Tim Duncan:Pop PhotoHead Coach Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs gearing up versus the Miami Heat prior to Game Seven of the 2013 NBA Finals. Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images– http://www.nba.com/spurs/tim-duncan-career-retrospective/

Several people should find it strange I should be writing this because I’ve never called myself a basketball fan—at the very least, not growing up. I’ve never seen LeBron play for Cleveland before he came home and my first favorite NBA team was the Toronto Raptors because they had a Velociraptor for a mascot.

That said, unlike the general public that make up the crazy basketball-loving Philippines, I should probably be crucified for even trying to just talk about basketball—let alone, trying to do so about a basketball player who’s already loved by millions.

And, that would make sense. Why dare trying to talk about a the number 1 draft pick of 1997 as if I should know anything that people who’ve been watching him since then (or before that, even) should already know? Maybe I should feel more confident talking about him if I could say that I watched at least 10 years of his 19-year stint (but I didn’t—and the Spurs even won their 4th championship in 2007). Maybe if I watched him for at least 5 years, around the same season The Big Fundamental played his 1000th game with San Antonio (but, again, I didn’t).

3 years. I only watched Tim Duncan play for 3 years of his entire career, and I still somehow stomached the pride to call myself a fan of his and the San Antonio Spurs.

Hopping on the ‘bandwagon’ 

I certainly picked a convenient time to be a Spurs fan in 2013. That’s because they ended up beating the Miami Heat and becoming the NBA champions the following year. While personal experience has taught me that the flak of liking a play-off team (especially at 23) is a very real thing, it only seems worse when they’ve made it to the finals and actually won. And, while I can imagine the off-putting feeling of new people liking teams that others have loved for years, it’s never short of a disheartening experience seeing the strong hate towards people who’ve come to start liking the game the first time—most especially a lot of it that’s directed towards the new Warriors and Cavs fans these past 2 seasons.

But surprisingly, amidst all the vibrant hate that manages to surface because of social media, I found myself in a place of content never having yet seen that brand of revulsion from the biggest of basketball fans (a good number of them Spurs fans) I’ve come to know. Amazingly, while loud basketball enthusiasts never seem to hold back anything from praise to criticism, these giant Spurs fans I’ve managed to get to know seem to be able to provide just as much analyses, without hardly ever lashing out on anyone.

Naturally, and not even knowing what a power forward was in 2013, it became so much easier to be a fan the Spurs, and basketball in general, because of the local fan base. It became so much easier to want to read up on them, and become an even deeper fan even outside of what I’d see them do on the court. Though, I’ll proudly admit that games like Game 3 of the 2013 NBA finals against the Heat, with 16 3-pointers from the Spurs, could be enough to make anyone a fan.

So, where is the praise for Tim Duncan?

Strange. I originally intended for this article to be about how marvelous and game changing, as much as life-changing, the person of Tim Duncan was but instead I found myself talking about the fans he inspired. But, somehow, I think that in itself [his fan base] may be one of his greatest legacies.

Surely, there’s no doubting how easy it would be to qualify the greatness of an athlete by sheer numbers—and with 5 NBA championships, 15 All Star appearances, 2 MVP Awards, 3 Finals MVP Awards, being the franchise’s all-time leading scorer to date, and being the third player in all of NBA history to win 1,000 games while being the first person to do so with one team, it’s absolutely no question. I’m sure Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, whom he’s also set a record with for the most wins by a trio with 575 regular season wins and 126 playoff wins, would agree, too.

But while those awards are a few The Big Fundamental can be proud to look back on, I hope sees what kind of fans he’s bred throughout his 19-year stint as a Spur. He bred fans that didn’t just explode everywhere, they did it where it counted: on the court and in conversation. He bred fans who’ve been and continue to be a number of the league’s greatest (any visit to any NBA player’s Twitter account may very well validate that) And, most especially, he bred fans who never seemed to treat their love for basketball as an exclusive privilege. He bred fans that ended up sharing that love and allowing the ‘new players’ on the team to grow with them. He seems to have bred a number selfless ones—and there’s no doubt they’ve taken so much after Tim Duncan and his team. Now that’s certainly a legacy, on top of any physical awards, to be proud of.

There may be no rings awarded for just sheer selflessness, no trophies to kiss given out just for loyalty, and certainly no outrageous payouts with the salary cuts he’s opted to take, but I do certainly hope that he realizes what he’s brought into the game, and to people everywhere; players and fans alike, should be exceedingly  enough to assure that he’s going out as one of the greatest ever to pick up a basketball even without a 6th championship.

A final goodbye

While there’s so many ways I can think of to say goodbye to one of the game of basketball’s greatest, I’ve opted to end this the way he probably would: making it less about himself and about someone else.

In the same way Tim answered this right after winning the 2014 NBA finals, and when he was asked about what made his relationship with Coach Pop after 17 years special, I think it’s a perfect send off.

