By Winston A. Maxino
Sun, Jul 01, 2012
Mr. Jean Henri Lhuillier, Mr. Miko Jimenez, Mr. Leo Escano, Mr. Jonathan Batangan, officers and employees of PJ Lhuillier Group of Companies, and of Cebuanna Lhuillier Insurance Solutions, guests, my happy friends, good evening!
On Feb. 17, 2010, I was so blessed with an unexpected gift from God. Without my knowing, my sisters-in-law Gigi and Tinette had nominated me in the Nationwide Search for the Happiest Pinoy by Cebuana Lhuillier Insurance Solutions; out of 218 nominees from all over the Philippines and seven finalists, I was proclaimed the winner. I felt so honored to receive this recognition because we, Filipinos, are essentially a happy people. I thought that I was just like all of you and my fun-loving nature was just an ordinary thing. Gigi disagreed and told me that my happy attitude is remarkable. That surprised me — at napaisip tuloy ako – what was so extraordinary about my attitude toward happiness? Nevertheless, Gigi and Tinette — thank you for your belief in me that I could be the Happiest Pinoy!
In my reflections, I realized that what people considered remarkable about me was that I chose to be happy despite all the trials, pains and struggles that plagued me.
After I won, people from many walks of life approached me or got in touch with me to say they were inspired to hear my life story.
Truly, I feel touched and humbled by their appreciation! How I wish I could tell them a defining dramatic moment in my childhood when I made this conscious decision to always be happy no matter what… but honestly I could think of none! I just remember that even as a little boy, I accepted my circumstances, I endured the difficulties and I overcame the challenges – always with a smile on my face, with joy in my heart, and with lots of laughter along the way.
And so I asked myself the next question, what made me like this? I am stumped and have no definite answer. I am not a psychologist so I cannot give you any scientific explanation. I have no psychological theories to expound on; I have no powerpoint presentation with “picha pie” charts. All I have is only myself, my simple life story – perhaps we can all learn lessons from some significant events in my life.
Katulad po ni Jessica Sanchez, ako po ay isang finalist sa AI – siya sa American Idol, ako naman sa Asthmatics Idol! Kung gaano siya kalakas bumuwelta ng hangin sa pagkanta, ganoon din po ako kalakas humigop ng hangin para lang makahinga.
As a child, I was a regular fixture in the hospital emergency room because I suffered from acute asthma. My classmates would ridicule me for being so sickly because more often than not, I would be absent from school. In some of my report cards, there were more “Absent” days than “Present” days. To my classmates, I must have been the greatest anomaly.
But this sickly boy had a strong resolve – I told myself that I would enjoy and have as much fun as I could, just like any healthy child. I would continue to play games and participate in the school activities, mindless of my labored breathing, weak muscles and skinny body.
Even if I knew the other kids did not want me as their teammate because I would certainly be a liability, I still volunteered to join. I distinctly remember that when I was in Grade 4, I was appointed the Team coach for volleyball during the school intramurals. I felt so honored and proud. I thought I was finally accepted. Later on, I found out that my teammates decided to appoint me as coach, not because I played well, but in order to prevent me from playing and thereby increase their chances of winning. Naisahan po nila ako nung panahon na yon.
It was never easy every time I would be segregated because of my physical handicap. Pero matigas po ang ulo ko at makapal po ang aking mukha; kahit pa sabihin nilang lahat na hindi ko kakayanin, magpupumilit pa rin ako sumali. I refused to just be a spectator.
The time came when I fervently wanted to join the Boy Scouts, only to be rejected by the Scoutmaster who declared that I would not pass the physical requirements for hiking and camping. That was a major letdown for a child of 10, but I did not take no for an answer.
I asked my homeroom teacher to help me convince the Scoutmaster, but she said she could not do anything. What else could be the recourse of a child desperate to pursue his dream?
Nowadays, we have Isumbong Mo Kay Tulfo! but many years ago, I had a better equivalent: Isumbong Mo Kay Tatay! My father [Atty. Luciano Maxino], who fully supported my dream, wrote the Scoutmaster what I saw was a very short letter of about three sentences. Later that day, the Scoutmaster would inform me that I was already officially registered as a Boy Scout of Silliman University Elementary School.
I hurdled the first challenge of getting in but many more would soon follow. Sometimes during encampments, my parents had to pick me up in the middle of the night because of severe asthma attacks. Because of this, the other Boy Scouts would tease me for being a we
akling. To cope with the physical activities, I secretly took ephedrine tablets at night.
