22 June 2012
I do not know any other way to say it. So I decided to write you a letter.
But this is a message that I want others to know ... this is something I feel that I must share.
It is not enough that I am overwhelmed by this feeling now ... I realize that this must carry some importance. It is something that others might come to realize as well in the private intricacy of their own lives.
You see it is not easy to find time to thank a teacher. But there is always one ... or two ... who changed the course of the journey that would become our lives.
You are told that life is one big adventure... that the years are the classrooms and that each and every person who walks through the "revolving doors" of our hearts plays an important part into shaping who we are and what we can become. After accumulating enough years of human existence, you come to accept that without bursting into Eureka moments. You learn that there are no accidents.
Everything and every one is there for a reason. Each day has a lesson to teach us. Trivial. Monumental. Epic. Disposable.
God --- the Universe --- Fate --- whatever, whoever --- sends people along your pathway to teach you something. No, the choice is still yours to accept the lesson and to learn. But it is the people --- certain people who open your eyes to things, ideas, places and maybe other people that you would not have otherwise seen because you were not given the option to look this way.
That is why I am writing you this letter.
Because you changed my life. Because you taught me to love myself. Because you showed me that the only way for me to discover who I am ... is by believing that I can be somebody and not merely some body.
Because, in your own unique manner, the best lessons you taught me were not in the classroom --- but out here in the real world --- where you get graded by your goodness and not merely your performance.
More so, because you convinced me that life is one big performance. And you are only as good as you are happy with what you are doing.
I was young when I met you --- and, as attested by all those who were young with me at the time --- you were different.
As a teacher you were different because you were younger than most of the high school faculty members who walked down the corridors, holding their lesson plans and their chalk boxes while donning an air of authority. In a school of hormone-crazed long-haired thirteen to sixteen year olds, you need to have that air of authority --- especially when the setting was the late '60's and early '70's.
We were all so preoccupied in trying to act like grown-ups in order to justify all our juvenile fantasies and escapades. You were there to watch over us --- and make us sure that we still behaved within the limitations of the student handbook.
Whereas other teachers screamed at our impertinence, you laughed. Whereas other teachers lost their cool and told us to behave this way and not that ... you simply told us to be accountable for what we did ... whether the outcome should be rewards or consequences.
You were the youngest faculty member in the entire high school, that's why.
But that was not why you were special.
When we were of that age ... we were looking for people to emulate, to idolize. It was not enough that you stood in front of the classroom and gave lectures ... and we were diligent to take down notes following the Palmer Method of handwriting we were trained to do since we were in Grade School. It was not enough that you gave assignments that we worked on and you corrected. Or that you made lessons interesting enough for us to absorb not because we needed passing grades or that English is a required subject.
You taught me how to love what I was learning.
You introduced me to the world of theater.
And you were one of the teachers in my formative years to tell me that I should keep on writing. You convinced me that I had to write because not only was I blessed with the ability to do so ... but because I had something to say. You told me I should not only write stories --- that I should write plays.
Together with another teacher --- your sparring partner in the English Faculty Room --- you became more than just the adviser of the school paper or the dramatics guild. The two of you became friends to many of us. We felt so privileged to see you as people and not merely as authority figures who we should call Sir or M'am.
No one in our high school batch could ever forget you and Angie Magbanua.
The biggest reward in knowing you was to discover what it takes to be a good teacher.
No, it is not through intimidation.
No, it cannot be done through the flaunting of knowledge.
Kids do not care what you know ... or how much is in your brains. What matters most is that you want them to learn ... what is important is that you care for them.
You cannot be a teacher if you are unable to be their friend.
You cannot impart knowledge ... if you do not want to know them. Or try to get into their minds so that you would understand the way they functioned, the way they would think.
In our later years, I used to kid you and said you always stuck it out to being so completely child-friendly.
That is why when it was my turn to stand in front a throng of eager students, looking at me and waiting to hear what I had to say --- I started to speak not only through my mind but with my heart. You cannot fool young people despite the fact that they gather around you thirsting for information, hungry for insight. You cannot deceive them with fancy words, outrageous theories or drama just for the sake of effect.
Kids know when you are feeding them bullshit.
Before they can be interested in what you have to say, they have to be interested in you ... and you have to be interested in them.
As a teacher, you learn from your students as well.
Not only did you push me to write ... or made me believe in the power of my words. You taught me one of the most important lessons of all: to believe in myself ... and make others believe in me.
More so, you made me believe in the importance of others.
You gave me my very first professional job as a writer.
I was in college at that time and you asked me to adapt Mart Crowley's The Boys in the Band for a dinner theater presentation in Hotel Mirador. That was how people got to know my name. That was how I got my first job to write for my first television show entitled Sandy's Cousin for BBC Channel 2.
You were my director when we, together with Nanette Inventor, mounted Donya Buding Live! at On Disco ... and that went on forever. You gave birth to popular dinner theater in the country.
We even worked together in the Filipino translations of Mirandolina with Imee Marcos and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Test ( which I entitled Alitaptap sa Gabing Mailap) with Christopher de Leon, Pinky Amador and the late Joy Soler.
You were there right from the start ... and you gave my motors the push to start it running.
And all throughout my career, I knew you were happy for me. No, I was certain you were proud of me inasmuch as I was so yabang to tell the world that you were my teacher.
And now I must say goodbye to you.
It was only recently that we honored you --- together with Tony Mabesa and Lisa Macuja. The theater community celebrated your contributions because you were not only the father/lolo/Grand Master of Gantimpala Theater but you became the driving force behind the birth of original Filipino plays that were not merely written by up and coming playwrights but mounted for the country to see.
When I look at the mediocrity of what has become today, I look back at the years when original Filipino plays were thriving, endless being reborn and assuming new forms. Together with PETA, Gantimpala was the driving force to give image and sounds to the words of Tony Perez, Boy Noriega, Rene Villanueva, and so many young writers of the 80s.
And you never gave up, Sir.
Despite political maneuvering and all that is ugly in the so-called world of culture in our country, you never gave up. Down to the end, Sir. Until the very end.
You went through hell and high water to keep Gantimpala together --- and with your army of tireless theater workers, you were able to keep it alive for almost thirty years after you left the premises of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. That, Sir, is a major feat. That is, Sir, is dedication beyond vocation.
The last time I saw you ... I held back my tears because I have not seen you for years. I have heard about your physical condition but I never had the opportunity to stand in front of you again. Until that night at the CCP Lobby. You were suddenly so weak and so old. And we were both so happy to see each other.
I do not know how to describe how I feel right now.
I am sad because you have left us. I am happy because I know you need the rest ... and all the physical setbacks of the recent years have taken a toll on your person. Eagles are not meant to be imprisoned ... much worse if their bodies become their cages. Eagles, Sir ... as you have always taught us ... are meant for the skies.
And you have flown away because that was what you were meant to do.
No one would keep you in the ground when you have the option to soar. You taught us that too. In high school.
I will miss you, Sir. As many others, right this very moment, are crying because they will miss you too.
Until your last day, you were teaching us lessons about how to deal with life. You were showing us --- not merely by lectures --- but through your life --- that it is all about passion. It is all about doing what you have to do because that is why you were sent here in the first place.
Thank you for being a very big part of my life, my teacher.
I love you, Tony Espejo.