Rhona Canoy .
SO… A man I knew died last week under the most horrifying circumstances. For people who never knew him, that’s all they will ever know — the events that led to his death. But how he passed is not who he was in life, and I feel that I owe it to him to let people know of his humanity.
We met when he first graduated from college, back in 1994. He was a newbie and I was birthing a new school here in Cagayan de Oro. We were scouting for teachers and he came looking for a job. Tall and lanky, with crew-cut hair, he had a contagious grin which crinkled his chinito eyes into even tinier slits. I hired him because he had an eagerness and passion for life which was evident almost immediately. The hopefulness of the young, ready to face the world and what it would bring him.
Situation warranted that he be assigned as a homeroom teacher, in charge of the second year high school class. They were a match made in heaven. The bunch of students were as varied as anyone could hope for. Serious academic hunters, giggly Maria Claras, sports hounds, assertive feminists, overprotected sons and daughters — all of them rebels each in their own way, searching for their place in the sun. Teacher was raised by a tough woman (a good friend and kindred spirit), and he wanted to run his class with a strict set of rules, a bit unforgiving, with high expectations from the class.
I remember the day when his kids trooped into my office (I was serving as school principal then, and still finding my way) with a firm demand that Teacher be assigned to homeroom another class else because they couldn’t work with him. I admired their spunk, but I also knew that their demands couldn’t be met until they and Teacher had a dialogue. So we scheduled an intervention, making them talk with each other, sort out their differences, and build common goals to improve communication.
They decided to give each other a chance. The kids were no less rowdy, but rather than be the traditional disciplinarian, Teacher learned to become a mentor, confidant, cohort, and their friend. The kids learned that Teacher, although he was the boss, could be trusted to look out for their best interests — pushing them to do their best in school, showing them how to be independent, how to balance work with fun, how to learn from their mistakes. The kids taught him too — how to be compassionate, to be strict in the face of rebelliousness, to see his kids as human beings, to accept the challenge of adversity. They were a match made in heaven, sometimes in hell. And they all grew from being together, Teacher and his kids.
Teacher left my employ to pursue other professional dreams. He turned to a career in sales for a large multinational corporation, rapidly rising in the ranks until he was in charge of training others. It seems he remained a teacher at heart. But the friendship forged in his class remained through the years. Until the end, he was a trusted mentor, confidant, ally, friend.
His passing left behind so many questions which will remain unanswered. One wonders what pushes people over the edge. And whether anyone knew he needed help. Or whether he knew he needed help. He made us all realize that we live with a dark side, one which we somehow manage to keep suppressed and pushed away. We will never know why he lost control the way he did, as others have. My dad said that we are more devastated by his act because we knew him, but it certainly wasn’t the first time something like this happened. I wish it were the last.
There is so much we need to know, to understand about mental health. We go to doctors when our bodies don’t feel well because that’s what we learned to do. We know to read the signs. We haven’t learned to seek professional help when our souls, when our spirits are wounded or ailing. We haven’t learned to read the signs. And we still haven’t learned to overcome the stigma of being mentally unwell.
No one will ever know what led to his final acts. Part of me wishes I could have kept closer ties. Part of me hopes his soul will find peace. And that the many people who he loved and who loved him will find closure.
We called him Mr. Ming. And he was a good man. That’s how I will always remember him.