by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Losing a friend as many and I have in William MacGregor Esposo, or Billy, despite our having accepted a long time ago that death was an active and constant threat to him, is always an emotional trauma. We who had been among Billy’s closest friends in the last two decades are not strangers to the dramas of life, not at our ages. And we have not been strangers to danger, excitement and radical change either – these had brought us together, kept us together, and made our friendships even stronger.

In my Blog and Facebook page, I had quietly vented my grief from Sunday morning when I was in Jakarta attending a special event help by GK Indonesia. I had wanted to take the first plane home but it was already too late to say goodbye to Billy before he died. I had to process a personal loss by myself mostly, and it was bearable only because I am of an age where death should be a more familiar reality.

Mortality is a nagging thought when one is a senior citizen. It becomes even more so when brothers and sisters have gone ahead, as they have in my case. But the loss of a loved one is always traumatic, even when there is victory in keeping the trauma unseen by most. Billy prepared many of his family and friends well. He had been in and out of serious ailments in the last 25 years. Literally, he had several near-death experiences from 1988, and bounced back from every one.

Until last Saturday midnight, that is. I think that the official time of death was recorded as 12:08 am, April 7, 2013. Many of us had been worriedly noting the last weeks of Billy’s life and witnessed the increasing levels of pain he was undergoing. Billy himself became more expressive about how he would really want to go quickly than go through another cycle of life with dialysis and worsening cancer. He prepared himself, and he tried gently to prepare us, too.

Billy and I started public writing together, sometime early 2001. Because we were so active in cyberspace during the Erap Resign movement in 2000, and because we made a lot of sense according to an editor of INQ7 then, we were invited to join the pool of opinion makers in the publication’s Viewpoints section. Billy chose to write three times a week; I decided that once a week was enough as I had wanted more time for community development work that would take me around many places, even abroad. On the other hand, Billy’s physical limitations kept him largely immobile, and writing became a major part of his life.

I remember his transition to the computer, when his writing forced him to become more techy. Billy struggled with his hardware and software as I had struggled a few years before when I had to go through my own transition. The Internet must have entertained Billy no end, giving him access libraries from his bed. Billy was such a curious person with an overly stimulated mind. If he became a good strategist, it was because he brought a native talent for advertising and a keen sense of the market’s pulse to another level. His immobility gave his mind more time to play, and the Internet provided him with a universe of information.

Word about Billy’s legendary appetite and passion for indulging that appetite has often been mentioned. In fact, articles had been written about him. I guess Billy’s unusually generous girth was more than an obvious hint about Billy’s romance with food. Let me just affirm what many already know, or had heard about – Billy loved food and he knew the best places to eat, including many restaurants abroad. When he developed a friendship with Pastor “Boy” Saycon, Billy’s romance with food became more intense and intensely indulged.

I would like to give special mention, though, to what most never knew or saw. Because of many shared passions and commitments, we had to let our hair down among ourselves. It was not just fun and food, not just politics and history, but Billy’s pain that we also had to relate to. It was Billy’s fate with a severely challenged health that we were made to witness. It was his journey with pain and suffering on a daily basis that we had to understand.

When a person undergoes constant suffering yet manages on a daily basis to surmount pain and actually find the capacity to enjoy life, that person has unusual ground to sharpen his integrity, to overcome fear, to see beyond life as we know it and gain courage, gain vision, and gain wisdom. It should have been no surprise to the objects of Billy’s criticism that Billy did not mince words, that Billy dished out the truth as he saw it without fear. A man who lives with pain and suffering daily is taught quite early about things that matter and things that do not. Billy, then, preferred to go for the jugular if he had to criticize, whether bishop or politician. He saw no point in wasting time, and no point is sparing those who made others suffer with their hypocrisy, stupidity, or greed.

Billy has left the scene. Some of us grieve. Scores of his readers will miss him. And a few will feel relieved that a nemesis of strength and substance cannot bother them anymore.

I have no fear, though, that those who need inspiration and wisdom from warriors and bravehearts like Billy will not be blessed new icons. Billy himself was well guided by personalities of history, and he has added himself to them so Filipinos, and humanity, can remain even more well counseled.

I have no doubt, then, that as one hero leaves the field of battle, others will step up to take his place – no doubt inspired by Billy and others like him. Demons and devils will not be benefited by the death of a knight, they will be cursed by the inspiration he has left behind.

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