(written February 22, 2013 and edited February 25, 2014)
“Mrs. Corpus has cancer.”, my mother told me as she opened the door and stepped inside the room.
“Terminal. Stage 4. Lung.”, she sighed as she settled down .
Shocked, I immediately bombarded her with a series of questions, hoping to find relief with any of her answers. But my mother’s responses only gave clouded hopes, which prompted me to finally ask, “how long is she going to live?”
“Could be 3 months. Or 6 months. You can’t really tell.”
We both became quiet, allowing the buzzing of the aircon to wrap around whatever it was we felt.
Mrs. Corpus has been our widowed neighbour in our townhouse compound for the past 15 years. She went to our house occasionally and chatted every now and then with my mom about health, politics, people, family. She attended many of our family occasions such as my recitals, fiestas and celebrations, she loves dogs and my fondest memory of her was when she gave me piano scores when I was younger because she used to play the piano too. Every now and then when I’d pass by her garage, I’d find her seated on her garage sofa and she would greet me with a smile and say, “pumapayat ka.” (yeah, I really liked her! hehe)
“3 months or so”, I thought to myself. I wouldn’t even be in the country in the next three months. Who’s to say if I would still see her again. 3 months is an awfully short time for me but for anyone who is faced with terminal illness, only the longest of days await. Gauging your life in months, in days, in hours, how does that work? What do you do? What do you say? How would you feel? Scared? Regretful? Remorseful? In denial? Angry? Depressed? Accepting? Thankful? Sorry? Hopeless? Helpless? Loved? Relieved?
I look at the time left for Mrs. Corpus and I look at mine. Here I am, planning my life literally one day at time, as though I have infinite days and years ahead of me. The possibility of having cancer, or diabetes, or high blood or high cholesterol and the other health issues of “wiser”adults have seemed very far-fetched, though I know at the back of my in-denial mind, anything could happen. I guess when we are confronted every now and then with our own mortality as humans, we are driven to reflect and think about our own fleeting lives.
So many questions surface at this pivotal point in my life, but the core of all the searching is this very archaic but substantial question – what am I meant to do with my life? Or the more profound timeless question would be – what is the meaning of my life, of life itself? These questions have made me feel stuck. Perhaps its because I feel stuck that these questions surfaced to begin with. For some time, I have felt like a heavy rock in the middle of flowing rapids, unmoved despite a forceful stream. You’d think after your whole life of studying, you’d actually know the answer to these persisting philosophical pursuits; but the truth is, as one grows older, one is only confronted with more and more questions. Some die, simply passing life by, not knowing the answers.
In my quiet instrospection, I have discovered one snippet among the myriad of secrets of the human heart: beyond the need to feel loved and accepted, there will always be a haunting desire to offer ourselves to something, be it to someone, a family, an audience, a passion, a cause, a group or a country. We are all meant to give something to this world. Our soul calls us to be part of something beyond oneself, to connect to the world around us and contribute a mark, however and whatever it may be. Our heart constantly urges us to ask, “What am I willing to give myself to?”, “What more can I give?” and “What does the world need?”. I realized I shouldn’t worry too much about hastily finding the answers as part of our journey in life is largely made up of our continual quest for such answers that may also change with time.
I hope that despite fear, pain and uncertainty of what lies ahead, Mrs. Corpus would face death with full surrender and fulfillment, knowing that she has served her purpose well in this life and has done what she was meant to do. I pray that however short or long her time is left, she is with a happy heart.
I’d like to end this entry with a poem that inspires me over and over again on how to live life lightly and successfully, and hopefully, it will leave me with a smile on my face when I am on my deathbed one day.
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
(Right before I left for the airport to head to the USA March of last year, I dropped by Mrs. Corpus’ house and told her I’d be gone for a couple of months and I’d be back in June. Knowing that it might be the last time I might see her, I kissed her on the forehead and wished her well. She passed away that April. I am glad and grateful to have met such a person as you. Until we meet again. Rest in peace, Mrs. Corpus.)