We came to grief, though we could never be the chieftest mourner but Dr. Dedicacion Reyes, who, in the faint light of midnight on July 16 going on July 17, joyfully received us.
After a long-day affair that included an inconvenient bus ride with Partas de luxe the night before from our base in Manila, a ride that did not come close to an economy service much less de luxe hence the bribe of a pillow from the conductor for one of us perched at the last row with all the noise and the inconveniences imaginable, we decided to pass by Santa Maria to pay our final respects to the great man and the great mind of the Ilocos.
"We" here means: Dr Elizabeth Calinawagan, former dean of the College of Arts and Communications, University of the Philippines Baguio; Dr. Ricardo Ma. Duran Nolasco, former acting chair of the Commission on the Filipino Language and now our partner and collaborator of the 170+Talaytayan MLE where he serves as president; Dr. Jaime Raras, coordinator for research of the University of Northern Philippines Candon; Dr. Noemi Ulep Rosal, director of Nakem Conferences Philippines and professor of the University of the Philippines; Tony Igcalinos, program manager of Unidev and director of ICRI; Lucy Cruz, formerly with the CFL and now assists Dr. Nolasco; and yours truly.
We all came from a whole day affair: a Nakem BOD meet in the morning in Batac; MLE Forum in the afternoon in Laoag, and Sukimat launch, also in Laoag.
Then came the thought of paying our final respects to the man whose mind was one of gravitas, plain and simple.
This thought came in that waning light of Laoag, the light that came from the 'daya' when the 'raya' of the newly-born sun streaks through from the mountains and the trees.
This was the man who came to Nakem Conferences 2007 held in Batac, the first Nakem conference ever held outside the United States.
This was the man who delivered a talk on Ilokano literature through the dean of St. Mary's College who was his sister-in-law.
Here was a man who came to lend his name and honor and fame to help Nakem find its way in the fuzzy world of organizational work, cultural advocacy, and educational activism.
Here was a man who early on demonstrated his belief in what Nakem can do for Ilokano language and literature, for Amianan cultures, for education to democracy and justice.
I did not know he was coming to the conference. But he came.
I did not know his group that included his wife, Dra Cion, the first president of UNP, prepared a talk for everyone to hear.
But there they were, bracing the miles and miles of distance between Santa Maria and Batac, he on his wheelchair, bound to that medical appendage for some time already, but he came with his whole heart and full soul.
Of course, Dra. Cion came with all the smiles, the motherly countenance we seldom see today, and the caring love only genuine people can give.
I was touched.
I could not speak. "Stupefied" perhaps fits the bill in a situation like that that was a mixture of awe and plenitude of soul.
Indeed, when language is full, there is only that silence that understands fully.
It is the silence that does not need words.
Perhaps the realization of "nakem"--that marker for Ilokanoness, that core of being a person of the Amianan--is really this: this plenitude of soul as it encounters with grace, with blessing, and more grace.
And so I had to go upstage in that conference, asked that the conference would give way to the man who iconically represented what it meant to be a poet of our people.
Indeed, he was--he will always be--a poet of our people.
I asked the more than a hundred participants to acknowledge the man who made many things possible for the Ilokanos, for Ilokano and Amianan Studies, and for Ilokano Literature.
Many of those who took part in the 2007 Nakem Conference had not had the chance to meet him but had known him through his medical and political work, and through his health columns in Bannawag, among other works he was known for.
But on that day--radiant but unspeaking, glowing but in the silence of his full heart--this man came to give us his name, his honor, his fame.
And so on July 16 up to the wee hours of July 17, we went to see him for the last time, he in his sleep that was calm, peaceful, eternal.
I remember that in the summer of 1982, I won a short story prize from GUMIL Hawai'i, the first short story I have written ("Anniniwan"). There was a poetry contest too and which I joined, where I won the first prize ("In Obiter Dictum").
That was my first time to see Dr. Godo: spritely and stately, gentlemanly and respectful.
He handed me my award: a trophy as tall as a kid.
Somebody took a snap shot of that event and had it published in the Bannawag, alongside the feature story on the Gumil convention of that year.
The caption in that snap shot read like "a poet laureate handing an award to a budding poet" or some such juicy words that made my heart stout.
And stouter each time I go sentimental and cannot fight off the feeling of flipping the pages of that old issue and there see an almost youthful Dr. Godo.
The last time I would see him was in that state of grace in a glass coffin with all the flowers for the dead man, las flores para muerte.
I looked around me and the flowers, all competing for attention as if they were all syllables for enunciation at that famous debate of the man with Manuel Gaerlan and Leon Pichay at the Lyric Theatre in Manila, looked so lovely in the midnight hours, with those under the rain catching the pearls of storm water.
He was peacefully sleeping on that night I saw him for the last time, with a light drizzle and a light breeze from the tail of a storm. Or was it its head?
In a telephone conversation with the novelist Terry Tugade, I told him about these events coming into some kind of meeting, nexus, juxtaposition.
I remembered I called these things serendipitous, unable to account the clues to what these things revealed to me.
Ka Terry corrected me right away and said: "There is nothing serendipitous in this. Go look for the deeper connections, for the deeper meanings. Look at what is happening to you now and the defaming that you are receiving and the support of well-meaning writers in your fight for the cause grander than the grandiose selves of pretenders."
Amen, I told Ka Terry.
Even as I remembered these things on that night we went to Dr Godo's wake, Ka Terry called from his sacred place in South San Francisco where once Dr Godo and Greg Laconsay stayed, the two of them sharing Ka Terry's not-so-large bed in his apartment.
I gave the phone to Dr. Cion after our usual courtesies and I was certain Ka Terry expressed his condolences.
Dra. Cion gave back the phone to me and I had to go find a place where the signal was better.
A few minutes after, Ka Terry began to recall how kind the man was and how generous his wife is.
Amen, I said again.
Ah, stories are all we are.
Our narratives complete us. Or they give us some sense of meaning, some sense and meaning.
Dios ti kumuyog, Dr. Godo.
Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur, the Philippines
July 17, 2009