Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Remembering a mentor

published 22 November 2015

Monday afternoon, stuck in traffic on the way to Makati, I was exchanging text messages with a friend. We were talking about how we were nearing our 40th-year mark, and how only a good 30 something years remain, if we are lucky. That’s clearly halfway into the journey. The question: Have we even done something meaningful in our lives at all? 
We ended with reinforcements: Life is short. We should not spend our remaining just “putting up” with things. We have to ensure the quality of what lies ahead and realize our potential as individuals.
In the morning I woke up to the news that a mentor had passed on. 
Reynaldo Binuya was my high school English teacher and school paper adviser. He died Monday, Nov. 16. He was 52. 
I first met Sir Rey in 1989, at the club meeting of the high school newspaper which he moderated. There were only a few members of The Gracean Envoy—I was the only freshman—and all of them seemed to me intelligent, talented, and intimidating. Like he was. The following summer, Mr. Binuya conducted a journalism workshop where I became close with some of the older staff, many of whom remain my Facebook friends today. I was promoted to Feature Editor in sophomore year, to Associate Editor in junior year, and EIC senior year. 
Competitions at various levels of the Secondary Schools Press Conference—presscon, as it was known—were also occasions to know each other better. It was Sir Rey who acted as our chaperon when we went out to represent the school. He made sure we were safe and well-fed, and even occasionally teased us about boys who would strike up conversations with us during these contests. As a mentor, he would only dish out the more important pieces of advice and the general principles. Everything else, he left you with a desire to discover for yourself. 
I remember my fourth year in high school when it was the National Capital Region’s turn to host the national presscon. We were billeted at Rizal High School in Pasig for an entire week. SM Megamall had just opened, its main attraction being the ice skating rink. Sir Rey accompanied me and two other schoolmates to try it for the first time, even though it meant sitting on the ice for a lot longer than actually skating on it. 
That week, too, I was called for a scholarship interview at a university I had applied to (one I did not end up attending). I did not know how to get from Pasig to Taft Avenue at that time, so he said he would accompany me. I told the people there he was my uncle. 
As an English teacher, Mr. Binuya spurred engaging discussions and challenged his students to ask questions. He was knowledgeable about the classics and contemporary literature as well as global current events, and yet you never got the sense he was showing off. The effect was that you were challenged to read more and know more so that you could catch up to be worthy of his conversation.  
We did not see a lot of each other after high school. He had moved to another school, too, one where he stayed longer, and where he inspired many other students. We met only several times to talk about a book project on campus journalism. I could sense he was happy that I had taken this career track. I don’t know if I was even able to say I owed much of that decision to him. 
Last July, he sent a text to pass on a weekend journalism lecture to me. The venue was in ParaƱaque and he said he was not feeling too well to travel that far (he lived in Caloocan). I took the gig and thanked him, tried to do a good job, and that was that. 
In August, through Facebook, we heard about his sickness. I planned on visiting him, going to the extent of asking him directions to his house. But then I fell down the stairs and could not go anywhere for a week. And then I became too busy again, tending to the family, to the house, to my multiple engagements—not having time, no, not making time. This for a person who was one of the few whose influence and example steered me into the direction I took. 
Yes, life is short.  So stop making excuses for not doing that thing which you’ve always wanted to do. Spend more time with your family. Tell someone you love him/ her. Forgive those who have wronged you. Write that story. Travel. See your friends. Visit your mentors and let them know of the impact they’ve had on your life. Don’t wait for free time; it will never come. 
Mr. Binuya will always be remembered as the one who enables, and challenges, and raises the bar. He was a true teacher, a true mentor. It is an honor to have been his student. 
adellechua@gmail.com

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