Healing Through Our Story-telling

Not all memories of IHMS are good. There are painful ones. But telling them may prove to be good for your health.

In the seminary, we were trained in the tradition of telling stories. It is close to our heart. Our forefathers were good at it. Jesus practiced it. It must be in our genes.
After waking up in the morning, we pray with our précis and listen from the Gospels the story of salvation. We heard, in our drowsiness, the priest’s homily, and we participated in the story of the last supper.

We exchanged stories with each one. Perhaps, those stories even sustained us through the tumultuous period of adolescence. For we must have found solace in those stories, knowing that we were not alone and that we were in the same lot as the others.
We grew up in a sequestered environment--quite unnatural a setting for teenage boys. We were malleable--and clueless. Yes, we did not have a clue as to how our personal development was being shaped in the seed box. We never saw a blue print, if there ever was one at all. We didn’t know the direction our formation was moving towards, or what type of person we were trying to become. We only saw the Boholano priests--in the flesh, so to speak--and in them we saw our own future--which was really not that encouraging! We were not edified at all by them, except for one or two priests who were serious about their vocation--or so it appeared to our idealistic eyes.

So we dabbled in what was given to us, only to realize years later that there were shortcomings. Hindsight affords us this perspective. And we understand the pain that some of our classmates may have harbored through all these years.

Intellectually we were trained well--even if we thought so lowly of each other when we were together. (It must have been the morning Mozart that woke us everyday, but certainly not the arnis stroke on the steel bed and the milk--i.e.“letseng ya . . . yo!”--that shook us to the bones.) We barely expected each other to succeed in life. We never even expected our brand of education to be at par with those of the big schools in the metropolis. We realized later we even had the resource to beat them in their own turf.

In terms of spiritually, we may have been schooled well. We have kept our faith in God, even if at times we cannot fathom His design for us or sometimes we doubt that He has a design and purpose for us at all.

Developing our social skills was a natural result of our constant exposure to the public. And we realize that indeed we have been prepared for life in the community or society.

Things may not turn out well, however, for some of us. And we understand that emotionally, we were ill-equipped for life after IHMS. Our EQ or “emotional quotient” was not one of the aspects of our formation as IQ and spirituality were. It was taken as a given. A sink or swim. We were well and contented adolescents. Like Peter Pans in Never land. And we were happy that way. Growing up was not our plan.

There were some of us who endured the aches of community life. There were others who simply did not fit in. They found their place outside.

For some of us, after IHMS, we had to accelerate our maturity, on the job--as they would say. A painful experience it may turn out to be for some who faltered, somewhat, along the way. Some ended up bitter.

So, not all of us have grand memories of IHMS. There are those that we prefer to tuck in the hidden recesses of our hearts. And we want to keep them there … for good.

But as we have read from self-help books, re-telling them is the start of the healing process. We know that we have come to terms with the ghosts of the past once we are able to tell those painful stories to other people . . . and laugh at our selves.

So, continue sharing your stories. You may only be healing yourself. (nox arcamo)


The Hermit of Elley Hill

It must have been towards the end of school year 1983-1984, when solicitation for the school yearbook was picking up. I don’t know what came to my mind when I heard that a relatively well-off hermit was spending 40 days on top of Elley Hill.

I only recall looking out from my window in Room #3 of Dorm A and seeing the quiet outline of Elley hill against the sky. It was neither imposing nor unreachable. In fact, it seemed to beckon. I knew I had to reach its heights--to solicit for the yearbook.

Unfortunately, my classmates were not as enthusiastic. There was only one person I was able to convince to go with me on the mission--Jeffrey.

On the day we agreed, we took a Matuod jeepney bound for Manga District.

Reaching Ubujan District, we strained our necks to peer from the jeepney’s window. The contour of Elley Hill appeared behind the coconut trees. We didn’t know the way up. We only had the hill as our guide.

We disembarked in an area we thought was nearest to the base of the hill. It was somewhere in Ubujan, where we saw a small clearing near the main road. We crossed the clearing.

The field we traversed was scorched. It was a corn field. The owner must have burnt all the dried stalks after harvesting. Ashes gathered on our feet as we trudge on the field that was gradually rising. We reached the base of the hill and started on our upward trek. The sun was searing for it was around 10AM. There was no road uphill--or so we thought. We simply trudge straight up from the base. There were few vegetation and lots of rocks. The wind became cooler as we neared the summit.

