Christmas stories
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - December 26, 2018 - 12:00am

On Christmas Day, we can take a break from all the bad news of the year and focus on the positive.

In July last year I wrote about the travails of a spa attendant. The mother had to be in line at the Philippine General Hospital once a week at 2:30 a.m. with her daughter aged a year and a half to make sure the child would receive within the day the medical care she needed for epilepsy.

The attendant fretted that the cost of the drugs for controlling the convulsions were draining all her earnings, and she still has a son, age 11, that she had to care for and send to school. She said she could not afford the P160,000 for the corrective surgery needed to prevent her daughter from going blind due to the epileptic convulsions.

Shortly after the story came out, we got a call at The Star from a man who said he wanted to get in touch with the mother. I gave the name and location of the spa but I didn’t know the full name of the woman.

About two months ago during another visit to the spa, the woman approached me and happily said the man had called her up and offered to assist her in the medical expenses.

And it wasn’t a one-shot deal, she told me. The man – and later his wife – sustained the assistance, and were still helping the attendant as of my visit to the spa. She didn’t meet her benefactor for a long time, the attendant told me, and when she finally did, it was because he wanted to meet her daughter.

I still don’t know the names of the cast of characters in this true feel-good story. But it’s true, Juan and Juana – there are Good Samaritans in this world.

*      *      *

For the second Christmas story, since I received a lot of positive feedback from my previous article, I’m borrowing one again from retired Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli, who served as deputy chief of mission and chargé d’affaires at the US embassy in Manila during a tumultuous period in our country (OK, when was it not tumultuous?). Joe wrote this episode in his life, in December 1969 in New Jersey:

“Christmas,” the old priest snarled, “is an outrage!” He looked about the classroom, hoping to have awakened at least a few students. “Christmas violates the laws of nature and of man.” Some students seemed to be attentive, although it was mid-December and even talking about Christmas was too distracting when they were all fixated on Christmas vacation.

“So,” he continued, “what does this make Jesus?”  Not a single hand rose and almost every set of eyes went down. The old priest searched for any set of eyes that was not glued to the ground. Finding none, he randomly chose: “Joe, what do you think? What does Christmas make Jesus?” The student looked back at him dully, with that teenage insouciance that even the best of teachers finds irksome. “Well,” the old priest continued helpfully, “if Christmas is an outrage and if Jesus’s birth violated the laws of nature and the customs of mankind, then….?” The student wasn’t particularly bright, but he prided himself on being somewhat of a smart aleck. “Um, I guess that makes Jesus a criminal,” he gleefully announced. The other students laughed, but the old priest was nodding agreement. “Yes, a criminal of sorts, but let’s say, since it is a bit less pejorative, that Jesus was outside the law, an outlaw.  He was already outside the law even before he was born: Being conceived outside of marriage and outside the natural rhythms of procreation.”

“So,” the student smirked, “to follow Jesus we must break the law, right?” More chuckling from the other students, as the priest shook his head. “Jesus never broke a law without good reason, and neither does God break His own laws of nature without good reason. There is only one reason that justifies living outside the law. What is that reason?” A few hands went up. He pointed to another boy, seated way in the back, hoping for something that didn’t amount to a wisecrack. He was disappointed. “To impress chicks?” Thunderous laughter from the boys; a few groans from the girls. “Any other thoughts?” asked the priest despondently. A girl in the second row raised her hand. She looked at the priest, then looked around at the still giggling boys. “You can only break the law to fulfill a higher law and the only higher law is love.”

Even the most infantile of the boys stopped giggling. “That’s correct,” said the priest. “That’s correct,” he repeated, as if in a daze, never having expected that response. “Long before he cured people on the sabbath and long before his followers went through grain fields plucking all they could eat, before he saved that woman from an obligatory stoning and before he had the effrontery to forgive the paralyzed man his sins, he was already living outside the law.” He paused and took it as a minor Christmas miracle that most of them were still paying attention. “This is what you must remember: The law should be the hand-servant of love. That is what Christmas teaches us.”

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