I knew that the physical rigors would be tough, so I did everything I could to excel in the other scouting activities. I won the knot-tying contests, the oratorical and extemporaneous speaking contests, and the Semaphore and Morse code contests.
I must have been a pain in the neck to my Scoutmaster who was forced to give me extra care and attention, but I would like to think that he eventually valued what I contributed to the organization.
At the age of 14, I earned the highest Boy Scout rank of Maginoo, besting others who were older than me. For an unprecedented four straight years, I garnered the Most Outstanding Boy Scout of the Year Award, which earned for me a school scholarship that partly paid for my high school education.
Happy endings do happen. I repaid my father’s three-sentence letter with four awards and four years of scholarship money. I am sure these made him and my mother very happy. I remember my mother’s beautiful smile each time she went up the stage to pin my Most Outstanding Boy Scout medal. And more importantly, I was very happy to have lived my dream and become a true-blue Boy Scout!
Looking back at other events in my life, I could see similar patterns of downs and ups: when life handed me a setback, I refused to be defeated, I called on the support of loving people, and I worked hard to improve my situation.
Sometimes, my efforts were rewarded with victories; sometimes, I lose the fight and simply gained valuable lessons. I will not fool you; although I consider my resolve to be strong, it is not made of steel. I also go through moments of weakness, anger and sadness. I also join the ranks of the fallen.
But as Angelicue Kudjo said, “You can fall, but you can also rise”; so, after all the drama has subsided, somehow I manage to pick myself up, lick my wounds and move forward. Life is beautiful again!
I would like to take you back to the year 1996, when my second daughter Brina Kei was born with Down Syndrome. In case you are not familiar with this genetic disorder, children with Down Syndrome used to be called “mongoloids”.
We brought her to a geneticist who gave a very poor prognosis for her future. My daughter’s muscle tone was so weak that the doctor predicted that she would not amount to anything much.
I was so devastated and this was one time when I asked God, “Why me? Bakit mo ako binigyan ng problemang ganito?“ Nagtampo po ako sa Panginoon.
But after that sulking episode, I vowed never to see my child as a problem. I declared — she would not be a burden. She would not be an object of pity. I looked at my child and resolved to see her as a blessing. I rallied my wife Alina, my daughters Alayne and later Carlin, our families, teachers, therapists and friends to support the work of giving Brina every fighting chance at a functional life.
At eight months old, we started her weekly speech, occupational and physical therapies. At two years old, her developmental pediatrician gave the go-signal to mainstream her in a regular kindergarten school. Today, Brina is an active 15-year old who likes music and dancing. With the help of a tutor, she is able to pass her subjects in a regular school. She currently works part-time as an assistant in her tutor’s office. This school year, she will be in 4th year high school, and as early as now, she is excited about her graduation. After high school, she plans to take up Hotel & Restaurant Management as a livelihood course.
What if? … What if … I had given up on my special child that sad day in the geneticist’s clinic? Then I would have deprived myself of so much happiness. Brina’s achievements are amazing, her innocence is delightful, her kindness is heartwarming and her sincere affection is comforting. I always tell Brina that she is the best Down Syndrome kid in the world, and indeed she has turned out to be one of the biggest blessings of my life!
There are times I wish I were Incredible Hulk and I can smash all my problems away! Not all of my battles end in victory; some battles are lifelong struggles.
In the year 2000, I landed in the hospital because I could not walk or move my body. I could not laugh without excruciating pain. It was painful to even breathe.
After five agonizing days and four sleepless nights, the doctors finally diagnosed my condition as a rare and incurable degenerative disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis. “Ano daw iyon?” I asked.
At first, I could not even pronounce the name of the disease, but I was certain I heard the doctor right when he said it was incurable and it was degenerative. Ibig sabihin, habambuhay ko pong titiisin ang sakit na ito at, habang tumatagal, lumalala ang sakit ko. Kung dati, nagtampo ako sa Panginoon, ngayon nagalit na talaga ako. Sabi ko, “Ano na naman ito, Lord? Bakit mo ako pinaparusahan ng sobra-sobra? I think I am a good man – I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t gamble, I don’t do drugs. What wrong have I done to deserve this? Wah!”
But God is kind, He allowed me to rant and rave, then He soothed my angry heart. I started to realize that for as long as I regard my disease as a punishment from God, I will remain angry and bitter.
