An old woman once said to me that when we just take time to look at the face of the person before us, we would slowly realize that she is indeed beautiful. There is ‘more’ which we will eventually discover in the other’s face as it offers itself to us. The philosopher Emmanuel Levinas holds that the Other manifests itself to us as a face who addresses us, a reality we cannot use or manipulate but that we must respect and serve. The Other’s face presents itself as radically new . It “comes towards us, and we are called beyond ourselves.” It seizes us, and offers itself to our minding.
Her insight makes me marvel at the givenness of persons. It is said that persons “tend to pour over into active, conscious self-manifestation and self-communication to others, through intellect and will working together.” But I can only marvel at the richness and openness of persons if I am present to the world and in relation with others. For example, a newly born baby who comes to existence is but a child to her parents, she is inserted into a particular existing relation. As she is thrown into the world, she cannot but find herself present in the web of relationships, in the community of all presents. Her presence is a gift for others, which is made possible due to the givenness in every person. Some call it as the “excess of other-being” that overflows towards one (Desmond, Wiliam), that “comes to us from a depth of otherness that we cannot claim to control, or completely encapsulate in our subsequent concepts.” The American philosopher William Norris Clarke, SJ once claimed that this natural tendency to self-giving is but a revelation of the ‘generosity’ rooted in the very nature of the one that is actively present.
The song “Persons Are Gifts” somehow conveys the same point, “We are all persons, we are all gifts, so let us have a grand exchange of gifts.” We also hear ordinary people saying, “Ang mga anak ay hindi pabigat kundi biyaya mula sa langit.” During my exposure before at the Bilibid prison in Muntinlupa, I heard the inmates saying that the things given to them were “biyaya.” As there is givenness, otherness, there is also more room for surprises. Persons truly surprise us!
In my opinion, the idea that person is a gift for others and her presence and otherness is not a threat to one’s existence is somehow present in the Visayan word “kauban.” Its root word is “uban,” meaning, “to join” or “to come” and “other.” The word “ka-uban” suggests that my “uban” must be present so that she could come or join me, and this “uban” who comes or joins me is other than me. The “other” who is present is different and unique as I am also unique.
Yet, she is related to me for we share something in common, that is, both of us are present not only to the world but also to each other, and the diffusiveness of our being persons makes possible the mutual receptivity and activity.
Picture inset: from the Magazine "Left"