Thursday, May 17, 2012

Summa Cum Laude (English Version)

By: Mikejuha


“Hold it! Hold itttt!!!” a boy of around 16 years old frantically shouted when he saw me clamber over the iron railing of the ship, my left foot was already over it and I was ready to leap into the deep ocean. He was in the nick of time. I was about to end my life.
I had been diagnosed with a condition where my two corneas were badly damaged due to an earlier accident and infection. The doctor said that what I needed were corneal transplant and if I could not have one in six months, chances are I would lose both my eyesight. But my parents could not afford the operation. In fact, the reason why the condition of my eyes deteriorated was because they could not afford the treatment. And the problem was not only about money; the harder problem was to find cornea donor.
So there was nothing to do but wait until that time when my vision will finally darken and I will be left blind. I was depressed; so depressed that I wanted to end my life. For me, life was so unfair and whoever created it, I was angry. I wanted to rebel. I hated life.
It was school break. I asked my parents if I could go to my uncle’s province. My uncle was a social worker and they thought that maybe – just maybe, he could help find someone to help me. My parents allowed me to go.
As the ship sailed on it’s journey towards my uncle’s province, I could not help but feel depressed again watching over the distance the little beautiful islands with their sandy beaches and the trees in them flutter as the winds blew through them. Even if my vision was blurred and foggy, I could still see the panorama. They seemed like teasing me, mocking and reminding me that a time will come when I will never see them in my life again. My tears rolled down my cheek. I let them... until I decided to climb the railing  to end it all.
That was when I heard that shout. I felt like a hard thing had hit my head. I hurriedly removed my left foot over the railing and stood there pretending to be obliviously watching the scenery like nothing happened.
“Why did you do that?” he asked as he came near and stood beside me.
“What?” I replied in a seemingly angry tone and playing innocent.
He leaned on the railing beside me. Probably he understood that I wanted to keep to myself what I did so he didn’t force the subject.
“You know what? We just went to the big city. It’s really beautiful there. But I still like the countryside. There, the air is fresh, the fields are green, and the temperature is not as hot.” He said, breaking the silence.
I did not answer. I continued to focus my eyes towards the ocean pretending that I never heard a thing.
He turned his face towards me. “How about you? Are you going to the province too?” His voice was full enthusiasm.
“I live in the city, in a slum.” I finally opened up albeit nonchalantly. “M-my uncle is a social worker in the province. I will be staying with him for... I don’t know how long.”
“Ah, you said he worked in the Social Worker’s office? I think its the one near the central plaza. I love to go to the place, especially the huge acacia tree along the seafront overlooking the sea. It has a tree-house in it. It’s a popular spot for people who want to watch the sun set. But I go there every Sundays after lunch. It’s the time where it’s hot around but cold and breezy in the tree-house. That tree-house also serves as a meeting place for some people. There is a bulletin board there where visitors write or post messages. Kind of funny. Strangers actually become friends because of those little messages.”
Judging by the way he approached me, it seemed like he had known me for ages. And I liked his vigor and enthusiasm. He was jolly, optimistic, and full of life.
But I was not in the mood to talk. I just stood there; in deep thought.
“You know... my father said that sometimes, sad things happen in life for some reasons. At times, we will never get to know these reasons. But always, they are for the better.” His tone suddenly turned serious. Probably, he sensed I had some problems.
And that’s where I reacted. What he said didn’t sound agreeable to me. “I don’t believe it... Look at me, I’m getting blind and in less than a year I will totally lose my vision if I can’t find donors for my operation. So this, my getting blind... for the better?” I asked sarcastically.
