edited: Wednesday, November 14, 2001
By Arsenio C Jesena
Posted: Wednesday, November 14, 2001
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This is the story of Johnny, my student. My worst student. Then he became my teacher. My best teacher.
J O H N N Y
Today I’d like to tell you the story of Johnny.
Johnny was my student. My worst student. Then he became my teacher. My best teacher.
Johnny was only in second year High School when he became a drug user. He had a mind of his own and he seldom agreed with convention and tradition and authority. And I think I gave him — because he deserved it — I gave him a grade of 33% in his card. Not 70, not 65, but 33% — because that was what he deserved.
In second year College, he dropped out of school. And he was driving to Baguio when, because he was high on drugs, he let his car fly from the zigzag in Kennon Road, and he fell down the ravine and landed 150 feet among the giant rocks below. His car, of course, was a total wreck. And only by a miracle did Johnny escape death.
After that, Johnny sort of disappeared from the scene. He got lost somewhere in Luzon. Besides, I was working from 1973 to 1981 in the towns and barrios of Bukidnon in Mindanao, and I did not hear of him at all.
Years later, while I was crossing Aurora Boulevard in Sta. Mesa, a Ford delivery truck HIT me, and shattered a lot of my bones, and SHATTERED A LOT of ME.
From among the numerous witnesses and onlookers, the only person who stopped to help me was LEON NIBAL, who saw me get hit, and somersault, and crash on the cement road. He took pity on me. Although he did not know who I was. Although he did not know I was a Priest. But I was all broken and bloody. And he felt compelled to help me and save me. Leon Nibal took my pulse to see if I was still alive. Up to now he swears I had no pulse beat. I HAD NO PULSEBEAT.
And then Leon Nibal — God bless him — Leon Nibal brought me to the Emergency Room of the nearby UERM Hospital.
I remained in coma for three days. And when the hospital was finally through repairing me and returned me to the Ateneo and the Jesuits in Loyola Heights, I found out I could not walk.
I COULD NOT WALK. My inner source of balance, my inner equilibrium, was damaged by the impact of the accident.
I would leave my bed, I would take one step, I would fall on the floor. No matter how hard, or how often I tried, I always, always fell down.
And so I tried to learn how to walk again, inside the Campus of the Ateneo de Manila University. And if you had passed by some Sunday afternoon, you would have seen a fat, 235-pound Jesuit (me!), on the ground, crawling on hands and knees, trying to get up after another fall. And then I would try again. And I would fall again. And again. And again.
And so the Jesuits put me out to pasture in BAGUIO, where they have a vacation house with a beautiful garden on top of a hill. And there I stayed for about six months — with my shattered bones, and my shattered heart, and my shattered soul.
I was alone mostly, more dead than alive.
And then, one day, I had a visitor. It was, it was . . . Johnny! Remember Johnny, my former student, my terrible student? The bad, bad boy — who got a 33% grade in his card and was a drop-out and a drug user? Remember him? Remember Johnny?
“Hello, Fr. JJ! I heard about your accident. And so I came. To be with you.”
And then Johnny talked about his wife, and about his little daughter, and about his classmates, Ramon Mayuga and Dingjo Salang, and the rest of his batch, and how they were doing in life.
Of course Johnny did almost all the talking. And I? I was mostly silent, crumpled up and hurting in my cocoon, drowning in self-pity and despair, and I couldn’t have cared less about what happened to my former students Dingjo Salang and Ramon Mayuga and all the rest of them.
For I was in pain, and I was tired of life, and tired of the world, and tired of myself. . . and I no longer wanted to live.
But as long as I was willing to listen, Johnny talked. And when I wanted silence, Johnny shut up. He . . . he just sat there, and smiled, and looked at me kindly. He wasted time, wasted his precious time with me.
“You are a different man,” he said one day. “You are a different man from Fr. JJ, my teacher of long ago. That man was so dynamic, so full of life, so full of trust . . . in life, in himself. But I know he’s still there. Inside you. The old Fr. JJ I knew is still there, inside you.” And then Johnny waited. Again.
Then one day he talked me into venturing outside the Jesuit Villa and going with him down the winding Lourdes Street on Mirador Hill. “JJ,” he said, “Let’s go down. If you feel like walking . . . let’s walk. Let’s walk . . . one step, two steps. Then if you’re tired, let’s sit down on the ground and rest. We’ll do whatever YOU want.”
Johnny and I — we mostly sat down on the ground. For I was hurting, I was afraid, and I refused to go anywhere. Yes, I was afraid. I was terrified to walk again, terrified to cross the street, even when there was absolutely NO car within a kilometer from us.
I was drowning and choking, in pain, in self-pity, and in fear.
That day Johnny and I walked a grand total of only three meters.
“No more!” I said. “I’m very tired.” So we sat down. On the ground. That day, and the subsequent days, if you passed us by, you would have seen Johnny and me, thin student and fat teacher, sitting down on the ground by the side of Lourdes Street. With me, staring mostly at nothing. And Johnny benignly, patiently, encouragingly looking at me. Always, he took his cue from me. . . . So JJ wants to walk only three meters? Fine. Then we’ll walk only three meters!!
Three meters. Then five meters. Then ten meters. Then farther and farther. Finally, ONE KILOMETER. THREE KILOMETERS. Then FIVE KILOMETERS. Then we went down to the beach to swim. Then we began to climb hills together. And then, and then and — then — I was WELL AGAIN!!! I WAS WELL AGAIN!!!
Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. I was well again.
v v v
Today, I remember my return from the living dead. But who cured me? Who healed me? Who brought me back to life again? Who was my best teacher? A doctor of medicine? No. A doctor of psychology? No. A doctor of philosophy? No. A doctor of Sacred Theology? No, no, no. No way!
The man who cured me and healed me and brought me back to life again was . . . Johnny. Johnny . . . my best teacher.
Why do you think Johnny was my best teacher? I think Johnny was my best teacher because . . .
1. He really CARED. He was personally, genuinely concerned. When he heard the news of my accident, he cared deeply. And he was not satisfied only with feeling, with compassion. He did not say, “Pobrecito, kawawa naman si JJ.” He said, “What can I do to help?” And he actually helped!
2. He BELIEVED IN ME. He thought I was special, and I was worthwhile — worthwhile saving. Worthwhile healing. Worthwhile bringing back to life again. Worthwhile — because this shattered wreck, this despairing cripple, this destroyed, ruined shell of a wimp, was a man before — his hero, his noble champion, his friend.
3. And he PAID THE PRICE. He paid in OPPORTUNITIES LOST, in TIME, in ENERGY, in EMOTIONAL INVESTMENT. Finally, and most important of all . . .
4. He WAITED FOR ME. FOR ME. He did not come with a technique, a schedule, a plan of action engineered by some expert in physical therapy. No. His patient was his doctor. He respected me enough, and trusted me enough, to let ME decide what to do, when I was ready to do it. He believed in me, he trusted me, to heal myself once I loved myself — after he FIRST loved me. After he first loved me. AFTER HE FIRST LOVED ME.
For those of us who are parents and professors and counsellors and healers in some field or other, this is very essential. What works is not expert techniques from the outside, but respect and trust and listening and waiting for the hero, the saint, the God inside. All of which, of course, is just another way of saying “LOVE. . . LOVE.”
All of us, my friends, all of us are both JJs and Johnnys.
We are all cripples, and we are all healers to one another. We are all children and we are all parents. We are all patients and we are all doctors. We are all students and we are all teachers. We are all JJs. And we are all Johnnys.
And to really heal is to listen, and to wait, and, to trust, and to love. . . LIKE JESUS.
jj jesena, s.j.