“Thou should not adore idols of gold and silver and brass and stone and wood.” —The Apocalypse of St. John
THE CULTURAL Center of the Philippines was following up previous awardees of Gawad CCP for the Arts, reminding us to wear Filipiniana, please, please, and your medals, please, please, please!
I had burst the seams of my walang kamatayang Filipiniana outfit and only needed that medal to insure my affinity to my cultural flock. But where did that medal go? I knew I owned one because I had recently chanced upon its accompanying speech that I had handwritten on a page torn off a spiral notebook.
Now I am not exactly a great keeper of memorabilia, including plaques and trophies and medals. I banish every unclassified object on my path to the chaos of the bodega (and soon thereafter frantically search for it.) But I didn’t stop looking until—eureka! I found a blue ribbon with a medal hanging at its end.
I’ve had some woes with medals. Once I had to be at an NCCA (National Commission for Culture and the Arts) awarding ceremony also as one of those “previous awardees with medals.”
In the holding room, the other previous awardees were fascinated with my medal because it was so different from theirs. (Was it special?) It wasn’t until two days later that I realized that the medal I had worn was one I got from the City of Manila’s Mayor Alfredo Lim! And no one ever realized it! As my gay friends would later comment, “Ay, teh, talagang award!”
So this time I was wary. I texted Nic Tiongson, who is my friend, to ask if the CCP medal had a logo like two waves on stilts. Alibata? he asked. That’s NCCA, Dangal ng Haraya. What’s a poor writer of English to know? All it had below was the citation and the logo, indistinguishable from all other indistinguishable logos.
Gawad Tanglaw ng Lahi is Ateneo de Manila, continued Nic. Gawad CCP is a brown hexagonal medal with a brown ribbon and it goes with a brown box. Duh!
Now, I have lived a long time on this planet and I’ve had my fair share of medals. (You live long enough, you get them all.)
I also know that not all medallions and trophies are for great achievements. You could receive one for attending a seminar, giving a speech to some civic group, judging a food contest, being a good mama or just being the oldest.
Among some in my not-all-distinguished stash, I have a metal statuette that had rusted so badly it could give you tetanus; a wooden one in which lives a voracious tribe of termites; an undisguised stone trophy painted shiny black that got loose from its moorings and almost crushed my big toe; still another is of metal so heavy you could wear its ribbon around your neck, jump into a pool and drown.
There are some sculptured trophies, though, so beautiful that I would display them if I were sure I received them or if they weren’t so lost.
When I was still producing those fancy GCF Books, I would tell the award-giving bodies, why not books as awards? But nobody listened. Now people are forever nagging me to procure a copy of one of those now-extinct books. (Next time, just listen to me.)
This is not to demean any award one gets—they are encouragement, manna and rain we badly need on our parched path to art that never pays enough. But it is also a reminder to young people who receive them today not to put too much importance to them. You could get stuck polishing those medals and never get any new work done.
Awards are only judgments by other people of the works we’ve done, and therefore fallible. Remember when you’d get nothing even if you had created your best work. And then you turned around and got a prize for a mediocre piece you were sorry you had even submitted (because lousy pieces, too, get their place in history!).
It’s not important that the best things we do are always recognized. Our task on earth is to be stepping stones for the next generation so that they can go farther than we have reached in ours. I hate it when I see that some things haven’t moved since I was there.
True worth depends on how much we have helped younger people evolve, whether or not these efforts have been recognized by trophies of metal, glass, wood or stone.