He looked at me. It was a sad look in his eyes. I did not know if it was for me or for something else. Then he released a faint smile. “My friend, this reason that I was saying may never be known for now or in the near future. In fact, we may never really know it at all. Whoever created life or this universe, his mind must be so huge that we can’t understand his workings. What has happened to you is just a speck, albeit an integral part of his design; his grand scheme of things. If you have faith; if you believe... then it may help you feel better. But granting that you will turn blind, will it be the end of the world? Will it make you the only blind person on this planet? There are many people with handicap who rise above their tribulations and made the best out of their lives. Have you heard of the girl who has no arms but goes to school like any normal person. Have you heard of another one who hold a black belt in karate and a license to fly an aircraft? Have you heard of that blind girl whose sweet voice she used to sing inspirational songs and who has now many CDs in her name? Many people are touched by them. Many people are inspired by how they deal with their lives and succeeded where the so-called ‘normal’ people failed. And... there are still many other unsung heroes with handicaps; people who, not only excel in their chosen fields despite their physical disability, but also inspired others and touched lives...”
I felt like I was doused with cold water upon hearing what he said. “Maybe he has a point...” I murmured. “If I go blind, maybe I still can do something out of my life.”  
“You know... the measure of life is not whether one has a handicap or not; it is on how one makes the best out of his life. I believe that everything in the world is made for a reason. It’s what my father said. Look at the grass. We don’t care about them. But no matter how we stepped on them, how we eradicate them... they continue to live and flourish. They survive. They rise above life’s tribulations. And I am not a grass. There is a bigger reason why I am here. And I don’t care whether I know the reason or not, or why I don’t have the good or better things that other people have but I am just thankful to be alive. Because... life is beautiful; life has a purpose. There are many people who want to live life even for a little longer but didn’t have the privilege to make it. Let us live our lives. Let us treasure it. Let us use it to make others happy.”
I remained silent. Every word he spoke seemed to penetrate into the deep crevices of my mind.
“Do you have parents?” he continued.
I nodded.
“See? They must be one of your best reasons why you should treasure life, don’t you think so? Surely they will feel unhappy to see you suffer or die.”
I was gagged. The words were like arrows that pierced my heart. I felt tears loomed in my eyes. He was right. I love my parents.
“You know what they call the highest honors conferred when you graduate from a degree?”
“Summa Cum Laude?” I answered trying to hold back my tears.
“Yes!” He exclaimed. I want to be a summa cum laude... Life is just like studying, you know. If in school we experience things, we study subjects, we learn lessons, it’s the same in life. When we graduate, we are conferred honors if we did our best; only that in life, graduation is death. But all of us go there in time. And all I want is that when I graduate in this life, I will get the highest honors. I want that on my grave, someone will post the title, “Summa Cum Laude”.
I felt like breaking into laughter with his metaphor. I thought it was stupid.
“Yeah! I mean it!” He reacted seeing a disbelieving smile on my face. “When I finally be laid to rest, I want that title. Or... maybe an obituary will do stating that I achieved something that made a difference in someone else’s life.”
“Hahahahaha!” I finally guffawed. I couldn’t believe that a young guy like him – so energetic, so full of life and optimism, would be talking about his own demise. If he was old or ready to die and talking about death, I wouldn’t be surprised.
“See? I made you laugh!” he blurted.
“Thanks...” I said. I finally felt at ease with him that I forgot my own problems.
“Here, I’ll share you a song...” as he set his mobile phone music and turned over to me his headphone.
I took it and listened.
“Do you like it? I love that song.” He asked as I finished listening and handed him back the headphone.
“I think so...” was may answer. I heard that song before. I knew it was inspirational but I did not find anything special with it. “What’s the meaning?” was my question.
“It is a story about a warrior who is so tough and so strong and mighty. He never gives up any fight. People look up to him. Even if at times he gets wounded or beaten up, he continues his fight. But despite his bravery and courage, he is just like any other normal person; there is also a child in him that makes him drop his sword, kneels down and cries in secret. Beyond what they see was a gentle person crying and seeking his own hero.”
“And who is this fighter in the song?”
He released a faint smile. “I hope it’s you... and me!”
The boat sounded its siren. We were so engrossed with our conversation that we failed to notice the boat had reached its destination.
“I got to go bro... thanks for the time. It was nice talking to you! My mother must have been looking for me by now. Take care!” he shouted as he rushed to the stairway going to the second floor of the ship.
“Hey!!!” I shouted back. I would have wanted to ask his name and address. However, he got lost in the crowd. “Was he an angel who came down from heaven to intervene...?” I murmured.