“[It’s] his fire,” Duncan said. “He brings it every year—his passion for the game, his ability to change with the game, and change us with the game. It’s amazing; it keeps us fresh.”

Mr. Duncan,

How I wish you could only know how much you’ve changed the game and changed so many people, including a random 23 year-old 3 years ago, with it. While your quiet composure may similarly reflect your decision to go out silently before the next season starts, I genuinely hope that you know so many of us will miss that loud fire and passion you brought to the game that you let speak for itself. And, certainly, constantly being left breathless while saying not just, ‘That’s an amazing player,’ but also, ‘That’s an amazing team.’ A team you built, and a team I’m thankful, no matter how late, I learned to call mine, too.

Thank you, Mr. Duncan, for changing with the game, changing it completely with your existence, and changing all of us with it for a long time to come. There will be several other MVPs racking up more awards anyone can count to come, but there will certainly never be another Tim Duncan.

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One of the greatest stories (and birthday gifts) I’ve ever chanced upon on in my life surprisingly came in the form of an e-mail at 1:30AM back in 2015.

A stranger, who chanced upon this blog and read an article I wrote titled ‘My 3 favorite Blue Roast stories,’ decided to write hers to me. In her own words: “… Read the article about your favorite Blue Roast stories. I was about to read older posts until I saw your message at the end saying you’d love to hear some Blue Roast stories. Thought my story would be a good read for you since you like reading stories and I like telling them. Hehe.”

I will say as early as now that there is no greater joy for a storyteller to have his/her story lead to another one– more so, when it’s an even better one.

Curled up in my bed at around 2AM after a birthday dinner last year, I was close to tearing up reading this. I asked this person last year (who specifically requested to remain anonymous) for permission to share this and I’m very glad she said yes.

Below is the exact e-mail she sent to me.

Thank you for your bravery, dear, and for a story that continues to fill my heart with so much even after a year. I promise it will forever remain a part of this storyteller’s heart as not just a favorite to tell, but the one of the most moving he’s ever read.

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Hi Serge!

I’m XXXXXXX XXXXXXX. I just graduated from Ateneo, BS XXXXXXX, and I stumbled upon your blog 5 minutes ago cause someone shared the Good Friday Homily from your blog to Facebook. I realized I’ve been to your blog before! Read the article about your favorite Blue Roast stories. I was about to read older posts until I saw your message at the end saying you’d love to hear some Blue Roast stories. Thought my story would be a good read for you since you like reading stories and I like telling them. Hehe.

For three years I was with one guy. He was my best friend. We were so different from each other yet everything just fit perfectly. We thought we’d end up marrying each other. But on the first week of Senior year, we broke up. There were other parties involved and it was extremely painful for us both. 2014 was the hardest year of our lives cause we were going through so many things aside from the break up. 

Then Blue Roast came. Everyone was asking me if I was gonna give it to him. And I told them that I didn’t want to. He wasn’t an option. I was single at this point and I wasn’t seeing anybody but he was still with the girl. I wanted to respect their relationship, not one to meddle since a lot of that drama already happened during the early parts of the year. I saw him, though. I wanted to have a few minutes with him and so I invited him to come to the smocket with me. The one at 3.5. We had a good talk. Started catching up. Small talk. We didn’t have to say much. A lot of smiling happened. I guess after so much pain we were finally on the same page. We appreciated what we went through. We had a good run. We wished each other the best. 

After our sticks, we went back. While walking in front of Leong, the fireworks started. It was amazing. It was romantic. It was absolutely breathtaking. To have them right at that moment. I had a huge smile on my face but there was something in my gut. I knew I had to do something. I was scared at the same time I was ready to take the plunge.

I told him to run. He said no, it’s okay. But I insisted. “Run.” He paused and asked “Are you sure?” I paused, smiled, and said “At least you’ll be with her.” He stopped. He hugged me for a while. He held my hands and looked at me. He said thank you, then he ran.

I had a good cry walking from the North Parking to Bel Field. It was painful, but it felt amazing. There were no blue roses involved. Just us. I never expected my Senior year to be like this. It was hell. For both of us. A lot of it was because we never knew this could happen. All of college you thought you could plan your lives together cause you saw the future with each other and then one day, poof. But telling him to run felt great. Honestly, I’m surprised cause I actually meant every word. 

I’m so sorry if this was too long. It’s 1:30 AM and I just finished doing my post-graduation general cleaning where I threw away too many pictures and notes and what not. Haha. I think I got too caught up in the emotional process of throwing them away. Hehe. 

If you did finish reading the e-mail, thank you so much for your time! And I hope you liked the story. 🙂 Any reaction is very much appreciated. 

Have a great Easter Sunday!

To which my reply over a year ago was:

Hi XXXX!

That’s a beautiful story. The ‘run’ part got me tearing up a little bit, seriously. It’s painfully sweet but that was such a good read. Thank you so much for sharing your story with me.

