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Okay, it’s now lunchtime & I have about half an hour to write this… but you have all the time in the world to read…
As some of you know, there is normally quite a few things that Filipinos (or Pilipinos) look forward to in terms of family/friends gatherings each year.
There is graduation from school. For some, Holy Week is a great time for big family reunions.
There are birthdays of course, weddings, baptisms (dedications for some).
“Araw ng Patay” (November 1st)… which is literally “Day of the Dead” in English.
We do not have Thanksgiving Day in the Philippines but we do probably have the longest Christmas Season. Which for some starts after All Souls Day (which if you do not know is the day following the Day of the Dead). Do we also call November 1st All Saint’s Day? I forgot already.
Anyway for some, this season is the biggest among the rest of the holidays & of course this is the great time for family gatherings…going all the way from the rest of November, to the whole of December, to New Years Day & for some up to the First Sunday of January in the New Year. A really long time, which also is when most of our Filipino brothers & sisters abroad go home to spend their vacation time.
Then there are of course weddings, which are also very big in Filipino families every where.
BUT there is one event that surely brings out the whole family together, but this one are normally not so joyous. And this is when there is a death of someone in the family or when a close family friend passes away.
Last night, we were at the last night of the wake of a family friend. We were late, but we caught most of the Service. If you don’t know where we are right now, we are somewhere in Southern California. (So if you are physically not in South CA, then let your imagination fly over here right now, for you are now in Japs Land, where anything goes).
So, as we were entering the Memorial Park, we are looking at this magnificent edifice. Imagine this photo but make it at 8 pm. There were no lights, no sound, no cars, no water flowing from the fountain & no people anywhere around.
We were late & we don’t know where to go and yes it was pitch dark.
So we followed the dark road into the driveway in front of this mortuary, we went past that, we went through this really huge gate and we drove into this erriely quiet & dark place. And of course it doesn’t help that we are now inside a memorial park, at eight in the evening.
And from a far distance we saw a silhoute of this church
But of course in the dark but there was at least lights coming from over there. And approaching it we can see the outlines of lines & lines of cars & we pulled up at the end of the line. And then I said at least there are people here. I only hope that we are at the right wake.
And then we walked towards the light, (no pun intended) yes towards the lights that were coming from the church & as were approaching this place we heard people talking in Tagalog.
And we greeted some of the people outside the church, one or two that we know. No only one that we know, I pointed one person out & called out his name, but apparently he wasn’t who I thought he was for everyone in their group only looked at me with blank stares.
And then we left the people that are outside the church & went inside & we saw this
Well of course it was at night, there were no white flowers, most of the people were sitting with their heads bowed, most of them wearing formal wear, mostly in black, some in white & a few like me were in blue or a few in brown, gray or some other earthly or dull color.
The people in attendance were about 99% Filipino. There were a group of teens singing at front all dressed in formal blacks, the open casket behind them and they were singing “Tears In Heaven”. (Well there was one guy in black pants & white shirt sticking out & of course it was one of my nephews).
And so hearing the song or recognizing my relative I don’t know which now, I almost cried a tear, but not yet. We sat at the back & we participated in the Service with a Filipino pastor speaking alternately in straight English & in straight Tagalog.
And then after some time, the pastor retorted I believe in Tagalog, “I think we over extended the Service, and I know we should be out of here by 9, but I just noticed that the clock there stopped at 8:15.
And it was probably close to 8:45 already.
And then it happened, the people sang the last song “How Great Thou Art”. Well I know the song & so I sang it to the Lord, along with my own community (maybe about two hundred of us in there, Filipinos by birth or ethnicity).
At the end of this song, the people sang a Tagalog version of “How Great Thou Art”, which of course I do not know & which I haven’t heard before. I have not been to a Filipino Church Service in years. And then there it was… tears in heaven. Even though I was able to hold it back. It was in there swelling up behind my eyeballs, not coming out but in there all right.
“Tears in heaven”.
It was a joyful Filipino celebration gathering.
And it wasn’t over yet. I’ll tell you about it next time you come back.