Bye Bye Brother Felix!
The past few years, I’ve wondered whatever happened to Brother Felix. I’ve hoped against the grim thought of him being dead, but that wasn’t exactly unthinkable. After all, he already looked way beyond his sixties when I was barely in my teens. He was this very tall, balding, bespectacled white American who was usually dressed in his white clerical clothing distinctive of most La Salle brothers. His speech was naturally accented, which tended to make him appear more foreign than he already was, but he would always pepper it with Tagalog terms. It amused us whenever he’d tell us how ‘pogi’ we were. (Or maybe ako lang yon, haha, the compliment-deprived kid that I was!).
Back when I was still studying in Zobel, he seemed to know all the students’ names. I remember blogging how he was the first person to ever call me Razmatazz. That’s the thing I remember most about him, and I think it serves as a beautiful metaphor for his relationship to me and the hundreds (thousands?) of kids whose lives he touched. Being known to him in that special way, having this previously unheard of pet name from someone, made me feel like I was unique. That was his thing, you see. To me at least. He had this way of making a person, a kid, feel special. One of a kind.
When it was someone’s birthday, he made it a point to summon that student to his office. Remembering now, I realize I actually looked forward to Mang Bravo (the school messenger, another bald man, pero Pinoy) arriving in our class with a small colored piece of paper, and the teacher reading it then announcing that I am wanted in Brother Felix’s office. At times it served as a public reminder that it was actually my birthday. For a few seconds, with everyone’s eyes on me and some of my classmates whispering birthday greetings (sometimes, the teacher even made the whole class sing a song before letting me go), I’d feel like it was indeed my special day.
In his office, Brother Felix would make me choose from a bunch of small cards with religious images of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Virgin Mary or the saints. (I just learned they were called stampitas). It was to be his gift to me. After I make my choice, he’d tell me the stories behind my selection. He’d say why the image of the child Jesus preaching in the temple was a perfect choice for me, or what virtue my Saint of choice personified. Sometimes, he even made me stay long enough so I’d go out just in time for recess or lunch.
It was also Brother Felix who taught me how to play Cribbage. That was at a point in my student life when hanging out in his office became a past time for me. At first, it was an excuse to stay in an air conditioned room during the heat of lunch time. Then it became an escape from having to mingle with the other students. I was that shy when I was in grade school, contrary to what some of my friends today think (promise, di ako bibo noon, haha). In his presence, I felt welcomed. I also remember this small nondescript box Brother Felix kept on his desk. When you opened it, you’d find a small card with a note asking, “Curious, aren’t you?” He was a jokester and a smart-ass that way.
Brother Felix’s warmth, kindness and ebullience ismissed. He was loved. And he was one of a kind.