Monday, December 17, 2007

Journey Back Home- Naga City

The moment I learned about the death of Msgr. Jim, I knew that I needed to go home. He was more than a school director for me but more of like a surrogate father. Last week, I traveled after almost seven months back to the heart of Bicol, Naga City. During the eight-hour travel, I found myself clutching so tight the hand rail of the bus that my knuckles turned white already all the while praying intently to spare my life. (Anybody who knows the long and bumpy road going to Bicol could relate for sure to what I went through).

I found myself safe and sound back to Naga at around 6:30 p.m. I haven't even put down my bag yet but my mobile phone was already bombarded with messages coming from friends asking me what time I would be in Naga Metropolitan Cathedral (that's where the wake of Msgr. Jim was held).

My heart was filled with churning emotions. I've waited for that moment many months- to be with my friends and co-teachers. Five years is indeed long enough to call your co-workers "family". However, it made me feel sorry that I couldn't make it earlier when Msgr. Jim was still alive. He sent me text messages before inviting me to visit several affairs of the school but for some reasons I never made it.

When I arrived in Cathedral at around 8:30 p.m., I received countless hugs from my NPS family. Their reactions upon seeing me were almost the same. Huge eyes greeted me with surprise followed by this utterance, "Niña, ika yan? My God you look so different." then hugs so tight. I should have had a camera with me to capture those moments. After the excitements ebbed away, the rivulet of tears streamed out from my eyes upon looking at the coffin of Msgr. Jim. White flowers and pictures adorned his casket. I couldn't help but to remember the last time I saw him. He told me to "take things easy and have enough rest". My pupils saw me the following day. They have this utter disbelief on their faces upon seeing me. (It made me think I must've looked like a zombie with my thin body before I left NPS for a vacation!)

Most of them said I have this glow in my eyes and I just simply looked healthy. I spent most of my times eating in my favorite restaurants with many friends.

Wednesday morning, I was still in bed when a very close friend and co-teacher, Tin-tin, called me. "Hi, Ninz. Can you give a eulogy for Msgr. tonight?" Thoughts swirled in my brain that I thought I went crazy. She was probably kidding or I was being delirious having been deprived of sleep for the previous night. "I take that as a yes. Bye and see you."

Later that afternoon, I had the time with our principal and she told me that it wasn't really formal. It would just be his family and NPS employees.

I should have known better! Msgr. Jim had a big contribution in the society so nothing would really be simple. I would speak to a large crowd! It was 8:00 p.m. when the mass started. I was sweating the whole time. A grade six pupil was the first one who delivered a eulogy. It was followed by NPS parent, a former teacher, NPS Faculty Club president, Msgr. Jim's friend and finally, it was my turn to speak.

My knees were shaking since it was my first time to speak in Naga Cathedral with a very large crowd. The next thing I knew I became oblivious to the horde of mourners. I was only thinking of the times I spent with the good director.

The following day, a mass sponsored by the NPS community was held. Right after, white balloons were released by the pupils in his remembrance. I was one of those few people who remained inside the Cathedral as his coffin was brought out for the motorcade going to Holy Rosary Major Seminary. It was Fr. Jay, one of NPS teachers, who closed the coffin. The motorcade was equally touching. I joined Mrs. Alpe (asst. principal), Mrs. Reyes (school nurse), Mrs. Olalia (principal) and her husband (Sir Alex) in the car and we listened to "The Prayer" by Celine Dion and Andrea Bocceli on the way to Major Seminary where Msgr. will be buried.

That afternoon, another mass was held with the Archbishop of Caceres as the main celebrant. I guess around 30-40 priests attended his funeral. He was buried near the Risen Chapel of the Seminary. It was a very solemn celebration. Msgr. Jim for 23 years served as an emblem of a paragon father to countless people. The Archbishop simply called him, the great school master.

Our Dear Msgr. Jim, may you have blissful rest in your journey with God.

I took that opportunity also to spend time with people who touched my life in many ways during the time that I was ill. Pao was one of them. She's a twelve- year-old girl who's the eldest daughter of our principal.

Pao became close to me when she attended summer class in Journalism where I was the teacher. She was with me when I was admitted in the hospital and she told me before she left, "Teacher, dawa po dai ka na magtaba basta mabuhay ka lang", (Teacher, even if you don't gain weight anymore as long as you live). I had lunch with her in Jollibee and we just chat the whole time. She's a bit matured at her age. Perhaps it was also because she's the eldest in the family. Pao made me realized what I've been missing the whole time, just a moment to let me know I'm on the right track and the friendship I had with her was sort of an affirmation to this.

I always thought that I was tough as a teacher. I was really strict that the classes I have handled were consistently awarded as the Most Disciplined class. It never entered my mind that I would formed a bond with pupils or anybody for that matter. My foremost concern was always that of discipline.

Thus, it was a wonder how I touched the life of an-eleven-year old boy. He was my pupil last year and a transferee from another school in Manila. I always knew that he was an intelligent boy. But in the first quarter he only ranked 22nd among 36 pupils. I found it my responsibility as a class adviser to give the "push" that he needed in order to excel. I talked to him several times encouraging him. Little by little he was able to make it on top. Now, he shines not only in academics but in co-curricular as well. He just won first place in Regional Writing contest.

Although, I always thought that I've just done my responsibility as his teacher, his parents thought otherwise. In many ways, they showed me their gratitude for helping their son adjust to his new environment. I had the opportunity to have lunch with both his mom and dad last Friday. It was a beautiful feeling knowing that your efforts as a teacher were appreciated.

It was so touching that they recognized me as a significant part of their son's life. On the way out of Star Mark (the restaurant where we ate), his mom gave me a card which will forever inspire me as a teacher. Let me share with you this memorable message from the card:

Dear Teacher Niña,
You deserve all the good things that's coming your way, and I know how much this means to you. You've looked forward to this moment for a long time. You've worked toward it (and you've worried about it)... and now it's finally here! I don't know of anyone who's worked and planned as hard or used their talents as well. You know how to set goals, use your time wisely, and get things done right.

You may not think those are unusual traits, but they are! You know what you want to achieve and you go after it-one step at a time. You work around the obstacles in your way, and don't let small setbacks discourage you. So it isn't at all surprising you've met your goal. Everyone who knows you knows you were meant to succeed... and a lot of people have been pulling for you.

Your positive outlook is contagious, and your determination is an inspiration to everyone around you.

From the Mom:
Thank you for touching his life in a special way. Thank you for that inspiration only you can impart. And thank you for being a part of us. We were not only able to find a school in NPS but we were able to find a home.

I shared this message not to brag but to let others feel the inspiration burning in my heart as well. This family gave me a "special gift" that made me thankful I chose the teaching career.

It was a bit ironic but for some reasons, I just found myself giving messages in front of a crowd during my visit in Naga. The last one was with the bridal shower of my friend and a co-teacher, Shiela. It was held Friday afternoon (Right after my lunch date with my pupil's parents). Shie's groom to be was also a friend and former classmate in grade school.

Giving a message for her was sort of a realization also- I'M GETTING OLD ALREADY! Shie and Chad best wishes and congrats!

Ma gave me a special dinner in one of the coziest restaurant in Naga, Oyster Villa, on my last night of stay there. We used to eat in that place before whenever Rez would visit. After several months had the chance to eat again my favorite buttered chicken and pancit.

It was indeed a visit worth remembering in my whole lifetime. I'm glad I was given the gift of a second life to savor every moment now. Thanks to my brother and sisters who answered my needs without asking anything in return. I owe them a lot and of course to God, Our Father.


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