You can be with someone for close to a lifetime and never really know that person. And then you can be with somebody for just hours and feel as if you have peered into his/her very soul.
Christian Yap was 31 years old when I met him in late April. His best friend Marc had asked if I could see him because he was despondent over his cancer. The prognosis at that time did not look good. And so we met and chatted in his room. He talked about his life before his illness and his current struggle. Per—that was his nickname—was very brave in the face of insurmountable odds.
We met again sometime in late May, and this time he was very upbeat. They had put him on a new drug, and his body seemed to be responding well. He was very hopeful, as were his parents and sister. Because he could no longer speak, he would scribble his answers to my questions in a powder-blue notebook. He looked forward to turning 32 in a few weeks.
On Aug. 12, Per passed away. The young man had touched hundreds of lives so very deeply; his classmates and friends from Xavier and the Ateneo tagged him in hundreds of photos that have been flooding my Facebook feed since Wednesday. Per is now everywhere.
It saddens me that a young man in the prime of his life had to go so quickly. However, I am comforted in the knowledge that he was very ready to go. One of his last messages scribbled in the powder-blue notebook was that he was so ready to see Jesus, but that he was struggling to stay on for his parents and his sister, whom he loved very much.
The other day, his best friend Marc posted the personal testimony which Per had written for his 32nd birthday, which Marc read. It is both powerful and moving.
Before his illness, he described his life as one mired in earthly pursuits, but cancer changed everything. A young man at the peak of his life, with the world at his feet, suddenly realized what was important. He had been diagnosed a year before on his 31st birthday and, a year later, there he was, surrendering his whole life to God.
“I could not ask for more. I am on extended, bonus time now and God has graciously granted me an extension.
“For all practical purposes I was just waiting to go.
“‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, (with thanksgiving) present your requests to God, and the peace of God that transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’—Philippians 4: 6-7.
“Apart from the calm and peace, God has granted me another powerful gift.”
Sense of peace
“Throughout the whole year, I was terrified of death. Thoughts of death would haunt me over and over.
“Today, a sense of peace overflows within me. Cautiously optimistic about my life (my upcoming scans might just show that I’m cancer-free) but ready for anything.
“I could not ask for more. Praise God for answering my prayers for calm.
“I can now live and enjoy my earthly time. I pray now daily that God grants me strength to be able to travel and live a normal life. I just pray that I can travel and enjoy the company of my family and friends.
“I am just taking everything one day and one step at a time. Thank you Lord, for never leaving my side. With regard to eating and speaking, I am slowly getting used to using text and writing down my words. It is tough but bearable.
“Eating, cooking somehow eliminates my food cravings. Watching the Food Channel helps a lot, too!!
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Per came down with pneumonia a few weeks ago and left his loved ones last Tuesday. Although my personal encounters with him added up to only about five hours, he was one young man whose amazing and inspiring faith will never be forgotten.
His dad Kenneth, still grieving the loss of his son, was in awe of Per’s effect on many people. Finding meaning and comfort in the wake of his son’s passing, he put perfectly the message that Per wanted to leave:
“I wanted to find meaning in Christian’s death. And I’ve found it. From the testimonials I’ve heard, it’s clear his death put God back in the lives of many friends. For others who had God already, I guess his death only strengthened further their faith. The purpose of Christian’s death, I conclude, is to send the message: Work hard, enjoy life. But always put God in your lives. Per’s death was not in vain; I am comforted.”