By Henrylito D. Tacio
Photos by Aida Day
Last week, I decided to clean my room. I had to throw away a lot of stuff – like news clippings, documents, pamphlets, and even books. And there were also letters, invitations, and cards.
While sifting some of the letters, there was one that caught my attention. It was dated May 4, 1987, and it came from Gregory C. Ira. I came to know him when he did his practicum at the center where I was working. Along with him was Brad Miller, then a neophyte journalist. Both of them were from Michigan.
At first, Greg stayed at the center’s bunkhouse. But later on, he moved in and stayed with us. We became friends, great friends. From time to time, Brad would drop in. After a month or so, the two left the country and returned to their hometown.
“I’m sorry I haven’t written to you after I left, but I’ve got a lot of things I have to do since I’m almost finished with school and without a job,” Greg wrote me. “My trip was without incident after we left Mindanao although staying at the center was the highlight of my time in the Philippines.”
Of Brad, whom I had met two times since then, Greg scribbled: “I talked with Brad last week and he is doing fine. He is now in Arizona and is trying to finish up his work from the photographs and writing he did while he was in the Philippines. I may go out with him in June but I’m not sure. I’m supposed to help my brother move out to California in June so I may swing by Arizona then.”
But what struck me now with his letter was his concluding statement: “I must thank you for all of your kindness, friendship and company while I was in Mindanao. You truly were a great friend and I will not soon forget all your hospitality.”
After I received the letter, I never heard from him again. Years later, I got another letter from him telling me that he was back in the Philippines. He remembered me because he read one of my articles – on coral reefs – which appeared in a magazine.
I wrote back, but I never received a response. So, there was silence again. Then, I was sent by my former director to attend a workshop at the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) in Silang, Cavite. Surprisingly, Greg was already working there and married a beautiful lady named Joy Magsaysay, who was pregnant with their first child.
A day before I left IIRR, Greg and his pregnant wife brought me to Tagaytay City. Joy bought some delicacies which she surprisingly gave to me. “That’s your pasalubong for your family,” she said. I was totally touched by her gesture.
A few years later, I resigned from my job in my hometown and joined IIRR. While there, I used to visit their house, which was just a few walks away from the apartment I was living in. In some instances, I had to eat dinner, which Joy prepared.
When I left IIRR, I never heard of Greg again. All I knew was that he went back to the US together with his family. Then, one time, I got an e-mail from him. When he learned that I was coming to the US, he invited me to visit his family in Tallahassee, Florida.
I told my Aunt Aida and Uncle Carl, who then lived in Columbus, Ohio (now they have moved to Savannah, Georgia), about my friend Greg. “If we have time after visiting my son in Alpharetta, Georgia,” Uncle Carl said, “we might swing and visit your friend.”
We did. And that was how I was able to see the historic Wakulla Springs (where Tarzan movies and Creature from the Black Lagoon were filmed). We stayed at Greg’s home, and I did have a good time talking with their three children: Justin, Joshua, and Sean.
“Some people come into our lives and quickly go,” someone once said. “Some stay for a while and leave footprints on our hearts. And we are never, ever the same.” And experts call this thing friendship.
“Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain,” American boxer Muhammad Ali pointed out. “It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.”
Greg is one of the three best friends I have. When I was in grade school, I met my first best friend in the person of Gerry Calba (who now lives in Denmark). When I was in high school, I came to know William Lim (who transferred his residence somewhere in Canada). With three friends, I have disproved the statement of Henry Brooks Adams: “One friend in a lifetime is much; two are many; three are hardly possible.”
Despite being very far apart, we keep on communicating with each other. Our communication may not be regular now, but we still “talk” with each other – via text messages, e-mail, or through personal messaging via Facebook.
“Can miles truly separate us from friends?” Richard Bach asked. “If we want to be with someone we love, aren’t we already there?”
In Locking Arms, Stu Weber tried to recall the powerful story coming out of World War I of the deep friendship of two soldiers “in the trenches”:
“Two buddies were serving together in the mud and misery of that wretched of European stalemate. Month after month, they lived out their lives in the trenches, in the cold and the mud, under fire and under orders.
“From time to time, one side or the other would rise up out of the trenches, fling their bodies against the opposing line and slink back to lick their wounds, bury their dead, and wait to do it all over again. In the process, friendships were forged in misery. Two soldiers became particularly close. Day after day, night after night, terror after terror, they talked of life, of families, of hopes, of what they would do when (and if) they returned from this horror.
“On one more fruitless charge, ‘Jim’ fell, severely wounded. His friend, ‘Bill,’ made it back to the relative safety of the trenches. Meanwhile, Jim was lying and suffering beneath the night flares. Between the trenches. Alone.
“The shelling continued. The danger was at its peak. Between the trenches was no place to be. Still, Bill wished to reach his friends, to comfort him, to offer what encouragement only friends can offer. The officer in charge refused to let Bill leave the trench. It was simply too dangerous. As he turned his back, however, Bill went over the top. Ignoring the smell of cordite in the air, the concussion of incoming rounds, and the pounding in his chest, Bill made it to Jim.
“Sometimes later, he managed to get Jim back to the safety of the trenches. Too late. His friend was gone. The somewhat self-righteous officer, seeing Jim’s body, cynically asked Bill if it had been ‘worth the risk.’ Bill’s response was without hesitation.
“‘Yes, sir, it was,’ he said. ‘My friend’s last words made it more than worth it. He looked up at me and said, ‘I knew you’d come,'”
According to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, friends are one of the reasons why life is worth living for: “The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers, and cities; but to know someone here and there who think and feels with us, and who, though distant, is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth an inhabited garden.”