Saturday, October 27, 2012

Deathless love and hungry souls

IT WAS an end that my Yaya rudely judged to be “very another”.

For a while, “Walang Hanggan” threatened to carry out its threat of being neverending. The nearly one-year-old telenovela about star-crossed love made captives of everyone in our household, except perhaps for the family dog.

When the network gods finally decreed last Friday to end the drama, it chose a classic formula: kill the protagonists.

My Yaya wouldn’t first believe it. I don’t blame her. Pinoy dramas have the longest drawn-out dying scenes. And the fakest: despite the death watch, wailing music, farewell monologue/dialogue and other red flags of mortality, the hero/heroine clings to life and segues into a healthy happy long life.

Then Katerina dies, followed by Daniel. Yaya hisses her judgment. In canine sympathy, Udo’s hind legs kick the air. Or maybe it’s just a dream of dancing dog biscuits.

I think there’s a bit of happiness in the ending because the lovers are reunited, first as spirits chasing each other in an open field, and second, reincarnated as the son born to their parents, Emily and Marco (who were star-crossed themselves), and the daughter born to their neighbors.

If not made in heaven, it’s an ending at least made in time for All Souls’ Day.

A German colleague once made it a point to hop around cemeteries in the city on Nov. 1 and 2. He was amazed by the parties, sleepovers, sing-alongs and “fiesta” Filipinos conducted among the graves. Told that some of the dishes were offerings for the dead, he wondered if we thought our relatives were still hungry in the afterlife. And if they were, would they be looking for food?

I visit my father before or after All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days. Scraping the melted wax and throwing away faded flowers, I think even Papang, who preferred dogs to humans up close and personal, likes the surfeit of attention. Do we expect the dead to loosen up? I still leave his favorite Hope cigarettes by his marker. Hope gave him a rasping cough when he was alive. Without lungs to worry about, the dead do have it better than us.

Still, the thought of hungry souls worries me even as my Yaya doubts endless love among ghosts can ever warm the blood. I revisit the Greek Underworld, cauldron of undying passions.

The Underworld is the realm of Hades. It includes the Asphodel Meadows (where souls who lived neither a bad nor a good life are sent), Elysian Fields (for the virtuous) and the Isles of the Blessed (resting place of heroes).

The Underworld is more notorious, though, for its less than savory destinations. Darkest is the great pit of Tartarus. At first, it functioned as the Greek gods’ solid waste management. Later, it represents divine justice, where the punishment matches the crime.

According to myth, Tartarus imprisons, to name a few: Kronos the Titan leader, who overthrew and castrated his father, Uranus, the sky, and was himself overthrown and chopped to pieces by Zeus and his other god-sons; Sisyphus, who poisoned his guests, seduced his niece and gossiped about Zeus’s philandering; Tantalus, who stole the ambrosia of the gods and boiled his son and served him as the gods’ dinner; Ixion, whose immoderate lust pushed him to kill his father-in-law, steal Zeus’s wife Hera, ravish her clone and beget the breed of centaurs; the Danaides, who murdered their husbands; and Salmoneus, who tried to impersonate Zeus.

But in Greek myth, it wasn’t only the gods who had a problem with their lusts. The Underworld drew mortals who attempted the unmentionable: bring the dead back to life. When Eurydice was bitten by a snake, her lover Orpheus coaxed music from his kithara to trick Cerberus, the three-headed guard dog of Hades, and Charon, the ferryman of death. Hades promises Orpheus he can have Eurydice back if he can walk without looking back until he joins the land of the living.

Nearing the end of his quest, Orpheus cannot bear not to look when he hears Eurydice walking behind him. He turns just as Eurydice is sucked back to the Underworld.

Death leaves a lot of hungers unsated, from above and below the grave.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s October 8, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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