I’m actually still awake because I just celebrated my birthday, and this is a beautiful gift from a complete stranger. I hope you’ll allow me the honor of posting your story in your own words. I’ll understand if you’d want it anonymous or if you’d like it to remain a story I just tell out loud instead of posting it. Please just know it’s a beautiful story and I’m very touched you shared it with me.

And of course, congratulations on graduating! Go change the world. 🙂

** Should you want to share your Blue Roast story with me, too, please feel free to e-mail me. Again, I love hearing and reading stories as much as telling them. Maybe yours might inspire someone, too. 🙂

Dear President Noy,

You spent over a good 2 hours last Monday telling the story of the Philippines’ progress over the past 5 years. I thank you very much for your hard work, and I hope you’ll allow me to return the favor by telling you a story this time.

This particular one takes place on the 27th of July 2015. You were obviously delivering your final State of the Nation Address (SONA) near Batasang Pambansa with the entire nation’s eyes and ears on you— while I, on the other hand, was at a quiet restaurant, table-for-one, working on a presentation.

I was just getting ready to head out when, all of a sudden, at 5:59 pm, my friend Albert started calling me on the phone. I immediately picked it up and on the other end he just kept shouting over and over again, “Nasa SONA ka! Nasa SONA ka!” (You’re at the SONA!)

While that commotion was happening, another friend was calling me up. Along with those two calls, my phone kept on vibrating from an influx of text messages and notifications that were coming in so fast I had to put the phone down.

About just 2 minutes after that call, I had over 20-something text messages and I kept receiving even more notifications from Facebook, Viber, and Twitter. There was so much coming in that I had to turn my phone off for a while just to save the battery because I still had a dinner to attend.

When I finally made it home, I was ready to check that photo of me you used in your presentation and see the fuss that came with it. Once I got my laptop running, and in the span of a few hours of dinner, I had never seen so many notifications in my life.

“X people posted on your wall,” “X people like a photo on your wall,” “X people mentioned you…” was all over my feed. Friend requests from people I’ve never met were coming in, and several posts and photos I still haven’t managed to reply to up to this day remain unanswered. I had never received this much attention, and it remains the craziest experience I’ve ever had with social media in my life.

This is what one photo can now do in this generation, Mr President. And after an experience this daunting, only one thing comes to mind for me to say to you: I owe you a very big thank you – but not for the 15 seconds of fame.

I’ll be honest when I say I was very touched by the short time under the spotlight. There’s no denying that. But, as I wrote on my own Facebook wall, what continues to fill my heart with great joy is knowing that so many people in my generation were actually watching the SONA that day.

Growing up in this day and age, I experience first-hand the rampancy of hearing that “there’s no hope for this country.” Yet, there I was on a random Monday night, working on a presentation, minding my own business, and receiving a flurry of messages from several of my friends – all during the actual airing time of the SONA.

When I got home that night, I even went through the posts and noticed timestamps from all the notifications. I realized they were also all during the time you were speaking.

In the midst of a widespread culture of hate in this country, I am reminded that my generation – the millennial generation, does care about the welfare of the Philippines. In the midst of all the attention a single photo has garnered, I am reminded of the moving words Cardinal Tagle shared back in 2013 during my graduation.

He explained how his near-papacy experience made him popular with the media and, in turn, raised the status of Filipinos all over the world. He explained how he didn’t enjoy the attention but that his coverage managed to uplift other Filipinos from their own experiences of suffering. In his own words: “Hindi pala yun para sa akin.” (It wasn’t for me.)

At a time when people think there is no hope for our country, I am reminded not to believe that, because I’ve seen that hope first-hand; and it’s rooted in its people, the Filipino people.

In your speech, you thanked my generation for helping contribute to the progress of this country. I hope I can speak for the most of the millennial generation when I say we are honored to share the responsibility of building this country with you, President Noy.

A Millennial’s promise

As a part of the next generation that has on its shoulders the name of the Philippines in the years to come, I want to let you know that one thing we’re already very good at is speaking out. We’re a very vocal generation.

Some may take this to mean we’re a very vain generation, given our social media pages filled with photos and statuses. Maybe that’s true for some cases – but if you turn toward the bigger picture, we show you a generation of people no longer scared to express an opinion, no matter how small.

We now we have voices, and we now know we have the means to make them louder. We now have the means to be heard.

Yes, we take selfies, but we also give our take on who should and shouldn’t run for the presidency in 2016. Yes, we share posts from 9-Gag and BuzzFeed, but we share our frustrations and joys also with the links of local and international news articles. Yes, we sometimes post about our sadness and anger every so often, but we always express our disgust and intolerance for anything closely related to corruption, and discrimination involving gender, sexuality, and religion.

We have the means to make more informed choices now, and our generations have so much to learn from each other if we can all be humble enough to do so.

