Lives Worth Remembering

For James, Em-J, and Bianca

For someone who usually has plans for my days off work, as of late this year, the ones I’ve been making have been about paying respects to those who have passed recently.

My friends and I compose a circle that’s very wide; we are cliques within one giant clique, but we are all friends nonetheless. Sometime in the last year, we experienced loss when a friend of ours from school, Bianca Reyes, passed away. We gathered at her wake and I remember someone saying, that for once, we were all complete. Only, it was a shame that it had to be under those circumstances.

Fast forward to the second week of July, when one morning, as I was getting ready to go to work, I received a call from one of my best friends telling me that James Panchal, another good friend of ours, had passed. At first, my friend had just said “James”. The first friend with the name of “James” that crossed my mind was a James whom I could not imagine ever disappearing from our lives. It didn’t – couldn’t, register in my head. I wanted to be proven wrong in thinking it was that James, but I was not. I asked my friend if she was serious and she said in reply: “Mukha bang magbibiro ako tungkol dito?” I knew she would never make joke like that, but I guess it was just instinct to not want it to be true. I cried on the way to work that day. I was utterly heartbroken for the parents, the girlfriend and their two-year-old son he left behind. They who were too young to experience this tragedy. I kept trying – and failing – to imagine how they must be feeling. Every time I imagined someone I loved so very much being taken from me so suddenly, I would be gripped with an intense fear and a desperate hope that I would never have to go through it.

Ten days later I learned that a dear family friend, Em-J Pavia, who was a beloved teacher in the Ateneo High School, had fallen victim to gun violence. I immediately asked his youngest brother if they were true, all the terrible things that I was seeing on social media. It was too much for me to take at that point. We were losing too many people way too early. It wasn’t fair. Yet again, I shed tears for a friend. The following day, I went to his wake, and the day after that, I attended James’ interment.

There are several things I want to say. First, I’m writing this not to remember them, for they will never be forgotten in the first place. James and Em-J, as well as Bianca, were all people who lived and loved well.

James was one of the best young fathers I’ve ever met, everyone who knew him can attest to that. He was also a good friend. He (note: there is no such thing as ‘easy nature’) had such a happy-go-lucky disposition and a kind heart. He’d always poke fun at me, but he did it in a way that I would also laugh at myself. That is how I want to remember him always: filled to the brim with life and so much love that it will last two lifetimes.

Though we were the same age, Em-J was a Kuya to everyone to his brothers as well as to his younger cousins. The sheer number of people who offered their condolences and showed up at his wake was proof enough of how much he positively affected everyone he met.

I remember he’d always randomly message me on Facebook. No one knows that the first time I ever had my heart broken, I was walking around school aimlessly when I found Em-J in an org room. He saw me with tear-streaked eyes and a red nose. I don’t even remember how anymore, but he managed to make me laugh. Another time, I remember asking him to teach me the concept of probability because we didn’t take that up in high school or college and I didn’t know how I was going teach it to my own students. That teaching-the-teacher session we had turned into a catch-up. I remember being both shocked and impressed when I found out that he had tattoos, and even more so when he showed me what they were. The first night I was at his wake, his younger brother said, “There has to be a heaven for this guy,and I agree.

I’ve been thinking about how it always seems that the good ones that are taken away. God must have a good reason for taking them back. These people gave so much love and were loved back so dearly that their passing on had the power to bring people together. At James’ funeral, his parents took his girlfriend in their arms. They said, “Our family is bigger now…you will be our daughter.”

Em-J’s younger brother told me that in the past, you could count on one finger the number of times their other brother had said “I love you” to him. Now, it was all the time.

They are the people who gave so much of themselves to others and got so much in return. Em-J’s brother is right. There must be a heaven for people like them. I want to believe that the passing of people draw from us a kind of strength that we didn’t even realize we had in us. It makes us value each person in our lives a little bit more. It makes us remember to say “I love you” to our parents before hanging up the phone or going to sleep. It makes appreciate your friends and family are and how you should treat them.

James, Em-J, and Bianca are reminders of what life should be about. For that, we love them always and always.

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