WORD Becoming, Spiritual Reflections by Fr Roderick Salazar Jr, SVD (Philippines)
This I whisper to myself as I enter the memorial park
this lovely sunny Sunday morning.
There are not too many people around, it is still early.
But flowers are already there
— brought in probably even earlier today or late yesterday.
There they stand, or sit — the roses and the orchids,
the lilacs and the lilies, the many more blooms
unknown by name to me, blossoms of gold and yellow
and white, red and blue and violet
and ah, pink, the liturgical color of Lent’s Laetare (Rejoice) Sunday.
They greet the sun, they smile, they tell the dead:
you are remembered, you are loved.
Flores para los muertos. The phrase just springs to mind.
Tennessee Williams used it memorably
in A Streetcar Named Desire.
Our Orlando Nadres retained it
when translating the Williams play into Tagalog.
Edward Albee mentioned it in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Flores, Flores para los muertos. Flowers for the dead.
As I stand over the grave I am visiting, flowerless,
I think of the many dead and dying in the Iraq war,
in the battles in Mindanao, in the many places in the world
where fighting and killing seem to be the daily fare:
the dead and the dying for whom there are no
— there can NOT be any — flowers.
Because too busy are the living or too scared
for their own lives to reap a garden or visit a shop.
Or simply because what blooms had dared to blush,
a thousand bombs and bullets had quashed.
No flores para los muertos there. Only muertos.
I hurry back to the vendors to get some flowers
for the mother of my friend.
So that neither grave nor soul would feel forgotten.
So that love can show, even the dead, it is alive;
even if only starting with flores.
I think of the wedding aisle full of flowers yesterday,
when I blessed a couple’s I do’s.
I picture the gowns and the dresses,
the shirts, barongs and suits of proms and parties,
graduation rites and balls, many corsage-accented
to say that here is life, not death.
I remember birthday bashes some grand, some simple;
some with just cake and ice cream, others, with more.
But in almost all, las flores –
Flowers, to speak life. Blossoms, to banner love.
These were my thoughts several years ago
when I was still in Cebu
I had just celebrated my weekly Sunday Mass
at the Chapel of the Pink Sisters of Perpetural Adoration
and, on the drive back to the University of San Carlos,
I had dropped by Cebu Memorial Park.
It is now the year 2020.
The thoughts just came back.
For it was another Memorial Park,
or Columbarium as it is called,
that I visited today: The Garden of the Divine Word
in the compound of Christ the King Mission Seminary
in Quezon City, where I myself live now at Villa Cristo Rey.
The words came back, FLORES PARA LOS MUERTOS
because what I saw this morning was in great contrast
to that lovely moment in Cebu many years ago.
Sunny it was there, then. Cloudy, heavy-air here today.
And beautiful as the columbary remains,
it was largely devoid of flowers.
It has been cordoned off, after all,
Quarantined, like many places in the city, in the country.
No people visiting the dead.
No FLORES PARA LOS MUERTOS.
I sigh at the contrast.
Pray that soon the flowers return
not just to the gardens where they may already be
but to other places as well: homes and altars,
chapels and churches and columbaries.
Till then, till some kind of normalcy returns
to our country and to our world,
where the real blossoms can not yet be,
we might as well use that word that has cropped up
because of the pandemic: VIRTUAL.
Virtual meetings and conferences there are.
We might as well have VIRTUAL FLOWERS
garlands and bouquets, crowns and coronets
fruit of our REAL PRAYERS AND CONCERNS
For our loved ones, the living and the dead.
For those we do not know but are our brethren in Jesus Christ.
The virus has killed many. Their families grieve.
Jobs have been lost. So much anxiety is here.
because the future is largely unknown.
Real prayers are needed
for some cure for the virus.
For some hope of respite, life and light.
Real acts too, if we are able,
Real acts of compassion and love.
If FLORES PARA LOS MUERTOS has been the phrase
on All Saints Day and All Saints Day and the times
we visit our loved ones in cemeteries.
Without forgetting our beloved departed,
let us extend our flower-giving
– Virtual or real, in prayer or in deed –
to the living with whom we live,
the living among whom we move,
face masks and physical distancing notwithstanding.
There are many more people who still live
and long for our love and long to be told they are loved.
They, too, deserve our buds and blossoms.
To them, as well, must our flowers flow.
Even more urgently.
For, as someone once said,
“The realm of silence is large enough beyond the grave. “
FLORES PARA LOS MUERTOS, then,
let us continue to give when we can.
May we not forget FLORES PARA LOS VIVOS tambien,
FLOWERS FOR THE LIVING, BLOSSOMS OF LOVE.