After a semester in Haggerty, Fr. William “Bill” O’Malley, noticed that I was struggling with my English. Knowing my deficiency, other Vocation Directors could have made a guiltless decision to divest me of my vocation, thinking I might have been lucky to pass the entrance exam and interview. If other Haggies had already demonstrated their exceptional skills and knowledge, I paled in comparison. I could not know if I also possessed a diamond or just a cut glass bottom. I could only envy other Haggies, who just slept all day long and still got along with their studies well, aside from showing off their gems to their admirers.
But Bill did not give up on me.
Bill accorded me personal tutorial in English. To make my life more difficult from the rest of the Haggies, he also taught me Latin with Santiago Hubahib (I don’t know where he is now. I could not remember if there were others tutored too). I had no Latin course but he convinced me that learning the dead language would improve my vocabulary because most of the English words have their roots in Latin. But I suspected, he just wanted to rehearse his knowledge on Latin on us. I could not complain but the conjugation took a toll on me. At sleep, I dreamed of Latin words riding on sheep while I was herding them with difficulty. The neuter, feminine and masculine combinations of noun and verbs are the most difficult to tame. Now I could barely recite the Hail Mary in Latin and worst understand any word of it.
After five, I would report straight to a small topsy-turvy room, books of many kinds merging with ruffled clothings, blending harmoniously, as if occupying equal space. But there were always two empty chairs waiting for a rigorous activity to happen. We would start immediately on grammar then followed by reading and comprehension. While others raising their eyeballs before the Holy Sacrament inside the Chapel or squatting on the toilet bowl pondering their vocation, I was perspiring inside a gas chamber under intense interrogation. However, I was excused from time to time to breathe some fresh air outside as a warrant to survive the ordeal.
After another semester, I was already required to report just once a week but given a more challenging assignment. I would read a short story or philosophical essay to write about. When we met, he would require me to read aloud and explain my understanding. He would also go over my grammar to check whether I have learned about the noun-verb agreements. As to Latin, I forgot how we had abandoned the tutorial. Perhaps, he finally realized that it was impossible for me to resurrect the dead to find their place among the living.
Although I did not really like my routine, I felt indebted to his perseverance. On weekends when I found Bill at the swampy backyard of Haggerty, clumsily cutting out the tall para grass, as if desperately making a way through a thick forest, I would come and join him. I grew up as a farmhand so I could complement his task well. Until finally, surrendering to the fast-growing para grass, we just maintained a trail connecting the kitchen to the toilet sidedoor.
Remembering Bill is not complete without mentioning his penchant for the Pauline teachings as compared to the Gospel portrayal of Jesus. The conversion on the road to Damascus which he always compared to the conversion of St. Ignatius should be the crossroad decision of those aspiring to follow the footsteps of Jesus. But the more compelling truth was how the believers of Jesus, under the tutelage of St. Paul, survived in the “spirit of belongingness” amidst persecution. We were bombarded by his teachings weekly but honestly, I could hardly imagine how each of us that time defined belongingness without prejudice to other sub-groupings. Now, out of Haggerty, thrown into this passionate, wonderful world of reality, I am still struggling to define belongingness with other Haggies.
Bill had impressed a value in my life. I have not mastered the English language but I always enjoy reading and writing: It shows the difference between those who just live to survive and those who find life as well as death worth understanding. Hehehe, naa ba guy panultihon nga ingon ani? – dani conejar