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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Rants on "All-Souls Day"

We often reserve the sweetest flowers for graves that know only the smell of their own stench.

Reminds us of that famous "Anonymous/Unknown" who wrote these beautiful lines:

One Little Rose

I would rather have one little rose
From the garden of a friend,
Than to have the choicest flowers
When my stay on earth must end.

I would rather have one pleasant word
In Kindness said to me,
Than flattery when the heart is still
And life has ceased to be.

I would rather have a loving smile
From friends I know are true,
Than tears shed round my casket
When this world I've bid adieu.

Bring me all your flowers today
Whether pink, or white, or red;
I'd rather have one blossom now
Than a truckload when I'm dead


It has been over four centuries since Giuliano della Rovere (Julius II, Pope from 1503-1513) caused the sale of indulgences primarily to fund the building of St. Peter's Basilica, but multitudes still buy into  various forms of a commercialized or numbers and money-driven theological discourse of salvation:

- The more faithfully you give your tithes and offerings the more you please the Lord and the more you ensure eternal rewards...

- The candles you burn will keep the souls of your loved ones from the terror of eternal fire...

- The more church books and magazines you sell, the greater your chance for getting into God's list of the redeemed...

- The more you convert and baptize, the grander the place you'll get in heaven...

So this "All-Sales Day" and the following days, keep emptying your pocketbooks and piling up your coins to high heavens.  Keep working hard for your salvation by upping your church statistics. For, to paraphrase Johann Tetzel, every ring the coin makes in the coffer or every notch the church stats climbs, a soul from eternal damnation crosses (or will cross) over to eternal glory.


On "All-Souls Day," what passes for faith to many is superstition to others. For example, some believe that what invests "holiness" and "power" to tap water is merely the devotee's gullibility while others contend that what gives the water miraculous or magical quality is divine power coursed through a human channel.


TV shows make a lot of hype out of rehashed "White Lady" and other ghost stories.  What's more disturbing to me are the other "ghosts" of the past that continue to haunt us from time to time and erode our confidence in the effectiveness of our coping strategies, particularly our repression of painful memories.

Whether real ghosts or not, some of these haunt us because the quest for meaning and justice has remained elusive for many of us.

On the other hand, some of the ghosts that haunt us are just like some digital images -- doctored, self-created.


It is said that 600 memory bits hit us every second. No wonder remembering the past can be disorienting.


Thanatologists tell us that we normally go through the following stages when grappling with the issue of death and dying:

1. Denial and isolation

2. Anger, rage, resentment, envy

3. Bargaining

4. Acceptance

Those of us who have lost loved ones and have gone through these stages of emotional struggle know that oftentimes, would-be sympathizers are of better help to us when they keep platitudes out of their talk.  Sometimes, their silent presence is all we need.


Encyclopedias inform us that mice can live up to three years, elephants 70 years, tortoises 200 years, Redwoods 3000 years, and humans 115 (well, at least based on the longevity of current "world's oldest person alive" title holder Edna Scott Parker).

Bottomline (borrowed line): "We are all terminal -- it's only a matter of time."

It's pathetic that many of us are concerned more about living long than living well/right.

Michael Josephson has this to say on "Living a Life That Matters":

Ready or not, someday it will all come to an end.

There will be no more sunrises, no minutes, hours, or days.
All the things you collected, whether treasured or forgotten, will pass to someone else.
Your wealth, fame, and temporal power will shrivel to irrelevance.

It will not matter what you owned or what you were owed.
Your grudges, resentments, frustrations, and jealousies will finally disappear.
So, too, your hopes, ambitions, plans, and to-do lists will expire.

The wins and losses that once seemed so important will fade away.
It won't matter where you came from, or on what side of the tracks you lived, at the end.
It won't matter whether you were beautiful or brilliant
Even your gender and skin color will be irrelevant.

So what will matter? How will the value of your days be measured?

What will matter is not what you bought, but what you built; not what you got, but what you gave.
What will matter is not your success, but your significance.
What will matter is not what you learned, but what you taught.

What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage or sacrifice that enriched, empowered or encouraged others to emulate your example.

What will matter is not your competence, but your character.
What will matter is not how many people you knew, but how many will feel a lasting loss when you're gone.

What will matter is not your memories, but the memories that live in those who loved you.
What will matter is how long you will be remembered, by whom and for what.

Living a life that matters doesn't happen by accident. It's not a matter of circumstance but of choice.

Choose to live a life that matters.


The Egyptians are said to have built over 90 pyramids and mummified 730 million bodies -- all in the name of immortality.

Talk of the mortality of immortality, the temporality of the eternal.


One of my favorite texts in the Pentateuch is Genesis 49.33-50.3:

When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people....

Joseph threw himself on his father and wept over him and kissed him.  Then Joseph directed the physicians in his service to embalm his father Israel.  So the physicians embalmed him, taking a full forty days, for that was the time required for embalming. And the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days.

I often talk about this passage in three phrases:

A Fine Farewell. Jacob died in a manner that many of our old folks would like to -- children at the deathbed, ample time for final instructions, and readiness to go.

A Tender Touch. There may be some out there who, like me, did not have the privilege of  seeing their dying father through. Joseph was a fortunate fellow, for he did not only have the enviable reputation of having vast political authority, vaunted physical beauty, abounding love for family, effective managerial skills, and famous descendants (Joshua, Deborrah, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samuel); he also had a good relationship with his dad and was present at his old man's death. For many of us, nothing can be as haunting as not having kept one's promise to be at the bedside of his dying father, holding his pale hand, closing his black-ringed eyes,  and embracing him whose faint heartbeat  is finally stilled.

A Memorable Mourning. In ancient Bontoc society, a Kachangyan (aristocrat) gets to be mourned for three days while an ordinary tribesmate gets just one day. In Jacob's case, the mourning took 70 days -- more than enough for the bereaved to recoup. And I suppose the mourning was done in respect and out of a feeling of loss for the patriarch.  Herod the Great had a different idea: he knew his Jewish subjects would rejoice at his death, so he ensured that thousands would mourn when he'd finally join his ancestors by decreeing that at his death dozens of Jewish leaders were to be executed.


Two of my favorite quotes on death:

To live in the hearts of those we leave behind us is not to die. - Thomas Campbell

Death is not extinguishing the light -- it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come. - Rabindranath Tagore

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