Freeman Cebu Lifestyle

Ours - all of this

POR VIDA - Archie Modequillo -

My 20th birthday was one of the most memorable occasions of my life. I celebrated it – like my three consecutive birthdays before it – aboard a giant ship. But this one was more special. On this particular day, I received a very precious gift, one that has lived in me ever since and surely so for the rest of my life.

I spent the final years of my teens in a small community of about 200 youths from different countries. We were grant beneficiaries at a film school aboard the Legacy. The whole facility was like a floating mini city. There were shops, entertainment joints, sports and fitness halls, a 40-bed medical ward, post office, theater, movie studio, coffee corners and a restaurant, aside from the spacious dining hall where we usually took our meals for free. The ship cruised around as we attended classes, did school projects and had fun times aboard. 

Early in the morning of my 20th birthday, my friend Rahjit, a fellow student from India whom I shared boarding room with, declared that he had a surprise for me. But there was a little ritual I had to submit myself to. He said we had to wait until sunset.

When the sun began to descend, my friend said it was time. He blindfolded me and led me up a flight of stairs to the roof deck. I was panting hard and could still feel the bright sun when we got to the top, although the vigorous breeze up there effectively tempered the heat of the late afternoon sunlight. My friend pulled me over to a particular spot. He said it was the perfect location.

He then removed my blindfold, and told me to slowly open my eyes. There before me was a magnificent sight—the blazing sun slowly dipping into the silvery blue ocean. It was like some sacred ceremony, as if to formally close my teenage time.

“My gift on your birthday,” Rahjit said. “It’s all yours.” With great rejoicing I accepted the gift. I owned it. And it was mine forever.

It’s amazing how some things become more precious with time. Today, decades after that momentous day, I’ve come to treasure my friend’s gift much more. Everytime I have a chance to witness a sunset, I would stop. Then, in silence, I’d call forth the past. In my mind, I would be on that roof deck again with my friend. And, every time, we have fun moments together once more. 

Rahjit died in 1999, in a plane crash while filming a television commercial in France. His wife Eloise sent me still prints of the shot that cost her husband’s life. It was of a sunset.

A few years ago I was in Malapascua, a tiny island off northern Cebu, on a writing assignment for an internet tourism magazine. In the first few days, the fierce heat of the summer sun compelled me to retire early to my room at a beachfront resort. I would sleep from mid-afternoon until midnight. Then I’d write my articles until daybreak. In the morning, when the sunlight was still mild, I would go around for more story ideas.

At the end of my weeklong schedule, the magazine office announced that I could enjoy one more day free. I thought of boating to the neighboring islets. I contracted a local boat owner to take me around. It was really a big experience; so much fun but scary as well.

We went from one islet to another on a motorized banca that simply looked like a tiny stick floating in the wide blue sea. At times the small sea craft slipped into a deep furrow between building-tall waves. Each time, I’d stop breathing. Nothing makes me crave for God in quite the same way.

By past four o’clock in the afternoon we were still several miles from the shore. The boatman estimated thirty minutes or so more to go. But as the waves grew taller, he said it might take an hour. I was getting very nervous, especially when he told me gusty winds were soon to blow.

Then, suddenly, a magnificent sunset showed. It soothed my fear. I felt utter peace and tranquility descend upon me. Rahjit came to my mind. Maybe he was there.

As I think about it more and more, it now occurs to me that the special gift I received on my birthday long ago was not just one particular sunset, but all the sunsets there would be from that time on. Maybe, it was not even given to me, in the first place. Perhaps my friend only helped me claim what was, by birthright, always mine.

In fact, every sunset is ours. All of this is ours—the whole of life: the sunrises, the sunsets and all the times in between.

It is when we embrace life more fully that we begin to see more of it. And then we begin to value it more, to the point that we even become openly willing to give it away. But then again, we must first establish our ownership of anything we want to give away.

(E-MAIL: [email protected])

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