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Words for Maguindanao

November 28, 2009

The horribly brutal Maguindanao Massacre surprised even the most jaded of Filipinos and activists.  I learned about it on Monday morning, when I was tucked safely away in my apartment in Berkeley.  On Thanksgiving Day I found words, however inadequate they may be.

I was a lone jogger on UC Campus; a gray ghost with a messy ponytail, breathing in air and giving back perspiration with pores on my face and my body.  I crushed grass under my feet and I greeted the squirrels as they buried their treasures under leaves and pine needles. I took larger strides and my hair stuck to the sweat on my neck.

What was it that drew me from the grass to the street?  My steps went without thought.  I could not hide my eyes from the massive crane that rose like a guillotine above new construction.  I kept taking in and giving back.  Air and water for carbon and salt.

The skeletal building spoke as wind moved inside it; metal against metal, plastic on concrete.  The living and the nonliving merged into sound.  I could not silence my breathing.  I could not stop taking from the earth.

For three days I have thought about Attorney Connie’s last moment.  Was she taking a breath when they killed her?  Did she cling to the air in her lungs because she knew it would be the last?  Or had she exhaled, resigned herself, when they took the last of her?  Had she seen the others go first?  Did she grieve for them?  Did salt fall from her eyes?  Does the ground know the difference between tears and blood?

The word “massacre” is too sterile because every death of the 57 was a massacre in itself; every moment an unprecedented tragedy.  Some still had hope.  Some must have given up.  Many were crying out for mercy but I imagine those who were mutilated were praying for the end.  It was one after another after another after another.  And yet, the world was no more adept.  At no time did creation shrug its shoulders and say, “Oh?  Just one more?”

It’s not my story.  I am none of these people.  If they know me, it is in my complacency.  So let the survivors tell this story.  Let the handful who outran the terror write on the wall of history.

I saw nothing.  I was nowhere.  In the frame of a building thousands of miles West, I heard a universe groaning: I heard spirits saying, “Please, please.  Please, please…” I warmed myself with my guilt.  I walked into an open street of a city that was silent for one day.

This time last year I’d begun saying goodbye to Mindanao.  I was frying stuffing and paying for chicken and soda and wine to feed my coworkers and friends.  I was pleased at how the celebration had grown from the year before and I was thinking how lonely it would be when I didn’t share my kitchen with anyone.

They gave thanks for the struggle, for the movement, for solidarity and for the will to keep going.  I am thankful they are still there.  I am thankful for my head and my body.  I am thankful no one has taken either from me. I am thankful for the attorney and I am thankful that there are those who will carry her on and on until they themselves go into the night.

I am thankful I can resist the darkness.  It filled the empty construction at UC Berkeley and it filled my apartment for the last three days, but with these words, I send it out again.  My dog stands guard against it at the front door.  She knows it will return.

I am thankful that violence is not the end, that “Maguindanao” is not the last word.  It won’t be, as long as there is still struggle among the living.  For the sake of the dead, they will say it again and again.  Maguindanao.  Even an animal would not turn its back on such a thing.  Even the rocks hear when the universe moans.

I left UC campus and ran on the street in downtown Berkeley.  There were no cars to stop me, traffic lights were meaningless with all the people tucked away in places I could not find them.  I was a citizen of a ghost town. When I lengthened my gait, I took in more air.  I moved more of creation with me.  The universe groaned for Maguindanao.  It has seen this before- it will see it again.  But like every time, this time is different.  Distinct.  Tragic. Fifty-seven kinds of loss.  Fifty-seven wasted reasons.

“Please, please, please,” it said.

Who am I to comfort all of existence?  So I just cried out, too.  “Thank you,” I said with my legs and my lungs, with my heart and my head and all of my being.

“Thank you for not giving up on us.  Please don’t.  Not yet.”

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