How does a columnist say goodbye when the newspaper he writes for is about to go? Or, does he write, as usual, on a topic relevant that week, pretending the week is not the last?
But let me think forward. Let me think of what people, ten years or more from now, will say about Bicol Mail. Some will surely look for it. This paper will be missed, I believe. History will talk about Bicol Mail, it being the only regional paper in the area. When people then discuss this paper, they will mention its beginning as much as its ending. It is about this end that I am more concerned about. I am not comfortable thinking of researchers - students and observers - saying this paper closed in the last week of July. I like them to be able to hold on to a date. As I write this, I have no idea what date will be written on the paper when its last issue comes out this week. I have a letter from the publisher saying “the issue on July 29 will be our last.”
That is clear. Neat and decisive. That will be the date - the 29th of July, in a week when LPAs continue to threaten the region, and when the cold season is not here yet, except for the slightest hint of chill in the early mornings. That is a good way to begin a goodbye - in a month that is neither here nor there.
Or we can say farewell through timeless literature.
There is a character in a 19th century French drama who is almost a journalist’s dream. He acts and thinks (and wields a mean sword) like a true journalist. HIs name is Cyrano de Bergerac, the hero (or villain to bad people) in Edmond Rostand’s paean to principles and ideals.
Cyrano celebrates the power of words. As he is good with swords, he is also good in slashing through mediocrity with his command of words. He can kill with his sword as he can annihilate - mutilate, decapitate, slice - a being with words.
He is much admired because of this skill. He is also despised by many because of this gift.
He falls in love with Roxanne but his looks (a huge nose, for one) deter him from confessing his affection. He keeps this love with him forever. In one of the brawls he is prone to engage in, he meets a handsome young man, Christian. They become friends. Christian falls in love with Roxanne who is also attracted to the young man. There is one problem though: in courtship, Christian has no gift with words. His vocabulary is restricted, dull, ordinary.
Cyrano, his heart broken, decides to help out Christian. In that immortal balcony scene, Christian, hiding in darkness, begins to recite poems as requested by Roxanne. Christian cannot answer the woman’s pleadings. Cyrano, the mentor in love and also hidden by the night, takes over and recites from his heart the words, his poetry presumed by Roxanne to be the voice of Christian.
Roxanne falls for Christian, not knowing she is listening to the verses from Cyrano’s heart. But as with all love stories, sadness shrouds the plot: Christian dies in a battle; Roxanne enters the convent, her love given forever to Christian. Cyrano continues till old age to visit Roxanne in the monastery, giving her company and solace.
In one of these visits, Cyrano arrives dying. Roxanne does not know this until Cyrano falls from the bench where he is seated. Delirious, Cyrano recites the words of love to Roxanne who recognizes the words. “It was you all the time.” Roxanne realizes she fell in love with Cyrano and not with Christian. Roxanne then shouts: “Live, for I love you!” Cyrano, however, to the last refuses, for to the last he is practical. In fairy tales, he says, “when to the ill-starred Prince the lady says ‘I love you’ all his ugliness fades fast – But I remain the same, up to the last.”
This is Cyrano who seeks the ideal: “ to sing,/ to dream, to smile, to walk, to be alone, be free,/with a voice that stirs and an eye that can still see!...To work without a thought of fame or fortune,/on that journey, that you dream of, to the moon!/Never to write a line that’s not your own…” (Woe to plagiarizers!)
But Cyrano is dying. In his last moments, he sees Death. He can feel he is dying. He talks of his enemies. They are Falsehood, Prejudice, Compromise, Cowardice. He considers them his ancient enemies.
Those, too, are the enemies of good journalists.
On the brink of death, Cyrano hears words demanding him to surrender. Perhaps, it is his body giving up. But Cyrano will not give up. Maybe, he tells the shadows, vanity will conquer him (as sometimes, we writers feel we are much too great for this world). And yet Cyrano says he will fight on. In that farewell speech, Cyrano declaims: “There is one crown I bear away with me,/And tonight when I enter before God,/my salute shall sweep all the stars away/From the blue threshold!/One thing without stain,/Unspotted from the world, in spite of doom. Mine own… And that is my white plume.”
And thus, like Cyrano, we bid farewell, with our ideal intact, with no fame nor fortune, but our pen. Dios mabalos, Bicol Mail.
*all lines from Cyrano de Bergerac are taken from different online translations