By Ruben D. Escudero, Jr.
Somewhere behind the dusky shadows of my dreams lingered and beaconed a mystic-strange lamp that cast illumination amidst a rather tenebrous yet marvelously poetic night – a bizarre-aged lamp that irradiated a flare bathing gloomy chambers with a gleaming, shining, and blinding light. To my eyes, it was a kind of light that could be shared to emblazon the hearts and minds of many. Sprang from an oil lamp, it did not only lighten up our abode during the darkest of nights or the rays it cast did not just flicker in the midst of a gloomy and arduous road being taken under the starless-indigo sky but such light always ignites someone’s sincere heart to spark and enkindle a glimmer of hope.

These were the thoughts that weaved through my mind as I marveled at the burning oil lamp that sat solitarily on the round table beside some of the piled books with a calm intent gaze one Monday evening when the subdued world outside from my window began to fade behind the shadows of the night and the wind blew dramatically cold as I curled up on our wooden chaise longue facing the night in its infinite-deafening silence and boundless emptiness. It was a total blackout and from afar, as I looked out, homes in the neighborhood were starting to glow up asynchronously almost in a theatrical fashion. Despite of the night’s darkness, I could still see the mountains’ silhouette seemed dancing tango behind the shadows, and I was deeply drawn with the vastness of the nature’s rich and exquisite tapestry, a vision and beauty to behold amidst a rather gloomy and secluded world.

Before the afternoon sky looked like a huge canvas tinged with scarlet and tangerine hues and right before the sun finally nestled its grandeur bidding the day goodbye, I gratified myself with some kind of prolific and quite rewarding indulgence by reading a novel, “Anne’s House of Dreams,” page after page as I fancied to entangle my life to the main characters’ lives; voyaged through time and lived several lives while reading and fell in love with the setting as depicted in the novel. Engaging such leisure had always been a delight to me. Earlier on, I had written a rather deep and somewhat grandiloquently resonant poem for my brother I dearly missed who now lives in Japan to somehow ease the melancholic vibes that again and again tumultuously reverberating in my heart, where every verse seemed a sweet refrain. But as soon as I was completely lost to the beauty of the world I created in my imagination in composing a poem, such engagement was interrupted with the power blackout. It was getting dark by then and good thing, I had already taken dinner earlier. Instead of lighting scented candles, my mother who was then skimming through her facebook timeline on the rocking chair to somehow check if my brother had posted his new vlogs rose so quickly and lighted our aged “lamparilla” (oil lamp) and put it on the round center table so I never bothered myself to move and stand up.

From my angle, I had a wide and unobstructed perspective of the hills that almost kissed the star-laden sky, even just by looking through our French windows, shivering and cocooned in my jacket. Somehow, it seemed I was enjoying the tranquility of the night amidst solitude and as I glanced at the dancing glow our lamparilla emitted, a realization dramatically dawned on me that just like how important an oil lamp is during dark nights where the light it casts brightens up the whole abode and being enjoyed by many, we are also capable of casting light, figuratively speaking though and we need to share the light to many to enlighten the path they take. And having been struck with such an odd yet philanthropically benevolent thought, my memory took me back and drifted me to the most defining moment of my life when I finally found my purpose as to “maybe” the reason why I landed a teaching job in the Department of Education. I could feel the soft-cold breeze that caressed my skin as I laid on the chaise longue as my minds wandered just somewhere. I could even smell the sweet scent of the wind brought by mom’s blooming sampaguitas and varied flowering plants that wafted through the windows while the crickets somewhere behind the shrubs were chirping their sweet melody. As I gazed intently the glow of the lamp against the backdrop of a gloomy yet starry night, it’s as if it took me down memory lane into a nostalgically remembered past.

