Saturday, November 30, 2013

Death In November

Death and November have come together for me like no other month and the grim reaper have before. Fortune has amplified the conjunction of three death events for me, events that occurred during the month of November, the month that doctors say has the greatest likelihood of depression. Two of the events are as public as they come while the third is as private and personal as they come. The first two are the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 and the natural disaster of Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in the Philippines on November 8, 2013. The third is the death of my father which coincidentally, happened the day before one of the worst storms in recent history scuttled the lives of thousands of ill-fated Filipinos.

One thing that all three death events have in common, other than falling in November, is that they were pretty much unexpected. The longer-aged Kennedy Assassination hit the American people out of nowhere, while no one could possibly have predicted with any accuracy of scale the deaths of 5,000-plus Filipinos in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda. The one though, it goes without saying, that will prove most durably extreme in my mind is the death of my father.

The macabre aesthetic of the Kennedy Assassination was the price Americans paid for their illusion of postwar innocence. The greatest murder in modern history awoke Americans to the heart of evil that lies in men, even one of their own. It marked a defiled victory for those responsible for the heinous act and for those who succeeded in covering it up all these years.

It has been a long-standing historical parry to avoid the search for a conspiracy in the Kennedy assassination. But in the light of new credible literature on the subject, it is no longer such a definitive stretch to get a handle on the motives for a conspiracy. The recasting of the assassination from being the responsibility of one lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, to being the paramount concoction of the American Mafia is beginning to gain some traction. After all that has been said and done about JFK’s death, it seems likely that the red flag appeal to the conspiratorially-minded will eventually break the containment of conspiracy theories that surround Kennedy’s untimely demise.

On the Philippine islands of Leyte and Samar, thousands of Filipinos are being held figurative prisoners by a natural catastrophe and by the incompetence of the central government in Manila. In spite of knowing days ahead of time Super Typhoon Haiyan’s projected path through the center of the Philippine archipelago, the administration of Noynoy Aquino has been monumentally ineffectual in its relief efforts for the storm’s victims. By the time the Philippine government realized the scope of the calamity on its hands, the impression had gotten across the international community that the Aquino administration was as limp as a dead fish in providing succor and comfort to its distressed citizens in the storm region. One would have expected Philippine officials to have been better prepared but then that would have been too much to ask of this government.

My father arrived in San Francisco from the Philippines at the end of August of this year to undergo throat surgery. Shortly after arriving, he was afflicted with pneumonia which led to multiple organ failure. After several weeks in the ICU and in subacute care, he passed away at the age of 69. I certainly cannot compare my father’s death in terms of global magnitude to that of JFK and of the typhoon victims. But I can share the feeling of the transience and tragedy of human life that those who care about JFK and the typhoon victims feel. Whatever we do, whatever we say, whatever we think, there is no way to break with the existential language that we all live by, the language that allows us to understand that life is too short and too unpredictable.

In looking back at all three November death events, I wonder what might have been had Kennedy not been assassinated, had 5,000 Filipinos not been snuffed out by Mother Nature, and had my father not died prematurely. What I do know is that their legacies did not expire with their temporal bodies and that we cannot simply say farewell to them without understanding what their existences on earth meant in the greater scheme of things.


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