Death Conversations In the Woods

My Symphonies: 24 by Switchfoot | Sad and Beautiful World by Sparklehorse


The time has come when we cannot simply treat death as an ugly, sad thing. Death, not just of humans but of every fucking thing in this universe, isn’t there so we can merely mourn about it, tweet about it, talk about it, feel so bad about it and just get back to living our earthly conventional touch-screen deep lives the next hour, or the next week, or the next decade. It’s not there so we can cry one minute and just move on at the right time. There is no right time for moving on. Us humans, we move on too much, too often and in too many places. We aren’t supposed to move on. We are supposed to always stay right where we fucking are and just listen. To our own breaths. To our own fears. To the air.

Yes, someone famous died. But so did that non-famous girl back in 1670. So will your pet tarantula. So will your loved ones. And so will you.

Death never meant a simple tragedy to me. It has always been a wake-up call– a message from the entire universe from way back in time. It is a poetic lesson. It is meant to bring us face to face with who we really are.

— (My Facebook status update, July 14th)

In my life, I have spent a lot of time walking. I love going on long walks, especially when there is something on my mind that I cannot make sense of in any other place. It is only on random roads that I get an adequate amount of peace of mind essential to the maintenance of my own version of a healthy living. But sometimes on those walks, the sun’s rays hit the sidewalk in a certain way and I just feel like crying. Sometimes the trees, the houses, the cars, the squirrels and the people around me appear in a certain way that just makes me tear up. And I can’t explain it. The way I feel in that moment starts to become bigger than anything else, and that’s my cue to suppress my emotions as fast as I can. Because I am scared of what will happen if I don’t force myself to unfeel what I feel on those walks – if I fully surrender to what the experience wants to tell me.

I look at myself today and I am baffled. I mean, when I was twelve I thought I would be a big success story by now. I strongly hoped and believed that by the time I turned twenty, life would be the way I always imagined it would be – busy, large and easy. I thought that by now, I would be someone famous in my own country; a young television journalist with an up and coming real estate business. I was going to bring honor to my family; all those medals and awards and trophies and kilograms after kilograms of bacon. I was supposed to be the good news in every town and the topic of pride in each birthday party, wedding, high school reunion and family gathering. I was gonna go big because the last thing I wanted was to go home.

Life has had a funny way of messing all that up, though. Now here I am – in a foreign land, unknown, unemployed, unsure. The funny part is that the older I get, the more uncertain I seem to be when it comes to things like career. Where did all my plans go? What happened to the path I so carefully constructed as an ambitious child? What would my twelve year-old self think of me now that I am living a life far from what he wanted?

Simple, really. Something happened along the way that profoundly changed me and everything I thought I knew about earth, mankind and this thing called society. The truth is, I stopped obsessing on success when I was fifteen. It was the end of my junior year in high school, and somehow things just slowly shone brighter and clearer to me. After all those doses of real-life experiences and lessons, I decided I wasn’t going to walk on any path anymore. I decided to walk through the woods instead. And today I am still in here. In the woods. And I am about to tell you something real; something larger than life; something potentially disturbing and also potentially magnificent. It is something I learned here in the woods.

July 19th, Friday

I was casually going over my Facebook news feed and some so-so videos in YouTube when my brother called me. I picked up the phone and I heard him let out a heavy breath – one which promised to give way to something dark and saddening. Before he even said something, I knew something was wrong. I knew he was going to give me a bad news.

“Toh, napatay si–“

Before he finished that sentence, there was this split of a second between the word “napatay” (meaning died in English) and “si” (an indicator of a person’s name) when my heart literally stopped beating. I felt it. That was one of the most terrifying fifths of a second in my life. Being in that unknown space between knowing that somebody died and learning who it is was a tragedy in itself. Because I knew it could be anyone from back home. It could be anyone I know here, or somebody that I loved deeply, or someone that taught me how to read or how to ride a bike, or how to cook. It could’ve been you, reading this right now. But on that day, it was my cousin, Joseph Henry Aldueza.

He gave me a De La Salle 100 Years shirt and a black bracelet when I left Laguna back in June 2011. He told me never to forget them, and that we’ll meet again soon. We were still gonna go to Enchanted Kingdom again. We were still gonna go clubbing in Manila with our other cousins and nieces and nephews. We were going to. But not anymore. Because all of a sudden, that was the last time I get to see him.

My inner soul is shattered. Kuya Joseph was a lively one. He was the nice one, the happy one. He was everything his friends and family now say about him. All those after-death testimonials are valid, I’m pretty sure. But there is something about his death that affirmed something to me. I have always been very perceptive every time somebody I know dies. Even celebrities. The past few months, a couple other people passed away and their leaving has caused a great ache in people’s hearts. A guy by the name of Pj Solinap and a guy by the name of Cory Monteith. A small town guy known only by the locals of a small strip of land in the Philippines and a popular Hollywood actor admired and celebrated by millions all over the world. One died of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, the other one died of heroin-alcohol overdose. There were people who loved them, yes. People who hated them, yes. People who couldn’t care less about them, of course. But those people, those still alive and kicking, what are they doing now? This isn’t a rhetorical question. I am actually very curious as to where they are now and whether or not they learned something from the deaths that have been visiting our planet since the beginning of time. 

What is death? Is it just a mere tragedy, or is it something more?

At times, it seemed as though life contained an endless amount of days. When I was younger and had less brain cells, I thought this for sure. It didn’t matter to me how long I held a grudge, or how long I waited to do something I always wanted to do. It didn’t matter how many hours I spent boring myself because there were going to be some more hours and an unlimited supply of weeks, months and opportunities. At least that’s what I thought back then.

