Saturday, October 30, 2010

Binawi na si the The Great Pang Bawi

Fr. Imbo, checking if all is well at the Parish
The Last few pictures of the Class of '83 with the Great Pang Bawi

I used to call him the “Great Pang-Bawi” The only sober and sane voice among the boisterous, rowdy crowd that the Class of ’83 was in its heyday. As a class, we could be crass and arrogant and too confident in our wise-ass ways. Luckily we had Fr. Jimmy in our group, and he was the antithesis of all that.

To say that he was well-grounded and humble is a gross understatement. Fr. Imbo had this wise-beyond-his-years sense of self. He knew he was more than intelligent, and yet saw no sense in calling the world’s attention to it. He was an Oak among Cherry Blossoms, unspectacular in the display of his hues but definitely the steadiest of the lot. You could say he died as he lived, choosing the most quiet of ways, leaving in his sleep, leaving while all of us were asleep. He would not have it any other way.

In a way, I am luckier than the rest of the Class of ‘83, because after four years of high school at OLPS, I had the privilege of studying with him for four more years at the Ateneo (more than two years under San Jose’s Pre-Divinity program) where you could say I was witness to the unfolding of the man who would become our beloved Fr. Imbo. By then, we were more than classmates, but brothers, who had shared many of life’s highs and lows.

One day in college, I watched him from my dormitory room hang clothes he had just washed to dry. As soon as he had left, I took all the clothes and hang them up in the dryer one floor up. With great amusement, I watched the following day while he scratched his head in wonder where all his clothes had gone! His good nature made him laugh with me as I confessed to him what I had done. Good old Jimmy did not seem to mind at all that his hard work was the subject of immature games.

But even as we exchanged pranks, with him at the receiving end most of the time my admiration for Fr. Jimmy has known few boundaries. Even up to today I can never be wise beyond my years. I am an agitator he always has been a calming influence. He was predictably good at his tasks and then just as predictably almost always went for the proverbial extra mile. I, on the other hand need to be inspired to even bother to get out of bed.

Even at a very young age, Jimmy knew what was important. During our freshman year in college our class schedule was so irregular that we were unable to participate in the seminary organized apostolate work. That did not sit too well with Jimmy so he decided to take it upon himself to tutor and do catechism with differently-abled children at Batino Elementary school. After our classes were over, Jimmy would walk some six kilometers just so he could be with the children with regularity. Our schedule could have been good enough an excuse to avoid apostolate work altogether. Maybe he knew that he would live a short life and tried to squeeze in doing as much good as he can. Perhaps. But even back then Jimmy was one determined and focused shepherd and personal convenience was not part of his vocabulary. Truly, the Lord chooses only the best shepherds for his special flock

Fr. Jimmy has touched my life way beyond those seminary years. He was one of the officiators at my wedding and shared my joy during the baptism of my son Rodrigo. It is now my turn to scratch my head and wonder, where was I was in the highlights of his brief and quiet life? Yet not once in our 31 years of friendship did he rebuke me for it.

During our last conversations before his departure for Kansas, ever-profound Jimmy asked me if he had missed anything in life. I did not have an answer. I had been too busy chasing every shadow that moved to even notice. He on the other hand was too busy doing the Lord’s work to even worry that he had gotten fatally sick. What more can you ask of any man? Yet humble Jimmy thought I knew enough to be able tell him what he had missed.

Today, as a last act of respect, it is my intention to further embarrass Jimmy through a confession. All these years, I have kept a memento of our Ateneo years, test exams where he got perfect scores in Statistics and Math. It was my intention to give them back to him a as gift: a reminder that all his “disguises” will never convince me that he is far from spectacular. I can almost hear in my mind his nervous laughter as is his wont when he receives any token of appreciation.

Farewell Jimmy, my brother, my friend. You are moving on to a much better place: a just wage indeed for the Lord’s just servant. As you leave us we know you will do so again with your trademark embarrassed laughter, uneasy perhaps that you are leaving friends for a more comfortable place. As you leave us, know that your legacy of excellence with humility will forever shimmer in our hearts.

Gerry Arnedo
October 29, 2010


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