A Special Way to Celebrate Birthdays By Michella Cacdac

As a little girl, I grew up not having many friends because my parents were very protective of us. To my surprise, every time it was my birthday, there would be kids whom I didn’t know coming to our house. They were just random poor kids whom Mom would see around the neighborhood. At that time, I was unfamiliar with the message, but Mom was already introducing the value of charity to me and my younger siblings. She invited the children over for us to spend our birthdays with and to share our little blessings.

During the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the early 1990’s, Dad was busy saving lives of civilians who were greatly affected by the calamity. He personally rescued people who were endangered by lahar (like lava). We almost lost our Dad during those rescue operations. On the other hand, Mom and the rest of the family were busy packing and distributing relief goods for the victims. We couldn’t afford so much then, but I remembered being able to help as many people as we can with whatever means we had.

It was in 2007 when we began attending meditation classes in Ocean Sky. One of the teachings that continue to inspire our family is that of charity. We knew what charity was like growing up as we had many occasions to be exposed to it, but we didn’t really understand its true essence. After studying it thoroughly in the temple, we now celebrate our birthdays with our chosen charities, which we regularly visit as a family.

Dad started doing several medical and dental missions together with men and women under his command. Mom’s focus is more on students, since her birthday falls in June during opening of classes. We reached out to indigenous children of Tarlac, Zambales, Aurora provinces, and in depressed areas like Payatas, etc. Most of these places were in far-flung provinces.

These children had public schools and teachers, but they didn’t have school supplies, bags, slippers and other basic things which were needed in school. As a result, most of them were persuaded by their parents to quit school, and just help in working for sustenance. They are actually perfect candidates for recruitment to rebel groups when they grow up due to lack of education and understanding. From 200 kids in our list, they have now increased to almost 800 from different areas of Tarlac, Pamangga and Payatas. We saw how much the children were eager to learn, yet they didn’t have the means.

Our family always felt that no matter how limited our resources were, we still wanted to share more. It only requires time and little effort to reach out to these children, paving the way for great changes in their lives. We are thankful to these children and the other charities we visit, such as Home for the Aged, and minors who are rape victims by incest, etc. Visiting them constantly gives us opportunities to help. Starting with just our family, we now have more friends joining us in our mission; people who just dedicate their time to help us distribute the goods. Now, some of them are also replicating what we have done in their own little ways. Even people who worked under Dad’s command had opportunities to join us in these events. Many of them were overwhelmed with the joy that they brought to the less fortunate, just by simply talking and listening to them.

There were times I would prepare their meals, then my sister would sing for them, and we would interact with them. For the elderly, we were sad that each time we visited, some names would be stricken from the list since they had already passed away. This truly is a good way of learning non-attachment. I still cry sometimes but as time passed, I’ve learned to be stronger.

My daughter, 13 years old Keisha, regularly sets aside things that she does not use anymore. When Christmas time comes, she gives them away to different charity institutions that we visit. One time, she gave me an old dress to give to a girl named Precious. Precious was born with mental and physical abnormalities and was abandoned by her mother. After long months of waiting, finally it was time for us to visit these abandoned children. I brought the dress that Keisha wanted to give to Precious. I was so excited to see the kids and as I was going around, I noticed that Precious was missing. Thinking that she was just transferred to another room, I asked the caregivers. They told me that she died just a couple of months before I arrived. My heart was really crushed, but I had to remind myself about Buddha’s teaching of impermanence.

I value all the things taught by Ocean Sky. Most importantly, as a family, we try to “walk the talk.” We give value to the teachings by practicing what we learned. As time passes and more lessons learned, I know that charity needs constant practice to attain “mastery” level. We are still far from becoming “enlightened,” but these experiences give the Buddhist teachings more meaning, and let us experience small enlightenments along the way. It also helps us to be grounded and to stay dedicated in reaching out to our brothers and sisters in need.

The learning doesn’t stop. I’m truly grateful to Buddha, to our Grandmaster, Shifus, my parents, and to all Dharma brothers for being my great teachers. Thank you for paving the path that gives me true joy and peace. I consider myself blessed for having these opportunities to learn, to be surrounded by people who share the same goals in being selfless and unattached to mundane standards. I am trying my best to live it right by following the Buddhist teachings despite the challenges and imperfections of my daily life.