Let’s learn how to communicate without the use of hate. Let’s learn from the visit of Pope Francis, his mercy and compassion, and not leave that responsibility solely to the CBCP. Let’s learn together and finally put an end to this tolerance for corruption and irresponsibility with the environment.

Most importantly, let’s learn to stop saying there’s no hope for this Philippines and start seeing what’s right in front of all of us: our people – the genuine hope for this country’s progress.

I’ve seen that hope countless times, Mr President, and it has the power to change things and move more people. It’s the same hope I see in faces on the streets and faces in profile pictures. It’s the same hope that tells me that our progress as a country isn’t a delusion, but rather a result of definitive action from all of us.

So long as that hope exists in our people, I will always be more than willing to carry bottles of water under the rain for it – because that’s exactly what this country needs: people to hope, and people to act on it.

Thank you very much, President Noy.

Serge

* This article also came out on Rappler.com: http://www.rappler.com/move-ph/ispeak/101150-dear-pnoy-sona-photo

Below is a letter I intended to give to Fr. Bu earlier this year. As part of the Ninoy and Cory Aquino Foundation Music Ministry, the choir gets to sing for the Lolo Jesuits at the Jesuit Residences almost twice every month– the same place where Fr. Bu was being taken care of. Before I got to finishing this letter, however, Fr. Bu moved on to his next adventure on February 10, 2015.

In honor of a great person who gave me more than just a course in college, I decided to finish the letter and share it publicly. My only wish is that I got to finish this earlier.

Happy 8th Psychology Day in the United Nations, Father Bu. Thank you for everything.

Dear Father Bu,

You probably don’t remember me but my name is Serge. We met a very long time ago. I was still a freshman then back in 2009.

We met at the psychology department. During that time, it was probably just my second or third time there and I wanted to inquire about a couple of subjects for the following year. I was just standing in front of the pigeon holes waiting for my turn to talk to Ma’am Anette, the department secretary, and you were there by the door of your office sitting down. Nothing out of the ordinary except you were holding a staff with both your hands, treating it like a cane. And while I was looking at you (mostly because I was curious why you had a staff in the first place), you caught me staring and you just smiled at me– as if you already knew why I was staring at you in the first place.

I can’t remember who introduced me to you. Could it have been a teaching assistant of yours or someone assigned to take care of you and help you move around? Though I can’t remember who that person was, I do remember she was nice enough to ask me to come closer so I could meet you. She said you were Father Bu. And shortly after switching my glance from an up close view of your staff to you, I finally returned the smile you gave me and shook your hand. “Hi Father, my name is Serge,” as I introduced myself. 

We didn’t have much time to talk because you had to go somewhere but I hope you know that that moment in the psych dept. was the first of many warm memories I’d make in our home department. And coming from someone who had no proper OrSem because of the AH1N1 scare, it was nice to have a place in Ateneo feel safe– feel like home. Later on, I heard and learned from several coursemates and professors that you were the person I had to thank for having a home department in the first place. Isn’t that something?

But of the many things I have to thank you for, Father, I am writing to you today to thank you for one more thing. Not just that bright, and warm memory of the past but something that goes beyond it: a future.

Right out of graduation back in March 2013, I immediately started working for a Public Relations firm. It was an immense amount of pressure trying out reputation management for the first time. Writing press releases, scripts for CEOs and VPs, and executing plans with a small team of communications experts was a very far cry from the original plan that was supposed to be med school but I certainly don’t regret making that decision. It helped renew my love for writing and it always made a good story for several of my batchmates who went on to go med school, law school, guidance, HR, and teaching. They always had to ask twice when they kept checking where I landed after college. As I’d tell them: I was a professional storyteller; a PR practitioner. I was very proud and I spent a good one and a half years with that company before deciding to want to study again.

It’s actually this next chapter of my life that I decided to finally write to you, Father. I wanted to let you know that I recently qualified for the Masteral’s Program in Philosophy at the University of the Philippines, and one big factor in making the cut, according to the Chairperson of the department who interviewed me, was coming from a psychology background. In case you didn’t know, UP teaches analytical philosophy and touches on many topics like that of the ‘self’, the mind, and behavior. So, you might see why it’s a very different take from the continental philosophy I grew up with in college but it really helps to have a small slice of the familiar; most especially with all the papers. After almost 4 months of school, I just wanted to let you know that I’m adjusting well.

I’m hoping to teach philosophy in the future and help the CBCP out with a little PR.

In the end, Father, all I really wanted to tell you was that while I was growing up in college I always wondered if I was in the right course. People always told me that it wasn’t a popular pre-med course compared to the other degrees offered, and for the corporate side of it, I was always told I’d always just end up in HR. But, it’s really funny how everything worked out in the end. I never dreamt that I’d be a PR practitioner after college. I never dreamt that I’d be taking masters in philosophy while being a freelance writer. I always dreamt that I’d be a doctor someday but never one with a Ph.D. and yet, here I am now so very eager to try and turn these bright plans into something else: a future.

