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‘Sama!’

I know some of you were waiting for a column on dentistry in COVID-19 times, but I’m going to push that for a later date.

I wanted instead to talk about “sama,” coming out of the commencement speech I delivered at UP Diliman’s first-ever virtual ceremonies last Sunday. I talked there about the need to develop the art of accompaniment in our lives, including leadership.

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Even before being invited to deliver the commencement speech, I’d been asked to speak at the College of Music’s recognition rites, and while I was looking for a theme, I chanced upon an article talking about “the art of accompaniment” mentioned in Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) issued in 2013. The Pope considers this art of accompaniment as central to evangelization, and I found it radical in the way it moves away from earlier forms of evangelization that tended to be condescending (we Christians converting you pagans). Drawing from a passage in Exodus, Pope Francis defines the art of accompaniment as approaching others, without our sandals, on sacred ground.

Doesn’t all that resonate for us in the Philippines? It is a sign of respect and humility when we remove our shoes or slippers before entering someone’s home.

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How else to talk about accompaniment than to use musicians as a prime example? Musical accompaniment is so vital for melodies to emerge, as well as to provide rhythm. The best musicians must know how to accompany, to flow with other musicians whether in a duet, trio, quintet, or an entire symphonic orchestra. Watch them next time you attend a classical music performance and you will see how they read each other’s body language, how they encourage each other with quick glances, smiles.

Note, too, that even soloists rely on accompaniment… playing in their heads.

In life, we need to be constantly accompanying others. That’s fairly easy to do in the Philippines because there is a “sama” obligation. From a very young age, we bring our kids along whenever we can, and feel guilty when we can’t. The child learns as well to give you that look when they can’t come along, my son learning to sulk and go, “Ayan, sama sa iwan (There, I get to join the ones left behind).”

Parents do a lot of accompaniment: to the pediatrician, to school, to recitals, to moving-up and graduation ceremonies, and all kinds of other “kids’ stuff.” Pinoy moms are better at that, but I think dads are picking up.

Filipino adolescents pick up on the art of accompaniment but it can be a short period, especially for males, because once they have a girlfriend (or boyfriend), then they transfer their accompaniment to the person they are courting… and sometimes even to the parents of their newfound love. Sigh.

Children beg to tag along with the exclamation, “Sama!” As adults, we take the initiative, knowing when to offer “Samahan kita” to provide strength and encouragement.

Educators take up a large accompaniment responsibility, not just as teachers but also as mentors for academic as well as nonacademic matters.

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The time comes, of course, when we have to let go. “Sama” can be a problem if it creates codependency relationships. I tell my kids that when I’m old (really old, because I’m already old) and they’re independent, they won’t have to keep me company because I’ll just give them their inheritance and disappear. They protest and say no, no, we will always be with you.

We’ll see. I’ll be happy seeing them take up the art of accompaniment for others.

Now, how I wish our government leaders can learn the importance, too, of accompaniment: How can you understand people’s problems if you’ve never entered the homes in slum areas and sweat factories, and when you haven’t tried the new “new normal” transportation arrangements, including riding on a motorcycle with a plastic barrier in between the driver and passenger?

There’s been so much talk about the importance of social solidarity, with “bayanihan” becoming almost a cliché. Let’s think of social solidarity as pagsasama, accompanying people, being by their side, or even letting them go ahead so we make sure they’re safe.

The text of my commencement speech, pardon the typos, is uploaded on https://upd.edu.ph/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/CMLT-Speech-2020.pdf, and if you want to hear you may as well watch the video of the entire ceremony, which, I felt, was one of the best we’ve ever had, without having to worry about rains and the heat: https://upd.edu.ph/watch-ika-109-na-pangkalahatang-pagtatapos/

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Dr. Gideon Lasco and I will have a webinar today (Friday) at 4 p.m. on “Masks, Medicine and Culture,” sponsored by the Museo ng Kaalamáng Katutubo. Livestream at: https://bit.ly/2ByZ1DV.

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[email protected]

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TAGS: “The Joy of the Gospel”, Christians, Sama, up diliman
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