he was elated having survived unscathed notwithstanding all the blues he met coming his way. For as long as you’re holding on to your sanity, have sound moral persuasion and maintain consistent integrity and identity, you’ll survive. As every mile starts with a single step similarly everything starts with the family. How could you give that which you don’t have in the first place? Thus, discipline, industry and above all love of God – should be manifested at home.

In this journey has been Illa Crispe who in all his travel was there providing the necessary lift as needed. Their mutual trust and cooperation enabled them to survive every twists and turns of life triumphant amid hardships and difficulties. The harder and difficult the road the better and greater the challenge to travel, they both agree. As Desiderata would say: just be true to yourself, don’t faint affection, be humble as humility is the precondition of all other virtues and you’ll never lose your way. Never mind for all harassments in whatever forms they come your way. Take them one at a time in stride for once you pass them, they are all considered as life’s badges of honor. In a way then, there are no failures in life as setbacks are merely tools you have to use towards fulfillment and liberation. Face them as they come but don’t force the issue when you can’t manage. Treat them as challenge instead and find your way around how to handle it.

Just be passionate and stop only when you finally feel you have exhausted in exploiting all what you’ve got succeeding and convinced you have already delivered your best shot. As much as possible, never leave your accomplishment without ever stamping your identity and character in it. Your mark of excellence is such very important imprint that in the end would define the trademark of your name you’ll carry all the way to the grave. Remember the dictum: where the heart is willing it will find thousand means. But where the heart is unwilling, it will find not just thousand, but million of excuses. The book of Psalm is even more emphatic – Where your heart is, there’s your happiness also.

Just do it anyway and put your trust to Him and He will be there to protect you. Precaution and prudence though should be observed when you translate that to human trust or you’ll be in big trouble. One such instance was when his service as pump boat operator was hired by three young men on very important mission – ferrying them to Tipisan allegedly to be in one of his passengers wife’s side who would be delivering a baby. The incident however turned out to be a disaster when military men in uniform swooped them down and cordoned them off instead before their pump boat could reach the shoreline early evening that night from a tip of an asset.

Before long, they were hogtied blind folded and forcibly dropped in a van and brought to a very secluded place. Hell broke loose as systematic torture was administered in the ensuing interrogation. San Juanico bridge, electrocution of genitals, eating of human waste and all that were administered as interviews were conducted one after the other. Deprived of food for many days, one of his passengers finally spilled out the beans – they were on the mission of collecting revolutionary taxes! It was all Nong Clioneo gathered and he never heard again news of his companion.

The experience was one hell of a ride for survival dancing gingerly with death. It was absurd, infernal and just one step before an end. Losing almost his senses, the ordeal was complete package allowing him to save or recover his comprehension just in time before he thought was his end. He never knew the interrogators, place and circumstances of the event as if constituting an episode, a portent of doom probably to come he was unaware of. Freedom only came as he finally saw daylight when he took off the blind fold upon instruction from those who abducted him on the count off of ten in the same seashore he was hired just few meters from his makeshift fish port.

Excesses of on-going hostility? This is it, a perfect example how innocent persons are caught on the cross fires not of their own doing. Truth, that’s indeed the first casualty in war.

Who suffers most anyway in any civil strife? Not the military or their perceived enemies but civilians. The statistics in two World Wars and those fought against Terrorism until today vouched the validity of that variable. Displaced civilians, innocent children, orphaned sons and daughters – these are some of the price paid and the irony of it all, division still thrives giving credence to what then PLO Yasser Arafat would later wailed griping that it is easier waging war than forging peace.

That in the context of long-drawn battle between the Israelites and Palestine but even then it’s spill-over of atrocity in different country in similar. As Ninoy Aquino would say it all later: In war there are no victors, only victims, he wrote in his Testament from the Prison Cell.

Need to say more? The question that woke him up as the alarm clock rang noisily prompting him to stand up and took shower to catch up flight for home back to the Philippines.

(To be continued)