It was my second week in my uncle’s place. As my vision continued to deteriorate by the day, I could not help but feel more and more depressed. My uncle could not still find a donor for my operation and I already felt the pain of losing my eyesight.
As I watched the central plaza from the window, my eyes were transfixed at a huge tree on the edge of it. I could not see it clearly with my already indistinct vision but I felt it could have been the acacia tree which was mentioned by the boy on the ship.
Excited by the prospect of meeting him again, I dashed out of the house. And I was not mistaken. It was the tree he mentioned. I could see above me the tree-house perched on its branches.
Coincidentally, it was Sunday and a few minutes past twelve. I remembered him saying he used to visit the place on Sundays after lunch.
I hurriedly searched for the stairs and climbed up. But there was no one in the tree-house. I felt disappointed. The thought of seeing him again vanished.
As there was nothing to do, I decided to just stay and enjoy the ambiance of the place. “He was right; the place was cool and breezy, and from its vantage point, I could see the ocean and the surrounding places; a perfect spot to relax and commune with nature.” I murmured as I released a deep sigh. I knew it was only a matter of time before blindness stops me from appreciating such beauty again.
I was about to leave the place when I spotted the bulletin board he mentioned. I stopped and read some of the posts. And one message caught my attention, “To the boy I met on the ship. If you have read this, please come to my place, 27 Vine Street. It’s URGENT. Please, please, please come. Your friend on the boat. –Ariel–“
I felt like a thunderbolt had hit me. “Could he be the boy I met on that ship?” I shouted to myself.
I snatched the note from the board, went down the tree-house and hurriedly took a tricycle. In ten minutes, I arrived to the said address.
Their house was small, dilapidated; almost just like my parents’ house. But what surprised me was that there were many people around. I sensed something was wrong.
When I entered the house, I saw a white casket laid in the middle of the living room. It was eerie. I could feel my heart throbbed so fast.
“You are the boy on the ship?” a woman in her forties asked as she met me at the doorway.
“Y-yes?” I hesitatingly answered. I wasn’t sure if the boy he meant was the one I met on that ship and if so, if I was the boy he had befriended.
But before I could find the answer to those questions, she handed me the letter. “He painstakingly wrote it a few hours before he breathed his last...” she said wiping the tears in her eyes as she turned around and left me.
I took a seat in one corner and unfolded the letter. It was handwritten.
“Dear friend on the boat. It was kind of funny how I met you on that trip. Time seemed so short that I even failed to notice it all ended and I forgot to ask your name. But anyway, I hope you will still be able to come and read this letter. I had been hoping that I could still see you in the flesh... although it seems impossible now.
I have to admit that I was about to do the same thing you wanted to do on that ship: jump into the sea. But I saw you first... and it was like I came back to my own senses and held back that plan. I thank you for saving my life. Thanks to me for saving yours too.(Smile)
You know, I have a cancer. My right kidney was already removed. I thought that everything was fine until two years later, I became ill again. When I met you on that trip, that was the time when my mother and I went to Manila for the check up. There I learned that my cancer had recurred. It’s in the advanced stage already. My remaining kidney had been affected and the cancer had also found its way into my other internal organs. We were told that all operations are useless because of the extensive damage the caner did to my system. So I wanted to end my life at that very time and spot where you wanted to end yours. But I when I saw you on that railing, it was like someone whispered into my ears and told me it was not yet time for me to die. My fathers’ words flashed back in my mind, ‘Life has a purpose and everything that happens has its reason.’
I admit that what my father said was so hard to understand. Like you, I could not accept why things I hate the most happen; why I should suffer, why should I die young, and of all people, why me... But I tried my best to widen my understanding. There was no choice after all. And I realized that the more I surrendered myself and accepted everything in my heart regardless of whether I knew the answers to my questions or not, the more I felt better. And when I learned about your own problems, I started to realize that maybe, I found the reason why I should fight until the remaining moments of my life. Like the warrior in that song, I have to be brave even if I cry like in silence.
Since the time I was diagnosed with cancer, my mother had asked some social organizations for help. Just the other day, I was told that a rich donor wanted to help me. I am happy; not for myself, but for you, my friend. Since my case is hopeless, I requested to divert his generosity and kindness to you. He agreed.
