Monday, September 25, 2006

No giving please

COMING back from the province to the city a day before New Year’s eve, sluggish traffic near malls had us slowing down to a crawl.

In Carcar, shoppers eddied around the droning lines of tricycles. Near the Cebu City pier, taxis and automobiles plowed in or swerved to avoid the overflow of people taking advantage of the yearend sales.

On this coming home after days of quiet, it came as a jolt that the season of giving—and all it implied: lines, traffic snarls, tempers— was not over yet.

We had just come from a place where the most powerful sound was made by surf crashing on rocks (or rocks doing head-butts with the waves, it is rather difficult to tell).

The air was cold, the sea galloping in like untamed horses. Nang Suning’s place was nearly deserted, a weak shadow of its festive summer self.

One afternoon she came over. A widow of graceful years, she brought stories and a plate of cookies baked in her household. Flat diamonds, embellished with the tines of a fork pressed down when the dough was soft, finely dusted with sugar crystals.

Though our family comes here often, partly for the untamed sea at this time of the year, partly to get away from a city drowning in panic at the malls, it always happens that only after so much later do I realize what I had just received. Not a parcel, no tinsel, no gift-card.

Something more: time and self.

In this widow’s gift, shorn of any ceremony, there is no one fixed in the role of the giver, no one reduced to simply receiving. One is freed from the expectations ruling gift-giving: generosity and gratitude.

More than Santa, Scrooge and his Ghosts have haunted my Christmas past. This year, the specter has acquired a name: Political Correctness (PC).

PC made President George W. Bush settle for sending off an official card that greets the receiver a neutral “happy holidays.” The White House reportedly discarded other designs that wished the recipient a “merry Christmas” or “peace and good will.”

Perhaps the Bush advisers did not want to offend anyone who does not celebrate this Christian tradition or believe in Christ himself.

Given its record of first attacking and then overstaying in Iraq, does the White House count itself as one of those that appreciates an inoffensive holiday greeting card?

PC: 10 points. Sincerity: 0.

Failing PC but perhaps sweeping all points for self-satisfaction is First Gentleman Mike Arroyo. His latest grand gesture was to fete local athletes, selected media members and other retainers to an all-expense trip to Hong Kong Disneyland after the successful country showing in the Southeast Asian Games.

Although it does betray his true sentiments about domestic tourism, the gesture shows that the First Gentleman knows Pinoys all too well, particularly the bias that regards the best gifts as imported.

Fortunately, neither the political nor the callous can touch the core of Christmas.

For incidence reports of hugs and kisses given, bread broken, stories swapped, time shared, this time of the year has no rival.

Despite the invention of personal shoppers and made-to-order wrapping resembling works of art, no other time of the year nurtures what has always made it so good for all of us: family and friends.

This year, I want to thank specially a friend who has been sick with leukemia for over a year. In his hospital room, the quiet broken only by his reminiscences of loved wife and children, of the trees he once planted, of the strangeness that stalks him when his hold on this world at times loosens, Jocel gives me more than humor, camaraderie, lessons on how to live and love fiercely.

My friend gives me a world beyond giver, gift, recipient, just “the universe rearranging itself.”

( or 09173226131)

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