The gospel according to Five for Fighting on living & leaving

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 20 September 2022
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
I'm 15 for a moment
Caught in between ten and 20
And I'm just dreaming
Counting the ways to where you are

I'm 22 for a moment
And she feels better than ever
And we're on fire
Making our way back from Mars

The piano, the voice and the lyrics were unmistakably Five for Fighting when I heard it played again after a very long time at the 40th day of the death of a young college student in our parish recently.

It was only then when I truly appreciated this 2003 hit “100 Years” after realizing its deeper implications about life and death leading to eternity. Besides, there were some interesting things about the song and the deceased young man who was also a talented pianist like Five for Fighting himself – Vladimir John Ondasik III. Most of all, the deceased young man I have celebrated Mass for was aged 22 like the character depicted in the song 100 Years.

Celebrating Mass at the funeral of a child, whether an infant or a grown-up is the most difficult one for me. Normally, we children bury our parents but, it is so different when children die ahead of their parents and even grandparents. As a priest, I could feel the pain of the grieving parents in losing their son or daughter even if I totally do not know them at all. Yet, it is a grace of the priesthood that while we are emotionally affected by grieving parents we hardly know that we are likewise uplifted in identifying with Jesus who had brought back to life a dead young man at Nain after being moved with pity for the man’s widowed mother (Lk.7:11-15).

Photo by author, Pangasinan, April 2022.

Notice that Jesus brought back to life the dead young man because of pity for his mother, not because he pitied the dead son. God tells us in the Old Testament that he is saddened with the death of even just one of us but the event at Nain shows us how the eyes of the Lord are always with those left behind especially mothers because they are indeed the most pitiable in losing a child who would always be a part of them. Moreover, life is most difficult for those left behind who have to continue to bear all pains and sufferings while their departed loved ones rest in peace in eternity. And here lies the call of Jesus for us all to help those grieving to rise again and move on with life after the death of a beloved, especially of a child.

We shall talk about this later and let us just remain a little more with the reality of death.

Although 100 Years is a soft-rock ballad about a love relationship, it is very philosophical, in fact a Martin Heidegger, in calling for “authentic living” because we are all “being-towards-death”. While the song is generally a “feel good” piece, it reminds us of that reality we refuse to accept that coming to terms with death is coming to terms with life. It is when we are faced with the “existential” possibility of death that we begin to see the beauty of life and the joy of living.

15, there's still time for you
Time to buy and time to lose yourself within a morning star
15, I'm alright with you
15, there's never a wish better than this
When you've only got a hundred years to live

Half time goes by, suddenly you're wise
Another blink of an eye, 67 is gone
The sun is getting high
We're moving on

Truly, as the song tells us, our life is precious – whether you are 15 or 22 or 33 or 45 or 67 or 99 – because it could all be gone in a moment or a blink! Like Heidegger, Five for Fighting is calling us in his song to cherish each one’s presence with more love and kindness, care and understanding, with a lot of mercy and forgiveness because we live only for a period of time like 100 Years.

St. Paul also spoke of this constant awareness of death, of how “the world in its present form is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:31) that we should live authentically as Christians. This pandemic has taught us in the most strongest terms this truth, not only with actually dying but also of being prevented from spending precious moments with our dead’s remains! May we not forget this pandemic’s lesson of living in the present moment as if it is also your final moment in life, of cherishing each other always because true riches are found only in God through one another as Jesus reminded us in last Sunday’s gospel (Lk.16:11).

Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, Atok, Benguet, September 2019.

To live is to love. What we need are more people, more children, more friends to celebrate life with. Like God, friends and family do not perish; they live on even if we do not see them because they just move on to higher level of existence. Unlike money and wealth, power and fame, and other material things that perish and become obsolete after a year.

Our weekday readings these past week teemed with so many beautiful nuggets of wisdom about people and relationships learned at the heels of death: the centurion who sent for Jesus for the healing of his slave who “was valuable to him” (Lk.7:2) on Monday; praying for those who grieve like that widowed mother in Nain (Lk.7:13) on Tuesday; and last Wednesday at the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross we were reminded of our transformation through life’s sufferings or little deaths in life; and, finally on Thursday at the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, of how we are invited to imitate Mary who remained at the foot of the Cross on Good Friday with her dying Son Jesus Christ. Here we find how death has become a blessing when seen in the light of Jesus and his Cross as witnessed by the Blessed Mother and preached by St. Paul.

