We surely miss you this summer. We miss the lovely concertos that you alone among us could play on the piano. Here at BALULAN we have instead the murmur of the surf, the off-key tune of the birds, the rhapsody of coconut leaves…
Your absence, Rene, spells for us a world of awakenings. Our eyes are opened to many things about you – things that we, sad to say, were blind to when you were with us. Indeed, this is a common tragedy. How many times do we take things for granted? How many times we just pass people by? And yet when they’re gone, somehow we feel the void they have left behind. We feel the emptiness that their presence alone could fill. Only then do we realize what they really mean to us. And how we even long to recapture the mere shadow of their memory!
No, Rene, it is not that we rejoice at your absence. But, strange as it seems, your absence unfolds new presences for us, Now we know a deeper presence to one another and to the throbbing universe around us. Now we see the hidden richness of seemingly insignificant things. Now we can even learn a lesson from the SAND.
“A lesson from the sand?” you may ask in surprise. Has the summer sun dried up our brains that we have to become silly and foolishly sentimental? Of course not! Mind you, Rene, the sea water is cool and the sea breeze, refreshing down here.
Here at Balulan we have pitched our tents along the beach. That’s why the little grains of sand have come to be our intimate company. From moment to moment we see myriads of them stretching out for miles and miles, challenging the vast extent of the sea. We watch them glitter under the sun, like countless galaxies strewn on earth by some known heavenly hands. In the early morning they cool our bare feet, at the height of day they warm our tanned, naked bodies, during the night they share our treasured secrets and dreams.
Have you ever looked at the sand at close range, Rene? Have you ever tried to listen to what, in its mute being, the sand longs to utter? Yes, Rene, there is more to a handful of sand than meets the eye at first glance. Yes, there is more to a handful sand than just a formless mass of similarly shaped, similarly sized, tiny specks of the material cosmos.
True, a little grain of sand, may be undistinguishable from all the rest. Yet each little sand is unique. Each is itself and no other sand else. Each is totally an INDIVIDUAL. And as such, each is irreplaceable in the whole created universe. Now don’t you ever wonder how incomplete this earth would be without those tiny individual sands that make up the beautiful, sandy beaches?
The plight of the sand, Rene, is not alien to MAN himself. Needless to say, each man is an individual. But oftentimes, too, men appear to us nothing more than heaps of faceless bodies like the little grains of sand on the seashore. The masses, so that’s what we call the greater part of men. The individual man becomes for us a nameless piece in the crowd. To be aware of this, one doesn’t have to be there at the big city where such harsh anonymity has already taken deep roots. Here at Balulan one has but to wait for the weekends.
During the weekdays, Rene, we have the open beach all to ourselves. Except for a number of new-found friends who are either natives of the place or members of the landowner’s family, hardly anyone else is around. So most of the time Balulan take on an almost cloister-like atmosphere. Here we still say our community prayers and celebrate the Mass together, the evening shadows provide a soulful backdrop for our daily meditations.
But a totally different aura takes over when the weekend comes. Balulan sheds off its quiet and solitude. A festive mood starts to fill the air as people from nearby towns, cities, haciendas and other part of the sugarlandia pour in. Soon the beach is strewn with human bodies. Soon people who know not, who care not about one another frolic in the water, run, play, lie, roll over the sand. Everyone is so intent to get the most of what fun and pleasure the fleeting day could offer as to forget every other man’s existence. And while the sun goes higher and higher, the beach becomes more and more like a desert of human sand.
Yes, Rene, like the sand, man is an individual. And because he is an individual, man is a member of the human species, a part of a whole called society, a dot in the universe played upon by diverse cosmic and man-made forces. Hence, just as a tiny grain of sand is lost in the vastness of the seashore, so man as an individual tends to get lost in the masses. Because no part is greater than the whole, because no member is greater than the entire body, the social whole gobbles up the individual man.
Unlike the sand, though, man is not just an individual. Man is above all a PERSON. And man as a person is a whole in himself. Here lies the world of difference between a grain of sand and a single human being, between an aggregate of bodies and a human community. Here lies the reason why man should stand out even in the complex of society.