We didn’t talk much except to laugh at our own folly. Sometimes we would stop to look back and appreciate the view. We would try to identify to which direction the seminary was or where our houses were. Then we saw the roof of a makeshift structure at the top.

Then we saw him--the hermit, who was kind enough to accommodate two lost souls on a serious undertaking. I admit he looked surprised to have visitors. In fact, he thought we were simply on a hiking expedition. He never expected us to be looking for him. But he was a good host. He told us lots of stories about his own mystical journey. He even told us about life during the second world war, about the long and deep cave on Elley Hill that sustained the people during the war. There are saltwater fishes in the cave, according to him. He told us that the hill is pockmarked with caves. He seemed surprised that we didn’t encounter one on the way up. And, by the way, he told us, there is a road leading up to the top of the hill. It was exactly on the other side of the path we took. It was supposed to be an easy walk--not as steep as our newfound pathway.

He was brewing leaves in a kettle. He offered us a drink. We drank from the same cup. It was a bitter herb. He said it was medicinal, said to heal a lot of ailments. We nodded our appreciation as we drank dutifully. He told us stories of his anting-anting (talisman), his snake-skin belt, and even showed us a book of prayers, which, with my little knowledge of Latin--after going through years declining rosa, rosae, silva, silvae and conjugating ero, eras and ponere, poneo--I was sure were not Latin at all.

Then he brought us to a spot and called our attention to a magnificent view. We were looking southward. He pointed towards the direction of the sea, which was carved by the curve of Taloto beach.

The picture of the Birhen sa Barangay, which was drawn by a blind person, he explained, had a similar back drop. He surmised that what the blind man saw when he drew that image was a scene from Elley Hill. And we were supposed to be standing right on that spot. He said that we were seeing what the blind person saw. It was really Elley Hill in his mind. So the Virgin Mary was here on this Hill. I did remember an uncanny similarity.

Then our “lesson” shifted to visions. It was then that he asked us to face north. The rolling plain beneath the hill on its northern side facing Kabawan District was green, filled with coconut trees. There were no houses in sight. Only the long stretch of green that met the sky. The sun at that point was near the zenith, and he asked us to face the sun with our arms outstretched. We were to quiet down our thoughts, feel the wind caressing our skin, and hear the distant sounds. With what seemed like a prayer, he mumbled words and wrapped something around our waist as we agonized under the sun. Our outstretched arms were aching. He too did the same, standing between me and Jeffrey. I was hoping nobody would see us, otherwise they might think we were enacting Calvary and mistook me for one of the thieves.

After what seemed like an hour, I opened my eyes a little and looked towards the direction of Jeffrey. I saw that his elbows were resting on his side. Slowly, I did the same.

We never deciphered what the point of the whole exercise was. The only conclusion he offered was about stamina--that I had a good stamina. But for us it was a question of knowing the meaning of that sacrifice than stamina.

We left him a little past 12 noon, taking the same route that we took going up. The trip back was easier and faster.

It was a journey that long remained in our memory. The view was astounding--the seminary (I swear I could make out the outline of my room in Dorm A), the island of Panglao, the sea, and the coconut tree-covered plain. It was probably a personal journey, too. For we proved that we were daring enough to venture into something we wanted to do. We didn’t bring anything on that journey, not even a canteen of water. Not even food. And, I came to realize later, we didn’t even bring a solicitation letter. (nox arcamo)

The Leaving

July 27, 1983, Thursday, 10:09 PM. Lights off. Tomorrow we have our prelim exams. But I couldn’t concentrate on my studies. I just came from an after-dinner meeting with Junior. Present in that meeting were Soc, Chris, Jeffrey, Mario, Gents, Val, Stephen, and I.

Junior finally decided to leave. That’s why he called us to a meeting to tell us about his decision. I almost cried. We almost did. Or did we? Well, almost. After all, we’ve been through tough times--during those 8 years when we were together.

We entered IHMS together in June 1976. There were around 40 of us then. There were 25 of us who finished High School in 1980. In college there were 4 of us who remained.

