by Nereo C. Lujan, May 1, 2008

Nereo C. Lujan is a member
of CNCHS Class 1986
    MY MOTHER rejected an offer to honor my father, whom we buried last Saturday at age 73, with necrological services on the ground that honoring someone should have been made when he was still alive and not when he is already dead. For while a person’s good deeds can encourage emulation, why wait for death to descend before an inspiring story is bannered in the community? There had been a lot of opportunities where people with outstanding contributions to the common good could have been recognized. So why wait for hours of bereavement? A deeply religious woman, she believes that the best way to honor the dead is through prayers and not with flowery yet often untruthful eulogies that are enough to make the deceased stand up.

    The question bugs me: Does my father deserve to be honored?

    Had my mother agreed to the rites, it would have been organized by the local high school in our town, Cabatuan. I can understand it — my father was so far the longest-serving president of the Parents-Teachers-Community Association (PTCA), re-elected to the post several times even after all his children had already left the portals of the school and had established their respective families. He served not just the PTCA of the local high school but of the elementary school as well, also as its president.

    I knew little of how my father, Pio Roldan Lujan, steered the wheel of the PTCA during his incumbency of at least 15 years. Of course, the usual scholarship grants, medical assistance, equipment purchases and face-lifting projects, among others, were there. That was not really his but of the PTCA as a whole. At one time, he got elected president of the PTCA Provincial Federation, earning him a seat in the Provincial School Board. How he fared during his term doesn’t matter anymore; knowing that other PTCA presidents trusted his leadership was more than enough.

    This is one the priceless legacy that he left us – the spirit of selflessness. He was always willing to work on behalf of others without expecting something in return, sometimes spending from his meager income as a government employee just to see things work for the community. It was a virtue he developed since his boy scouting days. In fact, he was not only president of the PTCA in our town but he also served as chair of the municipal boy scouts council. Also making a great contribution to this virtue was his brief stint as a policeman — a career capped by his becoming Chief of Police but ended with his quarrel with a local politician, a man he learned to forgive after his retirement. That was during the days when the term “pulis patola” was not yet invented.

    And the only honor rites my mother agreed to for my father was one fit for a policeman – a three-volley salute, with the taps concluding his funeral.

    This I echo – my father would have been happier had he been honored when he was still alive. How can the dead hear our praises? Humorist Irvin Cobb likens a funeral eulogy to a belated plea for the defense delivered after the evidences are all in. The living may learn lessons from eulogies and may remember who the dead was, but for how long? To paraphrase William Shakespeare, people’s good deeds are oft interred with their bones. So don’t wait for the Grim Reaper to collect a soul before one’s values are recognized, for each of us possesses a vessel of principles worth bequeathing even if it only contains shreds of generosity and kindness.

    Yet, a simple act of kindness, so goes the song, can really go a long long way. And, goes another, “a simple act of kindness can go a lot further than you can ever know when that kindness is the highlight of someone’s day.” True enough, my father never had a scholarship foundation that can perpetuate his memory. But out of his kindness and that of my mother’s, they were only able to send one to college, Zelpha Duero, who happens to be the daughter of our helper. Now, she has a fruitful job and a beautiful family. This reminds us of Mother Teresa, who once said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, just feed one.” Indeed, generosity doesn’t necessarily mean you have to give to 500 or 5,000 people but it’s more of the quality of giving and not the quantity of it. It’s about giving more despite having less and without expecting any payment.

    Still, another question bugs me: Is it difficult to honor people who had done selfless deeds when they are still alive? Only fallen soldiers are honored dead, that’s why we have posthumous medals of valor and the Libingan ng mga Bayani. However, community leaders and workers are not in danger of getting ambushed or be killed in battle. And opportunities to recognize them abound, from flag-raising programs and town fiestas to high school recognition days and alumni homecomings. Honoring these people need not be as grandiose as the Ramon Magsaysay or the Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) Awards. A simple yet honest citation is more than enough to lift the spirit of the selfless. Recognizing the selfless is one way of replanting the seeds of selflessness. If selflessness thrives in each one of us, then this world will be a much better place to live in.

    But with or without medals and plaques, still let us all strive to be worthy of recognition so that when we die, people will erect monuments in our honor right in the midst of their hearts. As Saint Augustine had said, “No eulogy is due to him who simply does his duty and nothing more.” And my father did his duty true to his calling. He was a boy scout, a policeman, and a civil servant. He was a selfless man.