Address to our our new ADNU Retirees (23 March 2011):
After the Testimonial Dinner the University so generously tendered for me the other night, with all of its emotion-laden farewells, I guess, as far as Ateneo de Naga University is concerned, I have effectively joined the ranks of the University’s retirees! In this light, I think I might then be permitted to begin this Address with:
My fellow retirees:
Just shy of two weeks ago, the pressure on massive tectonic plates just off the northeastern coast of Sendai, Japan, forced sudden movement, triggering what was Japan’s most powerful earthquake in its history. The “great earthquake,” 9.0 on the Richter scale, in turn generated a monster tsunami that angrily rose 35 feet into the air, slammed into the northeastern city of Sendai, and didn’t stop its deadly destruction till it was ten kilometers away from shore. The damage done to the nuclear power plants in the region was catastrophic. Many of you saw the awesome footage on CNN and BBC: a wall of water and debris, crashing against buildings, taking with it cars, trucks, ships and lampposts as if they were mere tin toys and toothpicks, overpowering the shock, terror, and horror of its human victims in a black basin of death, cheating them all of life and precious dreams, depriving their relatives and friends of cherished loved ones.
I was moved by the occurrence. We were making the Stations of the Cross on the campus when it happened; only when the stations were over did I take out my celfon to find the texts that related the terrible, breaking news. Seconds later, hearing that Camarines Sur itself was threatened at that very hour, I rushed back to the office to make a best-possible assessment. With the help of Becky Torres and of Lina Regis, we decided to send the students and personnel home by 5:00 p.m.. Yet even after we’d done what we could to assure the safety of all, I was still stunned. First, the power of the natural occurrence. Second, the fact that all the preparedness of Japan for earthquakes and tsunamis was no match for this occurrence. Third, the fact that the hostile water had drowned so many people, so suddenly, so irreversibly, as water so easily snuffs out the flames of many candles.
Life is precarious. With every deeper insight into how precarious, how contingent, how vulnerable it is, we come to a deeper insight into what the meaning of our celebration this morning is. We celebrate life, our lives, as it has unfolded for us. As life is precarious, so has it for us been gifted. As life is contingent, so has it for us been graced. As life is vulnerable, so has it for us been protected.
People die. Sometimes by an accident. Sometimes after a long, persistent, and fatal illness. Sometimes by nothing more momentous than a simple fall. As we get old, we learn that all the more poignantly. We no longer have youth’s carefree, pain-free possession of life; we have rather, life’s unfolding, inevitable, care-ful aging, where care passes with time more and more from me into the hands of others, and pain becomes a constant companion.
In my own “retirement,” it is the way I sometimes feel – when I cannot remember a name, when I have difficulty negotiating the stairs, when the contentious conversation forthcoming seems too much to bear. Life is grace. Everyday is gifted chance for living, opportunity for deeper thanksgiving. Too often we forget that. There must be time for savoring grace, and ample reminders of its presence. Not everyone is given this gift.
I mentioned in my printed message, there is opportunity still for sharing of your wisdom, even as in retirement you enjoy the hours with your grandchildren and their parents grown too suddenly into adults. There is opportunity for you to share your insightful opinions and wise reflections, especially whenever it is imperative you do so – with colleagues who have succeeded you, with friends who continue to love you, with relatives for whom you are precious. Facebook and Twitter and blogs are not only for the young. There is still much opportunity to be involved, and be with it. In the quiet of the sunset, your silent withdrawal can bring on the night, or your engaging word can take the night to the light of tomorrow. This, it seems, is a choice. One should not choose stagnancy in darkness.
We are here celebrating all those years of giving at Ateneo de Naga – your years of adventure, growth, sacrifice, pain, failure and success – a happy, lifelong contribution to this enterprise called Ateneo de Naga, during which you have seen boys grow into men, girls grow into ladies, hapless youths grow into knowledgeable professionals, careless youngsters grow into responsible citizens – some teachers, some nurses, some engineers, some priests, some computer experts, some scientists, some managers, some entrepreneurs. You have been awed at haves who reached out generously to others; you know the names of have-nots who through your interventions broke themselves and their families out of their poverty. You have seen girlfriend and boyfriend grow into lovers, and have held your breath at the exigencies of love. You have seen lovers married before God’s altar, welcome children in their loving, develop families in joy. You have even gamely taught these children of your former students, and celebrated the passing on of intelligence and life. In all, you have grown with the growth of colleagues in friendship, learning to laugh at things that used to irritate you, learning to forgive the once unforgivable, learning to assist and help where there was once only fierce competition, since, after all is said and done, life is but a gift, not a right, not a demand. It is a flame that flickers and burns, even as it begins to rain. With gratitude comes patience and tolerance. Even forgiveness.
All this, we know, need not have been. The earth could have quaked, the inundation could have occurred, A career could have been broken irreversibly, as a candle is extinguished in the wind. Enough of your colleagues have already moved on. But grace has brought your career to closure, and to a point where you can look back and savor the many interventions of grace in your lives. It was grace that enabled your achievements, was it not? And grace that empowered you to continue helping that student to grow, assisting that student in need. It was grace that helped you discover the truth, and grace that urged you to reach out to the needy, no matter the cost. Already then, you knew the meaning of taking up your cross daily, as today you still do. Even that is a grace. As is: learning to take up one’s Cross daily, saying, “He must increase, I must decrease. …I must decrease.” “Increase, Lord, as I say: ‘Take, receive, all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, my entire will…”
As the sun sets with its softened light, and those you once taught to walk now help you to walk about, you continue to be warmed by God’s love in your Suscipe, your offering. “Take, receive, all… Give me only your love and your grace. That’s enough for me.” Be warmed as well by ours – our love and our gratitude! As you are, please continue to be part of the grace that is Ateneo de Naga University, part of its prayer, wisdom, and Eucharist.
Dios mabalos po na maray!