Author Topic: Essay by Antonio Calipjo Go: “A Stone So Heavy but with Strong Desire to Float"  (Read 12929 times)

Joe Carillo

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A Stone So Heavy but with a Strong Desire to Float
By Antonio Calipjo Go

Longtime Forum contributor and member Antonio Calipjo Go shares with us today an intimate personal essay commemorating the seventh death anniversary of his mother, Rosenda Constantino Calipjo, who passed away on May 14, 2014. The author also sent this essay to a national newspaper that published an abridged version of the contributed material in its opinion page.  

My mother told me this tale when she was young and I was the boy I will never be again.

She recounted that around the town of Bangui in Ilocos Norte, a young couple made their living from the sea. When it was season the husband would go fishing and gather “gamet,” a kind of seaweed that grew on rocks far out at sea, and his wife would sell whatever he had harvested in the town market where it commanded a very good price.


On her way home one day, the woman was waylaid by bandits. They mauled and raped her by turns, then left her for dead, but she survived and recovered from the humiliating ordeal. She then got pregnant but her husband would not accept the baby as his. He sent her back to her parents’ home where she died when she gave birth. The newborn was a boy and was raised by his grandmother, but at the age of 10 he died of smallpox.  

The grandmother decided to have the boy’s remains buried at once, but still harboring great wrath against her daughter’s husband who had disowned the boy as his, she summoned him to come and view the dead body for the first and last time. So overpowering was the fisherman’s shock and dismay when he discovered for himself the truth of the rumor that had haunted him for the past ten years—that the boy was indeed his son because he looked exactly like him.

The next morning, unable to carry the weight of his guilt, the distraught fisherman loaded his boat with several heavy stones and rowed far out to sea. He then filled his fishing net with the stones, tied the heavy bundle around his neck, and threw himself overboard. His body was never found.

Portrait of the late Rosenda Constantino Calipjo (October 26, 1926 - May 14, 2014)
with his son Antonio, the author of this memoir.

At the start of this current year, while doing spring cleaning, I came upon the wooden chest where I had kept mementos of my father—his eyeglasses, his inkstone, his abacus, his books, and a sheaf of letters written in Chinese characters that I couldn’t decipher. Altogether they weighed no more than a few kilos, but all those years they had tugged so heavily in my heart like a sack of stones.

I am weighed down by the past, by my remembrances, by my memories of dead people who won’t stay dead, calling, always calling from the great beyond. Yearnings, longings and desires, rue and regret, so many “what if’s” and “if only’s”—all of these burden me like a net full of stones wound around my neck and drag me down to the depths of myself, to utter despair deeper than the deepest trench imaginable.

Over a lifetime of collecting mementos like these—shells, rocks and stones, plants, pets, bad loves, people who were good—I have come to realize much too late that I have allowed these possessions to possess me, to own me body and soul to a point where I sometimes would find myself lost even to myself.

Recently I returned to my mother’s hometown and went up the mountain that I used to go often as a boy. At the time it was heavily wooded, and I distinctly remember that day in May when my friends and I conspired to do a circle jerk. Returning many months later, I stumbled upon a fairy ring of white mushrooms growing at the scene of our crime. As a boy I believed one to be the cause and the other its beautiful effect. The image of this enchanted lei brought back memories of long ago and places faraway, when I was green and fleet of foot, when everything, like the prospect of finding sudden unexpected beauty, or joy, or love, grew rank about me like wild wily weed and grabby greedy grass.

This time, ascending that same mountain, the old man that I have become started to pant and sweat like a doggone dog owing to the oppressive heat. This time I had to discard, one after the other, my backpack, my jacket, my cap, and my camera till I was left with just my body and the shirt on my back. The more I let go, the lighter I became.

This mountain of my youth had grown old like me. The white flowers of the “kugon” grass covering its flanks reminded me of the white hairs on my father’s head; its summit, shorn bald of the guava trees that I used to ravage for their fruits, resembled my father’s tonsure. But the view from this vantage point was as stunningly beautiful as it was before—the rice fields green the green of emeralds, the river blue from the happy color of the summer sky. The sight brought back memories of my mother at that earlier time and my heart overflowed with gratefulness, but I strangely felt light.

Yes, I realize now that I have to be light as a feather when I take that final vertiginous climb. I need to empty my pockets of all the shiny stones I have owned and possessed. And I also have to let go of the many other things I have accumulated over a lifetime of fastidious hoarding. For I know now that in the end, I would be nothing more than the sum total of what remains of me, shorn of the entirety of what I have willingly and willfully lost. Now I am just a stone heavy with the desire to float, like the bubbles of air that escaped from that drowning fisherman of long ago and faraway, rising to the surface while he sank to oblivion.

From now on I will travel ever so light and strive to face my Maker in exactly the same state I was when I came to this world—with nothing on me I could call my own. I hope to get to God, who at this point I feel is farther than Timbuktu ever was, farther than how I imagine Eternity ever will be. But when my end comes, I hope to be as light as I could ever be in the inconceivably ponderous but uplifting, elevating, and levitating presence of God.

Mr. Antonio Go, retired academic supervisor of the Marian School of Quezon City, is an advocate of good English usage who has been waging a lonely crusade against badly written English-language textbooks in the Philippines for many years now. Several of his no-nonsense critiques have appeared in the Forum’s “Advocacies” section.
« Last Edit: June 05, 2021, 06:49:10 AM by Joe Carillo »


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Wonderful piece, Mr. Go!

I was moved to respond in my small way.

To be as light as when we came into this world struck me.

While matter, which includes us, appears to be in the usual solid, liquid and gaseous states, and probably more than we currently understand, all are made up of atoms with their neutrons, protons, electrons, quarks (the so-called building blocks of the universe). And in between these atoms and its components, there lies a vast space of nothingness. This is where the boundary between being and nothingness lies. "As light as a feather" comes nowhere near. This, to me, is where I will go—"nothingness". Only the memories of me by those I will leave behind will remain until they, too, will have gone their own ways, hopefully after coming to a realization that unburdening themselves of the "shiny stones" is the way we should go.

Best regards,