I could still vividly depict the pictures of how kaleidoscopically colorful and diverting the sort of childhood I lived. I was practically raised in a conservative family that values learning and gives paramount importance on education. My grandfather was an esteemed leader in the community and was a gallant man of honor while my grandmother possessed the profoundest character and deepest personality. She would have been a great teacher had her parents (my great grandparents) sent her to school. My mom who still exemplifies teaching excellence in a public elementary school and who adores us most unequivocally, epitomizes bravery as she raised us all her six children alone, after my father’s death sometime when I was in my fourth grade. To me, she personifies who a woman of substance is and is remarkably resilient who stands strong against the tests of time. Despite financial turmoil and economic adversities, my grandparents managed to send all their children to good private schools in the city and in the nearby city as well and eventually obtained college education. I grew up in a rather rural-secluded type of neighborhood, away from the outskirts of the city, even, that to us children, rice fields were always a paradise where we would fly kites in the afternoon against the scene of the setting sun until it turned orange and creeks and brooks were our playgrounds and happened to be the repositories of my fondest memories. It was a type of neighborhood that slept glowless in the night figuratively speaking though, since it was only around early 1990’s when homes were lighted with electric lamp that to us siblings, a new technological wonder in addition to our radio powered by batteries. Years prior I was born and maybe before I turned seven years old, homes were only lighted with gas or oil lamps. So there, basically, I have lived a modest life and though sans vanity, I truly enjoyed and loved its simplicity in such a technologically forsaken world.
Since obtaining education was always highlighted and given due emphasis at home, at very young age, I was already determined and driven to finish studies, pursue and chase dreams my mother wanted me to be. I loved going to school even as a 5-year old child I remember, and my mom was not only my first teacher who introduced me to the unfathomable wonders of arts, letters, and numbers that I still marvel at even up to now but she is always my first teacher who teaches me lessons in life. I am her true reflection and my deep fascination in arts and literature sprang from her influence. I am the product of her sacrifices and I perpetually carry with me all the values she instilled in me.

It’s true, the way of life certainly has a huge impact on learning. I mean, economic status and the harshness of life would always create an infringement or even take a toll on student’s learning process and my story was of no exception. I also struggled as a learner when I was a child, I believe we all did. While my mother constantly reminded us, in a way, motivated us to do good with our studies, my first stage of learning the basics of reading and comprehension was at all, a roller-coaster ride and I could see such struggle in my 4-year old nephew, Blake, who manifests interests in reading and writing. Maybe because at five, I was too young then. But mom was a persevered teacher. While my heart holds the most seemingly vibrant keepsakes and encapsulates the fondest memories of my childhood, I also had a share of heartaches, at early age due to my father’s demise just few months after mom gave birth to our youngest brother. At that time, I was practically over-analyzing things like how could my mother be able to raise and guide us six children alone and such melancholy had long thrived in my heart that gradually devoured my zests in life including my motivation for learning. But mom was such a mighty warrior who weathered against the tempests of life and that seed of courage that drove her through and through also runs in my veins. Our grandparents had always been the fountain of strength and inspiration who nestled us with a tender-loving care and a warm comfort. And so, the way I see life and the way I brave myself against the test of time is also deeply rooted from the way my grandparents shaped our values.

“What a marvelous night,” I murmured when I glanced back outside after untangling my mind from what I have just thought.

“Night like this always brings me sweet memories,’ I thought, as I saw mom emerges from the dining holding a lamparilla, her shadows seemed dancing with grace in the night.

“You better blow the light out when you head on to your room, the night’s getting colder and colder,” mom said. “The night is still young,” I replied, truly captivated with the beauty of the enchanting night.

Interrupted with such an interlude, I resumed playing the movie in my mind through looking back and forth the beauty beaconing from the lens of my windowpane and the burning light of the oil lamp. I took my memory back to the times that gave warmth to my heart. Oh, where was I? Ah…

It was in our home under the glowing light of a lamparilla where I first learned to recognize and vocalize letters and syllabicate vowels and consonants as well as count numbers from one to infinity until finally untangling complexities. It was not in school where I first learned to read and write but certainly at home during the most tranquil of the nights when mom and I burned the midnight oil. I think that is how and where learning should start. It should spring from home and it should not be relied solely with the teachers in school and that every learner’s drive to learn should always emanate from parents’ influence. But I was just so lucky to have been taught with my incredibly great teachers in my grassroots years whom I owe so much. And the moment I could be able to read and write, of which I could not imagine how happy mom was by then, it was then I thought I could have the chance to survive school to climb academic ladders rung by rung. And I did survive with God’s grace.

