This was supposed to be a perfunctory phonecall: mom and I were supposed to talk about wedding blah blah blah hurts-my-head-too blah blah blah wedding blah. But Dad pushed my mom aside to land the news onto my nose.
It made me pause. Life is so fleeting. I had just read Roger’s brush with the possibility of death (see this week’s AROUND THE HORN) and was marveling at the idea that someone I used to drink with might someday possibly be.. gone… and so Uncle Ferdie’s death was a reality check.
Uncle Ferdie was crossing the street at a crosswalk. Boom! Gone. He was 66 years old. “66!” you say, “Why, he’s had a good long life.”
And I have to counter and say, WAS IT?
My uncle was the more typical of immigrant stories. After marrying and having two kids in the Philippines, he found steady work on container ships. He travelled the world on these huge steel behemoths, packing and unpacking Toyota cars, sugar, or whatever load the ship was taking. His money was enough to sustain the family back home, but he only came home every few years.
In the meantime, his wife, needing to make more money for the family, took on a nanny job in Canada. She took care of other people’s kids, raised them to adulthood, rarely seeing her own two kids but sending them every cent she earned.
While this was going on, the two kids lived simply with their cousins in the Philippines, grew up to be in their early thirties, learning a heavy reliance on those money remittances they received. From what I’ve been told, they work very little. They TRY, but the money is so much less than the allowances they get from their parents abroad.
In the 1990′s, his wife’s immigration papers finally came thru and she was able to have Uncle Ferdie, her husband of 20+ years, join her in Canada. When they finally reunited, it was awkward: he a man of the ocean, she a woman assimilated as the hired ‘extended help’ of a wealthy Canadian family. I had been there when they were ‘re-dating’ each other. He spoke little and when he did, it was in Tagalog. She spoke unaccented English, and often corrected his, trying to teach him.
Uncle Ferdie had just retired less than a year ago and was living in Canada with his reacquainted wife. There were reports that he spent a lot of time at home, wondering what to do with all this newfound freedom. He probably was wondering that when he fatally crossed that street. Or maybe he was thinking about what to have for lunch. We don’t know.
All we know is that life ends when you least expect it. And hopefully, we enjoyed life- in whatever form it came. I’d like to think of my uncle standing on the deck of some past ship, marveling at the vastness of the sea, wind in his hair, and clean air in his lungs… and feeling ALIVE. Incredibly and wonderfully alive.