89-year-old Bernard Jordan disappeared from his nursing home. The home had tried to sign him up for the formal trip to the 70th memorial services in Normandy but the request was made too late. Jordan stepped out anyway, wearing his war medals and taking a raincoat. He did not turn up for dinner that night or in the days after. He had joined a group of veterans on a bus to France.
Jordan had attended the 50th and 60th memorial services in Normandy. He was not gonna miss this one. But why would an old man take all that trouble, not once, not twice but again and again?
What real men and women want is not to live forever; but to re-live that special moment in one’s life that take lifts you out of the ordinary to make history. This is the moment that keeps returning from the past, each time more vivid than the last—be it at Normandy or Stalingrad, Iwo Jima or Guadalcanal.
Or in Manila when the city exploded in a noise barrage the night before the Batasan Pambansa elections where Ninoy ran from his prison cell with a ticket of diehards like Anding Roces, whose only campaign message was the following: “General Romulo was at a US Embassy cocktail, a frog sitting on his bald pate, when the US ambassador approached him and said, ‘My God, what happened?’ The frog answered, ‘Beats me, it just grew out of my ass.’”
A small, stout and feisty Kris Aquino was the main and only crowd pleaser. On the night before elections, the city detonated with clashing pots and pans, the air torn with shouted insults at the government; pretty much like the demonstrations organized by the CIA in Santiago de Chile to topple Allende; this was to show the world how the city would vote for Ninoy the following day at the polls in the certainty that its votes would not be honestly counted.
Or at Santo Domingo where the biggest funeral since Gandhi’s started. That night, I heard two of Mahathir’s men whom we were entertaining at the firm say, “This is the end of Marcos.” Not quite yet but it was the beginning of the end and way past the end of the beginning.
Or on Ayala where a woman in yellow raised a dainty finger defiantly at the government threat printed on a banner across the main street of a town where she campaigned. The banner read: “Cory isang bala ka lang.”
“Marcos,” she answered back, “isang balota ka lang”—a soft voice, speaking just above a whisper that yet broke like thunder across the sky. The crowd protectively surged tighter around her.
The roar of the crowd rose up to the penthouse of the Bank of the Philippine Islands which commanded the main intersection where she was speaking. Up there, a certain Eddie Lichauco was presiding over an ex-com meeting. Suddenly, he gathered all the documents on the table into his arms, stood up, ran to the window, and threw them all into the air to join the confetti flying out of the other windows of the bank. Some people tend to get, not careful, but impulsive in life-defining moments. Eddie more famously said of his reported repeated infidelity, “A man can’t live on adobo alone.” I watched him throw himself at the feet of Nabila Kashoggi—after whom the famous yacht in the James Bond movie was named—when she visited the bank. He took her hand with a 50-carat diamond ring on it and kissed that, then looked up into her dark sultry eyes, and said, “Marry me.” Enrique Zobel had to explain things to her.
Those present at a Creation may be said to die at that moment as well. But they come to life again and again upon its repeated commemoration, be it out on the streets or deep in the heart if the public event has become vulgar. Those who fought have a feeling that those who did not fight cannot possibly share: the feeling of a universe contained in a square foot of cement and of eternity in that moment. Danger and recklessness with one’s life become an addiction.