Freeman Cebu Lifestyle

A gift of sunset

POR VIDA - Archie Modequillo - The Freeman

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 hospital, 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 about as we attended classes, did school projects and had fun times aboard.

Early in the morning

of my 20th birthday, my friend Sanjit, 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 everything was easily tempered by the vigorous blowing of the breeze up there. 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 holy 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 became mine forever.

It's amazing how some things grow more precious with time. Today, decades after that magical moment, I've come to treasure my friend's gift much more. Every time I have a chance to witness a sunset, I would stop. Then, in silence, I'd call forth the past. Once again, I would be on that roof deck with my friend. Always, over the years, we would have good times together.

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.

Years later, I was in Malapascua, a tiny island off northern Cebu, on a writing assignment for an online 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 begin writing 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. Boating to the several neighboring islets seemed an exciting idea. So I contracted a local boat owner to bring 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 short stick floating amid 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 had made me crave for God in quite the same way.

By past four o'clock that afternoon, we were still several miles from the shore. The boatman said 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. My fear was soothed by the sight; I soon felt utter peace and tranquility. I thought of Rahjit. Maybe it was he.

It occurred to me that that special gift I received on my birthday long ago was not just one particular sunset, but all the sunsets thereafter. Maybe, it was not even given to me, in the first place. Perhaps my friend only helped me claim what was always, rightfully, mine.

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

It is when we realize our full, albeit temporary, ownership of our life that we begin to value it more. We begin to hold it more dearly, to the point that we become openly willing to lose it. But to own something we must first acquire it. To lose something we must first have it.

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