Too Late to Say Hello, Too Soon to Say Goodbye

By BERT SULAT, JR. ©

Manila Standard

(Editor’s Note: Delivered by the author at the Necrological Service, FEU University Chapel, 8 June 2005)

Jess, good ol’ Jess. I was not a student of his, yet I learned a lesson from him, especially now that he has been reassigned to the Great Classroom in the Sky.

We have been colleagues in the mid-l990s, having been part-time contributors to the lifestyle-cum-entertainment section of the Manila Standard. When we eventually met for the few dinner-and-drinking sessions we went on to have with our boss and peers at the Standard, we realized that we likewise worked in an academic institution: he, a teacher at FEU, me, not a teacher at UE. Moreover, it turns out that we were neighbors as well, since my office is a few steps away not just from FEU but also from his apartment. In fact, after one such dinner, I brought him to his place before I headed home. I distinctly recall that night because it was the one and only time that I ever addressed him as Mang Jess —which I felt was necessary because he looked, oh, about three years older than I was. “Call me Jess,” he said.

Anyway, even if the said dinner-and-drinking sessions later on became few and far, far between, Jess and I would occasionally chance upon each other along Recto in the daytime and after office hours alike. We would exchange smiles and be on our way either to our respective home or workplace. But, now that I think about it, there was a fairly big difference between us. That is, no matter how busy he might have been, Jess looked willing to take time to chat and catch up, whereas I was more like that frantic rabbit in Alice in Wonderland who’s always “late, late for a very important date!”

The last time I saw Jess was early one evening this May. He was in line at the 7-11 right outside UE. Before I made my way out, I touched his right shoulder and said, “By hook or by crook, we”—that is, us two and our fellow Standard alumni-pals—“would have a reunion before the school year opens,” to which he smiled and quietly laughed in agreement. After all, I believe the last time we had a get-together, Erap and Chavit were still friends.

Actually, within the past summer, I had also thought of inviting Jess for coffee somewhere near his place. I was reviewing my professional life and I thought of consulting him about my musings, given that he had not only had many years to his name but had also been working for the same institution for so long. I just never got around to asking him if he’d be available, though I was certain he would have welcomed the idea. He was such a nice man that I felt he was a good friend even if we were not that close.

So what, you might ask, is the lesson that I learned from Jess? It’s a re-learned lesson, actually: It’s that we should not put off for tomorrow what we can do today.

See, given the several times that he and I would bump into each other, as well as the fact that he was proverbially just around the corner, I kept thinking that I could meet him any day at all. Sadly, that day never came, because in essence I took him for granted, and for that I feel ashamed. I feel even more ashamed because there was at least one time when I saw him one morning but did not bother to greet him, even if it meant just a few seconds, because I was in such a damn rush. Now, it’s too late for me to say “Hello” to him once more, just as it is too soon for him to say “Goodbye” to us. I can only take comfort in the fact that, at least, he’s not suffering anymore.

I could defend myself by saying that the demands of work and home — especially within the last four years, having become a husband and then a father — have given me little opportunity to casually hook up with Jess. But I would merely be giving an excuse. Nevertheless, in my mind, I am saying sorry to him for not making our get-together happen. But, the beauty of this man — this man who, as I learned only after his passing, had won awards for his intelligence and talent — was that he was so unassuming, so down-to-earth, that I can imagine him smiling that calm smile of his and saying, “There, there. It’s all right. No problem.” Which makes me miss him all the more.

All that said… Jess, I will now live the rest of my life like one of your students —carrying the lesson I have learned from you, along with fond memories of your having been a part of my life.

My condolences to those whom Jess had left behind. Thank you. ©

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