Now that two years have passed since you died I have a few things that need to be said, things that I did not have the courage to say directly to you. Maybe it was fear or maybe it was the hierarchical respect that we, as in our family, indulge ourselves in but whatever the reason maybe it has remained unsaid, tucked away in the dark corners of our hearts and our minds. So let me use this fleeting time to say things that I wish I had said to you before your abrupt passing. You, my father, you while you were still there with your fiery beating compassionate heart, your generous self and your simple life, all three of which I am still struggling to do.
Our family although caring, loving and understanding towards one another never really did have the chance to talk whole-heartedly to another. It was only when issues sprung up, explosion of emotions came with it and although it was resolved it cost us dearly. We never said things to each other fully. Someone was always the middle man, whether it be me when we sat together many nights discussing the daily news, house affairs or pretty much everything but ourselves. Or my brother and sister that came and went, as they were busy with their hard-pressed lives yet tried to squeeze in the little time they had to talk to you. And Mom was in her own world of projects that engulfed her daily. Although it might seem a rather disheartening situation for a family perhaps some would say a petty excuse for a family. We were nonetheless a family. There were many things I wanted to do you for you, dreams and desires and aspirations because I knew, maybe secretly, the things you had to sacrifice and endure to maintain this family of ours. But I’ll have to leave it at that. A dead dream, an obsolete desire that can never be fully actualized.
I remember that day, the day you died, with haziness as it went by fast, too fast. It was too abrupt, too swift for an end. No chance was given to say a final goodbye. I remember looking at you before we closed your coffin. Staring attentively, at the ornate flowers shaped into a cross hanging silently and confidently above your head. Then you, with your greying skin, sign of life giving blood no longer flowing through your veins, yet with a sense of calmness radiating from your body. Mom was weeping but had her head down covering her face with tissue, but I could see the tissue soaking with fluid that you know it was not at all water. Sister looked in horror, as there was certain deadness in her eyes. Brother was confused, as the culture dictates he as the oldest man of the house now must take over of the responsibilities of the house. A tough job, I can only imagine. I had Rara photograph the whole event with the analog camera that you gave me a few years back, the photos remain hidden as they are not easy to look at. In all, it was not all a good day.
But that was then and now is now.
Great things have come since you died. Many events, but more on understandings. I know now, just know not yet fully understand though dad, that life is a rollercoaster ride of joys and miseries with three possible endings. A possible abrupt end, a possible slow descend into madness or an embracing, an acceptance of a terminus. All three are endings, but it is our journey towards these ends that defines the life before the ends.
Which brings us now to life or more specifically the self. Loss and death has allowed me to reprioritize my thoughts on what is important to think of and to act on. I’ve thought much of this sense of self and my place here on earth. I no longer just want to do things. To merely do them without giving them a second thought. To do things fueled by self-righteous pride that in it self feeds off people. Too much dependence on others. Praises and compliments from left and right. I think I’ve had enough of that. It flies your ego on to this high pedestal, pushing you to think of the greatness you have done and that we are indeed the center of the universe and everything else rotates around us.
That sense of the self and of the world has left me in vanity of thought as I knew how the world works and your death has shown me that I don’t. There are things in the world that I of course still struggle to understand. I am looking for something that I just can’t seem to put my finger on, something that I just can’t explain. It’s that sudden bitter taste of loss that has left me longing for something. No…longing is the wrong word, longing implies that I have tasted it or experienced it before but this I think is entirely new.
So far I have learned three essential things throughout the following years after your death. First, is to live slow. Life with our desires, miseries, elations, and the whole package of emotions is often lived fast, disconnected and often trivial. Nothing is really lived fully. Just an array of events, disconnected from the self. Living slow lets me breathe attentively the fleeting moments, the knowledge and the obscure wisdom that life has to offer and much to offer it has. Second, the ability to be vulnerable. As the quality of friendship is more and more defined by the amount of friends we have it has confined a relationship into mere numbers that be can be counted and bragged. A trophy to be paraded around town. The vulnerability of the self cuts this as we can only be vulnerable towards a few and hence limits the quantity of friends. Yet with the limit of quantity comes quality. To show that we are weak and know little of the world, we are afraid with life and of the future. This at first comes with great fear but it ends with great relief. As vulnerability pushes you to show a true sense of self, that self that constantly hides behind the masks we wear every single day. And last, dear dad, as homage to Bill Manhire, “I live at the edge of the universe, like everybody else.” This fleeting life, this life, which has no purpose – unlike a chair which was made with a predetermined purpose to be sat on – brings uncertainties and fear. Yet if we realize dad, if we realize that every single day, every single breath we take is a constant reverence, an acknowledgement that I’m at the edge and may fall to an abyss at any given time, then dad here I am living life at the edge.
It is invigorating to know this, to know that there is so much out there that I have yet to see, learn, and breathe.
This letter I know will fall short of its purpose as a letter. As it will remain here, unposted. Perhaps seen by others and shared to others but will never be sent. Because even if this letter is intended for you dad, it is at heart written for me. It is me talking to me. Something that I have seldom done lately. As much as I hope for a person to show me a path towards enlightenment, I end this letter with the banality of the Buddha’s words “no one saves us but ourselves. No can and no one may.”
I miss you and everyone knows this I reckon but you know what dad? I’m doing ok, just a perfect, simple ok and I can’t ask more than that.
(Ben Laksana wrote 3/4 of this letter on a napkin, not that it’s not expected of him. Should’ve posted this 7 months ago when he first shared it with me but simply glad that I finally have the chance to. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I do.)