To My Friend, Jo

April 26, 2016

(a prose poem by Ting Pantoja Mañalac)

After school, we would lie under the tamarind tree in your mother’s garden and talk about who we would be. It was never too hot that a roving breeze didn’t swim through those leaves to cool our eager dreams. You were smarter, swifter, sold on life, and ready to climb the mountain we could glimpse over the garden fence. I was softer, slower, given to daydreams and beautiful words, fairy tales about princes and princelings. I danced the cotillion, all icy long dresses and glimmering hair on your eighteenth birthday at the navy club. You met your prince and married him in a cloud of fairy dust and swords. I came to your wedding and cried.
You became all we said you would be, more than honor and brains,
more than community and commissions. You cared little
for recognition and rewards,
choosing to raise children in your own
loving, child-like, cherishing ways,
in laughter and love for the Lord.

We lived in separate continents, sang different songs, chased different dreams. But I was godmother to one of your twins, and you stood by me in despair when my middle son died. We passed each other often, like those ships in the night, managing a wave, maybe a whistle hello. Christmas, and birthdays in March and June, mostly Easters—increasingly Easters, as the Lord took over your life, and His Mother, your time, stringing rosary beads, crafting hymns of praise, writing books on the spirit of life and the law—from home, often from a hospital bed, breathing shallow, straining to keep awake, tired and trodden, but joyfully faithful every day of your life.

I visited you one last time as you struggled with the cancer that would take your life. With my own eyes I saw your photograph sitting in front of Christ’s image of Divine Mercy, bright rays of light streaming around you from His Heart. God is good, you repeated, through your bouts of extreme pain. I wept as I said that your suffering was severely testing my own faith, but you only smiled, and were happy. I wrote to you after that last visit, remember (?), praying for your deliverance:

That’s all we really are, right Jo? Stones exploded into existence by our Creator, life our mountainous path to the sea. I think of you as a special stone, “daughter of the volcano,” battered at every turn, pained and sundered, refined by fire. Now, polished and perfected, you stand on the shores of our Heavenly Sea. May the rest of your journey be a happy one, as you rest on the shoulders of the Shepherd, who has carried you down the mountain to His home in the sea. I love you, my dear friend, and keep you always, always in my heart.