Letter of George Chiu to Friends of Susan Quimpo
On Susan’s behalf, from her siblings, and from me and our children Sarita and Adriana, maraming maraming salamat for your generous outpouring for her tonight. Trickles of it began even when she was alive and able to recognize them – and she always asked, what are they talking about and why does my illness have that effect on them that they should say such things about me? She was so afraid that she would survive her illness and expose herself as a big drama queen.
I myself woke up the day after her death to find my feed full of loving remembrances of her, and had also to ask, why did Susan have such an effect on people? I will attempt to answer, but before that, let me just thank all of you for coming together to honor her memory. She would never have expected it, but I’m sure she is very happy to see it tonight from the realms of the spirit where she now resides.
Early in our marriage, when we were still starting out in New York, she quit a well paying job at Columbia University because she could not see eye to eye with her boss. I wonder now what matter of principle the disagreement could possibly be about, as hers was an administrative job. But she badgered me for hours, asking me for the permission I was unwilling to give, for her to give her boss a piece of her mind.
She wore me down until I said: Gagawin mo naman yung gusto mo, kahit na ano pa ang sabihin ko, sige na nga. And she took that as full endorsement. Inaway niya the next day. I never saw a person so happy to lose her job. And she was happy because now she could do full time what she really enjoyed – working with young FilAms as a community organizer. I realized then that if I were to stay married to this head-strong woman, it will have to be on her terms – I work to put food on the table, and she goes out to save the world. At ganun na nga ang nangyari. (And to be fair to Susan, she worked much, much harder than me – after all, we only needed so much food on the table but the world needed saving pretty much all the time.) Pero, we remained happily married for 33 years.
So ganun na nga. She kept her end of the bargain. Back home she found her large causes and projects as national and personal circumstances changed, some of which are represented here tonight. And to each and every one of them she gave of herself completely. Not for her was the half-hearted effort – it had to be: do everything well or why do it at all?
The total dedication she gave to her organizing work in New York was the same dedication she gave to Tagalog On Site, the education of our children in the Waldorf movement, the co-writing and co-editing of Subversive Lives, the helping of trauma victims as an art therapist, the campaigns against historical revisionism in schools all over the country, the continuing work of the Martial Law Chronicles Project (and many sub-projects in between).
Always, she ended up working with wonderful collaborators who would without fail become close friends and colleagues. (Kayo yun!) How did she manage that? Maybe it was the winning smile she kept almost until the day she died. Or maybe she attracted good hearted and very talented people to her because she was like a candle that burned so brightly when it was darkest.
Or maybe it was this: she loved you all, very, very much. Sarita, Rian and I know that she saw in each of you a unique person with your own past and traumas, and also all the goodness you were capable of. And she made no judgments, or if she did, always gave you the benefit of the doubt.
Yes, maybe it was this combination that made her so attractive – her grasp of the big picture was always clear and certain, like a candle in the darkness, but it was her love for you that drew you in. She was always interested in your particular story. Always. To be able to embrace the large causes but include in the embrace the lives of those who labor alongside her — her heart was capable of that.
You know, she suffered greatly through the ravages of systemic scleroderma. The illness devastated her body – her skin turned dark and leathery, her joints stiffened up; wounds in her toes would not heal – but worst of all it scarred tissues in her heart and lungs so badly that in the end to move her from bed to chair would take us all of twenty minutes. As her husband, I can tell you that this was just the last of her many, many illnesses. (Perhaps being the last child of already aging parents had something to do with it.)
Almost all the large causes and projects above took so much out of her that she would fall quite ill at some point in their completion. But the individual cases too – when she took on therapy clients, she would often be sick, as her patient got better. As though she bore their suffering as her own.
Yet she did not like that image of suffering at all. She never admitted to being sad or depressed. Angry, yes, that the illness made her feel “useless”. I told her that great Jesuits like Fr. Hontiveros and Fr. Arrupe bore their suffering with great fortitude and perhaps that was what her “usefulness” would be about now, and that she could unite her suffering with those of our Lord. She told me to stop all the Catholic gobbledygook. Parang “get behind me, Satan!” except ibig niyang sabihin: “get behind me, Atenean!” She was from UP after all, so the natural question for her was Lenin’s – What is to be done?
There is much that yet remains to be done, dear friends of Susan. She would want us all to be useful and I am sure you will be, and that will make her very happy. But in the midst of your labors, please always keep a piece of her memory alive within you. That way, we, Sarita, Rian and I, and her siblings, will know that she lives. Please pray for her often, and remember that she loves each of you very, very much.
George Chiu (Husband of Susan Quimpo)
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