A few nights ago, I was having dinner with a dear friend and his family. A “dominant theme” in the conversation was making a difference in a person’s life. We all agreed that this was one of the most meaningful things one can do in life.
The next day, my friend and the father of the family, Baby, shared with me a piece he wrote for the Golden Jubilee of his high school class a few years ago, entitled “To Make a Difference.”
He quotes the 19th-century journal of a San Francisco lawyer, Adam Ewing, who was traveling back home from the Pacific: “… only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean… Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”
Baby continues with Ewing’s thought: “I wish each of us… could be a drop that sparkles in life’s limitless ocean. Such is ‘to make a difference.’”
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter. Each year for this Sunday, the Gospel talks about Christ as the Good Shepherd and how he is willing to lay down his life for the sheep, his flock.
While the image of the shepherd is often associated with the priesthood or religious life, I invite you to reflect on how all of us are called to be a shepherd to someone.
For the last two years, I have been working on a project for a possible movie. In our team are directors Lino Cayetano and Paul Soriano, and we have been creating the narrative.
The storyline is a person’s search for meaning and purpose, for one’s life mission.
In a key scene, the main character discusses with his mentor his desire to leave his job, which had him on a trajectory to the top of their organization.
The main character has realized that he wanted “to make a difference” in the lives of others, and that his current career was not it. He wanted to empower people at the forefront of serving society.
After an hour of grilling and shooting down arguments, the mentor asks, “The problems of our society are so complex and deep; what difference will your work make?”
Calmly, the main character replies, “I actually thought about that a lot. Prayed over it. And it is clear to me that if I make a difference in the life of one person every year, for the next 25, 30 years of my life, I will be doing my life mission.”
Then the mentor shifts and tells him, “Go, this is clearly what you need to do.”
Fr. Horacio dela Costa, SJ, in his homily in the 1960s during the birthday of then President Marcos, talked about authority. He said that true authority is life-giving. To exercise authority is to give life to the persons over whom one exercises authority. Authority, then, is service.
This why a person may be good at what he/she is doing, an expert in his/her field, but unless he/she mentors someone to be better than the “master,” he/she cannot be considered an authority.
While Christ does say at a certain point that no one outranks the master, he most certainly did not mean to stifle his followers’ growth and freedom. Perhaps, this was more a warning about our biggest enemy—our ego.
Teacher, shepherd, servant—the titles differ, but the essence of the work and the service is the same: to make a difference in the life of another.
In the movie “The Dark Knight Rises,” there is a powerful scene that reminds us of the importance of giving people something to trust, believe in and hope for. The young Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered. The night of the murder, a young policeman provided the young Bruce something to hold on to.
In this final scene, Commissioner Gordon asks Batman, as he embarks on what seems to be his final mission, to fly a bomb away from the city and save millions of lives, “Shouldn’t the people know the hero who saved them?”
Batman responds, “A hero can be anyone. Even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a young boy’s shoulders to let him know the world hadn’t ended.”
The young policeman was Commissioner Gordon.
There was a security guard in the Ateneo de Manila High School who greeted the students when they arrived in the morning and saw them off in the afternoon as they went home. He was assigned to the main driveway. He made sure the flow of traffic was smooth. He watched over the safety of the young men as they got off their cars or crossed the driveway.
He was an institution in the high school. He was tall and earned the name “Big Boy”—certainly better than “guard.” He was Big Boy when I was a grade school student and my older brothers were in high school. He was Big Boy when I was a high student myself and later, a young teacher.
He seemed ancient even when I was a kid. There was a joke that Big Boy once had a limp because he fell down running after Jose Rizal, who was escaping to cut classes.
Big Boy was a gentle giant. He cared for the students. We ribbed him. We made life difficult for him at times. But looking back, we loved him. Because we knew he loved us.
When I worked in the high school as a newly ordained Jesuit and was more conscious of caring for the students, my memories of Big Boy helped me understand my work.
I remember one time we gave Big Boy a tribute. I think I was a young teacher then, fresh out of college. This was before I entered the seminary, what I always refer to as the happiest years of my life.
I cannot even remember Big Boy’s response. But the memory of the moment will forever be in my heart and soul—Big Boy on stage, and without pretensions, simply being who he was, thanking the entire school for the honor.
Big Boy made a difference in the life of the generations of young men whom he watched over with dedication.
And one of them is now the President of the Republic, PNoy.
No monuments will be erected, no altars will be dedicated, no books will be written about Big Boy, but he will forever be “a drop that sparkles in life’s limitless ocean”—for us to whom he made a difference.
This is the call for us Christians. May we, or at least some of us, be “a drop that sparkles in life’s limitless ocean.” But may all of us remember, “Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”