MY late father disliked being the cynosure of attention.
Towards the end of his life, he largely succeeded in staying undetected by reducing his human contact to the absolutely necessary: his family, his barber, and the newsprint faces and radio voices whose commentaries he respected.
One day, though, he broke this self-imposed rule of inconspicuousness.
An ambulance entered our cul-de-sac and the stopped at the end, before my father’s gate. Neighbors came out of their houses, expecting the worst.
The driver and the orderly filed inside our house. Our next-door neighbor later told me that she felt something was odd when she saw the figures in white. I told her it must have been the silence: my father’s radio was, for once, not blaring out some anti-corruption tirade.
When the ambulance staff came out, they were bearing not my father but his books.
When my father decided that he was too old to operate and too tired to teach, he contacted his former students at the government hospital that he served for more than three decades. So it was scheduled that, on its return trip, the ambulance would pick up the books my father decided to donate to the medical staff.
In my father’s house, where I read everything—all the Erle Stanley Gardners and the Harold Robbins—those medical books were the only ones I kept aloof of.
Those tomes accompanied us in the blue dawn when we studied at the dining table, I for class, my father for surgery or a lecture. Although he must have read these references countless times, the pages kept their razor edges and released a dry, antiseptic odor.
In depicting the unlovely nakedness underneath, the books cut like a scalpel newly slipped out of its sheath. Living with such unlovely companions, my father understandably saw persons as a macabre map of decay three, six, nine hours after infection.
Who could live with such literature, I wondered, repelled and attracted by the transparent color-coded plates that liberated a woman of her smile, skin, muscles, viscera and bones? Perhaps this literature’s real purpose is not merely to transform the aspirant into a specialist of all that can be weighed, labeled, coded. Could it be that these books shroud the vision to ignore trifles—like emotions, memories, the soul?—that cannot be laid out on a colored plate?
I stood aside and watched the men until they took out the last volumes. While those books passed out of our lives, my father did not come out.
That day, with its memory of how my father wrenched his books from him, is my reason for supporting “Their Books,” conducted on its third year by the Tsinelas Association Inc.
Tsinelas is a non-government organization that helps children in Cebu City and towns do what they can’t or only with difficulty: stay in school, read a book, have art materials to paint a dream.
I believe in the Tsinelas goals. I like even better their volunteers. Even without anyone running for public office, Tsinelas raises funds to keep children learning. This perfect heart-and-mind tandem made Tsinelas a 2009 awardee as one of the Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations of the Philippines (TAYO), according to tsinelas.org.
On Sept. 24-26, as part of the Cebu Press Freedom Week celebration, Tsinelas will hold “Their Books”. On the booksale’s third year, Tsinelas continues to accept books donated by writers, artists, politicians and any believer willing to put “their books” in others’ hands to raise funds for children.
If you can’t part with your collection, drop by “Their Books”. I won’t as I don’t trust myself in case I come upon a book that used to be on my shelf. I’m Papang’s daughter but never had the stomach to contemplate an amputated limb.
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* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Sep. 5, 2010 issue of the “Matamata” column