Man is such a unique being, Rene, that at once he enjoys individuality as well as personality. This privilege springs from man’s very nature. For he alone, of all the creatures in this world, is a composite of a material body and a spiritual soul, In him alone do matter and spirit fuse into a vital and essentially inseparable whole. Remember what the great philosopher whom we know very well once wrote? Individuality, he said, is rooted in matter. Personality, on the other hand, is rooted in the spirit This is why in man, in whom matter and spirit are so closely bound up with each other our bodily eyes fail to grasp the distinction between individuality and personality. It would take the deeply penetrating eyes of our mind to see the inner reality.
Individuality, Rene, is enmeshed with the limitations of matter in which it is rooted. Matter is bound to divide, to isolate. A little grain of sand, because it is composed of a definite mass of material substances, is shut up in itself. It is constrained within its own bodily dimensions. So it is no other grain of sand else but itself. Sands may pile up into a gigantic pyramid, and yet each sand is in itself totally separate and independent from all the rest. For the sands, physical nearness does not mean togetherness, much less community or communion.
Shall we say, then, that individuality in man is an imperfection? No, Rene, it is not. Individuality is but a limitation of the human condition. It is rather a tangible sign of the inherent polarity in man. It bears witness to the fact that man is, as it were, a glove held between two poles. These poles are the material pole and the spiritual pole. Individuality is the material pole that heavily bears down on man, limits his being in space and time, and closes him from the rest of mankind.
Personality, on its part, soars with the spirit in which it has its roots. The spirit uplifts man from the realm of mere bodies, from the kingdom of the sands. It sets him over the animals and the plants. So man as a person is not an object or a thing. He is a self-existent subject who possesses and enjoys inward consciousness, thinking and freedom. As such, man is not just a part of the universe. He is a universe himself – a microcosmos, so to speak.
But human person is not a little world closed on itself. For whatever matter seals up, the spirit reaches out. Individuality fixes the limits of man’s being, personality lays man open to self-expansion and development. Individuality closes man on himself, personality opens him up to other beings through dialogue, knowledge, and love. Individuality seeks to grasp for itself, personality tends to give and share, to give of itself and communicate with others. Personality, in short, is the spiritual pole in man which is the wellspring of his innate openness, generosity and goodness.
Man as a person, Rene, is not a lonely sand. He is more like a beach open to all – open to the waves of the sea, to the sun and the sky, to dew and rain from heaven, to man himself. Man is open to the vast universe around him through his sense of wonder, beauty and meaning, through his all-encompassing knowledge. Man as a person, too, is open to other persons. He is called to communion with his fellow human beings through sharing the goods and benefits of this world, through mutual cooperation in building up the earthly city, through dialogue, understanding and love. This is why man is to find fulfilment only when he enters into relationship with other men within a particular society.
Above all, Rene, man as a human person is open to GOD. For it is from God, the Divine Spirit, that he receives as a gift his own spiritual soul which is the root and source of his being a person. Atheistic existentialists, thus, destroys the very openness of the human person which they assert when they shut man totally from God. It is precisely on this that man’s ultimate value and dignity rests, namely, that the human person, because of his spiritual soul, directly comes from God, is the image of God, and is called to everlasting communion with God.
Now, Rene, you may say this. It is one and the same being that we find in this world who is both a person and an individual. Man is a single entity. In him individuality and personality are simply inseparable. So what’s the use of pointing out any difference between them after all?
Again, this would bring us back to the sand. For here we are not concerned with vain, abstract thinking. The individual grain of sand and the existent human person are concrete realities. To see no difference at all between the two is tragic blindness. To confuse individuality with personality could prove fatal to our everyday moral and social life.
Things, Rene, are meant to be used, worked or played upon. And sands are mere things. So at will we may grab a handful of sand from the seashore, toss it up into the air, and enjoy watching the tiny ripples the little grains make as they fall on the water. We may trample the sands underfoot, run or lie and roll over them. We may fashion them into sandcastles of different forms according to our whims and fantasies and, when tired of the sandcastles, let the waves wash the sand away.
