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Monday, May 25, 2009

Lost Forever

My Uncle Diony passed away recently after a prolonged bout with the effects of a devastating stroke that laid him low several years ago. Dionisio Salon was married to my Auntie Feling who happens to be my mother's youngest sister. Both have lived for a long time in Pensacola in Florida in the United States where my auntie works as a nurse.

I only had the chance to meet Uncle Diony two times in the past when he and my auntie visited the Philippines. The last time we saw each other, he was still basically a vigorous man despite the fact that he was already in his eighties and retired from work as a chemical engineer for a well known American chemical company.

We did not have the time to get particularly close but I personally liked him. He was mentally active and intellectually inquisitive for a man of his advanced years. He and I had many productive conversations in the backyard of the house in Lianga about many topics ranging from politics and current events to philosophy and history. And it was during one of such discourses during his last visit to this country many years ago when he finally broached to me his desire to leave a written record, a memoir of some sort, which would chronicle what he felt were the many events of his long, interesting and productive life.

At first, I must confess that I thought it rather presumptuous of him to even contemplate the idea that his written autobiography would have interest, historical or otherwise, for people other than the members of his family, his friends and relations. He even asked me to help him out on on the project, a request that I initially had reservations granting not just because I had doubts about its viability and usefulness but more so because I personally felt I did not have the proper skills and experience to do justice to such an endeavor.



But as he began to narrate the many vignettes, reminiscences and salient points of his long life, I began to realize that my initial impression was way off the mark. Here was a man whose memories stretched much of the length and breadth of the history of the last century. This was a man who was not only a personal and impartial witness of the many momentous events of the 20th century, he participated in many of them and recorded many of his raw impressions of such events that were as interesting and riveting as they were insightful and penetrating.

His detailed accounts of his experiences as a guerrilla fighter in this part of Mindanao during the Second World War were grimly authentic and revealing of how life in the Philippines actually was during the brutal years of the Japanese occupation. Much of what I know about that crucial period in Philippines history have been colored and bastardized by the movies and television and I was thankful then to be given the chance to peer back into history through the eyes of someone was was really there.

He also told stories of his school and university years, his varied experiences working for the government in the fields of food technology and agriculture. Then like the many trained professionals of his generation, he joined the initial waves of Filipino immigrants to the United States, found stable employment and later on acquired American citizenship. His many narratives of those years echo much of the early experiences, most of them unrecorded, of the many of our countrymen of his era who were swept along in the continuing Filipino diaspora that has defined much of the contemporary history of this country.

When he left for the United States after his last visit, my uncle promised to write and e-mail me after he had gathered and organized all his materials for his autobiography. He had vowed to be thorough, detailed and historically accurate with the project that would be his legacy to his family and clan.

Sadly, the autobiography never came to be. Shortly after he and and my auntie returned home to the States, he was tragically felled by the stroke that incapacitated him and eventually caused his demise.

It saddens me that he had not been allowed by fate to write his memoirs for posterity. He may have been no celebrity or notable personage but he was, by contemporary definition, a man who had made a success of his long life and pursuit of the American dream. His written reminiscences, preserved for future generations, would certainly enable many, both the living and the unborn, to relive and experience much of the significant events of the last century through the recorded memories of an ordinary man, one like the so many of us, who had lived through much of them as we have lived through the great events of our times.

In many ways his memoirs would have been historically valuable because although they are, in one sense unique to one man, they are also, from a broader view, representative of the life experiences of the millions of other ordinary men who have lived through interesting times yet never had the inclination or the time to write about or record their experiences.

I am reminded of one of the closing scenes in Ridley Scott's 1982 classic, science fiction film Blade Runner where the film's villain, Roy Batty (played by Rutger Hauer), a rebellious, genetically manufactured human or replicant doomed to die because of a built-in four year lifespan, laments about his imminent death after uncharacteristically rescuing from certain death the film's protagonist, Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford), the man whose mission it was to "retire" or kill Batty.

"I've... seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain... Time to die."

These lines delivered by Batty like a soliloquy as he slowly dies is a stark reminder that when we all die it is not just our biological bodies that die. All the memories, the impressions, the sights, sounds, smells and textures of the world and the reality we had live through that is stored and accumulated through the decades of our lives in our consciousness also die, disappearing into nothingness like the early morning mist or the wet dew on the grass as every new day dawns.

In Uncle Diony's case, I weep not only for the passing of the man but also for the rich memories of his life that, because of an unfortunate twist of fate, maybe lost to oblivion forever.

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