Saturday, February 2, 2013

A Mentor’s Musing: When Students Are Asking

(In which annoying as they can be, they are still pricelessly thought-provoking.)


If you haven’t been seeing even a half-hearted book review in this blog, it’s because my profession is taking so much of my time. So please allow me to share some moments of that thing that takes so much of my time.

I was assigned to teach Asian Literature this semester. (Luckily the analyses of literary pieces found on the textbooks are not found on this blog.) And owing to the fact that my students are not Language and Literature majors, we have to steer away from literary theories and in-depth plot and character analysis. This is one of the moments when you don’t have a choice but to simplify things.

In one of my classes, we were discussing “The Will of the River” by Alfredo Q. Gonzales. And one gem of a thought from the essay is that “One should be determined to reach the great end.” In the case of the river Bacong, the focus of the essay, great end refers to the sea. And having this purpose, the river overcame and undercame almost insurmountable odds to reach it. 

The great end. Life’s purpose. Life's goal. Essence of life. Reason for being here. It is perhaps the periphery of the timeless philosophical mind-blower “Who Am I?” It is just inevitable that I ask my students what their great end is. And much to my surprise, I got the following equally surprising answers. Seriously. 

“To graduate.”

“To pass your subject so I can graduate.”

“To be one of the leading people in the field of business.”

“To be successful.”

“To graduate. To be successful. And to die happily.”

The game was already getting old when out of the blue, despite the ruckus that the string of previous answers made, a student blurted out loud enough for the whole class to hear:

“What about YOU Ma’am? What’s YOUR great end?”

Fortunately for me the noise didn’t quite die down. But everybody stopped thinking, alright. And amidst the still buzzing colossal classroom of almost 60 pairs of wide eyes and curious minds, I stood transfixed. What is my great end? My mind raced, as always, and I couldn’t stop a grin from stretching itself to my ears.

My mind seemed to have time-and-space-warped in the speed of light, actually. Back to the time when teachers endlessly asked me every start of the school year what I wanted to become in the future (my answer to which varied from being a doctor to a scientist to a computer engineer) to that moment when I thought I was lost and I told an old friend I actually needed directions as to where the relationship was heading. He told me that I might need Jack Sparrow’s compass. And I asked him where that compass would lead me. Then he gave me a very intent, deep and, I believed, one of the sincerest and most dangerous stares I saw in my entire life, before he answered “To me.”

More flashbacks . . .

When the student repeated the question, (He was so like the Little Prince, believe me.) I was plucked out of my reverie. I realized I have to answer.

“How old are you, class?” I asked. There were a thunder of seventeen’s and some soft eighteen’s and nineteen’s. If there was someone in the twenties, he or she might have been too shy to even consider saying it.

“I’m twenty-five,” I continued. “And much as I’d like to say I wanted success to be my great end, at my age I've learned that success is relative. And perhaps I’ll be too busy dying to know if I’m happy when it happened. All I wanted to do when I reach that great end is to sit in my own library reading books while sipping coffee and watching all the things I’ve built myself. That day I would be so over teaching noisy students who won’t listen. . . Yes, that could be it. A happy retirement.”

And at the back of my head, pictures of green grass, lavender walls ornamented with high bookshelves full of historical and contemporary fiction and children running become less and less blurred.

Yes, that could be my great end.