Give till you bleed

Since July is Blood Donor’s Month, I would like to share with you the speech I gave as keynote speaker during the Recognition Ceremony to honor regular blood donors and supporters of the Philippine National Red Cross Blood Services last Wednesday, July 23, at the Heritage Hotel. It is my hope that you, or someone you know, might be inspired to help in whatever way you can.

I  have a confession to make. And because I am standing before all of you this morning I might as well be honest — having to address a crowd frightens me. Yes, even if you throw in the fact that I actually appear on TV and even host a couple of shows regularly, I still get the jitters — they are still as real now as they were then. That said, I hope you will pardon me for bringing my kodigo and reading from it. I’ve always felt more comfortable putting my thoughts on paper; maybe that is why I enjoy writing so much.

First, allow me to share with you how I got involved with this cause.  I have been with the Red Cross for practically as long as I have been married — all of 10 years, and counting. I was a very new bride then, maybe just a few weeks old at the most, very painfully shy, and I vividly remember an afternoon meeting with Tita Rose at what used to be Bistro Lorenzo in Annapolis. She asked me if I could take an active role in the Red Cross, specifically, the Blood Program.

“What do you want me to do?” I had asked.

“Just be there,” Tita Rose answered.

“Just like that?”

“Simple as that,” she answered.

And since madali naman ako kausap, my journey began. As I mentioned earlier, I was painfully shy, so it was really quite an effort to stay composed in front of very large crowds. More so when I was required to speak in front of those large crowds, as was often the case in big bloodletting activities. Put on the spot, the mic would be thrust under my nose and I would stammer and stutter my way through the ordeal. In time, though, I got used to it. I managed by always keeping it short and sweet; besides I figured it was always so much simpler to just speak from the heart. Fortunately, having to give a speech wasn’t always the norm and over and above that, physical presence was given more of a premium.

But that was another little thing I was not entirely comfortable with.  I was queasy about the fact that that was all that was required of me, initially at least. All I needed to do was to just be there? I kept on playing that over and over in my mind. How can my mere presence significantly be of help to an organization as serious as the Red Cross? I wanted to help and really feel like I was helping. I wanted to really get down to it — get my hands dirty, so to speak. I wanted to work at something concrete, to do something significant — I did not want to just be like a doll, photographed and pampered and admired. That felt empty. I knew I wanted to do more than just smile at and shake hands with people.

So I got what I thought was a bright idea. Why don’t I actually learn how to extract blood from donors? I could seriously learn that, I told myself. That way I would be more useful. I could prick them and get their blood, literally, the way the med techs, doctors and nurses expertly do. For sure there would be seminars or courses that would teach me that. It wasn’t an impossible idea.

But I soon found out that Tita Rose wasn’t too thrilled with that thought.

“Why would you want to do that?” she asked me. “The Blood Program has enough experts to extract blood. What we need are blood donors, and money to buy the many machines.” Then she looked at me the same way I looked at her when I thought I had a bright idea and said, “I know. That’s it. You help get me the money to buy the machines. Ask, ask, ask.”

“From who?”

“From everyone. Anyone,” she answered.

“I can’t,” I pleaded. “I’m too shy.”

But my protest fell on deaf ears and Tita Rose assured me that aside from the shyness being at the onset only, I also had nothing to be ashamed of because I wasn’t asking for money for myself anyway.

And so that was that. With that statement, another leg of my Red Cross journey had officially began. I remember going home to Richard that day and asking him, “How on earth do I ask for money?” I am even shy about asking for money from my own mom and dad, how could I be thick-faced enough to ask from complete strangers, friends even? I felt I was even in a tighter fix. I now needed not only their blood but their money as well. What had I gotten myself into?