Where would I have been now if I didn’t even know where to start in college? I honestly don’t know. You probably hear and receive all sorts of thanks and gratitude in the form of plaques, medals, and kind words from your colleagues and students, but from one person you’ve seen less than probably 5 times, I just wanted to say thank you, Father.

From the deepest depths of my heart, I want to thank you for changing my life. Thank you for being one of the pioneers of Philippine psychology and giving me a course. Thank you for teaching the teachers who would later on become my educators. Thank you for giving me a future. And, most importantly, thank you for allowing your life to give me a one. I promise to make mine count for something also.

With much love and unending gratitude,

Serge Gabriel

Image c/o: Ateneo de Manila University

A few days ago, I posted this photo of Robert Downey, Jr. as my profile picture on Facebook.

In all honesty, I’m very honored (enough to want to photoshop myself into a photo) to share the exact same birth date with the person who got me into the Marvel movies. I’ll never forget the high I got from watching the first Iron Man back in 2008, and DC made that year even more memorable when they released The Dark Knight– the film that remains to be my favorite superhero movie of all time.

I love superheroes. I imagine how dark the world would be without them. They don’t just save the fictional worlds where they’re written to exist in, they save the real one from plunging into what I imagine to be a sad and hopeless one. They make the world a better place because we know, on some level, that they exist. And they don’t just do good, they inspire others to be good. To be better or be the best versions of ourselves, even.

I love superheroes. So much that, when I promised myself that this would be the year I’d have a small party for the kids of Kythe, it was clear to me that it had to be the theme.

I’d been entertaining the idea of having one for years but this year, in particular, I felt that something was egging me to finally make it happen. There were too many signs and I’m the kind of person who believes that things don’t just happen by chance.

I don’t think it’s a mere coincidence that the second installment of the Avengers is coming out on April 22, while DC is celebrating 80 years with a giant celebration in the Philippines on April 18. I don’t think it’s a mere coincidence that two very close friends of mine who share the same birth month (one of them, even the same birthday!) are also part of Kythe-Ateneo– the same organization that caters to children with cancer.

So, while I was sitting down planning for the next quarter of the year, I immediately got in touch with my friends, Elijah and Issa, to ask if they were game for it. They didn’t even take a second to say, “Yes!” The next few weeks turned into visiting NCH and meeting our old hospital coordinator Ate Maryan, spending a day in Tutuban buying props, giveaways, and DIY costumes, and inviting a small group of friends who were just as game to perform, interact, color, take photos, and sing, all of which, with and for the kids.

Looking back and now that it’s over, it amazes me on how everything came together in the end. So much had happened in the span of two weeks.

I spent a day in Divi buying cloth by the yard just to cut it into capes with two very good friends.

I saw a mother helping make a costume for her son

and a father who willingly put on a cape to make his barely three month old daughter smile.

I watched people who had never been part of Kythe talk and play with kids as if they had been doing for years

and saw an old Kyther who slept at 3AM the night before just to finish a costume for the kids.

And, as for the kids themselves, I witnessed child after child smile and pose as if they were invincible to the pain of needles and sickness.

They will always be the bravest people I will ever meet.

It’s people and moments like these that remind me that superheroes are larger that what’s seen on the big screen or in the person of Robert Downey, Jr. They’re here, and they are very very real. These friends, who had commitments for work and med school, still spent a Saturday afternoon at a hospital in full costume and helped distribute food and put on a show for the kids, these parents who tirelessly work to take care of their children and still find the time to put a cape on and color pictures with them, and, most especially, these kids, the bravest of them all, who fight big words like ‘cancer’ and ‘needles’ every day, and still smile up to their ears– they are the testaments to what it means to be superheroes.

I suppose that’s why it’s so easy for me to love the idea of superheroes: because I’ve already met so many of them. These good people, they are the real superheroes; and getting to spend an afternoon with them made this birthday all the more special.

So, thank you.

From the bottom of my 24-year-old heart, thank you.

* Author’s note: All photos are c/o professional photographer and good friend from college, Matt Lee. Despite having a shoot he had to rush to in MOA, he spent part of his day just to take photos of this party. As I said on FaceBook, Thank you for not only giving me photos I can look back on but for playing with the kids, too, Matt. I have no doubt that you’ll be shooting my wedding someday also– and by then, I won’t accept you doing it pro bono out of the goodness of your heart. Thank you, Matt. You’re as real as superheroes get.

Original non-photoshopped RDJ photo here: http://t1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSldqFSQbf-tq0tM1WxD13MgJcB0uJ_ey6QwygO8DddjmZpFow3kQ Thank you to Krizia Lim for editing the photo!

Below is the homily that Fr. Arnel Aquino, S.J. gave today at the Gesu for Good Friday.

I didn’t get to hear this in person. I only stumbled on this when my friend, Harvey Parafina, posted pictures of the sheets of paper it was printed on. I was very moved by the words that I immediately had to type them out. I can only imagine how much more moving this would have been to have heard this in person.