Maybe it’s a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood: the moment when you realize life happens now, and that’s all you’re guaranteed. It doesn’t really hit you when you merely know it intellectually, like you know your ABCs, state capitals, and other concrete facts. It hits you when somehow you feel it. Your health declines. You lose someone you love. A tragedy rocks your world. It isn’t until you realize that all life fades that you consider now a commodity and a scarce one at that. One day you’re doing okay and drinking beer and having fun. The other day you are faced with a bad news that this or that person is no more. One day, in a blink of an eye, life becomes real.

Life is short. We seem to think that we’ll live forever. We spend time and money as though we’ll always be here. We buy shiny things as though they matter and are worth the debt and stress of attachment. We put off the so-called “trip of a lifetime” for another year, because we all assume we have another year. We don’t tell the ones we love how much we love them often enough because we assume there’s always tomorrow. We condition ourselves to live a life dictated by society because we believe that there is a right time for absolute love, honesty and simplicity. And we fear. Oh, do we fear. We stick it out in miserable jobs and situations because we’re afraid of the risk of stepping out. We don’t reach high enough or far enough because we’re worried we’ll fail, forgetting – or never realizing – that it’s better to fail spectacularly while reaching for the stars than it is to succeed at something we never really wanted in the first place.

We think we have forever and that these concerns that weigh us down are so pressing. We worry about the trivial to the neglect of the most precious thing we have: moments we’ll never see again. We talk of killing time, passing time, and getting through the week, forgetting we’re wishing away the moments that comprise our lives. We say time is money when in fact the time we have is all we have. Money can be borrowed, time can’t. We fear taking risks, unaware that the biggest risk we run in playing it safe is in fact living as long as we hope and never doing the things we dreamed of. And then it’s too late. We watched our favorite TV shows, we fought a losing battle with our weight, we picked up the guitar once in a while and never quite finished the french language courses we wanted to do. We managed to get a large flatscreen and new cars once in a while, but the list of things we’d have done if we could really, truly could have done anything, kept growing. And we never did them.

People die in car accidents, they die of overdose, bullet shots, cancer and old age. The list goes on including murder and suicide. But at the end of the day, it’s all the same. It doesn’t really matter how someone died, because the point is they did. And all those things that you say about him after he’s gone will not matter anymore because he’s not there to know that. And this is my heartache: the fact that all of us are so scared of just loving each other. We are a sick species because of our own fears and pride. We hate and we kill and we compete against one another because we don’t want to feel weak by admitting to ourselves that we’re more than this. We’re more than brand new cars, and job promotions and shiny medals. We are more than money, more than power, more than discrimination. We are meant for things larger than life itself.

So maybe a long, successful life is irrelevant. Maybe living a meaningful, passionate life has nothing to do with its length and everything to do with its width.

Taking reality into account, I know that I am just being too idealistic again. But if you have read this, I hope that you will one day feel what I feel on those long walks –  when the sun all of a sudden hits the pavement in a certain way that just makes me melancholic. It’s that sadness, that pain, that yearning for something bigger than this world, that makes me feel alive.

And even if I am not the big shot I thought I would be by now, I am so grateful and so happy that I am able to live my life the way I do. Because I know that all this matters. All this makes up who I am and what I believe is true. And when it is my turn to leave this place, I will be happy. Because I have come to know myself so deeply and so strongly that not even death can destroy me. Because I have felt, I have lived and mostly, I have loved.

I have loved. I am emphasizing that.

I’m going back into the woods now…

3 thoughts on “Death Conversations In the Woods

  1. Kenn;

    I haven’t added a comment to your blog site in ages, mainly because I have felt utterly uncreative for the last year, year and a half.

    I probably shouldn’t be adding anything here today either – but will give it a shot.

    I am spending 3 weeks traveling western Canada with a 31 year old Philippino from Toronto who’s lived and worked in Toronto for the last 4 years, but never to our western provinces. Therefore, I’m again learning things about your culture and ways of dealing with things and people that often seem strange or puzzling to me.

    Perhaps an unfair assessment of mine is that people of your culture seem to have more ‘breadth than depth’ to them. To Canadians, your overwhelming ‘family values’ or ties with all your many relatives seems somewhat bewildering to an individual, self-professed ‘loner’ like myself.

    I can’t fathom the grip, power and influence family relationships have on the people of your culture – just as I’m surprised at the power of religion or the Church yields in your lives, generally-speaking.

    In fact, that’s one very good reason I have so enjoyed your writing over time, Kenn – as you seem to have always been able to plumb the depths of your own being, a characteristic I highly value.

    You are continuously becoming more and more conscious of both yourself and the world around you – and probably well past the point of no return on the journey you somehow chose for yourself this life-time round.

    My only contribution to this very thread, though – might be this. As you have clearly declared, your maturing insights about your own being have shifted over time, and I would just suggest that you could never have become who you are without having once had exactly the dreams and ambitions for yourself you write about.

    They’re a highly important part of what made you you, and should always be valued and respected as such. Just as who you are today, with whatever insights or dreams or desires you now hold will eventually just become fodder for who you will become tomorrow.

    I once thought I’d get the chance to actually meet you some day, Kenn – but as time drifts by, I’m more resigned to that actuality never happening.

    As you go spinning off into your own self-created future, just know there are many supporters behind you, hoping only for the best for you, all of us totally unable to experience your particular reality in any way as powerfully as you do yourself.

    So keep going deep and always delving into that beautiful and wonderful soul of yours, my young friend. And please continue to share your discoveries with the rest of us, both brave and timid souls who sometimes, perhaps, have to wrestle with somewhat the same demons and bewildering circumstances as your own.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s