This positive aspect of death as a blessing is wonderfully portrayed in the music video of 100 Years set in an isolated place in soft shades of dark blue and green, with some hues of grey evoking a deep sense of peace and tranquility minus the morbidity. Laid-back and relaxed, perhaps. Of course, Five for Fighting’s trademark piano makes the music video so lovely, so appealing, giving a joyful note on death’s certainty leading to eternity.

I'm 99 for a moment
And dying for just another moment
And I'm just dreaming
Counting the ways to where you are

15, there's still time for you
22, I feel her too
33, you're on your way
Every day's a new day

At the start of the music video of 100 Years, we find a younger man playing the piano before Five for Fighting appears singing. That shifting of the younger and older Ondasik would happen about six times maybe interspersed with other characters coming to play the piano too until in the end he leaves to walk toward a big tree to meet his older self. Or God maybe.

Photo by Mr. Jay Javier, “Acacias”, UP Diliman, QC, April 2022.

That big tree seems to convey something like paradise, a gateway to eternity where time is totally held in completeness with everything at the present moment shown by Five for Fighting’s repeated returns to climb the big tree to look at his younger self kissing his first girlfriend until toward the end, he fell from the tree as if he had died only to be seen singing while playing the piano again. It was reminiscent of one of the final scenes in the 1990 movie Flatliners with Kiefer Sutherland trying to amend his childhood sin and crime in pushing to death his playmate from a similar big tree; Sutherland was eventually forgiven when during an induced “flatline” he was able to go back to his past to apologize to his dead playmate with a reversal of role, of him as an adult in the present moment falling from the big tree.

It was after that scene of falling from the big tree when Five for Fighting had awakened singing and playing the piano again when he finally stood to walk back to the big tree to meet his older self, or maybe God — something like Easter.

On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdalene came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the Body of Jesus had been. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken by Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus.

John 20: 1, 11-14
“Noli me tangere” (touch me not) fresco in the Lower Basilica of St. Francis Assisi Church in Italy painted by Giotto de Bondone in the 13th century from commons.wikimedia.org.

Like on that Easter morning, there will always be the darkness of death but only for a moment if we keep our eyes and our hearts open to Jesus who had risen. Many times we are like Mary Magdalene grieving and weeping that we fail to see the light of Jesus and of our deceased staying with us right in the darkness of grief and death that envelop us. And like Mary, we keep on insisting in relating with them in our old, physical level, forgetting the fact they have risen with Jesus to new life, to new realm of existence.

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher. Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary of Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and then reported what he told her.

John 20:16-18

“Stop holding on to me” or “noli me tangere – touch me not” are the words also meant for us today who continue to cling and hold to our departed loved ones like Mary Magdalene, still hoping to hug and kiss them again, to touch and tell them how much we loved them or perhaps say sorry for our sins and lapses when they were still around. It is time to level up in our relationships with them as Five for Fighting reminds us in the last stanza that “every day is a new day”.

It does not really matter if we, or they our departed, are just 15 or 22 or 33 or 45 or 67 or 99 — what is most important is we value each moment of our lives here and now where in the present we meet them once or twice if we are living fully and not blinded by our grief and wishful thinking. Have faith in God. Someday, we shall all be together. For the moment, here is Five for Fighting with his100 Years. May the Lord console you and raise you up to move forward again in life. Amen.

*We have no intentions of infringing into the copyrights of this music and its uploader except to share its beauty and listening pleasure.

From YouTube.com.

2 thoughts on “The gospel according to Five for Fighting on living & leaving

  1. Thank you Fr. Nick. I am comforted by your sermon for I just lost my partner of 11 years in a sudden and unexpected way. I love you link your teaching with music too. You write and deliver God’s message beautifully

    Liked by 1 person

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