So I resolved to change my mindset: Ankylosing Spondylitis is not my punishment or my enemy, it is my teacher and my friend. It is not here to weaken or defeat me, it is here to help me grow into a stronger, wiser and kinder human being.
I have accepted that my pain and suffering are here to stay. They are part and parcel of my life, as real as my heartbeat and as constant as my breathing.
Right now as I speak, I am in pain. And I am able to bear the pain only because I take pain relievers and I undergo the very-expensive infusion every two months. Pat
i po bulsa ko, sumasakit na rin dahil sa sobrang mahal ang mga gamot.
My awesome doctors and nurses, my wonderful family, my generous and understanding boss, my loyal subordinates, and my caring friends have become my angels who raise me up, and see me through the rough patches. My gratitude to them is so deep and profound for all their love and support. They have given more meaning to my life!
With all the blessings these people bring to my life, why should I stay focused on my pain and suffering? I figured I have two choices: one, I can wallow in self-pity, be miserable and, in the process, make others feel miserable when they are around me; or two, I can grin and bear it with as much grace as I could, be happy and make the people around me happy as well.
Life is short, so I will fill my life with as many happy moments as I can make and I will be grateful for every small blessing that comes my way. I will laugh as loud and as often as I could, I will bring joy and cheer to other people, and I will be thankful to God for everything that I have been favored to have.
Rabbi H. Schachtel said “Happiness is not having what you want, it is wanting what you have.” Happiness is not the absence of pain and suffering but the courage and determination to deal with them. Happy people are the little heroes of the world.
The time has come for Cebuana Lhuillier Insurance Solutions to find another little hero in our midst. When I received the programme for today, my attention was caught by the theme Honoring and Celebrating the Filipino Resilience.
I asked myself, am I resilient? What exactly does resilience mean? I found a very simple definition of resilience from Wiki-Answers: “Resilience is when someone has had a bad past and has bounced back and has put his bad experiences behind him and moved on with his life”.
In other words, resilience is having a certain streak of stubbornness that rebels against despair and helplessness. Parang si Jaworski, never say die! To borrow the Ombudsman’s words, “Never ever! Excuse me!”
If this is resilience, then I think I have it. The burning question still playing in my mind is: “Am I resilient because I am happy, or am I happy because I am resilient?” I am sorry, I don’t know the answer to that question. Hindi po ako nagpapalusot, talaga pong hindi ko alam.
But one thing I know… happiness is a decision you make everyday. When life gets you down, you get back up and hope that it will get better.
When the world has turned its back on you, surround yourself with the few people who truly love and cherish you.
When the difficulties seem insurmountable, have faith that God will provide the relief. When good things come your way, appreciate them and give thanks.
When there is an opportunity to share your blessings with others, grab it. It might help to have $2.4 million in the bank, but money cannot buy your resilience and happiness. Believe it or not, you already have everything you need to be happy.
Ladies and gentlemen, I was adjudged the Happiest Pinoy, and I sincerely thank Cebuana Lhuillier Insurance Solutions, not only for this recognition, but also for opening my eyes about what it truly means to be happy.
I share this honor with every person here tonight and with every Filipino out there who may be suffering from physical, emotional or mental pain but have chosen to take a positive outlook in life.
Two years ago, a friend, who read in the newspapers about my being hailed as the Happiest Pinoy, sent me a text message, “Congratulations, Pare! May you be contagious and I hope to be infected.”
That is my wish for all of you here tonight, that you may be infected with the happy virus and that you will eagerly pass it on!
Now, the Happiest Pinoy of the Republic of the Philippines wishes to be excused.
(Winston A. Maxino, who won the Happiest Pinoy search in 2010, delivered this speech last May 31st at Nurture Spa Village in Tagaytay City before executives of the PJ Luillier Group of Companies and the Cebuana Lluillier Insurance Solutions.)
Cebuana Lhuillier Pawnshop has been the leading pawnshop chain in the Philippines with over 1,500 branches across the country—from Aparri to Tawi-Tawi. For 25 years now, Cebuana has been true to its slogan “Walang Kapantay Magpahalaga” through the incomparable services that the company offers to its customers- this includes — pawning, local and international remittance, insurance, bills payment, e-load, collection, and foreign exchange. Founded in 1987 by the current Philippine envoy to Portugal, Ambassador Philippe Jones Lhuillier, Cebuana Lhuillier is currently managed by its President and CEO, Jean Henri Lhuillier.