Denken & Danken I: V

Today, the sun was warm and the sky was bright. There was some studying, some reading, some napping, and some loose writing. There was a tuna melt sandwich in the middle of those somes. Now there is some writing and maybe later there will be some light exercise. It’s a calm, wonderful, and solitary day.

I haven’t been diligent in writing, yes. I had a misplaced desire some months ago about wanting to polish the writing I put up here. These requirements really backfired on me. I just kept on adding bullets to my list of things to write, but I didn’t get any real writing done. Writing, especially polished and structured writing, takes time and I’m always daunted by the prospect of squeezing it in between noisier, more demanding tasks.

So today, I cross off one of those items. In honor of this calm and clear day, I wanted to write something cheery and joyful. But, heck, most of my reveries are bleak meditations on human life and its intended punchlines are lessons I ought to drill into my head… I really ought to lighten up sometimes.

Here’s a happy post, a beginning of something good.

* * * * *

Marcus Aurelius started his Meditations with a homage to the people from whom he had learned many admirable things. I’ve read that book nearly ten years ago (!) I’ve always wanted to do a similar list. So this will be similar to my serial Brief Letters to Unnamed People.

One of the people I admire the most is my friend V. She is the strongest and one of the most genuinely selfless people I know. We’re part of a group of friends reaching back when we were ten. We weathered silly childhood squabbles, insecurities, and crushes. Together, our group pulled through those unbearably awkward inchoate years of puberty.

Since she was a child, she has always been generous. She treats people. She gives away things and food: candies, popsicles, stationary, Sailor Moon novelty things. In later years, she took to baking and she makes these luxurious cupcakes. She’d go to her medschool and handout her cupcakes. She’d drop by her friends’ houses to give them bags of candy during Christmas. She knew the names of the streetchildren near her undergrand university.

Her attunement to the needs of others went farther than the superficial little things. She was the brave one who asked our sophomore advisers if we could spend the money we won as a class to fund our classmate’s father’s operation (Our advisers seemed to dislike the idea; they wanted (and we eventually did) go to Enchanted Kingdom instead.) She was the brave one who sent a birthday present to an acquaintance who, some months prior, wrote a note on Facebook about having no one remember his birthday. She was brave enough not to send an anonymous gift.

When we were fourteen, I was full of angst and thought I thought farther than anyone else because of a startling book I read and believed in. I asked her one of the points raised in that book: how do you know you’re really being generous or if you’re doing it for the fuzzy feeling that you get when you give? The question didn’t occur to her and it baffled her. To her, that didn’t really seem like a problem. Concerns like that never really stopped her from being her.

Some months ago, M, V, & I were catching up over dinner. She was relating her frustrations about being a doctor, especially when her patients die. M and I advised her that she ought to detach herself from her patients otherwise she will always be heartbroken. She said no. She said, it helps her do her best when she’s attached to her patients. She said, if the patient was her father, she wouldn’t want the doctor to give up too fast. She takes to heart that her patients are someone’s beloved. Imagine if someone lost a beloved because the doctor didn’t want to care too much?

She told us a story.

She had a patient, a teenager who was in a coma. There were complications in her case and she needed to undergo an operation to clean out her system (I don’t quite get the medical details). Without the operation, she would certainly die but even if they pushed through with it, there was no assurance that she will ever wake up.

Patient’s family was poor. V didn’t want to give up on her, so she paid for the operation herself.

The point of V’s story was her frustration regarding the family’s doctor who gave up. He advised against the operation because there’s no assurance that their daughter will ever regain consciousness anyway. The family followed this doctor’s advice and the girl eventually died. But who knows whether she would have woken up a day, a week, a month hence?

M and I asked the bit she left out, Did they pay you back the money? They didn’t know I paid for it, she said. She went back to talking about the doctor.

What surprised me wasn’t just her story, it was the way that she told her story. She didn’t omit her kindness neither did she draw attention to it. She was a footnote in her own story. It wasn’t a circumvented story designed to leave us an impression of her generosity and martyrdom, it was a story about a girl in a coma who shouldn’t have died too soon.

Later that night, I figured out the answer to the question I asked her when we were fourteen.

From V, I learn about true generosity. I learned that selflessness is a matter of unselfconscious presence. It is not a denial or omission of oneself but a forgetting of oneself.

wpid-img_20150402_204050.jpgSince I have a pretty new theme. I have to put pictures on the posts now! That’s M, V, and I in Cebu nearly a year ago. It would have been cool to post our photos with the Butandings if those photos weren’t the most goddamn unflattering set I’ve ever seen in my life.


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