A funny thing happened on my way to speak before a crowd of 800, mostly students, in a big Rotary function. I was to be the second speaker on “Preparing for the Workplace.” After me would be two celebrities—a she (showbiz personality) and a he (congressman).
As programs go, there were many preliminaries—a beautiful and moving tableau on the evolution of the Filipino flag that segued to the Philippine National Anthem and the invocation; introduction of officers and guests; induction and charging ceremonies; acknowledgments of donors and other people of importance.
Two hours passed and the emcees finally announced the first speaker. A stickler for time, I knew right then that squeezing four speakers into the remaining two hours would be a miracle. The first speaker took half an hour.
Then when I was all psyched up for my turn, the emcees announced another name—a Rotarian who was not in the program, but who, I was told later, was scheduled to do a rah-rah talk at lunchtime for a forthcoming Rotary event.
While this unscheduled speaker was enjoying himself, the celebrities arrived one after the other. Heads turned in their direction, with gasps of admiration, muted shrieks of excitement, and other ruckus reserved only for the famous.
Someone took me aside and requested that the celebrities speak ahead of me since they were busy people and had other appointments elsewhere.
You know what that means, don't you? After celebrities speak, photo ops galore—and pandemonium. So where does that leave a poor speaker who comes after them?
I thought of a better idea quickly. Why don't I just cut my allotted time to five minutes so I could still speak after the rah-rah talker. But he was already way past 20 minutes, yet showed no signs of stopping soon.
That was when I decided to bump myself off, in the interest of time.
The organizers tried to make some concessions with me—probably thinking I had prepared for the occasion and might feel debased for being stricken out, but really, celebrities and nondescript citizens like me are strange bedfellows.
I assured them I didn't mind. My time will come. As the old song goes, “Maybe this year, maybe next year, maybe never.” But the nice man who had his one-pager ready to introduce me quipped, “I missed the chance of going up the stage!”
Face it, in a country enamored with public persona, no speech—no matter how well crafted or delivered—can compete for attention. Unless one reaches star status, substance won't fly. How we vote for our senators is one such example, but this is a blogsite on grace so I won't dare say more.
How did I feel? Amused. Relieved. Blessed.
Early that morning, I sent text messages to four of my prayer partners, asking them to pray for my talk. One texted back, “It will be excellent.”
They must have prayed so hard that the only way I could be excellent was to speak not.
Hours later, I was at the 62nd Palanca Awards Night, where 46 other winners—fellow nondescript literary writers whose names will never be on neon lights—milled about.
Bud Gardner might have been right when he said, “When you speak, your words echo only across the room. But when you write, your words echo down the ages.”