Last week, we vacationed near the Great Smoky Mountain State Park, visiting Bryson city and riding the train at the Great Smoky Mountain Railway, going up to Gatlinburg and riding the sky lift, visiting Sweet water and going underground in the caves of the lost sea, drinking moonshine back at Gatlinburg and, finally, doing the zip line before traveling back home, journeying at some sections via the Blue Ridge parkway and Maggie Valley. The trip reminded me of my childhood visits to Baguio city, often with my father as he played golf in the Philippine American tournament at Camp John Hay, the air force base created by the American military in the Cordillera Mountains outside Manila when the military bases still existed in the islands. It was poignant to think these thoughts as my father lay in a hospital recovering from a stroke he suffered the week before in Manila, and his predicament stirred old memories of Baguio as I looked at the surrounding pine trees and the mountains circling the city. I always liked mountain cities and discovering places like Bryson city, Gatlinburg and Maggie Valley brought back memories as I pondered my next step, to go home and visit my ailing father. It seemed ruthless and unfeeling that I proceeded with our vacation after he suffered a stroke, but it was the only chance left to be with my sons before they go back to college after the summer break.
One could not do anything except wait for news as doctors worked on his condition. The prognosis looked good, the aggressive treatment applied in time, within the 3 to 4 hour window where medicines could still make a difference before further damage is done in the brain. It was fortunate that he was rushed to the hospital right after the signs of a stroke were detected, despite some doubts of his ability to absorb the aggressive treatment, where 6 to 7 percent would suffer from fatal side effects, but the doctor was confident after conducting an MRI. Now is the difficult time of recovery, where physical therapy would determine the quality of life, where one needs to exert great effort to go back to one’s usual self, lucky to have escaped within a breath of fatality. One should be careful of one’s health, a silly thought when one should be conscious straightaway, but it seems that one fulfills his fate; where only a few could reach out and bend the arc of destiny by making an inward change; unfortunately man is like an animal despite his illusions, living out the demands of his body, eating too much, succumbing to his desires, living the way his nature demands as he descends into his true disposition.
It is an exaggeration, of course, where one tries to follow rules, to eat less and desire less, but fate still runs its course. Perhaps it’s one’s destiny to perish like his ancestors; by debilitating strokes, brain hemorrhages or heart attacks. One realizes that life in these magnificent mountains will go on, that one’s tenure is brief, that one passes away into the earth; dreams and desires evaporate as one nears his end. It is the same sadness one felt with grandmother long ago, suffering a severe stroke, unable to speak and whose health declined thereafter. I felt the same rage, seeing her body deteriorate; the realization that one’s aspirations are truly gone, but perhaps it is too soon to talk this way; as compared to the elderly in their eighties or nineties, who experienced the fullness of their time. All the more urgent to live life as envisioned in youth. Facing mortality is like a wake-up call that jolts one into true awareness. In one of the Gatlinburg shops, I looked at a book about the city’s history, at old black and white photos of early settlers, people who traveled from faraway searching for a new life, with hopeful faces of long ago, wondering if they lived their dreams before returning back to the mountain earth.