The first time that I met Francis, or Pasion as we call him, was during the enrollment of our sophomore year. We had a casual chat, and we were polite and friendly to each other with the kind of reserved distance that strangers have when they meet for the first time. But because we were blockmates, and he was so comfortable and easy to be around, we became friends. And we had the kind of friendship that was low maintenance. We wouldn't demand anything from each other. Yes, he was constantly late. But it was never a big deal. And even though he was quite an achiever, he never acted as though he was better than anyone else.
When our grad pics came out, he was going to show me his, but of course he had to give an intro first. He said, "Tingnan mo nga, halata bang bakla ako?" I looked at his picture, and I burst out laughing, because his grad pic looked exactly as he was in person, with that sheepish smile. And I must have said something like, "Bakit, tinatago mo ba?"
After college, we stayed in touch regularly. We had what my friend Maris called a "therapy trio". We would meet on Friday or Saturday nights at Baang Coffee, and we'd talk until early morning, sometimes until 5am. But we weren't partying those nights. The only things we drank were coffee, juice, or tea. Those many nights we'd talk about the books we read by Gary Zukhav or Eckhart Tolle or Neale Donald Walsch, we'd talk about our Enneagram types, we'd talk about our love lives which were often non-existent, we'd talk about both concepts and real life with the same enthusiasm.
When he was making his film Jay, he asked to borrow some money. And I lent him what I could at that time. When the film premiered, I went, but I was worried. What if I didn't like it? What would I tell him then? But I saw the film and I was mesmerized. While watching it, I sat on my seat and thought of how proud I was of him. I know this person who is so talented. He's my friend! I went to this college with this guy! We were group mates in our thesis! So after the film, that same night, I told him I loved the movie, and he said he will return the money soon. And I said, no, keep it. If he could make something this great, he should keep doing it. And so he kept doing it.
Our therapy trio sessions continued, and even when I was based abroad for a while, every time I came home, I made sure we got to meet. He would just be as enthusiastic about his film ideas, whether it's something like the sequel that he thought of for Jay which will be called Kay, or something completely different. But the thing about Pasion is that he wasn't just a talented film maker, he was also a humanitarian, although I'm guessing he would never refer to himself as such. There was a time that he shared that he was so happy with the abundance that he was experiencing, that he was able to donate to a charity organization. He felt that the more he gave, the more he received. When he was talking about it, his joy was no less than if he had won an award. It gave him so much satisfaction that he was able to share his abundance.
To the outside world, what is written in paper or online about him or his movies is his journey as a film maker. But more important than that, to me he was a real person who lived his life really well. He was kind. He treated people well. He was a person who had so much joy in his life. His search was not only to make the next film. He also searched for who he was, in the deepest recesses of his soul. He was searching for answers not only to the external life we see; but he was searching for answers to the internal secret life that we all live but often ignore.
The last time I saw him was exactly one week ago today, completely by chance. I was walking past a restaurant in Greenbelt and I saw that he was seated by the window. I waved, he came out, and we hugged. We don't normally hug, but that day, we did. It was a hug that I felt said so many things. It was a hug that said, I miss you, I hope you're ok, I'm happy to see you, you look well. I didn't know, and I couldn't have known at that time, that it was also a hug goodbye. But Pasion didn't believe in coincidences. We spoke about synchronicity in sporadic conversations. And so, I am inclined to think that our hug was his final gift to me, a little consolation to the grief that I feel, a small gesture to fill the big gap.
There will always be something unfinished when someone leaves us. When I saw him last, we said we'd see each other soon and catch up. That is left hanging. That is unfinished. There really is no right time to die. Loss leaves us with a pile of grief and we feel angry. Why so early? Why you? Why now? We can get caught up in our anger and sadness. But let us not hold on to our anger too long, in case we forget what is beautiful-- that we got to say hello, that we got to know him in the first place, even if it means we have to unexpectedly say that painful goodbye. Amidst the farewell, may we hold dear that first hello-- that beginning-- that touched our heart.