Thank you very much for sharing this online, Harvey. It’s exactly what this time for reflection is all about and what I needed to hear on a night like this.

Waa

A Good Friday Homily by Fr. Arnel Aquino, S.J.

A couple of months ago, ISIS took a video as they incinerated a Jordanian pilot in a cage. My friends said the internet was awash with the footage, but I resisted the temptation of watching it. I learned my lesson many years ago when a friend sent me a dreadful video. It showed a Taliban skillfully and very quickly slicing a man’s neck to decapitate him– all of ten seconds, it seemed it was. The dreadful image stayed with me much longer than I wanted it to; plus the gurgling, spurting sound of blood from the grunting man– it lingered in my ears more tenaciously that I could shake it off. To the Muslim fundamentalists, the whole of Islamic religion has come down now to only this: “If you are a sinner, we will kill you. You’re not Muslim? You’re a sinner, we kill you. You do not worship Allah? You’re a sinner, we kill you. You’re a friend of Jews and US? You’re a sinner, we kill you.” Right now, I’m not sure which is more dreadful– to see a man incinerated, decapitated, or to realize that humanity can and will sink deeper into unspeakable depravity… all in the name of Allah, Yahweh, or God.

My sisters and brothers, today is Good Friday. The cross is once again front and center of our gaze– reminiscent of a torture as depraved as incinerating a pilot or slicing off a man’s head– amid cheers and jeers of, “Crucify him. Crucify him.” But remember what our elders taught? “That you should never look at the cross without, at the same time, think of your sins.” Our elders said, “Your sins, your immoralities, and perversities nailed Christ onto the cross.” So, Good Friday after Good Friday, the dying, tortured, mangled Christ compels us to think of our sin, our sin, our most grievous sin. Our fault, our fault, our most grievous fault. Krus, kasalanan; kasalanan, krus.

If the Islam fundamentalists have reduced their whole religion into a single issue, we Catholics might actually have our own version of this reduction: that everything Christ was and did, especially the cross, all of that comes to is only one issue: kasalanan. Well, there’s a further complication to that reduction. It has compelled us to think in moral dichotomies. Who is a sinner and who is not? Who’s going to heaven, who to hell? What does the law say, what is the violation? And not very far behind: Who is Catholic and will be saved, who’s not and will fry? Who can be baptized, who mustn’t? Who’s married in Church, who’s living in sin? Who’s team-buhay o team-patay o team-tatay? Who’s straight, who’s gay? The entire life and teaching of Christ, now reduced to either sin or purity, but mostly to sin. And so our Good Friday formulas go: Jesus did because of sin. He died for our sins. He died to save us from sin. And don’t get me wrong, all that is very, very true. But it is very, very lacking.

For what about love? I mean, what about the cross and love? But, on the second thought, never mind the Lord’s love, right? Jesus’ love complicates well laid-out doctrines, right? Love just blurs the line between sinner and God. So, yes, he healed the sick, but, no wait, he did it on the Sabbath. Well, yes, he prayed for and pardoned sinners, but no, wait, prostitutes touched him and he didn’t even flinch. Well, yes, he even raised the dead, but no, wait, he touched cadavers. No. Leave love out of this. Love is too scandalous. Love relaxes the boundaries between sinner and righteous, between heaven and hell. Love does not disambiguate between the point where God’s mercy should stop, so that God’s justice can begin. No, no, no, never mind love and the cross. Love blights our religion with “relativism.” No: cross and sin, that’s it! Never mind love.

Well, the people who killed Jesus did so because they couldn’t stand too much love. His love crossed the line to the outrageous. Those arms are better pinned on a cross. They embraced way too many people. Those feet, they refused to toe the line; they’re better off nailed stock-still. And that heart– that heart that’s way too soft on sinners, we must bleed it dry to a full stop. The only thing that can stop outrageous love is outrageous hate. So “crucify him, crucify him.”

My dear sisters and brothers, I respect our elders very much and what they’ve taught us. But I wish to still say that we cannot reduce the cross of Christ to just an issue of our sinning– even if it’s sinning greatly. I imagine, if I asked the dying Christ, “Why are you allowing all this to happen to you?”, the last thing he’d say would be: “Because you are sinful!” Rather, I seem to hear him say, “Because I loved… too much, I guess.” In fact, everything he uttered as he reached his last breath added up to that: “Because I loved.” That’s our Lord’s “reduction.” That’s what his cross is all about, much more than sin. It is all about the extent God would go to tell us again and again, “Anak, loving you is not just what I do. It is who I am. I love you into life. I will love you unto death.”

There’s a song we sing every Good Friday, and my favorite line in that song is this: “Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.” When we look at the Christ on the cross, we may very well “tremble, tremble, tremble” out of fear for our sins, and what our sins can do. But I hope that as we grow deeper in love with the Lord, when we do look at him on the cross, that we realize how our frail, quivering bodies cannot hold so much love… so that all we can do is “tremble, tremble, tremble.”