But just when I thought I had the most indispensable requisites to hone young minds, the realities of life were unfolding before my very eyes. I was haunted horribly in my first few years of teaching when I chanced to meet and teach students who were struggling with the mastery and fluency of writing and reading and it dreadfully pained me to know that fact. I struggled to envelop my frustrations but I could not contain myself from showing a gesture of a bit disappointment. As a teacher, I needed to do something. I was totally in a quandary as to how I could be of help to these students as a language teacher. I admit, I felt fulfillment at the end of every discussion when after assessment, I knew many or majority of my students passed and have fully understood the lesson but it also ached my heart to know that some failed because in the first place, they did struggle with the mastery of writing legibly and reading with total fluency so how much more with comprehension? I could not close my eyes on them because I felt like their performance in my class would always backfire against me and that thought tortured and devastated me morally and emotionally. Well, there’s no one to blame apparently and for sure there are myriad of reasons why these students struggled academically up to now.
This regrettably heavyhearted scenario pushed us language teachers in school to spare time for reading and writing remediation. It was truly an arduous, complicated, and taxing journey but a totally rewarding and fulfilling ride. And I tell you, nothing is more gratifying than seeing and upon knowing that many of these students who have undergone the remediation classes progressed with their mastery of literacy and numeracy skills. More than an achievement for us teachers, we felt morally elated that somehow we succeeded not just teaching these students the fundamentals of reading and writing and honing their minds but championing and touching their hearts as well through motivation and exuding influence.

The years 2015 and 2016 were two successive years that highlighted my vocation as a language teacher when, aside from my regular and scheduled remedial classes, together with my journalism protegés, we packed our bags and went to barangay Antipolo, an adjacent locality from our school, and barangay Ma. Cristina, my very own place where we immersed ourselves and taught children to read, allured them of the beauty of literature and the magic it always brings through reading stories to them and extended feeding program. Those two consecutive years of doing outreach programs were made possible because of few people whose gestures of support were inspiring and overwhelming.
I shared the same advocacy with the late Arturo B. Calaguian, then School Principal and Erma L. Elcamel, our Head Teacher then, as they were more than solicitous and magnanimous in supporting such deed. Such programs were realized also because of my High School classmates namely: Ludivina Mentawan, Sheryl Saguin Villadarez, and Jackson Tuballa, to name a few, who backed me up with the cause and whose moral and financial assistance were deeply rooted from the innermost chambers of their hearts.

And just this year, at the height of COVID-19 pandemic, with the aim of unleashing the potential in every child and to help ensure that every Filipino can read, as we deem how vital literacy is in this fast-paced and technology-driven age, we took part in advocating “Brigada Pagbasa” (Reading Brigade). This was anchored on the Department of Education’s battle cry that no Filipino should be left behind in terms of reading and comprehension. We’ve given our whole heart and pledged to do good for this crusade and we will be immersing ourselves sometime soon in different localities within or even outside the school’s jurisdiction to personally teach young ones and struggling readers to read. This was more than challenging for me personally with the threat of this pandemic but I am confident enough that we could be able to pull this crusade off.

These most pressing and challenging times brought me down to my knees to realize and pray. I have realized that we still have the option to make a difference in the sphere of influence amidst this totally devastating pandemic plaguing the world today if we just follow the one resounding voice that comes from our hearts. No matter how raw and simple the act is for as a long as it touches someone’s heart, it always spells a difference. I understand we all have our personal struggles and sacrifices that almost dragged us to impending doom and we are left in limbo how to get through all these that impede our hearts’ desires. This pandemic has held almost everything in abeyance and has ruined ones’ goals including relationships, maybe. This has caused anxiety and depression to many and has isolated many of us away from the normal world we once lived but this does not fetter us from raising the lamp we hold high enough to share the light or prevent our one resonant and echoing cry for truth and equality. At some point, a realization struck me so hard that, you will find your true worth and value not in the company of many people around but by doing alone the things that matter to you the most that would create a big impact to others, in a good way. For me, there is no better way to empower these children than to teach and educate them not only the basics of reading and writing but to sow in them as well the values they needed as they sail ahead through the rough seas of life. These recipients of light are also capable of radiating and sharing, and once shared to many, there will come a day that we will be sharing the same one-bright light. It is during these times that our single act of benevolence is most needed and sympathy sought for.

The current situation may have prevented us from creating tangible things for the betterment of others but the light that emanates and radiates from us, a light that we could share to enlighten the dark roads taken by many making their hearts steadfast giving them hope to just forge on is remarkably a sure applaudable-profound deed.

I was totally lost in reverie oblivious to the thoughts that toyed in my mind until I felt the gentlest breeze that kissed my skin. As I looked outside the window, stars, in their multitude, decorated and beautified most amazingly the velvet-indigo sky like strings bedecked with silvers and golds draped in the night while cicadas buzzed with their harmonious melody somewhere. And as I blew the flame of the lamparilla out, I pray I could still carry one bright light not only during nights after nights but even in the brightest of days.