San Beda and Thanatopsis

FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras - The Freeman

Some four years ago, one of our San Beda high school classmates decided to set up a Viber group for all of those who were with us in those years. Considering the number of sections at the end of our fourth year, there must have been 180 classmates who could join. Quite a number have passed away, many others are outside the country, and some we were not able to contact, so we were 60-plus who joined our Viber from all over the world. As we are all in retirement age, it was interesting to know what we have been doing all these years. Before the pandemic, we were able to have dinners in Makati, hosted by a member and we were to take turns hosting, but these were suspended with the lockdowns. We however, are in constant touch with each other through the Viber and the discussions are even more enthusiastic now that we have digital contact. The reminiscing, information sharing and discussions covers the topics of religion, politics, business, family, illnesses, and growing old gracefully. Over and above the inspirational stories and quotations that I get from my other Viber/Messenger/Facebook groups, I get additional insights and nostalgia from my San Beda classmates. “Nostalgia” is when the past is perfect and the present is tense.

In this group, there are about nine who serve in the military with four of them now retired generals, there are businessmen millionaires and billionaires, doctors and lawyers here and in the US, academicians and other professionals who have lived full lives and comfortably retired. There are disagreements on many issues, among them the Trump presidency and ivermectin as a cure for COVID-19, but we have agreed to disagree with grace and tolerance of each other’s opinions. It seems growing old has mellowed everyone and made us more at peace with ourselves. This brings me to the poem “Thanatopsis”.

Last week, the discussion shifted to our high school lessons in English and literature. Some recalled the long poems that we were made to memorize and recite in class, like “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, and “Invictus”. Then, someone ask what were the other long poems that we had to struggle to memorize. Instantly, without thinking I vibered “Thanatopsis”. I could not recall what Thanatopsis is all about but I remember reciting it, because our English teacher required that all have to recite the 14-stanza/83 lines poem before the end of the school year, or he will fail in his class. I had to google and search for the poem to read it again and understand why it was important for our teacher, and why it is more relevant for us now. The following day PNoy Aquino died.

These are last lines of Thanatopsis by William Cullen Bryant:

“So live, that when thy summon comes to join the innumerable caravan.

When each shall take his chamber in the silent halls of death, Thou go not, like the quarry slave at night, scourged to his dungeons, But sustained and soothed, by an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch about him, And lies down to pleasant dreams.”

“Thanatopsis” literally means a View of Death and the poem tells us that everybody dies. If one has lived well and fully, one should not fear but accept it as inevitable and a return to nature. This poem and the recent death of PNoy Aquino are timely reminders to all, particularly to the politicians who are now positioning for the coming 2022 elections, that everything ends and not all will go in a blaze of love and glory. Moreover, we do not really know what awaits us in the other side.

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