Sometimes, people put up with the perceptions others have of them because they are tired of having to keep defending who they are to people who have already made their own conclusions.
That’s what I encountered today with my one hour talk with Maestra. I went over to their house this morning not quite sure about what I am supposed to do. All I know is that she wanted to write a book to leave a legacy for her family.
I sat down and prepared my things. Opened my notebook and my laptop. She came into the patio all sweaty and put her journal on the table. She’s been writing, I thought to myself. I motioned to kiss her on the cheek as is our usual greeting but she smiled and squealed, “No! I’m sweaty. I just had one hour training with my daughters. A training comes here every morning. I’ve lost some weight already.” I laughed and sat down waiting for her to settle.
She sat next to me and not infront of me. It felt like she wanted to tell me something up close and personal. She opened her black journal and I saw her cursive handwriting filling up the pages in black ink. ”I’ve been writing, she said. Perhaps we can do something like Robert Carlson’s “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”.” She started off with a very simple one liner.
Take time to listen to each child’s story.
She goes on to tell me about a few anecdotes about her past students and how she discovered sad stories about their childhood. One child she discovered, was abused by her parents. She found out only after a playtime session where she’d change their clothes after a sweaty day so that they can start their formal lessons. The child didn’t want to be touched and there she discovered bruises on her arm. ”What can I say to her parents?” She asked herself. ”I immediately thought that they need counseling so I told her father what I thought.” Maestra’s memories were vivid and she went on telling a few more and somewhere in between I asked her what made her resonate with children so much.
“I was a middle child and growing up I was always the free-spirited kid. I learned how to swim by myself at the age of 8 when they threw me into the pool. I packed my bags for a trip to Baguio at the age of 10 with my friends. We took the 3rd class train that was filled with chickens and pigs. My dad got so mad at me but I went anyway.” She laughs at the memory and looked very happy to have remembered it. ”But when I grew older, things started to change. My dad was an amputee and I was asked to take care of him because there things he couldn’t do by himself. I’d stay behind while my friends had all the fun and at some point I started to get angry because everybody was having fun except me. I love my dad, don’t get me wrong. I didn’t regret it. But I wish I could have had fun just like my friends.”
I kept on listening to her stories to see the threaded message she wove. ”People would always come to me for help. There was a time one of the parents of my students called me because his wife passed away and he didn’t know how to tell the kids. The wife was at the funeral parlor and the kids were home. He didn’t know how to tell them. So I went there and picked them up and held their hands on the way to place like they were my own kids. On the hall we saw a statue of the Blessed Mother and I told them, ‘You see that lady? She is the Blessed Mother & she is from heaven. She is very beautiful isn’t she? Your mom is also beautiful like her. But she is so beautiful that the Blessed Mother wanted her to be in heaven too.’” She looked at me with wide eyes and exclaimed, “The kids believed my story. I don’t know why but they believed me.”
I wondered to myself why I felt her heart aching when she said those words.
“I always know what to do in times of crisis. I know how to help other people. I can hold their hand. I can handle their pain. And I suppose in those moments when I am there for them, they see my pain too. But this is how I am Kathy. Perhaps that is why I like kids because they don’t judge me. Adults judge me.”
The last line she uttered felt like a plea. Perhaps Maestra in her silent way was pleading to be heard. And she is telling me these stories so I can help her unravel the knots in her life and set the pain free.
We talked for an hour and in that hour I started to see a different side to the Maestra people talked about. ”The ogre” as she refers to herself has been a persona she’s carried all this time. But “People have not seen this side of me.” she claims. I asked her if she thinks adults lose the child in them when they grow up and if she thinks that she has lost something as well. She said, “I think it’s because we have to handle all these responsibilities and obligations wherein we begin to lose the life of the child in us. And we grow bound and uptight because of all the things we have to do forgetting how to live the way we used to live when we were children. But I don’t forget. When I am with my grandchildren and I am playing with them. I go back. I remember. And I am happy. I’ll crawl into a box with them if I have to and I’m thankful that I still can.”
I saw a very different Maestra from the one I saw last week who was angrily pounding at the table and pouring out her frustration at the declining enrolment of her 43 year old school. I saw a Maestra that I could actually relate to. I knew what she felt and it’s a common feeling to carry after you have helped so many people all these years and feel a sense of emptiness for not experiencing some form of reciprocation from the people you’ve nurtured unconditionally.
Her poignant stories portray for me the struggle of her spirit. Gifted with a generous heart she battles with the call to serve other people with all her time and all her strength. She struggles with the loneliness of having to keep on serving people in need even when her heart aches to be tended to. I know this all too well. So I watched her cry and touched her hand slightly to let her know that despite the rough exterior, I am able to glimpse the fragmented pieces of her soul.
note: I think of all the people who have this vocation of service. I know that I cannot really get to help all of them give voice to their long silent thoughts. There are some that I do not really know how to respond to and the best way I can is to think about them and write this in behalf of them.
I pray for all teachers today and those in the care-giving profession who feel like nobody is thinking of them, who feel like they’ve been carrying too much load and they have no one to share it with. May God’s love embrace them all today.