By Bernie V. Lopez
As seen on the October 2019 issue of The Philippine Sentinel
Paediatricians say that if a baby is not fondled or touched by human hands, he or she may die within a few days.
I met eight-year-old Gary at an orphanage run single-handedly by a Belgian nun, Sister Helga. Gary’s parents died when he was two-years old, and he was passed around like a ball for six long years from one relative to another, all of whom did not want him. The repeated rejections, living with cousins who bullied him and aunts who used him as janitor, traumatized Gary.
When finally, Sister Helga took him into the orphanage, he was just a silent kid with a hurricane raging inside him, invisible to all. Sister Helga ran the orphanage with clockwork precision, having an efficient Filipino staff. They all thought he was a normal meek boy.
Gary was the butt of jokes among other orphans. They teased him every day but he never fought back. His protracted rejections and trauma over the years were coming into a climax. An explosion was looming.
One day, when Sister Helga woke up, she found Gary sleeping underneath her bed on the cold dusty cement floor with no pillow or blanket. Sister asked him gently to go back to his bed. He obeyed, but after a few days, he was back. When Sister asked him again, there were silent tears. Sister realized his deep hunger to be loved. It was enough that she became a distant ‘mother’ who did not even touch him. Sleeping under her bed was a form of ‘love’ and intimacy from her. From then on, he slept underneath Sr. Helga’s bed. This time, she gave him a mat, pillow and blanket.
The teasing by orphans intensified. Gary did not care. For the first time, he felt loved and he would take all the ridicule in the world to be loved.
Then, enter the big bully. Jeffrey, a 14-year-old kid, with his gang of 4 younger orphans, was feared by everyone. He would corner Gary every day and hit him on the back of the head. One day, when Gary dared to glare at Jeffrey, the bully mauled him until his face bled. The next day, Gary was holding a paper bag. As Jeffrey approached, he pulled out a hammer from the paper bag. Seeing the hammer, Jeffrey and his gang scattered. Gary ran after Jeffrey, only to be stopped by Sister Helga. From then on, no one dared bother Gary again. The teasing and bullying stopped. Gary was slowly respected for his bravery, standing up against the big bully. It was a strange way to gain respect, the use of a hammer, out of anger and fear, but it worked. Sometimes, you just have to stand up to them and tell them you refuse to be stepped on. His name changed to ‘batang martilyo’ (the hammer kid). When he would hear his new name, he would smile.
Gary frequented the kitchen where the cook became a friend. He would help out slicing garlic and onions and washing vegetables, until he became the official ‘assistant cook’. One day, when the cook was sick, he took over the kitchen. Everyone liked his menu. Sister assigned him as the new chef, when the cook resigned. He gained more respect using not a hammer but a kitchen knife.
The orphans started to like him. He became a friend. He reached level no. 2 in being loved. Level 1 was a ‘mother’. Level 2 was peers. Gary always gave back when he received love. They would request him to cook this dish and that dish, and he would always oblige. He assigned two assistant cooks to help him.
Conversing with Sister Helga, I commented how Gary must have changed a lot after being loved. She replied, “Of course, he feels good being loved, but that is only the first step. You have to love back. When I saw Gary loving back, I saw the true spiritual transformation, from a violent-prone kid with a hammer, to a loving kid with a kitchen knife. Being loved removed all his anger and his wounds. But loving back restored his spirit completely and gave him inner peace. Life is more about loving than being loved.”
About the author: Bernie V. Lopez is a graduate of Ateneo de Manila University and was a professor of the same school.
He obtained his Master’s Degree in Communication Arts from New York University and currently writes for Philippine Daily Inquirer and Philippine Sentinel News.