Image c/o: Churchhousecollection

Blue Roast has always been one of my favorite events in the Ateneo. For those who don’t know what it is, it’s when the graduating batch gathers for one last night a few days before graduation to enjoy a night of roasted food, beer, funny awards, and, of course, the tradition of giving blue roses to that special someone.

Whether it’s their first crush in Ateneo or someone they couldn’t have imagined college without (the two most popular answers I get when I ask people who they’ll be giving their blue roses to), one thing is always for sure: it always makes for a good story. And as a storyteller and an occasional hopeless romantic, blue rose stories are a couple of my favorites.

I’ve heard a lot because I love asking people. I had a friend (a dormer) who borrowed his friend’s car just so he could deliver the rose to the person he liked. I’ve heard a stories of people who’ve received more than 5 roses, one of them even got more than 10. I’ve even heard of someone, believe it or not, who actually tried to eat her blue rose.

Out of the many I’ve been blessed to hear, though, there are three stories that have always been my favorite. And I really consider myself very lucky to see parts of these three stories happen before me. While they were happening, I already knew that they were a couple that I wanted to share with other people and I’m glad I finally got to writing them down. After a good two and three years after, they’re still stories that, I believe, hit home.

Before I get to telling the stories, I just want to take a moment to say thank you to my good friends: AJ, Fidel, Ariel, and Batman for letting me share their stories. Seeing them happen was one thing but hearing them from you over a quick chat after all these years really made them into another. I only hope you love hearing them from another person’s point of view as much as I love telling them to other people.

1) The risk-taker

This is my friend, AJ. Most of batch 2012 already knows his story if it wasn’t obvious in the photo below.

Photo c/o: Matt Lee

During the rose-giving segment of the night, he went up on stage and you can guess what he did. The reason why AJ’s story is one of my favorites is because it has most of the elements any good story: the never-will-we-back-down friends, a little alcohol, and the heart that makes a person want to try and do something amazing for someone who deserves it.

That night, Never the Strangers was the band assigned to play when everyone started giving out their roses. As fate would have it, AJ happened to be very good friends with Ace, Nash, and the rest of the group. He had already thought about giving his blue rose to a certain volleyball player since their senior’s retreat. The original plan was he was just supposed to give it to her on the night of Blue Roast. That’s it, no gimmicks. But we all know how matters of the heart never ever really go according to plan.

One thing led to another and he ended up backstage with the band and Ace asked him, “Pare, ano nang plano?” Though a little shocked, he took a look at their setlist for the night, asked if he could rearrange it a bit for what he had planned, and, in his own words, with his blue rose in one hand and his heart in another, he just let it out and made it count.

“I’d give my blue rose to someone who would make me take a risk, and the fact that I’m up here on stage, speaking in front of all of you, I think that’s quite a risk,” he uttered on the mic. And as he said her name and asked where she was, with loud cheering, blinding lights, and the sound of Bago Mahuli Ang Lahat playing in the background, he ran to the volleyball table where she was sitting. According to AJ, the first thing he got was a slap on the arm from his good friend, the rose’s recipient.

No, they didn’t end up together but when I asked AJ if he had any regrets about it he said he didn’t have any. “… In Mirador, I planned to give my blue rose to someone special, and I did. I planned to say what I had to say, and I did. I did what I had to do, and that’s okay. No one can take that away from me and diba, ilan ba sa atin ang pwedeng magsabi na “pare, I was able to share my blue rose moment with all my batchmates, and it was worth it.” make it count pare. So no regrets here,”  he told me.

When I asked if he had any advice for those still thinking about who to give their blue roses, this is what he said:

Always follow your heart. Your mind might second-guess yourself, but the heart knows what it wants. And no matter how much your mind tries to say you can’t do it, your heart will always help you do it. Puso lang pare. Give it to that person who made you take that risk. Pare, for sure, by the end of the night, everything will be all worth it.”

He gave his blue rose to Gretchen Ho.

2) The unlikely couple that ended up together

The next story belongs to my batchmates. Meet Ariel and Fidel.

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That night, they gave each other their blue roses but neither of them had any plans of doing so until the night itself. Two years down the road, they’re still together and as cheery as they are in this photo when they weren’t even together yet.

On the night of Blue Roast 2013, Fidel was on stage during the rose-giving portion. He was to serenade Batch 2013 with Michael Shimamoto, Josh Imperial, and yours truly. We watched our batchmates give out roses to each other as we played through our set. When we finished our final song: the Jason Mraz medley with the anthem of all hopeless romantics, I Won’t Give Up, we packed our instruments and stored them in the tent backstage.

