We high-school classmates are celebrating birthdays again, and more regularly. At our age, after all, every birthday has become a milestone.
For a while and for good reason, many of us stopped celebrating. We had lost two classmates to cancer, and some just didn’t want to be reminded of their own vulnerabilities. Others simply found no incentive to get all dolled up, go out and violate their diet. Yet others, in particular those now more than a decade into their retirement, felt insecure about their finances, given the expenses—health, among others—that come with aging.
Our priorities have simply, suddenly changed.
But Friday was a day we couldn’t let slip by unmarked. We were celebrating the birthday of Fanny Chua Tee Lu, who, as our class representative for life, has kept us together regardless of which section one belonged in—those with surnames beginning with the letters from A to M went to Section One, the rest to Section Two.
As fate would arrange it, Section One collected the studious and quiet ones. That’s where Fanny herself belonged, and not surprisingly she has gone on to become the organized, serious, reliable type. I was myself in Section Two, with all the other girls who somehow managed to sneak some fun and laughs through schoolwork and past the Theresian nuns.
Fanny also found and has stayed in touch with classmates outside the country and made sure we are on hand to welcome these balikbayan whenever they visit. At every school homecoming, we’re there with a representation put together and led by Fanny, to show our support for the classes marking their milestones as alumni, a gesture that doesn’t go unappreciated.
So, how can Fanny’s own life’s milestone—her 74th birthday—go unappreciated by her very own classmates?
The lunch for her—planned, as only naturally, with her—was held at the home of my section mate and namesake Chit Noriega Reodica, President Ramos’ Health secretary. The rest of us, Fanny included, brought a dish or dessert.
One of those who had stopped celebrating, Fanny only agreed to the arrangement for an altruistic reason: In lieu of gifts, we were raising funds among ourselves for rubber slippers for at least a thousand provincial children who go to school unshod, one of the projects of the St. Theresa’s College Alumni Association on the program “Looking out for others” under Dr. Chit’s presidency.
A section mate, Lourdes Navarrete Elepaño, an entrepreneur who, instead of celebrating her 75th earlier this year, had donated P75,000 to charities, gave P10,000 for our project, doubling our intended beneficiaries to 2,000. (The association had by then begun distributing 10,000 pairs bought with donations from other alumni.)
After words of loving praises for Fanny—and incidentally one another—we sang “Happy Birthday,” on whose final violated note Fanny blew out a considerable flame on a lone devotional candle borrowed from Dr. Chit’s altar and set on an almond sans rival cake.
After some picture-taking, we all settled down to the serious business of making the arrangements for the next birthday and occasion for philanthropy. The celebrator is August-born Carminda de Leon Regala, beauty queen and concert pianist, who taught music at the International School for 30 years. The venue would be her rest house in Tagaytay.
Minda herself will prepare a roast turkey, with all the trimmings, around which we will plan other dishes and desserts to bring. She announced her own favorite charity: a feeding program of the Union Church, where she has been choir director for 23 years and now heads its Centennial Task Force preparing for the observance in 2014.
Just as we were exchanging goodbye hugs and last-minute funny recollections, the rest of the quorum for the afternoon mahjong session started to arrive; in fact, two classmates were staying to sit at the two-table games.
“My best birthday ever, the most memorable!” exclaimed the teary-eyed Fanny.
I don’t know how the nuns did it, but their influence holds: Most of us live simple lives, and many have remained deeply religious, daily mass-goers, some actively engaged in parish work. Many, too, have become politicized for humanitarian causes.
Some years ago, I was struck by a report from The Economist, the British-published weekly, that good governance alone might not be able to raise the lot of the world’s poor appreciably—that much philanthropy (which I take to be altruism toward the needy you don’t know, as differentiated from, say, relatives and kasambahay) was needed.
Everyone tends to agree, but at the same time escape into the convenient notion that philanthropy is the exclusive moral obligation of the truly rich.
If that indeed is philanthropy, then it’s a virtue achievable only by the likes of Gates and Buffet, and the rest of us, by reason of means, cannot rise to it.
Well, we of Class of ’55 don’t buy it—if for the moment we can only afford 2,000 pairs of chinelas.