DAVAO CITY (MIndaNews / 20 July) — It was exactly four years ago today and the debate was on about sex education – how to teach it when and where and by whom. It all seems so trivial now.

No respite. On the airwaves, on evening news broadcasts, and on the pulpit, churchmen were sanctimoniously drowning out rational discussion on the matter. They harangued so much and so strong, the audience had long tuned it out. The more sober were effectively scared into silence by the prospect of their souls burning in hell forever.

Or maybe they were more worried about their prospects in the upcoming elections. How indeed would they fare when churchmen had them in their sights as godless and immoral?

In my classroom, I had learned years ago to treat the matter of adolescent sexual behavior with much objectivity. Yes, indeed, let’s talk about sex. Just don’t get too excited though. You could be under 18 and I’ll run afoul of the law meant to protect impressionable minds from getting seduced or corrupted by someone in authority. That’s me – the teacher, the adult, the surrogate parent. I’ll forgive you if you forget that because you’re young.

Me? I don’t forget I am the authority. Not for a moment.

So it was unsettling to find my class taken over by this young man who thought he had the license to educate my class on matters that – obviously – the teacher only comprehended in the abstract. So unsettling in fact that I couldn’t sleep that night until I wrote an opinion piece and sent it to MindaViews (You may google “Brotherly love” + “gail ilagan”).

The young man overshared, and for a while I let him. I looked at his classmates and I saw that they wanted to hear what he dared to say. They weren’t taking in the information as a matter of disingenuous novelty. Like psychology majors that they were who were about to graduate and escape my clutches, they responded with sincere curiosity about the behavior of cruising and trawling Planet Romeo and all manner of self-presentation of male cyberidentity that young men can do while cloaked in naughty anonymity.

This was what the electronic keyboard could do. This was a new dimension to digital behavior then emerging in the Internet age. And as it turned out, it got the class curious enough that two thesis papers investigated by that batch looked at adolescent risky behaviors and attitudes on sex education.

All right then. Let’s maybe hold discussing the latest statistics on the consequences of going bareback. Time enough later.

That was so four years ago.

Tonight, four years ago seemed like a lifetime ago.

Tonight I stood before the urn that held the ashes of that young man. Tonight I held his frail mother in my arms. I held back my tears as she poured out hers. I don’t know why. It just seemed the thing to do.

All night last night and all day today, the memory of that young man had me tearing up. What I would give to just to give in and bawl my eyes out. But first, his mother was mourning – fresh and raw as yet. She was missing the arms that never again would hold her. Mine would have to do.

Such a short not so sweet life for that young man whose daring sometimes went beyond the risky.

I had him volunteering for COPERS during those two years since he hijacked my class. Perhaps that class four years ago was the last time he directed my learning because after that he let me do the teaching again. He sought instruction, not any more as a conscripted hostage to my classroom, but as a volunteer who genuinely wanted to see how I saw the world and where to get my hands dirty.

He was a very good volunteer. He never minded the long road and the less than comfortable field arrangements. He always showed up. He always delivered. He minded my coaching. No lip. No arguments. I never had to call his attention twice on the same error of excess or omission.

He was daring. But, to the very end, his mom’s words tell me that he was a good sport. No lip. No arguments. Just final instructions. Game over.

Twenty-four years old and gone.
His passing brings home that truth to lodge like a sorrowful lump in the region of my heart. For us teachers, most times, four years is all the time we have with the young, especially at that time when their daring borders on the risky.

Dare I hope he’s flashing me his naughty smile right now. (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to gail.ilagan@gmail.com. This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says.)