Every year, my father would end our visit to our late grandfather's tomb in a certain tradition. A few minutes before we leave, when the rest are packing empty plastic containers and discarded cola bottles, he would go to the back of his father's tomb, light a candle, and, from our point of view, talk to the dead. And it has always bothered me. If indeed it was a one-way conversation, what could my father be saying to his own father; what untold stories could he be carrying for two decades now?
My father is not a very vocal person. It is very seldom
that you see him show emotion, very rare to see him talk about his personal
circumstances. If any, he is good at showing disappointment. He is a
very stiff man, known in his school as an authoritative figure. I cannot remember a conversation with my father where we were even barely open and vulnerable. Aside from law school questions,
recent political issues, and how-to's of eating healthy and staying out
of trouble, I barely carry a fatherly conversation with him.
I guess what bothers, or probably fascinates, me the most is the chance that, in all these
years, my father has been confiding with someone who has already crossed the other side; speaking of words that he
never had the chance to say when lolo was still alive; or telling tales of his personal demons which came after lolo's death he can never tell a single living soul. While I will probably never hear the other end of the conversation, there is a certain sadness, or fear, that I might end up like him. In thirty years, I don't want to come out, introduce a better half, tell stories I should've told when possible, to a piece of cement with a name engraved on it. I don't just want to seek peace with the dead; but to be in the same thread as every breathing, aching, hoping humans.
It has always reminded me of the last scene of Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love. Whispering secrets in a hole in some sacred temple in Cambodia, covering the same thing in mud, and forever sealing those words, hoping that by finally getting those words out of the system. all the sadness and aches will subside, trapped in the holes forever. Only the walls of the temple know the secret, of the longing that comes with it, the horror that comes with longing. Long after the person has died, after the secrets are no longer of importance, the mud which held the secret will continue to cling in those small pockets of air trapped, as if holding on to prevent the gloomy forebodings from winding its way back.
Sometime I wonder if he got the act from my
grandfather. Did lolo do the same act of seeking peace with the dead?
Are there so many lives we hide from our loved ones that we, when the
other end is dead, seek peace by bursting with all the words that we
should've said when we had the chance? Are we so deprived of meaningful connection with the living that we need the illusion of another side to unburden our chests of whatever weights it carry? Do I have to do the same when the
time comes? Is it some kind of family tradition to hide things? Or is it human
nature to not act when needed, not speak when necessary, and pretend the world is breathable despite our chests tightening from all the emotions held from within?
My father always reminded us not to be afraid of ghosts and ghouls. But he never mentioned that it is those unspoken words and unreleased tensions that will haunt us until the end that we should be afraid of.