The gift of one’s self

Photo credit: The Long Lunch

It’s the Christmas season and time to talk about gifts. 

I admire people who have their recipient lists and gifts ready as early as July. I’m not one of them, obviously. For many Christmases, my job and the pressures of raising a family denied me the luxury of surplus time and income needed to do advanced shopping. But I know friends who have perfected the practice. Technology and smartphones automated it, with apps now letting you create the list, keep track of past gifts given, note what your recipients like and how much of your budget you’re likely to burn.

I’m thinking about this, because every year, the question has been what meaningful gift to give family and friends, and for Christmas 2021, someone provided an answer: the gift of self in the form of a book. It was an anthology of newspaper columns written by someone I once knew and worked with. He self-published and asked friends if they wanted a copy. I raised a virtual hand.

I had heard of the writer, Atty Dan, from my university days, but first met him in person when he joined the television newsroom I was working for at that time. He was hired to be legal something. Legal counsel, legal consultant, legal reporter? We reporters thought then that having a lawyer in the middle of a busy newsroom was specifically meant for those of us who were at the frontlines of daily coverage.  Until his arrival, there was a corporate legal office, but him the bosses placed right smack in the middle of the newsroom, like a walking red flag meant to remind everyone to get their stories straight.

In his first few days at work, Atty Dan was assigned to shadow reporters in their daily coverage. At the end of one working day, senior reporter Jun B approached me and whispered dramatically, “He’s going to be your responsibility tomorrow.” We reporters were used to babysitting student interns, but a company executive tagging along was a different matter. Was he the corporate snitch? Was he going to do a running edit of my work? 

I have little memory of that day except that Atty Dan kept a discreet distance from the news team. He eventually became a newsroom fixture, whose first “office” was that space in the old building, formerly a small foyer closed off to hold one desk: his.  He managed to stay out of the general bustle and turned out to be a jolly, funny and friendly newsroom lawyer.

My most endearing memory of him, though, was his lending my news team his car, a Nissan Sentra if I recall right, during one of those days when there were too many stories and few news vehicles. If memory serves, it was I who drove my news team of two (myself and my cameraman) to some event. The cameraman must have been Nonoy J, the silent one, because I remember riding in relative quiet, which doesn’t usually happen with other cameramen. In the silence, I pondered and appreciated the generosity that prompted Atty Dan to lend us his precious car and let harassed and harried reporter me, whose driving credentials he could not certify, maneuver the Sentra through the traffic from Quezon City to Makati. This was beyond the call of duty. The least I could do was bring the car back in one piece, which I did, to our mutual relief.

I left that television newsroom not long after and moved to another one, as did Atty Dan sometime later. The TV world in the Philippines is so small those making a career in it tend to run into each other or walk the paths former colleagues made. In this book, he also wrote about this other newsroom where he eventually became one of the top honchos.

Atty Dan and I had other things in common. We went to the same university and had the same teacher in expository writing. He gained some measure of fame for running for student council chair against someone who was the popular editor-in-chief of the campus paper. In college, I remember that he became the vilified Vanguard, in what seemed like a left vs right contest.

Atty Dan’s book covers his life in the media, before and beyond. It’s about the things that make a life– childhood, parents, education and work. Titled “The Long Lunch,” it’s an anthology of digestible columns. The book and the blog where the articles first appeared are easy reading mainly because they are written by someone who has something to say, and says it with clarity of thought and style. I guess the logical thinking comes from his being  a lawyer, but for me, the book’s value is that it reads like old times, revisiting years I lived through, and people and places I know, including those I’d rather forget, and being told that they weren’t so bad after all. 

But back to my original point: Atty Dan’s book gave me a gift idea for Christmas 2022. Not that I have material to fill a book. But I have seen and collected enough photographs, which is why my family will get from me a photobook, images taken by myself and others comprising stories told from my point of view. Thanks for the idea, Atty. Dan!  

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