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February 25, 2011

Persons Are Gifts: Pregraduation Retreat Talk

Since 1999, I would always give a Pre-graduation retreat talk to the Senior Batch of USLS-IS. For this year though, it will be the first time that I will not be giving this talk.

We Filipinos always love gifts. Apparently, there is always an “excuse” to give and/or receive gifts. Almost every month of the year, there is an occasion for gift-giving: Christmas, Three Kings, Valentine’s Day, Graduation Day, Birthdays, Anniversaries, Weddings, Christenings…kulang na lang Pista Minatay mahatagay kita regalo. Gifts come in various sizes, shapes and forms. But the act of gift-giving is not an exclusive human initiative. Even in Nature there is evidence of gift-giving. One classic example would be the Adele Penguins. During the mating season, all male penguins would scour the shore of the iceberg for pebbles. Once a male penguin finds the smoothest pebble, he would keep it and find his way to his female partner, lays the pebble on her feet as an offering and, should the female penguin like the gift, both become partners for life. I once read about a species of fly that has the ability to spin web. During the mating season, the male fly would collect scraps of food, spin a silky purse and place all of his collected food inside the purse. It would then fly to its female partner, give her the bag as a gift and should the female fly like it, they become mating partners.

From these facts, we can deduce one thing. The act of gift-giving is always associated with love and friendship. We give gifts solely to the people that matter to us, to the people that we love, that are important to us. We rarely give gifts to our “enemies”. Pwede siguro pinutos nga inumol. However, we always give gifts to people that are dear to us.

Especially for Filipinos, we always correlate the relationship between two people with the value or “price tag” of the given gift. For example, if a teenage boy gives his pang-ga a very expensive gift for their first “month-sary” as a couple, his pang-ga will definitely feel special. She would definitely conclude that her boyfriend loves her very much because she received from him a very expensive jewelry. How upset and disappointed she must be then if her boyfriend gives her Bobot nga dulce nga may upod nga sing-sing nga hampangan, nga pwede All-purpose kay indi lang pang singsing, pwede man pang aritos. Sometimes, it is not necessarily the value or price of the gift that matters but the effort in acquiring the gift. Take for example a young male suitor who one night comes to his girlfriend’s house, wakes her up and tells her that he has a gift for their “month-sary”. “What is that, pang-ga?” asks the girl. “Ari ho…Langka!” utters the boy. “What?! Jackfruit!? How cheap naman, pang-ga.” But the boy explains saying, “this is no ordinary Jackfruit, pang-ga. I have crossed so many rivers, climbed so many hills, and on the tallest hill climbed the tallest tree and picked this jackfruit just for you. Wala pa sang iban nga tawo ang nakatandog sa sining Lang-ka, ikaw palang kag ako.” Even if in reality the boy only bought that piece of jackfruit from the nearby Mercado, it doesn’t really matter now for the girl. For her, he sacrificed life and limb just to prove how much she is important to him as represented by his gift. Teh, bilog nga gab-i hungitay nila ka lang-ka eh.
Gifts however are not limited to material things. We must also realize that “Persons Are Gifts”. You are a gift. Each one of us is a gift. You are a gift from God. You are a gift from God to yourself and you are a gift from God to others.

The first statement, “You are a gift from God”, stands firmly on our Christian belief that we were made in the image and likeness of God. God created us and His creating us imbued us not only with the physical and intangible characteristics of a human being. He also impressed upon us a purpose. Our Catholic Faith teaches us that the ultimate purpose of Man is to know, serve and love God. God is the ultimate destiny of every human being, even those who do not believe in His existence.

We are made valuable, if not priceless, because it is God Himself who manufactured us. He made us in the beginning of time and throughout our history we lost sight of Him. He sought us and when He found us, He became one of us if only to prove how much He loved us. Because we came from something divine, we must lead our lives reflecting our origins. We must realize that we are special not because of what we do but because of what He has done. “You are a gift from God”.

The second statement, “You are a gift from God to yourself”, reminds us that God gave “you” just for “you”. He knew exactly what you needed so He gave “You” to yourself. Unfortunately, we don’t like what we see in us. It seems, somebody is almost always better than us. I once knew of a friend who confessed to me that he was madly in love with one of our classmates. The problem was he wasn’t sure if she would fall in love with him because he was “fat”. According to him, he was so fat his “side-view” is already my “front-view”. His vital statistics were 35-31-36, ang tu-o pa lang na nga pa-a. One day he decided to tell her about his feelings for her. Unfortunately, she told him that he was not her type. Since then he lost confidence about himself. He even thought of quitting school. He was very depressed saying, “Nobody will ever like me.” As his friends, we told him that he had to start loving himself first before he could let others love him. Eventually, he was able to move on, regain his self-confidence, and even started to feel more comfortable about himself. The last time I saw him he was still on the heavy side, but he was at that time dating a pretty girl with a nice physique and who happened to be very intelligent as well.

