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A reading for JR Isaac

We might think that the explosion of information on the Internet has desensitized many of us to the facts of life, like death, but no, death still does come as a shock, like a thief in the night. This is how death struck me when I heard of JR Isaac’s passing.

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  • Image by Rxandy Capinpin
  • Instagram/@jrisaac
  • Image by gee plamenco
  • Instagram/@myrzasison
  • Instagram/@jrisaac
  • Image by Raymund Isaac
  • Instagram/@myrzasison
  • Instagram/@myrzasison

On Tuesday night, just after dinner, I was on Messenger with friends Myrza Sison, Tweetie de Leon Gonzalez, Apples Aberin, and Bea Recto Agnir and it was all about him being under intensive care due to liver failure. “Pray for him,” we implored each other. “Storm the heavens.” That, alone, was a bolt from the blue. Not JR. He was so young, too young—and he was fit, he was healthy, he was so alive.

But one hour later, he was not. I felt raw, though I couldn’t claim to be as close to JR as my friends in the Messenger group, especially Myrza, his best friend. I met him in the ’90s in a club, right at the bar while we were both picking up a drink to take to the floor in which we would dance ‘til the club closed the following morning. Come to think of it, I don’t remember ever seeing JR in the daytime. Except on occasional lunches that I no longer remember, it was always at night. It was always at a party. It was always where everyone else would be dancing around us and we ourselves would dance, he more than I, if the music or the mood was right.

He died on my first day back in Manila after a weeklong adventure in Ethiopia and readily, after a few hours of shock, I wrote him the poem Where Are You Going, JR?


Where are you going, JR?


In Ethiopia former Abyssinia

A land long ago and far away

They don’t believe in ghosts

No imps perched on molehills

No ghouls feeding on graveyards

No giants living on trees

No witches casting evil spells

No monsters lurking in shadows

The bush is ablaze with flowers

That look like candles in the dark

Covered only in boundless sky

May clouds pass and drop rain

To water the endless fields

To set the forests abloom

Abuzz not with moans and whispers

But with birdsong and windpipes

If this is possible on earth

Imagine where you’re headed

A poem for you, my friend JR Isaac

Igziabher Yibarkih (God bless you)


Even more personal is the poem by Myrza’s New York-based sister Shakira Sison, whose words reflect what JR was to most people, not just his friends, not just people he knew, but everyone.



Another Room


You always lit up a room,

filling it with your laugh

and your magic

and how you made me smile.


I’d like to think you’re elsewhere

lighting up rooms

making noise and dancing

from where you are.


You do it so well over there

that it’s no wonder

why it’s dark

and silent

and laugh-less

where you’ve left

us behind.


The last two times I was with JR, he was with some form of disability. At a lunch some time last year—or was it two years ago?—his leg was in a cast, an injury he said he sustained from driving a manual car through a serious, hours-long traffic congestion on Edsa. Much later, at Tim Yap’s birthday early party this year at the Palace Pool Club, I saw him again, still limping. That time, he said, it was gout. We talked at length about health and aging and, yes, dying. I was paranoid about it, he was all cool about it. “Go lang nang go (Just keep going),” he said. This was not the first time we had a conversation about such things. Many years before, in Balesin, during a party, while everybody was dancing around us on the poolside at the Balesin Village, we talked about growing old in a country whose population was getting younger and younger. Unlike me, though, he never left the club scene. In that way, he was young forever.

On Wednesday, poet Kooky Tuason is gathering some of JR’s friends to read poems in his memory for an episode of her online show For Word and By Word. In this way, through the words his friends drew out of a special place in which they keep him alive, JR, indeed, will be young forever.

Born on Nov. 15, 1967, JR Isaac was the editor in chief and founder of Circuit Magazine. He is survived by his mother Elisa, his brothers Raymund and Jojo, and his sister Anna.