Monday, July 14, 2014

Coping With Friends Gone

How do you cope with death of a friend when you yourself are trying to make the most out life?

The shooter was waiting in the heavy downpour as Kitz Velasco and his nephew, Cesar, walked home from work. Little did they know that that moment on the narrow path between the plots of verdant idyllic ricefields of barangay Manaol, Pozzorubio, Pangasinan, would be their last. While in Kabul, Kitz came to the aid of compatriots providing temporary work to bridge to their next employment. He had a sweet smile and a deep baritone laugh. He touches me with his selflessness and sincerity to help, a strong sense of the familial, and pursuit of goals working hard for them.

Luis Maria Duarte Gonzalez was excitedly looking forward to Nawrooz the following day, the Persian new year. On the eve young suicide assassins who had already entered the Serena hotel in Kabul opened fire on celebrating diners. He was among those who were shot. Luis was an astute observer of politics and poured over analysts' materials to try to make sense of the complex. We worked together in Bangladesh in 2008, and twice in Kabul in 2010 and 2014. He reminds me of youthful outlook to learning and living. We stood beside each other during one of the daily security briefings when we were told that the Taliban, in a heightened push to disrupt the elections, had planned to put improvised explosives even in toilets. "They should leave these places as sanctuaries", commented Luis. I bursted laughing!

"I worried about you. He was your friend", a work colleague messaged me. We had just been informed through an all-staff email that Tom Barry was found in his home in Washington, D.C. We later learned that it was a heart attack. He visited my program in Timor Leste in 2006 and we worked alongside in the pre-election assessment mission in the Philippines in 2010. Then we opened NDI's first ever office in Papua New Guinea in 2012. He was reserved, deliberate and straight to the point. Perhaps more than others, I saw the wonderful and the man-for-others side of him when he opened up. A privilege. In challenging situations I would sometimes catch myself asking "how would Tom think"?

In trying to answer the question, I came up with another question. Am I too detached or calloused?

Death, and birth for that matter, came and went during youth. My mom owned and ran a small hospital in rural Sibonga in Cebu. Lives went in varied ways from accidents, ending bitter fights through cold vendettas, and other bizarre ways like goring by a water buffalo. Births, too. I would hold up a petromax (gas lantern) with both hands in dreamy state because for some reason they seem to always take place in the middle of the night. Mom would deliver the baby and dad would be around to help her.

I would witness all these, albeit for deaths distanced and fleetingly, and perhaps in instinctual self preservation. To go on and remind myself of the gifts to use them to serve the people of God -- hopefully ready in gratitude for the inevitable.

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