See? There is already someone willing to help you with the operation. And for the cornea, I will donate mine. Don’t worry, it’s free of cancer (smile).  
If all plans go well, your eyesight will be restored. I may not anymore see you in the flesh but I am happy because through my corneas, you will be able to see the beauty of the world again. And not only that, something in me will also become a part of you.
My father was right; life has a purpose and things happen for a reason. There is a reason why I met you on that ship; there is a reason why I stopped you from taking your life; there is a reason why I changed my mind from taking my own life too. Now maybe, you too know the answer.
As I graduated from this life, I hope I did not fail. But even a passing grade will make me be very happy. With the short life that I got, I know it was not enough to earn even a cum laude honors. But you are still here to continue the journey. I know you will try your best to ‘graduate’ with flying colors..
Take care always friend. Enjoy life; for life is beautiful. Be a warrior in spite of everything; and be the best person that you can ever be.. in this life.
Your friend, -Ariel-“
No words could ever describe how I felt upon reading his letter. I was shocked and was so ashamed of myself. My problem was lesser compared with what he went through yet I took mine like my whole world had ended. Whereas he... death was cutting him inch by inch but there he was; full of optimism, full of hope. To the end, he put up a hard fight like a real warrior.
The doctors found his corneas to have matched my requirements. Immediately they did the operation. Sadly, it happened on the same day of his funeral. The doctors wanted to do the operation immediately while he had to be buried soon too. It was kind of ironic. While I get a new lease on my eyesight, he goes to his eternal resting place and I will never get to see him again.
When the wounds on my operation healed, I visited Ariel’s grave. As I read out my letter to him, I played his favorite song –
Lately I’ve been winning battles left and right
But even winners can get wounded in the fight
People say that I’m amazing
I’m strong beyond my years
But they don’t see inside of me
I’m hiding all the tears
They don’t know that I come running home when I fall down
They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while
(Look up for His smile)
‘Coz deep inside this armor
The warrior is a child (Aahhh)
Unafraid because His arrow is the best
But even soldiers need a quiet place to rest
People say that I’m amazing
I never face retreat, oh no
But they don’t see the enemies
That lay me at His feet
They don’t know that I come running home when I fall down
They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while
(Look up for His smile)
‘Coz deep inside this armor
The warrior is a child (Aahhh)
They don’t know that I come running home when I fall down
They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while
(Look up for His smile)
‘Coz deep inside this armor
The warrior is a child (Aahhh)
“Dear Ariel, thank you for everything... You are right. Life has a purpose and everything that happens has its reasons. Now I know that the reason why you stopped me from taking my life on that day was because you are the one to deliver me from my suffering. I also know now why you were prevented from taking your own life too; because you have to give me your corneas first. I also know now why you like that song so much; because you want to be a warrior... Because despite your ailment, you kept fighting, showing me and other people how precious life is and how privileged we are to have lived it. I just have one regret though: during those times when you cried in silence, I was not there by your side. How I wished I was beside you to at least cry with you, help you unload your burden.
But... it’s ok. I am sure you are at peace now. As for me... I still have to struggle through the tricky trappings of life. But don’t you worry. I’ll be a warrior too. I promise to be strong, courageous, brave, and I will win over battles of life. Like you, I will give it a good fight until my last breath.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to see the beauty of the world again. Thank you for opening up my mind about the meaning and value of life. I promise that I will strive to be the best person that I can ever be; to make my life meaningful so that when it will be my turn to graduate from this ‘college of life’, I will be like you.
I disagree it when you said that you only got an average grade. No; you graduated with flying colors and you got all the medals. You saved my life; you gave me back my eyesight; you made a difference in my life. You are my hero...
One day, when it’s my time to graduate from this college of life, I’ll come to see you again. But for now, good bye my dear friend. May you rest in peace... Your friend on the boat, -Noel-”
I folded my letter; planted a kiss on it and gently placed it on his crypt. Below it, I spread the streamer... “SUMMA CUM LAUDE”.

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