We were given by God to ourselves. The question however remains. “Do I accept the gift that I see?” I once read a story from the book Chicken Soup For The Soul and it was about a young boy who was about to graduate from High School. His father wanted to buy him a graduation gift so they went around town to look for a perfect gift for him. They passed by an auto dealer shop and the teenage boy saw this very nice car, a perfect one for his first car. The boy got excited when he and his dad asked for the price. It was about 10,000US dollars at that time. The boy couldn’t wait for his graduation day to come. That day did come and after the family dinner, his father called on his son and handed him a small box. The boy was puzzled. He was expecting a much bigger box. The son opened the box and inside the box was a Bible. The son was so disappointed and frustrated that he threw the box away, left home and never talked to his father again. The son grew up, had his own family and had his own career and still he never talked to his father. One day, his mother called him on the phone to tell him that his father died. He felt obliged to go back to his old house to attend to his father’s funeral. After the funeral, he went back to his old house, went up to his old room and saw that everything was left untouched. Resting on his study table was the same box given by his father during his graduation day. Inside the box was the Bible. He took the Bible out and scanned the pages when a small envelop fell out of the book. He opened the envelop and inside was a letter. He read the letter, “Dear Son, Happy Graduation Day, I love you. I hope you’ll enjoy your gift.” And together with the letter was a check worth 10,000 US dollars, enough amount to buy that car. If only he took time to appreciate the “gift” his dad gave him that day, he could have discovered the “real gift” inside and not waste many years of not ever talking to his father.

“Do I accept the gift that I see?” Most of the time, we don’t. We don’t like who we are or what we have or where we are in. We always tend to compare ourselves with others and always find others in a better position. And because we don’t like what we see, we do the most convenient thing: we pretend. We pretend to be somebody that we are not. Perhaps many of us have been pretending all of our lives. It is almost living a lie. There is definitely liberation in the moment when we stop pretending. We relieve ourselves with the burden of being somebody that we are not. Indeed, truth always sets us free. Perhaps it is time to stop pretending, to accept who you are, for it doesn’t matter who you are. After all, the God who made you loves you for who you are. And you are good in His sight.

The third statement is as important as the previous statements, “You are a gift from God to others”. It is not enough that you remain as a gift for yourself. Like any other gift, you must give yourself away. But we are most of the time afraid to give ourselves away. We are afraid to give ourselves away in fear of Rejection. “What if they won’t like me?” In fear of being rejected, we “wrap” ourselves with fancy wrappings to distract our friends and other people from the “real gift” that is within us. In the process, we are actually giving them the “wrappings” and not the “gift”. We are projecting to them a false image, if not, the shallow surface of who we are and we adapt to their liking and preference. But then again, “wrappings are not the gifts”.

There was one story told to us by a La Salle Brother about The Man from the Moon and the Rabbit. The Man from the Moon was very lonely so he decided to come down to Earth and look for friends. So the Man went down and landed in a jungle. When the animals found out about the Man, they gathered together and decided to welcome the Man with gifts. All the animals then went to look for gifts for the Man. While walking, the Man met the Monkey. When the Monkey recognized the Man, he immediately gave him his last banana. The Man said, “The Monkey must be a very good friend because he gave me his last banana”. He went on further until he met the Elephant. Upon seeing the Man, the Elephant gave him his last peanut. The Man uttered, “The Elephant must be a very good friend for he gave me his last peanut”. Until the Man met all of the animals and received their gifts to him, everyone except the Rabbit. It was already dark but the Rabbit could still not find an appropriate gift for the Man. The Rabbit bumped into the Man who asked him, “how about you, Rabbit? What can you give to me so that I can call you my friend?” The Rabbit was empty-handed so he told the Man, “Man from the Moon, here are some firewood. Use the firewood to make fire because rabbit meat tastes very good”. Of all the animals the Man from the Moon met that day it was clear who among them was the greatest friend. It was the animal who was willing to give his life as a gift.

“Am I willing to be given to others? To be a gift for others?” It takes a lot of effort sometimes to let ourselves go and share the real self with other people. We seemed to be comfortable within our little shell, unwilling to break out and let others know who we are and share in their joy of discovery. We are not ready to give ourselves away because we have this great fear – the fear of being rejected. Perhaps at one time or another we have experienced some form of rejection. And it is definitely a painful experience. Pamangkuta ninyo ang nakatilaw na busted. But there is no other choice. Being a gift, we have to give ourselves away. A Hindu proverb once said, “What is not given is lost.”

It is time to become the gifts that you are. When you share our true selves to others, we begin to form friendships based on truth and acceptance – foundation for a lifetime of relationship. Thus, even when you are separated from each other physically, you remain connected with one another because of this special bond. Being a gift challenges you all to be generous, tolerant, respectful and forgiving. Take this moment now to be generous with your time. Take this moment to be more tolerant with friends, accepting them for who they are. You are gifts. You have to be given away.

May the Spirit of Love help you open yourself to the gift that God gives. May the same Spirit help you to open yourself up to others through Charity and Truth.

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