It was no ordinary day. I remember vividly, it was like a very first day in the life of a novice. Yes, I was a novice in that grade level, doing my grade ten. I wasn’t sure of what my other comrades thought at that very day. But, to me, that day was anticipated with anxiety but curiosity at the same time.
We were expecting a teacher. But, this was no ordinary teacher. We’d heard from our older brothers, this teacher was of different species. Getting seven out of ten (perfect ten was simply unthinkable) was already an achievement, they said. Even smallest punctuation wouldn’t escape his scrutiny, they warned. Minutiae of your writing wouldn’t go unnoticed, they confirmed.
All these prophecies conditioned that waiting. Unsurprisingly, the air of our classroom in that dusky afternoon was full of tension. At least, that was my perceived reality. This feeling loomed in a novice who was about to enter an uncharted territory.
Despite the anxiety, I was at the same time consumed by the unquenched curiosity to start the class. This was strangely amplified by somehow the burning desire to showcase the worth in front of such a formidable figure. Still, like a novice, I was enkindled by the spirit of conquering my obscure fear of failing his class.
And there I was sitting in my classroom, waiting impatiently for his class to begin that afternoon. When my whole being was heavily gravitating toward this much discussed personality, we suddenly heard light steps outside the class. The man we had been waiting for was walking towards the door.
He was a priest with no extraordinary physical features. He was small, of average height, bespectacled and dark-skinned. He was a little hunchbacked, not because of anything but, I guessed, simply because of age. He was approximately in his late sixties. And he carried a cassette deck, a microphone and few books. He entered in. The room was in a total silent mode, as if the volume control of his legendary deck had muted us all. That very afternoon initiated the subsequent afternoons of the rest of my three years of study in that valley.
Like I said, he was a teacher. I have had many others and I can still recall some of them perfectly, with all their characteristics. But, when you mention one teacher in particular, this usually brings certain weight, with a certain degree of seriousness. And the priest teacher I am speaking about right now is not ordinary. First, he taught Bahasa Indonesia. Second, it wasn’t exactly the case. He taught us “Komposisi”. Composition is an integral part of linguistics. He didn’t simply teach us Bahasa Indonesia, but he taught us something deeper: putting words together and forming sentences, paragraphs and finally writing you could proudly call ‘decent’. That sounds trivial. Every other teacher could do that with ease. And, precisely, that’s the common error.
After three years of study under his tutelage, I finally came to the realisation that putting words together was not a small enterprise. And it is not mainly due to the complexity of language rules or grammar in general. It’s deeper than that: language is related to your mode of thought. Thoughts can be expressed clearly and effectively if you’re able to arrange those words well and correctly. And this organization of thoughts needs discipline and attention to details: logic, syntax, semantics, punctuation. Since language plays the greater part of our communication, confusions in our common milieu can accordingly be straightened up by the serious effort of upscaling the way we use language.
Agamben, another distant teacher, once said, “The home of truth is language… We must take care of language.” Yes, truth resides in language. It’s a small wonder then to find that those who are against the truth try to oppress the language. Those who are afraid of truth try to control thoughts by controlling the varied uses of language in songs, poems or writings. In a similar vein, when Orwell speaks of ‘Newspeak’ in his influential and still relevant ‘1984’, we realize that in order to maintain its operability totalitarianism works by distorting the language; truth is suppressed by corrupting language.
Now, after years of being taught by that special teacher, I realize that his love of language makes sense. Obeying and observing those details happens for a certain noble reason: the service to truth. To me, it was no coincidence that my teacher was a Divine Word missionary. For me, he also epitomised the dutiful reverence to the Word by paying attention to those ordinary words. Those words used in his class might not life-changing or life-saving. But, his perseverance in righting our wordings, perfecting our logic, bettering our writings and improving our thoughts forever impact our lives, one way or another. This is not only about ‘teaching’ language, but ‘taking care’ of language is a means of caring for life: our lives, his students’ lives.
And, that teacher has just gone. For good and all. I believe, he has met his Divine Word, whom he passionately and steadfastly served in his long teaching career. I haven’t had another chance of meeting him after those fruitful three years. I might resent it one day, but not today. I’m now simply thankful that he didn’t fail to show up that afternoon. I’m now simply thankful that I got few bad grades in his class. Indeed, they have taught me lessons since, unfading things that simply shape who I am now. I dropped few tears. I guess, they were not of sorrow but gratitude to the special one who has shaped my reality.
My teacher was Father Frans Mido, SVD. Eternal rest, father. Pray for us who are still struggling to mind our words, mend our words and keep those words…