THE ear plugs of the iPod my son Johann saved for, so his dad can take refuge from missing his two grandsons, were airing Alex Beaton's version of plaintive "Loch Lomond" that only the Irish could compose and render fully to cope with loss.
It was Thursday morning and I thought of turning to Irish traditional music for refuge. I was just handed the Red Cross' list of those we lost in that bus that hurled into a precipice along Naguilian Road the morning before.
Some of the surnames were familiar - Dawey, Alangdeo, Dimalanta. Quinio (four of them), Dimalanta. Michael Frederick, Rosamin, Rose Nicole and Michael = all surnamed Quinio.
Soon, friends will tell us even those whose names were initially unfamiliar actually were or are kin of people you and I know. Including those from La Union where we up here now and then go for the beaches in Bauang. That's where Swanny Dicang, Jr. Mateo and other Baguio boys now and then repair to, to draw strength from the ordinary fishing folks of Baccuit now quietly trying to cope with the dwindling catch.
The lyrics of Loch Lomond (Lake Lomond) hardly fit but the melody does. It's about two young soldiers captured, one to be executed, the other released. "The spirit of the dead soldier traveling by the 'low road' would reach Scotland before his comrade, who would be struggling along the actual road over high, rugged country," according to Brobdingnagian Bards, the Celtic song lyrics on-line directory.
"You Raise Me Up" would have served as a dirge to comfort us in catharsis. What raised my spirits was seeing nurse Janice Singiten of the City Disaster Coordinating Council in the aftermath of the rescue operations. She and other rescue volunteers finally had a few hours sleep after the grim task of retrieving the remains of the victims from the bus wreck and gingerly handling and rushing the injured to the hospital.
Amid the lip-biting, hand-wringing and searching the sky for answers to why, we are not wanting of heroes. For years now, they remain unaffected by volunteer fatigue. They are out there each time, even if they have to make do with the barest of tools and gadgets.
The bagpipes playing in my ears faded out as I opened the office computer to meet the deadline for a news report to insulate me from the tragedy splashed on the front pages of the dailies. It's about Baguio honoring four outstanding citizens on its 101 founding anniversary come Sept. 1: world champion karateka Julian Chees for his humanitarian outreach to home, Karen Navarrete-Anton for culture and the arts, retired school teacher Lourdes Bello for business and community service, and Dr. Zoraida Clavio for medical service.
With news of the tragedy hogging the headlines, a short item got buried on the morning newscast. It failed to note that the topnotcher on the last board examinations for medical doctors is a Baguio girl.
Dr. Alex Fangonil told me. This Baguio boy, an expatriate in Maryland and a former president of the association of Filipino physicians in America said so in his e-mail that popped on my computer screen. He was home a few years back as head of the expat Filipino physicians' mission that healed hundreds of indigent patients at the Benguet General Hospital.
Manong Alex, son of Lakay Sinfor, the former Baguio vice-mayor and judge, learned it from Ram Sharma, son of Lakay Tulsiram of Bheroomull's Department Store. Ram Posted it on email@example.com. Here's Ram:
"Baguio Girl tops licensure exams. CHITRA PUNJABI. Daughter of Deepak and Usha Punjabi, of Fil Indian Store. Proud day for Baguio!!!"
Manong Alex passed on the words of praise and congratulations from his fellow users of the website to fellow Baguio boys and girls the likes of Manang Jane Panglao and others in the BIBAK who opened their homes to me five years ago. Here's part of Manong Alex's note:
"My deepest congratulations to board topnotcher, Dr. Chitra Punjabi and to her parents. She placed our beloved Baguio again on the map with this highest achievement. I hope that she will begin a trend of Baguio's Indian descent to the building of Baguio."
Dr. Punjabi's feat comes as a balm, a counterpoint to the feeling of hopelessness in this season of wakes and funerals. The tragic bus accident that haunts not only the relatives and friends of those who perished but also the bus driver and his family.
The path to closure and towards remembrance is found in the stories unfolding in the aftermath of the road tragedy that, as of press time, took its toll on 41 lives.
In the list of casualties is the name Carlos Angeles. He's said to have set out from his native Bacolod when he was 17 to find meaning and truth. He reminds me of Satish Kumar, my teacher who, in his youth, set out on foot from his native India with a friend in a "peace walk" of over 8,000 miles to deliver tea bags of peace to the leaders of the nuclear world in London, Paris, Moscow and Washington.
In Baguio, Angeles found a group of thinkers of different faiths who were willing to argue, listen to and shake each others' hands and beliefs. Whatever each stood for, all agreed they are all brothers under one sun. So when they learned one of their brothers was in the list of casualties, they tried to contact his relatives. Failing to connect, they arranged his cremation last Thursday.
Why are we here, Satish was asked during an evening class by the fireplace of Schumacher, the small school he founded in the Devon countryside in England.
"We are here to celebrate life," he replied. (e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org for comments).