There is something in the cold, in the shortened days, in the long clear star-studded nights that makes one remember the fallen leaves of the past. In all the merriment of the coming Christmas and the anticipation of the new year, to look back seems not only natural, it is a reverent tribute to what can be no more. So the mind wanders before it forgets, the heart poignantly cradles before it discards. Ten days before Christmas, the ghosts haunt again.
1. We live time according to stages. In infancy, minutes if not seconds dictate what must be done. Feed the baby, change the diaper, put him to sleep. Wash, rinse, repeat. Then days come with schools and play dates. Not too long, the teen age years of awakening and self actualization bring forth the new person. Then he goes away to college and comes back on breaks, changing each time to be on his own. Then one day he graduates, finds a job and seasons pass for holidays to dictate that yes, it is time to visit home. If only for a while.
2. December 24th was always the busiest time at the market.It was also the time I would gather my brothers so we could spend Christmas eve with my parents and the rest of my younger siblings. The jeepney ride would take over an hour with sleepy commuters hauling their Christmas presents while carols tried to give meaning to Jesus’ birth. Christmas was not easy on the poor. The stark difference of haves and have-nots was glaringly more unmerciful. It was a realization that the past never buried, that the hurt never forgot. Tears flowed freely on Christmas days.
(5 days to go)
3. The letter was waiting when I got home Christmas eve. It was supposed to break the silence and to bridge the distance. Most, it was to keep the hope alive. Uncertainty and doubts had reduced the fire to dying embers. I did not have to read the words to know the contents. Jesus was born on Christmas Day to give hope, to offer salvation, to give peace, to affirm love. I had always felt the purity of pain on Christmas. A pain that memory would refuse to let go.
4. I just wanted two six shooters with a holster. I did not care about new shirts, new shoes or new pants. I wanted to appear the meanest and the baddest sheriff in town. At 5 years old, I just wanted to rule the world on Christmas Day.
5. The Simbang Gabi also referred to as midnight mass was a time for teen-agers to show off their their brand new duds and to scout for “steadies”. I stayed late with Tata Vener so he could finish my bell bottomed jeans. He finished it just as the sun rose. As the church bells signaled the end of the mass, I watched the faithfuls head for the “puto bungbung” and “bibingka” stands. I watched my contemporaries laughed and exchanged glances in a flirtation called youth and life. With empty pockets and empty dreams, I just watched. Youth was never my time. I was never young.
6. The upperclassmen had left. Fort del Pilar and the Philippine Military Academy, were all ours to rule and enjoy. We, the plebes, were kings of barracks! No parades, no inspections, no Academics. Just food, sleep and sports. Would we go back to civilian laxities and disregard 8 months of military discipline? Surprisingly, reveille and taps made sure we did not. The traditions of the outside world did invade our disciplined existence. Yes, there was the midnight mass, the “arroz caldo” after wards and on Christmas day, we marched to the Cadet’s Chapel and just like the rest of Christendom, bowed our heads in gratitude and full faith to remember the birth of Christ who would deliver mankind from sin. From far away, I missed those I love as the cold of the mountains hummed “silent night, holy night”. The wages of the life I chose and was destined to live.
(one week after)
7. Gift giving was a tradition Marilou pursued with conviction. Each child must have the same number of gifts. Twelve days of Christmas were counted with gifts being opened. Then they grew up and the gifts waited under the tree until they came home. Still the number of wrapped presents remained equal. The child regardless of age, never grew up.
8. There was something in solitude while in a crowd. To be an island was a choice. The mind would defy reality and believe its own. In Sinta’s, Jo’s, Andrew’s and Coco’s absence this Christmas, the heart sought the refuge of the past. They were missed sorely, a missing almost akin to pain. But the hidden smiles buoyed what the present could not deny. Love ruled the past, the present and the future.
8. Another Christmas past, my dearest would post. The decorations came down yesterday, kept and would be put up again in 11 months. Hopes were raised for a completeness only loved ones could fulfill. The ghosts would go to sleep but would surely awaken with the first carols and the last falling leaf. I would refuse to count how many more Christmases before the last. Still mortality would make reminders in painful creaky joints and wrinkles more permanent than time. As must be, the dwindling numbers made days like treasures. What was scarce could only be of utmost importance.
9. Jesus was and is and will be the reason for Christmas. The ghosts that haunted would come and go and would decay with age and fading memories. I had believed in Christmas when hope almost faded and desperation ruled. I had sought refuge in tearful carols and wishes of good tidings. I had trusted strangers’ kind smiles and peace to all mankind. Christmas would be past but like the kid who would never give up, I would look forward to the one down the pike with all the expectations of love, of happiness and yes, “of good will to men”.
Christmas would be forever.