But, Rene, we just cannot treat people in such ways. We ought not. For men are not mere individuals, not mere things. They are persons. And as persons, they are no means to an end, no ornaments for our pride, no toys for our games, no sands for our fancy castles. They are end in themselves, meant to be respected and loved for their own sake. Human persons are intelligent and free beings, capable of acting and thinking for their own selves, of determining and choosing their goals and way of life.
Now, imagine what an atrocity it would be if we, confusing individuality with personality, treat human persons as we do treat the sands. In fact, we witness from day to day the choking violence done to man’s very being as a person. We see how often men manipulate other men for their vested interests and selfish gains. We experience how men of unbridled power impose their ideas and schemes on their fellows, order them to their caprice, mold them into what they wanted them to be.
The ills of today’s societies, Rene, can be traced back to the very nature of man. This does not mean that man in himself is bad, for, on the contrary, man in himself is good. This simply does to say that no disorder ever happens to human SOCIETY which does not first happen inside man.
Men should have long founded a utopia on earth, had they been pure persons. But such was not the case. For all times, man is an individual just as he is a person. Deep inside him is a polar tension between individuality and personality. In man, however, there is a hierarchy of things which holds such natural tension under its jurisdiction. Man, to be fully human, must have his spiritual soul reign supreme over all his other powers. Man, to be truly fulfilled, must soar up with the aspirations of the spirit and not bog down with the weight of matter. Individuality must give way to the deepening of personality. The inner disorder comes about when individuality is mistaken for personality and human efforts tends towards the enhancement of the individual rather than of the person.
The inner chaos in man cannot fall to produce tremendous repercussions in society. From the enhanced self-complacency and closeness of many individuals, social conflicts and discords ensue. An aggregate of sands is, in a sense, better than a mass of human individuals turned selfish, close-minded, individualistic. The sands would at least coexist, but individualistic men would continually compete and envy, hurt and fight and kill one another.
The modern world, Rene, has never been wanting of well-meaning men who want to liberate man from the anonymity of the masses, uphold his rights and dignity, and let him stand out and be himself in society. But, more often than not, their loudmouthed and overdone activism comes to nothing at all. For in trying to uplift man, what they uphold and assert is not the human person but the individual. What they are after is not a democracy of persons but that of individuals which is actually a masked anarchy. Their confused vision of the human person is evidence in their errant actions and attitudes. For example, they frown at self-discipline and the openness and respect for others which are characteristics of and due to persons. They make much fuss about their own rights, or the rights of the masses, but simply ignore their duty to recognize too the rights of others, especially of those against whom they level their lampoons and attacks.
If indeed, a truly human society is to be established it must be founded on the human person, not on the individual. To do otherwise is to fashion either a sandcastle or a sandstone out of human beings.
Suppose we mistake individuality for personality, then we build an anarchic society wherein false liberalism is taken for human freedom, wherein the only law is the jungle rule of the survival of the fittest. Chaos and disorder are the natural state of affairs. Such a society would tend to disrupt itself from within, like sandcastles that easily come to ruin because the individual sands that make it up are too independent, closed and separate from one another to hold close together.
Suppose we take human persons for mere individuals, then we forge them into a fascist or communist society. In such society human beings, under the totalitarian power of a dictator or a party, are treated like sands molded into a sandstone. A sandstone is a solid mass of sands held together by some natural cement. A fascist society is a solid mass of individuals held together by over-excessive national or racial pride and ambition. A communist society is a solid mass of individuals held together by the party’s cause and ideology. No greater mass slaughterhouses of human persons than these can the world ever dream of!
Rene, here at Balulan, we have come to know the hidden value of the sand. Sands are white and beautiful, and we have learned a lesson from them. Sands may now have new meanings for us, yet one thing remains. Sands are sands. And as such, sands are mere individuals. People, too are individuals but, beyond that, they are persons. So between sands and human beings, there is a world of difference. So individuality and personality are two different aspects of one reality whose name is man.
If, therefore, we have to build a new and better society, let this be clear in our mind, lest… WE BUILD ON SAND.
Your brother in St. Dominic,