Thursday, January 04, 2007

New Year reflection

The new year started with not so much a whimper as a sigh. With the tragedy of the Corinthian Gardens fire hanging over the Chinese community like a grim, dark cloud, celebrations on New Year's Eve seemed muted somehow. Because our family was so preoccupied with Guakong and Guama's party and entertaining our guests from abroad, for the first time in the 21 years we've been living in Greenhills, we didn't buy any fireworks for December 31. Close to midnight, my family went outside to watch our neighbors' fireworks displays, only to find that our street was practically deserted, and almost eerily silent. The shrieks and booms were all coming from a distance, and while more festive fireworks could be seen being issued from somewhere in the village, they were few and far between. Our next-door neighbor, who usually prepares a wide assortment of noisy firecrackers, just had a limited cache of low-flying baby rockets, and lit only 1 short sinturon-ni-Hudas as the clock struck 12. Surveying our street, my mom commented that for once, there would be no debris to sweep the following morning. I don't know if it was due to the fear of fire or just plain old indifference, but the disconcerting quiet gave off a somber vibe that heralded 2007.

The fire that consumed the Yao residence and took the lives of 3 members of the family may not be such a big deal to the general public (after all, how often do we hear of houses of much poorer families being burned to the ground?), but I think it struck a nerve in a lot of people from the upper echelons of society precisely because it shows that money can't protect them from everything. Personally, I found it disturbing for several reasons: because I can't imagine the father's grief at losing his wife and 2 sons; because I refuse to imagine what it would be like to lose 2 siblings in 1 day; because the 2 boys were so young; because 1 of the boys was the same batch as my Fyrinx, and if it had been 1 of my Fyrinx, I don't know how I'd have taken it; because I don't know which half of the family I'd rather be; because it could just as easily have been my family. Also, ever since the fire, I've been more conscious of my attachment to our house-- not just the sentimental, this-is-my-home kind of attachment, but a heightened awareness of its age, its vulnerability, its flaws... as if it were an extension of myself and I could feel all its aches and pains. It has sheltered our family for most of my life, and it has always felt like the safest place in the world. To think that it could betray us at any moment is quite unsettling.

A few days after the fire at Corinthian Gardens, we received word that a 20-year-old Xavier alumnus hanged himself on New Year's Eve. Speculations are swirling around his reasons for committing suicide, but whatever the real reason, I'm saddened that he felt there was no other way out of his troubles than ending his life. The Yaos didn't have that choice, their lives were taken from them by a tragic accident. This young man had his whole life ahead of him, and he just forfeited it. As a troubled teen (who wasn't 1 at some point?), I used to harbor crazy ideas of offing myself as well. Then I progressed to believing suicide is the coward's way out (this was during the peak of my moral outrage-ridden early-20s). Now I just think of it as a choice some people make, and it's not my place to judge it as right or wrong. However, I still find it sad that there are those who voluntarily shuffle off the mortal coil, when so many others would be grateful for a few more years of living, pain and suffering be damned. True, life ain't pretty, but it can also be very, very beautiful.

I suppose that's why these 2 different stories of death are bothering me so much at the beginning of this new year. We celebrate new years for all the wonderful possibilities they offer: chances to right wrongs, to better our own lives and the lives of others, to grow and learn, to share and nurture, to laugh and love. Hope should be the prevailing mood, yet here we hear of despair and mourning at the turn of the new year. It's easy to get affected by the doom and gloom of it all and enter 2007 filled with paranoia and dread, but I'd rather take it as a bucket of cold water to the face-- the chilling realization that the future is uncertain, so it's what you make of the present that counts. Most importantly, it makes me all the more grateful for what I have in my life-- that I am alive-- and that I have many reasons to go on living, regardless of how bright or bleak the year dawns.


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