As He Lay There Dying
Some children died the other day, we feed machines and then we pray
Looked up and down and mortified, you should have seen the ratings that day
We are the nobodies, wanna be somebodies
When we’re dead, they know just who we are.
– Marilyn Manson, “The Nobodies”
Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death
A year ago, when I first came here to Manila, I took a picture of that boy on the left to remind myself of at least one dark underbelly of this Metropolis. A hungry kid begging, lying down on a concrete landing of the stairs up Shaw Boulevard Station, ignored in favor of trains up there, and work hours down there.
Just another victim, just another statistic. No one knew this kid’s name as he lay there, dying of hunger, exposure, thirst, ascaris. Even I didn’t know; all I knew was the spare change I dropped into the cup was more for him and less for me.
Whatever loose change I gave that kid that day means absolutely nothing today, one year into all of it. For all intents and purposes of speculation, that kid is still begging there, perhaps. Maybe sick, starving, and for all intents and purposes, dead. Dead to the world that leaves him dying.
We regret their death, we mourn their passing. We get shocked at the very reason why they die. Yet it is not a limitation of words or an error of vocabulary why we do not have a feeling for those who are dying. Why they pass by our feet without us grieving, or perhaps pitying, even feeling. Why – and what – we think and feel… and if we grieve at all, as they lay there dying.
We cannot grieve for everyone, nor can we make sense out of every death out there. People die, and it is a fact of life that life itself has to end one way or another. Death is certainly not a class war; decomposition and detritus know no economic class. The only reason why I’m whining about death is that everything that leads to death takes place in life itself.
Disease, hunger, genetics, accidents, suicides, murder, homicide, dumb luck, everything that has to do with death has something to do with living. There’s your class war. The sheer unfairness, the magnitude of injustice, that vast gulf between the haves and the have-nots that, for all intents and purposes, none of us can do anything about for all the spare change in the world. There’s your meaningless death.
I’m a writer; I’m not a savior of the world, I don’t hold answers or solutions, I can’t tell people what to do. The most that I can do is to string words together, form sentences, try to tell stories, but stories of kids like the boy in the MRT station are just too common.
Meals of watered-down instant noodles, drinking the remainder of iced tea from bottles thrown into the curb, jobless parents, the heat of the sun burning you down to the bone and the cold rain chilling you down to the marrow. Clichéd, melodramatic statements written and rephrased over and over again. Yet one thing is obvious: it’s slow death. We grieve for them – collectively – because they’re dead to begin with. They stand no chance at living, and a slim one at survival. It’s a funeral held way in advance, before the formalities of decomposition are dispensed with.
So we let that poor, ascaris-infected kid die, we ignore him, we don’t bother. After all, what makes our lives possible – and to a certain extent even convenient – is the fact that people die. Those who compete with us for resources must be eliminated; that’s social Darwinism. That those with a lesser chance of living full, productive lives die. The fact that they don’t have opportunities, the fact that they do not have chances, the fact that in the end, their deaths will be nothing more than another day in the life of people who die everyday. No coverage, no funeral, no cries for justice, no one cares. Just another statistic. Dead.
The tragedy is not in death, but dying. When you no longer exist. When you vanish from everyone else’s memory. You don’t have to rot to be dead. Then again, when you’re dead, they know just who you are. It’s a damn shame – the most damned of them all – that the equality and fairness we expect to live in society only becomes possible when we lay there. Not dying, but dead.
Then again, grief is not something applied to the living, but to the dead. No requiem or funeral is held for those who are still alive.