Friday, October 09, 2009

For Benjie

For Benjie

I first met Benjie years ago, in Manila. He had recently arrived from the States and had gangsta swagger around him that was immediately interesting – because beneath the tough guy was a heart so vast in its capacity to give, a mind so powerful in its ability to learn, and a spirit so enormous in ability to share.

We shared stories, he and I. He, about his difficult life and how he wanted change, and how he knew it would have to be an act of will. Together, we explored the vistas of imagination, playing characters engaged in quests to make a difference, crafting together speculative fiction with our other friends that provided outlets for our creative energy.

For young people, time is of no consequence. It seems to be always available, ever-present. And so we burned through time, racing through the subsequent years, taking on the challenges of life with a certain sense of glee, extending our personal geographies into literal ones. Benjie settled in Cebu and had a family. I stayed in Manila and had a family. And somehow, in manner of friends overconfident that getting in touch was just a click or a cell phone call away, we permitted the orbits of our lives to overlap less and less.

But from time to time, we’d meet up. And I was amazed at how Benjie’s talent had grown. He became a photographer, parlaying his inborn visual aesthetics into captured images that moved people. He took pictures of me that ended up in my books of fiction, in New York newspapers, that I still use for my social networks on the internet. His talent took him to new heights in Cebu’s artistic and creative community, and he shared his abilities with many.

On the dwindling occasions that we’d talk, we shared our lives’ heartaches and sorrows, the challenges that older men – husbands, fathers and businessmen – face. And we’d be comforted by the fact that we had each other to listen to.

And listen to him I did, for his wisdom and life experience was both similar and dissimilar to mine. I only wish we had spoken more, that I had gone out of my way to see him more. That I could just call him up, right here, right now, and hear his voice, his stories, and schedule a meet-up, a dinner. Anything, anything to see Benjie once again.

A few days ago, Magene contacted me on Facebook and asked me to write something for Benjie. Perturbed, I checked Benjie’s account and found out that my friend, my tough-as-nails younger-than-me friend, had a stroke and had fallen into a coma. I was shocked and saddened, and angry and guilty, and found myself unable to write a word when I sat down to write. Part of me rebelled because I was afraid it would sound like an eulogy, everything in past tense, like things had ended, and I didn’t want things to end.

Then I learned that he passed away.

I sat in my office and cried, uncaring about my employees’ looks of surprise. Then the power went out for hours, leaving me alone with my thoughts and memories and failed hopes. At home that night, I started to write this when the electricity briefly returned, but after a few words, the power died.

My friend was gone. My friend was gone.

As a writer, I often think about endings. In my discipline, endings are constructed, fabricated to either bring closure to the story or create a sense of lacuna, of open possibilities. Most readers prefer happy endings, but the truth of the matter is this: pursue any story to its ultimate end and there is only a goodbye. And we need to say goodbye, I must say goodbye.

The secret to a happy ending is in remembrance of a life well-lived. It is in the recollection of joy and laughter and strength and will. It is in the viewing of images well-planned and photographed, in businesses well-managed and fought for, in a family much-loved and protected and treasured.

This is the time to remember everything that Benjie achieved, in the brief span of years he had, in lives he has touched, in the difference that he made. These memories will soften his passage, because he would not want sorrow but a celebration, never regret but always a means to go forward, to fight, to find ways, to take time to appreciate wonder and beauty. He was that kind of husband, that kind of father, that kind of mentor, that kind of friend.

That kind of man.

Goodbye, my friend. Until we meet again.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Anya Lim said...

He will never be forgotten. When I go home to Cebu, I will always think that he's just a call away for coffee or dinner. I'd rather think that I lost his number, than swallow the fact that he's gone.

7:18 AM  

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