Omen of Death
By John Dave Laturnas

“Nothing can happen more beautiful than death.” – Walt Whitman

Ancient cultures depicted the arrival of comets as a sign from the gods. Back in the olden times, a comet glared up the sky after the assassination of Julius Caesar and this made the Romans believe that he was a deity. But eventually in the middle ages, comets were deemed to be a bad omen as they were thought to portend destruction, famine and even death. Even so, on the Saturday night in summer of 2016, the universe conspired to grant the death I desperately needed.

Back in the days when I was a student, I’d been knocking on heaven’s door for a chance to snatch my family out of the stinky hands of poverty. Luckily, I got hired for a teaching job in in Vietnam straightaway after I graduated from university. But all the odds seemed to be teasing me with a false hope. I needed a dreadful sum which I could only attain by a magic wand. Even if my father climbed all the coconut trees in our barrio and sold barrels of his famous coconut wine, he could never get enough cash for my visa and other documents. Another strict requirement was a medical certificate which only put me on the brink of giving up. I was diagnosed with severe pneumonia which little did I know, was already leading to lymphoma, a deadly cancer of the lymphatic system.

Devastated, I cursed myself for fighting for a dream instead of savoring the remaining days of my life. I didn’t want to be anybody’s burden nor did I want to be somebody’s subject of mockery, so just like an old-fashioned gangster, I would wrap my neck with a mandala handkerchief to hide the swollen lymph nodes caused by the disease. I dropped my job application and faced my friends with a fake smile outstretched by my protruded cheekbones. As I was doing a tightrope walk in pretending and battling out negative thoughts in my head, gradually, I started to embrace the pain as each day pulled me down deeper and deeper into the sea of grief.

In those days, I would just sit all day in our old bungalow house by the seashore, waiting for darkness to devour the sun. Unconsciously, as I kept watching the bloody sunsets, I began to marvel in the beauty of the cycle as the sun rises back with renewed glory at each break of dawn. I realized that the sun’s defeat was only an illusion. “Could mine be?” Hurriedly, I put my sandals on and ran towards the shore. Fishing for that little glimpse of hope, I sat down on the sand in the middle of the driftwoods with their curves seemingly pointing to one direction, the starless sky. Out of the blue, I remembered a woman from my church who asked God for a sign of her aunt’s recovery from a fatal tumor. As she testified, the object that appeared on a clear sky was the exact sign that she prayed for a night before the tumor magically died out. “Silly!” I told myself in disbelief.

While the dusky clouds were creeping in to take the moon out of my sight, the waves became still and the night got deathly quiet. I could hear nothing but the sound of crickets and a voice, a tiny little voice in my heart. I grabbed my chest to resist that voice compelling me to believe. I tried even more to stop it from squealing but it was impossible to shut out. It wasn’t like my mother’s screams a minute before she died, for I could cover my ears and pretend she was just laughing in tears. It wasn’t like a deafening stereo that I could easily turn down by a twist of a finger. I knew that in that moment, every vein of my heart was being stitched to my dying faith. My heart and mind were at war and eventually, the voice won. With a tiny little faith, I prayed. I prayed to be free from the disease. I prayed for a job. I prayed for my dreams. I prayed to smile, to smile a genuine smile. I prayed to laugh, to laugh without fear that it would be my last. But tears started racing down my cheeks towards my mumbling lips as I realized I had been praying for the impossible. With the conviction that it would never show up, I asked God for the same sign the woman in church described. Throughout my life, I’ve always been fascinated by astronomical facts and one specifies that though some comets occasionally swing around the inner solar system, some do only every after few centuries. “Now, show me that comet!”

Nevertheless, I uttered the words not to cling to a superstition, but to validate facts. I pulled myself together and wiped away my tears. Quickly, I pulled my sandals that had been buried all the while in the thick sand. I stood up snappily when all of a sudden, just as I was about to take the first step back to my house, an enormous glare of yellow light as bright as the moon, flashed down right above me like an explosion from a plane crash. Unlike a romantic shooting star, it was a massive luminescent snowball with a tail resembling fiery swords. Horrified, I fell down back to the same spot with my eyes wide open. I tried to scream but my jaw dropped trembling together with all the nerves in my body. I wanted to lift my arms to cover my eyes but they were frozen to death. The streak of light flickered for some seconds more before it bid goodbye. I blinked my eyes a hundred times as I thought it was only a wild imagination. I looked around to see if somebody else saw the fleeting scene but there was only my dog, howling as if it was speaking as a proud witness.

Seconds turned to minutes and minutes turned to hours. I bent my knees and with my shivering arms wrapped around, I rest my head. Just when my tears started to form, the image of the object began flashing back in my baffled mind. In every gentle splash of the waves, the image got clearer and clearer causing my heart to jump out of my chest. Strangely, every beat of my heart orchestrated a beautiful music enticing my weary soul from the inside out. In that moment, a new path had been revealed as my hope was reignited. With my wobbly legs, I stood up and lifted my hands up high as I declared healing and victory. Slowly, my grief turned to joy and my worries turned to strength. In that moment, I was finally convinced that struggles, just like sunsets, are nothing but an illusion…a trickery of life, conquerable by faith.

Time has gone too fast but memories of the past have never left my heart. After mountains had been moved and highest hills had been climbed, all that’s left is a scar. The ugly scar on my neck will be the most beautiful part of me as it brings back memories of the night when God healed me from a deadly cancer. Now, I am nine hundred and ten miles away from home, living my impossible dream as I savor my third year of teaching in Vietnam.

Today, comets may have different effects on the lives of people gazing upon it. Many might associate it with bad tidings while others may see it as a reminder of the vastness of the universe and of our own mortality on the physical plane. But more than a blazing fireball flashing across the sky, once upon a cold night, it appeared to me as a sign of death—death of my miseries and renewal of my faith. And if death could be that beautiful, I would ask for it as I breathe.


Mr. John Dave Laturnas passed away on June 5, 2024, in Hanoi, Vietnam. To honor his beautiful stories, TESOL Coach Master shared his obra maestra during the Essay Writing Contest in 2019. Mr. Laturnas graduated with a Bachelor in Elementary Education, majoring in General Curriculum, from Negros Oriental State University, Philippines. At 20, he began his career as an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teacher at Ocean Edu Vietnam in 2016 and received top teacher awards in 2017 and 2018. By 22, he had advanced to the roles of Head Teacher and Teacher Trainer at the same school. He was hailed as the champion in the TCMI 2019 Worldwide Essay Writing Contest for teachers and co-authored “Beyond Books: A Compilation of Proactive ESL/EFL Teaching Tips and Language Games” from TESOL Coach Master Inc.

 

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