The passing of an icon

Published January 14, 2022, 5:11 AM

by Fil C. Sionil

‘Twas a whirlwind week.

As we all wave goodbye to the year that was and happily welcome the New Year, for us, it was sad and gloomy with the passing of literary icon, F. Sionil-Jose.             

It calls to mind a message he gave to Vangie, sister of cousin Jim who writes for an international wire agency, to come visit him. In hindsight, it was as if he knew he would soon come to pass. In his own words, he even spelled it in order not to be mistaken, to tell Vangie: “I’m slipping away.”

This was Sunday, December 5, in his home at Jersey St. Never did it cross my mind how prophetic his words were.  He slipped away from this temporal world as quietly as he wanted it to be on January 6, at a time when deadlines have been met and the edition of tomorrow’s newspaper has been put to bed.

Not because I’m related, but as a journalist I admire his literary prowess and his passion for writing. He knew all along he’s in a crossroad. Hours before he permanently closed his eyes, Tito Frankie wrote a 13-line post in his FB about his brave heart, pouring out his feelings of uncertainty, praying they – he and his brave heart endure the scheduled angioplasty, which should have taken place early on last December 28. 

“I hope that you will survive it and I will with it, so that I will be able to continue what I have been doing with so much energy that only you have been able to give. Thank you dear brave heart and dear Lord for this most precious gift.” But, the Almighty had other plans for him.

And as  simple as he wanted it to be. Only two persons -eldest son Tonet and wife, Auntie Tita, his wife for 72 years and close to three months – were inside the chapel of the Arlington Funeral Homes while Father Robert Reyes said the holy mass.

In observance of the health protocol, Jim and I were outside, at the parking area, and through Zoom listened to the touching homily of  Father Robert, whom he described as a simple man whose writings have touched the hearts of many; who loves and continues to write stories because he believes in them.

The running priest shared how he dodged the invite of  Tito Frankie and Auntie Tita for 40 long years to visit their Jersey abode. But by the twist of fate, Father Robert was assigned as the Parish priest of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Toro Hills, and on several occasions had lunch in 53 Jersey house.

The most poignant part of that solemn ceremony was when Tonet decked with long stemmed roses the white linen cloth, where he will be laid to be ushered in for cremation.

Jim and I will surely miss our conversations, both at Jersey House and the quaint little bookshop along the old Padre Faura St., how he would pick our minds on burning issues, be it politics, the military and business. He laughed heartily with the juicy rumors about high profile personalities. 

We mourn his passing. But as Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Koshikawa Kazuhiko puts it: “His ‘brave heart’ filled with literary passion and dedication will serve as an inspiration to many. His presence will be greatly missed, but his outstanding contributions to Philippine Literature will continue to live on and will remain a legacy.”

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