Last Sunday I volunteered to say Mass in San Roque Chapel in Brgy. Bagong Sikat. This is the chapel of those whose houses and properties were destroyed by fire exactly one month ago. We have just started when I got sight of a familiar face of a young man who came in a bit late for Mass. It was Bekong. He was my sacristan when I was assigned as priest in another barangay in Tagburos. It has been years that I have not seen him. He had not known where I had been for quite some time on account of my pastoral assignments. I had not updated myself either of his whereabouts and what-abouts. I was surprised that he was in this chapel while he belongs to another chapel. At any rate, this chance is happy reunion and a graced coincident.
I was walking down memory lane while looking at Bekong. He was my ever dutiful sacristan. I wanted him to go back to school then. I kept prodding him and had assured him that I will take charge of school fees. But Bekong would not bite the offer. He told me, “Kung paaralin nyo po ako, Father, wala na akong suweldo. Sino po ang susuporta sa pamilya ko?” I was flattened. Bekong was the breadwinner of sort in the family. I rested my case then and there.
One Christmastime, I gave Bekong a shirt as a gift. He wore it during at Christmas Eve. I remarked to him, “Bago ang damit natin a!” He replied, “Siempre naman po, Father. Birthday ni Lord kaya dapat bago talaga.” The night went on with food, drinks and videoke. (You must hear Bekong belting out. He could well be a shoo-in)
The following morning, Christmas Day, we had scheduled Masses. I noticed Bekong was no longer donning a new shirt. I remarked again and this was what he told me, “Pinahiram ko po sa kapatid ko ang bago. Para ma feel nya rin ang spirit ng Pasko.” Upon hearing, my lips smiled at the thought while my heart was rather crumpled like a scratch paper.
Fast forward, after the Mass now: “Bakit nandito ka, Bekong?” Bekong replied, “Bisita lang po, Pads. May mga kamag-anak din kasi ako rito na nasunugan.” Then we talked like two long-lost friends. I reiterated my offer to pay for his schooling. Consistently, he retorted, “Hindi na po, Pads. Okay na po ako. May trabaho na po ako eh.” Bekong now works as a construction worker. He remains the breadwinner of the family.
Bekong and I were still conversing when he excused himself. In a minute, he came back with a bottle of cold softdrinks. He big-heartedly offered it to me. I wanted to refuse for two reasons. One, I would avoid sugary intake. And two, it was sort of a bolt from the blue thinking that way back I used to treat and pay for this guy but now he is the one being generous. “Kakasahod ko lang po eh. Tsaka ngayon lang uli tayo nagkita.”
Right and Beauty cites three inspirations, while there could indeed be a lot more: firm devotion to the family, concern for others and the value of sacrifice plus contentment.
For Bekong, family is priority. It is non-negotiable. He has not shown even just an iota of resentment against the seemingly difficult situation that he found himself in since he was born. On the contrary, he had foregone the dreams for himself for the sake of his family. Truly, somebody has to make sacrifice. In the same way, Bekong’s concern for others is magnanimous. The little that he had that Christmastime was meant for him to be shared too. His poverty is not seen as a hindrance to generosity. For Bekong, he certainly knows that “…nobody is so poor as to have nothing to give, and nobody so rich as to have nothing to receive.” Too, his humble effort to take time and visit his relatives who were victims of tragedy was remarkable, to say the least. And finally, that bottle of softdrinks has become for me so precious than any kind of drink there is in the world. This could be an epic case of “giving a cup of cold water (a bottle of softdrinks, for that matter) to one of these little ones to drink… will surely not lose his reward.” (The very Gospel passage that Sunday).
Again, Bekong could not be outdone in generosity given his meager income as a laborer. What is perhaps more important to him is the joy of sharing and the gift of friendship that we share.
Cheers to this kind of man. May we all be a Bekong to each other in one way or another.