… from my usual preoccupation with food and eating to pay tribute to a man. I am not at all given to honoring men. The only man I have ever honored is my father. No other man has been special enough to merit the affections of my heart and the attentions of my pen.
But that changes, if only for today. Today I honor another man.
He went by the name Fredegusto David. F.G. for fashionably short. Sir David, we called him. He taught us, his students, at the Department of Psychology in the University of the Philippines – Diliman. He was short, bald, and handsome, looking like a quirky cross between the Simpsons’ Montgomery Burns and Sting. He had a love for words and a propensity to sound like a dictionary. He studied English Literature in undergrad and was a poet. One of his poems hangs, framed, on one of the walls of the Department Office. And one of his last major peeves, it seemed, was the war in Iraq. How a young, upstart regime can wage war against and ruin a great, ancient civilization was beyond him.
Yesterday, Sir David had a stroke. Today, he is gone.
I mark it in the calendar of my mind: 13 July 2007, Friday.
If you believe in superstition, you would say that today is certainly an unlucky day. But if you studied statistics under Sir David, even if you did believe in superstition, you would have to say that the unluckiness of today is not certain, because nothing ever is. You would say that we can never make statements of certainty. We can only make statements of probability. So you say that today is an unlucky day, the unluckiness of which you can be reasonably certain within a 0.01 margin of error. After all, to demand more than 99% surety is to exercise hubris. Or to be an Atenean, as Sir F.G. used to say, making jocose reference to our brothers and sisters in that Jesuit institution in Katipunan Avenue.
To be an Atenean meant to invoke faith as the wall against which surety rests, a heinous crime in a field that fancies itself a science.
Today, against everything that F.G. tried to teach me in my undergraduate biopsychology class and my graduate statistics classes, against his assertions that “the only universal constant is c2, the speed of light”, but in honest, heartfelt tribute to him, I say… I am only 99% certain that today is an unlucky day, especially for his kin, his friends, and his colleagues and students at the UP-Diliman Department of Psychology. But I am 100% sure, the surest I can ever be, that it is a sad day, for me and everyone else who was ever taught by this man.
I gladly and willingly invoke faith. It is the wall against which our sadness rests.
I do not honor this man because he was a great man. I only knew him as my teacher, after all, and therefore, cannot make such global judgments.
I honor him because he was a man who taught. A man who had a desire to teach more than what was covered by the syllabus. A man who seemed to take it so personally when his students flunked his exams. A man who still went to class even when he was so obviously sick that the class ended up getting canceled anyway and his students had to take him home.
He was a man who taught. For this alone, I pay tribute.