The Great Chair Wrecker

TEACHABLE MOMENTS - Jose Claro (The Philippine Star) - April 16, 2013 - 12:00am

During my Uncle William “Billy” Esposo’s wake, I had the privilege of meeting his friends, classmates, former colleagues, readers, and even a handful of his critics who came wisely in the morning to pay their respects. Although each had a unique impression of my uncle, all of them seemed to be in agreement about one thing. They all told me, “Your uncle was a great man.”

His greatness of character most likely stemmed from his discipline and unyielding resolve to fulfill every agenda he set for the day. He never went to bed unless he had completed his daily routine.

Last week in the hospital, Uncle Bill had difficulty breathing, his chest heaving violently, while undergoing dialysis. Dr. Ramos had left orders to bring him to the ICU after the procedure. As we were bringing him to the ICU, we suddenly heard his familiar, booming voice. He refused to be placed in the ICU. The doctors tried to reason with him, but he insisted otherwise and commanded them to call his doctor. When they made the call, his doctor was surprised that Uncle Bill was able to talk already. I think the attending doctor of the ER might have wanted to add, “he’s not only speaking, he’s already threatening us.” While all this was going on, he looked into my eyes and gave me his last lecture, “Hoss, I learned that when I was a child, if you want something, never ever back down, not even one inch.”

True enough, we found ourselves, a few minutes later, wheeling him back to his private room. When I asked Tita May why Uncle Bill didn’t like the ICU, she explained simply, “hindi kasi ‘yan makakaligo sa umaga kapag nasa ICU siya.” That was Uncle Bill for you. It didn’t matter if he couldn’t breathe properly anymore, or if he felt excruciating pain every time he turned. He must always do what was necessary every day. It was this discipline and stubbornness that earned him many victories.

Uncle Bill’s greatness could also be rooted in his love for country. Uncle Bill’s condition was tied to the plight of the motherland.   He was still relatively healthy during the past administration. Yet, I had never seen him more dissatisfied. He kept complaining about the corruption, apathy, and ignorance of Filipinos. His source of consolation was the sharp and cutting articles he wrote against the corrupt government at that time.  Contrast this to the last few months of Uncle Bill when he endured excruciating pain. He cursed every time there was a twitch in his knee. He even asked me once how could God let people undergo such terrible agony. Despite these episodes, I had never seen Uncle Bill happier and fulfilled. He kept telling me how honored he was to be trusted by the President and consulted by the Cabinet. Uncle Bill’s last text before going to the hospital two weeks ago was: “This ability to help our country lifts me from the downing effects of my ailments.” Whenever my mother asks about Uncle Bill’s condition, my brother Jan would reply, “Don’t worry Ma, the President is keeping him alive.” I know that people say “hindi makakain ang good governance,” but Uncle Bill’s life would prove, “hindi nga ito makakain, nakapagpapahaba naman ito ng buhay.” 

Finally, Uncle Bill’s greatness  emanated from his appreciation of having an extended life. When death came knocking the third time, like J.K. Rowling’s character from The Tale of the Three Brothers, Uncle Bill embraced death like a good, old friend and went with him gladly and as equals. Reflecting on Uncle Bill’s life and accomplishments made me recall the beautiful story of the violinist who broke one of his strings while playing in the middle of a concert. The musician was said to have closed his eyes and continued playing with such passion and power as never heard before. Jack Riemer interprets the story by stating that it is an artist’s task to make music, at first with all that we have, and then, when that is no longer possible, to make music with what we have left.

Uncle Bill, I know you’re in heaven. I’m sure you didn’t like the first room that God reserved for you. I’m sure that you asked for a Chinese food menu during the welcome banquet. And I’m sure God would have no choice but to roll His eyes and give in, because He knows that although there were many things you refused to do, you never turned down His command to help every person who came to you in need regardless of position or status in life. He knew that when He created that unyielding will of yours, he matched it with an equally stubborn heart ready to help, forgive, and love. Ultimately, the only source of all greatness is a man’s capacity to love.

Uncle Bill, thank you for teaching me that only someone who is not afraid of being criticized earns the price of universal respect and that only someone who is not afraid of dying earns the reward of a most meaningful life. By that wisdom, I say goodbye to you Uncle Bill, knowing that the acceptance of your departure will mark the beginning of my journey to follow in your footsteps and become the great Filipino like you were.

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