I particularly felt the loss since Junior and I had been to many adventures together. We trekked long distances, with nobody to rely on but each other. We were sent on an apostolate to Kanbituon (see article in issue #2). We visited house to house the residents of Taloto near Peñaflor and Nangka inviting them to the first ever mass in the area that would years later become a mini parish. The mass was celebrated by Fr Selix under the coconut trees in front of Veloso’s house. We even ventured into a house with several people who were not Catholics. Yes, we invited them nonetheless. Together with Jovil, we were assigned to Manga, Tiptip, Ubujan and Booy for the summer apostolate, and were smitten by the same lass in Ubujan.

I got close to his family and him to mine. When I’m not around at home, my parents would call his house. And likewise, when his family was looking for him, they would call our house. These memories came back to my mind and made me feel lonely.

He told us of his plans. He will leave tomorrow. And without bidding good-bye to his family, he will proceed to Albur, and stay there for a while. Then he will proceed to Molave, Zamboanga del Sur, where Fr Ites is currently assigned. Then after that, he couldn’t tell where he will be or what he’ll do next.

We tried to counsel him, trying to bring reason into the surge of emotions that seemed to have engulfed him.
“What about your studies? We’re on the last stretch of the race. We’re graduating this year. Hold on to it. Finish it so you won’t regret it.” But there was no holding back. He was set on simply leaving, leaving the seminary for good. For what, he couldn’t tell yet. For marriage?
He couldn’t make the commitment either.

Finally, I told him that I would not hinder his decision, for it was a decision he had to make.

“All I have to do is hope that wherever you go, you’ll continue to learn and grow as you move along,“ and I added, offering a glimmer of hope, to the point of almost praying, that eventually he would be back: “I hope that someday we’ll see each other again in Christ’s vineyard.”

He said that those words would linger with him long after that meeting.

We concluded the meeting, and quietly went to our individual cubicles. We must have been silenced into praying for Junior that night.

Under the glow of my desk lamp, I write this entry into my journal.

The next day, Junior attended mass for the last time, wearing his sotana. He ate breakfast with us. Then he went to his room to get his bag. We accompanied him up to the main gate fronting Mang Taning’s house. There we sang “Softly, I will leave you softly. Long before my eyes could make you stay …”, accompanied on the guitar by Eric .

Junior hugged the gate post and cried. We watched him walk slowly, alone down the road towards the junction, until he was gone.

There are times when you become conscious of your own mortality. You visit a place and you realize that you may never return to that place again. You see a friend leave and you realize you may never see him again. It was one of those times. So we stayed for a while, until the bells rang, signaling the start of our first morning class.

We hurried to our rooms to get our things and get ready for class. We had to be on our way, too. It was the prelim exams week. (nox arcamo)


A Twist of Parable

The parable of the multiplication of bread takes a different twist with our batch in college. Scholars would explain the phenomenon as a spontaneous sharing of food by the people. In our case it could be explained by some other means.

Take a usual rainy afternoon when we had nothing else to do. Our batch would congregate in Taning’s house looking for "bahaw" (cold rice). We were impoverished, like the multitude listening to the words of Jesus. But we had enough pooled resources to buy one small can of tinapa (specifically a Youngstown sardines).

How could a small can of tinapa feed six famished and growing boys on a rainy afternoon? Jesus’ disciples faced the same dilemma. How could five pieces of loaves and fish be enough to feed thousands?

In our case, we cooked the tinapa with plenty of water, making it hard to find the fish. In addition to that, we would also put at least 10 sili (chili), causing us to drink plenty of water and eat more rice. (The side effect of sili, we discovered, was it made us perspire profusely and made our head itchy.)

The cooked and super-hot tinapa was then served over tons of cold bahaw. The entire class, including the ever constant “ambushers” (Robert and Ping) would feast to our fill. And surprisingly, we always had just enough for everyone. Ah, miracle. (nox arcamo)

Dagan ug Binuang

JUNIOR: Phen, I have heard of Nick running for mayor again?

STEPHEN: Mao bitaw. Buang gajuuud [Mabini accent].

JUNIOR: Ug molansar diay buang? Ikaw lagi?

STEPHEN: Depende kun kinsa’y molansar.

Actually, di muot ang istorya, only the characters are.

Wa kabaw

Way Kabaw

JUNIOR: Al Pats, why don't you contribute an article to SCRIPTUM. Just write it in Binisaya so that you will understand what you write.

MC PATENS: Pwede lagi manawagan ko kun kinsa’y nakakita sa akong KABAW?

JUNIOR: Pwede gud. Siguroa lang nga naa kay KABAW.