For all that uncertainty and fear there was one thing I was certain about — I did not want to let Tita Rose down. To say the very least, she was the one person that kept me going. All I had to do every time I would get the jitters was to think about all that she has done.  She has given so much of herself to the cause, she has dedicated so much of her time, she has loved and served with all her heart. With the pureness of intentions and without expecting anything in return.  Inspired by and respectful of that truth, I knew deep in my heart that the least I could do was try. So help me God. If I failed miserably, at least I tried and gave it my best shot. What was the worst that could happen anyway? If you think about it, nothing so bad really that I would not get over it.

True, some will most probably say no (some have), but then again there’s always that chance that they just might say yes next week, next month, next year (yes, a lot have done that, too). I guess I’ll just have to keep on trying. Some might secretly think I am thick-faced for even asking. But I will ask anyway. Why should I not? It is for a noble cause anyway.

Admittedly, the first try is always the hardest. But as I went along I got more and more thick-faced, for lack of a better word; more “brave” maybe, if you could call it that. I learned that there will always be those who say yes but mean no, and also those who say no but mean yes. You learn to not take anything personally. You learn to keep the hope alive. The fear is still there, the embarrassment and nervousness right before I actually blurt out my request or send out the formal letter are real monsters I still grapple with. But they are smaller monsters now and I have learned to tolerate and live with them, but not so much that they get the best of me. Tita Rose promised that, in time, they would shrink further to such small sizes they would no longer be significant.

Times are hard now and a lot of people are tightening their belts.  But because the God of things both big and small makes everything happen in his own perfect plan and time, we can all still be assured that for every 10 who are not too eager to help, there will always be one who will be all too willing to do just that. And that one person can make a world of difference. We have bought many machines because that one person out of 10 stepped up.

With that in mind, every day becomes an opportunity to take a leap of faith. To have faith in humanity. And to always believe that despite the troubles and evils in this world there still always will be more good than bad in any person. After all, like my grandmother used to say, even the toughest heart, when touched by God, will melt like butter under a scorching sun.

Sometimes we are asked to give until it hurts. Here at the Red Cross, we get a tad too literal about the hurt part because we ask you to literally bleed, and regularly at that. As if that wasn’t enough, for those whom we know have even more to give we stretch our luck a little bit more in the hope that you will allow their pockets to bleed as well. We do that because we desperately need those machines.

Tita Rose is always the first to admit that there have been so many over the years that have helped her build and make the blood program what it is now. On behalf of the National Blood Services of the PNRC, I would like to thank all those generous souls, and that includes all of you here present. You may never know whose life you have saved, and how many at that. That makes you all unsung heroes. Heaven knows what you have done. That said, it is a reality that some of you are bashful, or maybe embarrassed would be a better word, because you feel you can only give so much. I want you to know that we appreciate what you give and quantify as “little” just as much as we do the ones you think give “so much more.” Help is help and we will graciously take it any way we can, any way it comes. We all do our part in God’s garden, and there is no help so small it will ever be considered worthless.

I guess I can safely say that at a certain point in life we are all one in wanting to not just exist, but to exist meaningfully at that. That only happens when we invest in nurturing relationships, building real friendships, and more so when we touch base with what is good in us and share it, often and much, without expecting anything in return. It happens when we consciously and continuously give something of ourselves to others. That is humanity.

Tita Rose, I always say you are a national treasure, a precious gift to the Filipino people. We will all keep on praying for your good health so you can continue to do what you do best. I realize now more than ever that, like you said that afternoon during our very first meeting at Bistro Lorenzo 10 years ago, oftentimes it really is as simple as being there, making yourself available for others, opening your heart to humanity.

We all must go as the spirit leads us, taking on every challenge, surrendering to every opportunity to make a difference, one day at a time. We are but channels of God’s mercy and goodness. It is never about us, it is always about Him. When fear or anxiety comes all we have to remember is the beauty of grace. It happens when you need it, as you need it. Not before. Never after. And not only that, you are always given as much of it as you need. No more. No less. God’s timing and calculation is always spot-on.

So here at the Red Cross we say give. Always give. Share your time, your energies, your resources. Even when it bleeds, even when it hurts. And I mean that literally and figuratively.

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