HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated September 27, 2009 12:00 AM
It was an experiment in human interaction, or maybe a step forward towards what all the social networks, of which a great number of us are members these days, are trying to do. I put out an announcement on Facebook and Twitter about a dinner I wanted to host for five random people I did not know. I called it “5 People You Meet On Earth.” It was to be a simple thing. Anyone interested in having a crack at it was to send me an e-mail and from the batch of responses, I would randomly choose five people to invite.
Not long after I posted it, streams of email and tweets deluged my inbox and tweetbox. After about two days, I had more than a hundred. I was really only able to read a few of them since there was just too many responses. Besides, I didn’t want my random process of choosing whom I would invite be influenced by a sender’s writing style, or age, or sex, or anything. I wanted it completely free of any preference on my part. The Universe would decide which people were to find themselves together in my house.
I only had two conditions for people to join: a) that they were not stalkers, and b) that I did not know them.
When it was time to choose, I looked at the list of e-mail responses and I chose every sixth sender, and changed my mind about the number of participants and increased it to six. I copied their e-mail addresses and promptly sent out my response. “Congrats! You were randomly chosen to be invited to dinner at (my address) September 20, 2009, 7 p.m. Dress informally and come with an open mind and good disposition.”
On the night of the dinner, my guests arrived in trickles, but were all rather prompt at around 7 p.m. I knew little about them since I purposely tried not to read too much or retain any info. I wanted to enjoy the thrill of meeting and discovering the people behind the strangers I was to sup with. There were seven all in all: Jane Uymatiao, May Tan, Leklek Villanueva, Car Rigo, Ricci Alesna-Magat, Jey-ai Reyes. A seventh person, my dear friend Mae Paner a.k.a. Juana Change who was so enamored with the idea of the project, had pleaded with me to invite her to the dinner, so she was also present. Based on the names of the people, I thought that two of the six strangers were male, but as it turned out, I was to have dinner with seven girls!
To my pleasant surprise, things went smoothly even from the start. The truth was there was hardly any awkward moment at all. Over delicious, sumptuous dinner prepared by my daughter Erica, we wasted no time in getting to know each other. We had a three-minute self-introduction from each member of the ad-hoc group. Not soon after we began, the amazement level felt by everyone began to rise. One participant, Leklek, who worked with a big multinational firm, had actually flown in from Singapore to attend the dinner. May was a student of law, just back a month from Sydney. Car was a psychology graduate who liked to travel and do mountain climbing. Ricci was a housewife and a fulltime mother who ran her house chores without maids. A medical technician, Jey-aiy felt that she was being drawn to cancer patients and how to treat them. The sixth, Jane, was an accountant of many years who had recently discovered the joys of “right brain” activities such as blogging, the arts, etc. Lastly, there was Mae, director of commercials, political activist and artist.
Soon after the intros, we slid into conversation which flowed freely while pleasantly touching on varied topics such as travel, books, people, serendipity, creativity, new callings, passions and high moments in our lives.
It wasn’t too long after that we all felt the quality of the exchange was getting deeper and more authentic. Mae talked about how her search for authenticity and truth made her turn down lucrative advertising work for politicians and do stuff she found meaningful and fulfilling, like her short films with her alter ego Juana Change, and the National Anthem video she made. May, the law student talked about how working with Supreme Court Justice Hilario Davide, who has such integrity she said, affected her in a good way. Leklek talked about how travel to places like India and other destinations made her believe that people everywhere were generally good and honest. Ricci, who had turned down a budding career to raise her own kids, told us about how hard it was to tell her boss of her decision to leave. She also talked of her adventures in the caves of Sagada.
Jey-aiy entertained us with the story of her name, and how it was a re-christened one in high school since there were four other classmates of hers who were named Janis Ian after the singer. She shared her desire to learn more about treating cancer since fate seemed to take her to people who were suffering from it. Car, an outdoorsy type, talked about her love for walking, hiking and her time spent doing social work with depressed communities. Jane, a mother, was with SGV for some 20 years. She talked about the thrill in discovering aspects of herself which were totally new like blogging and writing about topics that she has recently discovered like her love of yoga and spirituality.
As the night wore on, I felt such ease with my newfound friends. I noted and said that the beauty of the situation we were in, that of being together without any shared past or history just made everyone talk and share freely without any fear of judgment or censure from anyone. I was beginning to think that perhaps these six people (whose names I could not even easily remember and had to be reminded of a few times throughout the evening) were brought to my doorstep by fate as strangers in disguise, but were in fact friendships merely waiting to be confirmed.
Some four and a half hours later, we started saying our goodbyes and cameras started to click away. We all took our souvenir shots, our little mementos of this crazy experiment in saying “yes” to mystery by allowing ourselves to share a dinner with strangers, peeking into their lives while allowing them to do the same thing with us.
There was another 15 minutes spent at the gate as we talked some more. Soul talk and great sharing, once started, is hard to stop. But alas, we knew it had to end.
When they left, I felt a sense of affirmation for all people in general. I felt a positiveness about humanity. I felt that, deep down, every person has a story to tell, a life to share even momentarily with others, and a capacity to accept the “other” however briefly. Could the first rule of life actually be, as Joseph Campbell says, that we are all one? That night, it sure seemed to be. And it happens when we allow ourselves to be unconditional about life and people, and accept things however or whatever shape they wish to manifest.
I know I will do this again!