Friday 6 April 2012

Setting fire in the rain (because it's easier than setting fire 'to' the rain)

Here I am with my sister burning paper offerings for our dead father and grandmother at the Choa Chu Kang Columbarium on a rainy Wednesday morning.

Has the Qingming Festival, when many Chinese Singaporeans visit their dead ancestors, always been on the same week as Good Friday, a day commemorating the death of Christ?

It's the week of the dead.

How ironic would it be if while I'm paying respects to the dead, I get myself killed by slipping on the wet ground and cracking my skull? Or by smoke inhalation?

I dread Qingming as my mother forces me to go almost every year.

That's right, I'm a man in my mid-40s and my mommy is still making me do things I don't wanna.

At least, this year it's the first time we're not doing it at the cemetery. We had just moved my father's and his mother's remains to the columbarium last year.

My mother's leg still hurts and she's using a walking cane with a seat.

It's a miracle the flimsy thing can support her weight.

Speaking of death, through the connectivity of Facebook, I'm shocked to learn that someone else I know has died.

I mean I'm not young, but I'm not that old. So it's not like these acquaintances died of old age.

I've previously written about the people I knew at the US college paper where I worked 20 years ago called The Daily Cardinal. Like Todd Hanson, who has been writing for The Onion for two decades.

Others have gone on to work on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Simpsons, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and Modern Family. A few have won Emmies and Pulitzers.

These are people I haven't seen or spoken to for 20 years and I doubt they even remember me.

A lot can happen in 20 years.

Two people at the paper I still remember fondly are Syrentha Savio and Mark Beemer.

She was a tall, cute brunette with long wavy hair who worked in the ad department where I used to create ads for advertisers on a Mac.

He was a photographer who introduced me to straight edge hardcore.

This week, I found out on Facebook that they married, which surprised me because I never knew they were together.

I also found out she had died from breast cancer, which was a shock. She couldn't have been much more than 30 years old at the time.

But that was when I began to learn about Mark's remarkable story - what he did after her death was to start a fund in Syrentha's name to fight the disease that took her.

In his own words:
"I started the Syrentha Savio Endowment (SSE) in February of 2002, in memory of my wife who had lost her battle with breast cancer in January."

"I wanted to somehow capture Syrentha’s compassionate spirit and caring nature.

"In life, Syrentha was always giving, and rarely taking – and I wanted that to persevere, even in her death."

Having known Syrentha, I can vouch that she was everything Mark said she was.

"After some soul-searching, I sat down with the people at the Lombardi Cancer Center, where Syrentha was treated, and talked to them about how best to honour her life and continue to give.

"And thus, the Syrentha Savio Endowment was born."

But what's even more remarkable is how he's raising money for the breast cancer fund - though hardcore punk.

You see, Mark is not just photographer - he's a punk photographer. Yes, apparently, that's a thing.

Mark specialises in taking pictures of US hardcore bands you've never heard of, like Fugazi, Kid Dynamite, The Donnas and the Get Up Kids. (OK, I've heard of Fugazi and The Donnas.)

So over the years, there have been hardcore concerts, albums and other stuff to benefit the breast cancer fund named after his late wife.

But his big thing now seems to be The Shirts For A Cure Project.

How it works is a band (like say, My Chemical Romance or Avenged Sevenfold) donates a shirt design to the project and all the proceeds from the sale of the shirts go to the Syrentha Savio Endowment.

And this is how punk rock is helping to fight breast cancer, thanks to a photographer who was just trying to keep the spirit of his dead wife alive.

It's certainly better than burning stuff.

Oh, and it wouldn't kill you to order a T-shirt.