While Fidel, Josh, and Shim stayed in the back, I decided to go out and look around. As soon as I got outside, I ended up bumping into Ariel and our friend, Jie. Jie was egging Ariel to push through with what she was planning to do. “Nasaan si Fidel?” Jai asked me. Ariel’s face was burning red and she didn’t look sure at all with the smile that she was wearing. Being the good friend that I am, I immediately told both of them to give me a second. After a while, I managed to pull Fidel out of backstage without telling him what was waiting for there: Ariel and her blue rose.

Just when I thought Ariel’s face was funny, I saw Fidel’s. It’s like he couldn’t believe that he just received a rose from her (and true enough after getting to ask him after all these years, he said he still couldn’t believe it.) In his own words, “When i got it from her gumuho yung mundo ko. Sa isip ko parang shet mas may betlog pa to sakin.”

As the night continued, Fidel managed to muster up the confidence, too, to give Ariel his blue rose. The funny thing, he actually dropped Ariel’s blue rose and lost it so they spent part of the night looking for it. He eventually found it by himself and gave it back to her, framed, for their first anniversary.

He knew it was Ariel’s because he snapped off part of the stem to to distinguish it from the rest. Fidel got 9 roses that night. Ariel got 6.

The only thing I love more than telling their story is looking forward to their promise of mentioning my name when they eventually get married. Hahaha!

When I asked if the love birds had any advice for the next batch of people celebrating Blue Roast,

Fidel said:

“Hindi isang pribilehiyo ang rose na ibibigay niila. It is necessary that they give it to the person they like. They owe it to themselves. Lalo na sa mga halos buong college e loving from a far ang peg. Oras niyo na. Utang niyo sa pagbibigyan niyo yang pagkakataon na yan. Maaaring yan lang ang inaabangan nya para masimulan na ang kwento ng buhay niyo. More than that, utang niyo yan sa sarili niyo. Pucha nag antay kayo ng napaka tagal, tinorture kayo ng sarili niyo sa pagkatorpe niyo, di ko kayo kayang sisihin torpe ren ako. Pero ito, may pagkakataon na, may excuse na kapalan ang muka, take advantage.

Para naman dun sa mga may beloved na:

Ipagpatuloy niyo lang yan. Lagyan niyo ng kaunting spice yung blue rose kasi alam niyo nang kayo rin magbibigayan. Pero wag niyo isiping boring na dahil may girlfriend or boyfriend na kayo. KAYO ANG TINITINGALA NG MGA SINGLE. Manatili kayong inspirasyon ng mga torpe.”

Ariel said:

“Seize the moment! Don’t overthink.”

3) The open-ended story

For personal reasons, the identities of Batman and Catwoman will remain secret. But, make no mistake, their anonymity doesn’t make their story any less amazing. To be honest, I still get chills whenever I tell this one.

To put things into context, Batman has liked Catwoman for most of his college life. Naturally, it’d be easy to assume that Batman would be giving his blue rose to Catwoman.

Wrong.

That night, as the music from the live band filled the air, and while everyone was scrambling to give their blue roses to the people they were going to, Batman left the busy Bellarmine field.

He made his way to the Gesu, and stood in front of the statue of Jesus that overlooked the field. He held his blue rose by the stem, left it by the statue’s feet, and looked at Him and paused for awhile for a quick prayer on the bench. And when he was done, before running back to his friends, he stood up and said with a smile on his face, “Ikaw na bahala.”

He made it back to the group just in time for a few beers and laughs before the fireworks filled the Ateneo sky. Batman found himself running again but this time with the group.

They made it to the front of Xavier Hall to get a better view of the lights that painted the night with bursts of red, green, and blue. It was one of the most beautiful fireworks displays anyone had ever seen– I know, I was there. I was behind Batman. And Catwoman was beside him.

And during that perfect scene of the light and sounds, I saw Catwoman give Batman her blue rose.

I couldn’t make out what was happening at the time because of the noise of the fireworks but all I could see was Batman grabbing Catwoman by the shoulders and shaking her, with a giant smile on his face, because he couldn’t believe it. I had never seen a person so surprised and happy in my life– all of this while fireworks lit up the sky.

So, the big question? Did Batman and Catwoman end up together?

No, they didn’t.

But you know, according to Batman, that’s okay. I asked him if he had any advice for those giving their blue roses and his answer was simple.

“Talk to the person you’re giving it to. Conversations give meaning roses cannot, things like clarity, closure, or even a chance to win his/her heart.” And he smiled.

As another year passes, another set of stories have yet to come in. And as much as I’ve enjoyed seeing, hearing, and telling these stories over and over again, I can only hope for what every storyteller hopes for: their stories to actually be heard, to mean something to other people; their stories to inspire others to make and tell their own stories because that really is what life is all about: making a good story.

Photo c/o: Matt Lee

To the brave souls of Blue Roast 2015, good luck!

Author’s note: I wasn’t kidding when I said I really do love good stories– especially those that involve the Blue Roast. If you want to share yours with me, I’d really love to hear it. Drop me an e-mail! sergiofgabriel04@gmail.com