I get sick only once a year and it disappears in less than a week or two.
On the week I watched three performances of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor at the CCP in 2020, I got sick and that’s the time I reminded myself: go slow now you are not getting any younger. Imagine going to CCP every other night and writing a review.
As is my accustomed habit, I take home medications (lots of kalamansi juice and a steady diet of halaan soup and vegetables).
When I got sick for the first time in 2021, I knew it was not going to be easy.
When I felt fever, I knew it’s time to take a test: can you still smell, can you still taste food, is your breathing still normal?
Knowing my body too well in times of sickness and in health, I knew it was one of those once a year illness that I have deemed normal. At least for my kind of life.
But getting sick in time of the pandemic is another thing. You can mistake fever for covid-19. Which makes it doubly terrifying.
Living on freelancer’s fees all your life, you know you know can’t just run to a doctor or subject yourself to swab test without erasing your meager income.
I imagine that if I test positive, I’d be hauled off to the quarantine station at Rizal High School, leaving my grandson alone. I note that a neighbor’s family were all taken to the same quarantine station after testing positive—mother, a daughter and a helper.
First of all, I am fully vaccinated which makes it less alarming, but then I heard of fully vaccinated people still getting the virus.
For days, I observed myself closely. I can still smell, I can still taste food no matter how bland and I have no hardness of breathing.
I applied my accustomed medication and felt better. I added malunggay juice (plain malunggay boiled in plain water) every day and felt better.
You still have to see doctor, reminded my daughter.
Some years back, I thought I could be headed for the departure area.
Surrounded by eye drops, assorted pills for cold and fever and pain relievers, you begin to look at life as something that can be taken away from you at any time.
I stopped taking pills because they make me so uncomfortable.
And so, you stop short and reflect on a 72-year old life.
One night, while trying to catch sleep, you are drawn to a TV documentary on victims of heart failure. It doesn’t choose its victims.
A taxi driver and a business executive are found dead in their work stations.
The following day, you read the news that a director-friend was found unresponsive in his home, and was pronounced dead in a hospital.
You realize with sadness that at your age, your friends and acquaintance are going fast.
When the results of the battery of medical tests get to you, you realize you have to say goodbye to many things you hold dear: a yearly island music festival, endless beer after a good concert, splurging on seafood and high-cholesterol appetizers.
The initial fear has set in, and you visit your grandchildren more often than usual. You think that every moment could be your last, and the memory of the smile of your youngest grandchild is all you want to carry to your grave.
Then you make a new resolution: You can’t watch all the concerts, you can’t be in all ballet opening nights, and you can’t be forever covering deficits for nonrevenue concerts.
The other year, I promised that a Manila concert was going to be my last.
A world-famous diva dedicated an aria to me and I gave her a hug in the middle of the concert amid a cheering audience. I thought it was a beautiful night, and I ended up breaking doctor’s orders by ordering endless rounds of beer as I listened to anecdotes on art and life from my favorite diva and a celebrated tenor.
In December last year, I said goodbye to my Nelly Garden concert series in Iloilo City.
As I figure it out now, you can’t have everything. As the song goes, good things never last. You watch a good movie by a millennial director and you get a glimpse of your own youth now gone.
And so you figure out living a life after rounds of consultations with an ophthalmologist, a cardiologist and heaven knows what else.
No, a Bible-quoting life is out of the question. I can quote from favorite operas but the Bible has somehow eluded me.
Since you are not a likely candidate for sainthood, you resolve to just learn to be more real, to be more accepting, to be more forgiving of yourself and to stop complaining.
You stop being sorry for yourself and you begin to be happy for others. And you see deliverance from cars and houses that will not materialize in this lifetime.
Like it or not, it won’t be long before I see my daughters lighting votive candles for the repose of my soul years from now.
In this world you live, in this world you perish. It is the usual cycle, retold countless times in literature and cinema.
Violetta dies in La Traviata and so does Mimi in La Boheme.
The last death scenes I saw in my last live opera was Lucia di Lammermoor where the Mad Scenes highlighted a life about to end.
But when Lucia’s loved one Edgardo drove a dagger into his chest, there was collective gasp from the audience as he lay dying. The tenor finished his Tomb Scene aria with aplomb.
A standing ovation followed.
To be sure, I don’t expect applause and standing ovations in my true-to-life death scene.
It is enough for me to realize that basketball icon Kobe Bryant turned to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata when the going was rough in his past life.
I’ve turned to music many times to cope with my own share of life’s ironies.
And as always, I accept life and death for what they are.
As you get better, you hold seeing a doctor and stick to home medications.
You recall than when you got vaccinated, I was asked questions about the assorted pills I take as a senior citizen.
I said none.
Not even maintenance pills?
I stopped taking them three years ago.
Nurse couldn’t believe that at age 72, I am not dependent on medications.
When she took my blood pressure, she said everything was normal.
Since I am fully vaccinated, I decided to just stay home and observe a balanced diet.
The other night, I saw a documentary (Reporter’s Notebook) about families chipping in to save parents’ life but they died anyway.
The next big surprise is that they have millions to pay in the hospital.
True, death comes every so often you stopped counting.
As the grim statistics rise and more dead are headed to the crematorium, you face the subject of death and try to see it in another way.
A news item says it all: a brutal hallmark of the pandemic is the way it isolates victims in their final moments.
For almost a year now, all that one did was count the dead, extend condolences and the usual parting words: rest in peace.
A few months back, I saw an FB post by a young man asking help where he could get free cremation. The family has already spent so much in hospital bills. He just wanted a loved one cremated and laid to rest even without religious rites.
The health protocol says no wake, no gathering and no proper goodbyes.
* * *
Should I just accept death for what it is?
Mark Twain once declared, “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”
If you can’t find comfort in philosophic musing, maybe I should find solace in the words of the actress — Angelina Jolie – who once said, “There is something about death that is comforting. The thought that you could die tomorrow frees you to appreciate your life now.”