Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sand Beneath

A few weeks ago, I had a most unusual visit from a good friend. Gus Ouano has a PhD in polymer science and for more than 40 years, had lived in the USA. He had worked for IBM and had done free-lance consultancy work for several years, becoming a speaker/resource person in many international gatherings. When he speaks a very sharp mind is evident, one that does not need to prove itself anymore.
In 2004, the love of his life, Joyce, his wife, died. This plunged him into a deep depression and the thought of suicide entered his mind. Then he realized he still had something to do and that God had been gracious to him. Life had been fun but he had somehow become self-centered. Out of his crucible of pain, he had received the gift of hope and of prayer.
He returned to Cebu with the intention of sharing his know-how to the local academe. He had since written and published a book about his life’s journeys. Unfortunately, some months ago, however, he had to return to the USA.
“Father, I want to see you before I leave. I have a poem to share with you,” Gus told me over the phone. “Let’s meet over breakfast,” I responded. Over breakfast, Gus handed me this poem:

Lord Creator; Let us be grains of sand beneath
Humanity’s feet, that it may stand higher than if we
Did not exist.

With Your Grace and Blessings Lord, we would be like
Mount Everest; fused grains of sand. Without You, we
Would be self absorbed and with no coherence towards
Each other; like quick sand on which, humanity cannot

If we work together for your Glory Lord, the world
Would be heaven on earth. In Jesus’ Name, we pray;

“Why,” I asked, “are you giving me this poem?” He answered, “I want to feel complete.” “Can you share this with people, those to whom Dilaab reaches out?” he added with sober passion.
Then he started to explain. Physical reality, according to him, is made up of particles. The sands on the seashore are particles, just as the granite mountain is made up of particles, albeit distinguishable only through a microscope. The sand particles are loose compared to the mountain.
Particles naturally adhere or connect to one another. A granite mountain is made up of particles that, under tremendous pressure, are so connected to one another they appear as a single mass.
There are instances, however, when particles do not connect to one another. This is when the particles are coated with certain substances – like certain oils, for instance ─ that make them repel each other. Quicksand is an example of this phenomenon. Particles go their own way; the mass is not solid anymore. There is no foothold.
“Fr. Melo,” he added, “when I left the country in 1961, I recall a people who were very gifted and capable of working together. After being away for awhile, I have noticed a change,” he said with sadness that did not betray self-righteousness.
“The traffic situation, for instance, shows a tendency among many drivers and pedestrians to think only of themselves. We used to obey traffic rules,” he said. I agreed. I often feel like an endangered specie every time I am a pedestrian.
“Many leaders in the country only think about themselves and their interests,” he added. Our sharing continued for some time and we agreed that selfishness and fear represent the coating of oil that prevent Filipinos from getting our acts together.
“How does one remove the undesirable coating?” I asked. He specified water and some form of detergent.
Water symbolizes baptism. It is the start of new life. Water and blood flowed from the side of the crucified Christ (John 19:34). Earlier on, Jesus had declared that “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7: 37-38).
The antidote to this selfishness and fears that prevent us from getting our acts together is a return to our source: our baptism. It is also to realize that when we are baptized we share a common spiritual space with other baptized believers, whether we know them personally or not.
This consciousness of a shared spiritual space ought to flow into an awareness of our shared civic space with other Christians, other believers, and men and women of good will who all happen to be citizens of this country. Whatever we do has repercussions not only for us, and our families, but also to the wider citizenry. The Eucharist, then, is the living bread come down from heaven that invites us to go beyond ourselves, and our families, to a wider family. We journey with others.
Thanks, Gus.
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