Seminary Memoirs, 2

The surprises of having been a teacher in seminaries are endless. 

In places where I have gone, chances are I would bump into someone who have had an attachment, however vague, in a seminary. 

In Southern California, while there trying make heads or tails with fate, one news hit me: that a former student in the seminary would soon assume the post of an assistant pastor or whatever is it that they called to someone next to the parish big shot. 

I jumped for joy in the secrecy of my soul: one student, another student, had made it big, and all in the name of his one dear and loving God. I uttered a prayer for him and vowed to go and see him before work would swallow up all my time. I am not sure if I ever got that one fat chance to see him. Maybe not, maybe yes, I do not know. 

In Los Angeles, I would get a call one day while scratching out a life as a glorified director for training of one consulting firm that looked out to the Hollywood hillside, complete with the landmark that invariably announces what to expect in the land of myth and fantasy. 

And the call was from a seminarian, now a priest, in the first seminary where I taught the difference between a long a and a short a to people who just came from the provinces and who had to take remedial English or what passed for one in order to get by with rectorial wishes and seminary requirements that hey, the seminarians are going international, and thus, they are to speak an international language code named English in the way the English and American people and the fake Filipino academic speak it. 

I remember that I had religious sisters in my class--those veiled women who had vowed to follow the path of the Lord but since they did not have the college degree to make them get by with the highly competitive world of the nunnery or the sisterhood, they had to be sent back to college, and in that seminary where I taught.

The seminary offered the classics, as a matter of course, and the classics was Western philosophy with a token of a single coursework on oriental philosophy, and nothing, never, on something that could be called Philippine philosophy even if decades before Leo Mercado the SVD scholar had paved the way to what he called 'metalinguistic' analysis that led to his valorization of loob-buot-nakem, the core, he claimed, of 'Filipino' philosophy.

Never mind that his assumptions on the Ilokano 'nakem' were flatly mistaken; the thing is, through his academic pursuit, we had something to start with. 

Day in and day out I would give assignments, some kind of elementary exercises for pronunciation. One morning, I asked one sister to present to me her work, and sheepishly she said, No, no, sir, I do not have the assignment because we had the novena. 

That did me in--or her. 

I told her, in no uncertain terms, that that would not happen again, not in my class. 

Of course, I was marked from that time on, with my words traveling to her convent, and eventually reaching the ears of what passed for a dean whose graduate degree became the talk of the town, the dubiousness of that degree gotten from some obscure town somewhere out of somewhere the envy of some who did not have the required masters.

That was fun, this small-town mentality of barrio people who passed themselves off as instructors in a respectable seminary. What a life, those days! 

And from hindsight, I wish things were better. 

But so much of the gossips came from the seminarians themselves who seemed to know all things, everything, omnipotent and omnipresent as they were, and knowing too the details of saucy liaisons when lights were turned off, or when no one seemed to be looking including a cabal of seniors who had the courage to visit some beer houses and have their necks checkered with kiss marks that they would explain as mosquito bites. Perhaps the seminary mosquitos knew exactly where the best blood could be sucked? 

Words travelled that I came to America, finally, after calling it quits with the homeland. 

Some would rebuke me, mostly from seminarians who knew I was for something that was close to mendicancy: to keep teaching in the homeland until one could not teach any longer, with a pittance for salary while I watched the years go by. 

They said that I betrayed the cause--The Cause--and that is to keep on with the poverty that I have always known, like those people in the Acts of the Apostles. 

Of course, so few of them ever knew that in order for me to keep updated with my reading and book acquisition, I would ransack all the libraries I had an access to and photocopy them, or devour their contents as if there were no tomorrow, afraid that I would never got hold of these books again. My dream--a long-time dream, is to have all the books I want to read and I want to hold onto forever--and I could only do that if I had some extra cash to splurge during those book sales that came as infrequently as the summer rains. 

And then one day, I got a call from New Jersey or New York, I am not sure now. And then another from Phoenix, or somewhere in Arizona from a batch two years down my own batch.

And so the circle of knowing someone who knows someone else began in a spirit of adventure and exploration--and surprise of surprises.

On the internet, I would get to meet them some more: one was from Seattle--is still there, I guess so, that one poet I have known since he began to get enamored--seduced and tempted and enchanted--with the possibilities of words. 

Another one just popped up, and telling me he is still with The Cause--The Cause: of social justice and fairness, of economic development and community building, of doing good to the least of his brethren, of a committed work with 'cooperativism', one work I tried doing but had to give up for lack of patience, simply. 

I meet them more and more, and I realize: It was not a bad life, after all, this teaching in seminaries, this transaction with young minds who almost ways challenged me to look at life always--always--in a new light.

You get your psychic reward when you realize that your students are now better off than you are. That ought to be the law of nature, of evolution, and of teaching seminarians who know how to live life to the full. 

Hon, HI
Sept 29/08


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