Saturday, March 26, 2005

A Eulogy to Raymund A. Briones

"The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away;
May the name of the Lord be praised."

Job uttered these words after he received news of the loss of all his earthly possessions, including the lives of his children. Immensely enthused by this passage, Ray aimed to maintain a happy mortal life that he acknowledged as a gift from God. In all of his days, at least when he's become aware of the greatness of God, he had the positive disposition of a amount of tribulation weighed him down. Of course, he was only human. When he was hurt, he also cried out in pain. Nonetheless, just like Job, he remained steadfast in the belief that God, in all His glory, is over and above all things known to it anguish or grandeur, the Lord Almighty never forsaked him.

I am compelled to say this, before anything else, because let it be known to all those who will read this, that Ray was a very good man. He may not be perfect and had his weaknesses too, but at the end of the day, as he loved God so much, he bowed down before Him in prayer for enlightenment and forgiveness.

I had the privilege to know some things about the man, those which he voluntarily shared with me, in varied aspects of his life. Other people, who are more significant than I am, may have things to say that extend far beyond those which he made known to me. I'd like to write about those things that affected me most as one of those whose lives he touched in more ways than one.

As our school administrator, Sir Ray was the epitome of a genuine Lasallian leader. Streamlining a number of things here and there within the school's system, his excellent management skills, coupled with dedicated adherence to Lasallian ideals, made him the most loved administrator (as far as I know and am concerned) in the history of De La Salle Zobel.

But why was he loved really?

Sir Ray was a compassionate leader. During his time, a number of mishaps marked that school-year the most trying in the history of DLSZ's existence as an institution. Just to give you an idea, it was the year that one of my students died in an accident (see my blog A Reason to Change). After that fateful day, everyone expected the worst to happen. Aside from the general feeling of grief over my student's demise, the entire school community felt anxious to know how the new EVP will resolve the situation. Will he decide with a cold heart and announce a most harrowing decision?

I wouldn't have written this if he did =)

We have proven ourselves wrong. According to a very reliable source, Mr. Briones decided to do "what is most Christian". He kept this in mind in all of the things that happened that year, including that accident. I did not get the chance to know straight from him how he decided on certain things, but one thing's for sure...everyone got their second shot at proving their worth as true proponents of the Lasallian charism. He once told me that "there is innate goodness in every person...everyone deserves a second chance." What character! What immense kindness!

As a family man, Sir Ray loved his children, his parents, and his siblings dearly. I learned about this during my first encounter with him. It was during our faculty retreat that he visited as our school head. There was an activity where we were asked to sit and form a big circle. The chair beside me was empty, and so he sat there to join us. We were told to count in two's, so that he and I became partners. The facilitator gave a word with which we were tasked to form a sentence, a statement that should introduce one's self to his/her partner. The word given to us was the word HAPPY. He said, "I am happy whenever I'm with my family." Having known him after some time, I learned what he really meant by that, when at first I thought of it as a bit trivial. I had the privilege to learn more about his family life and I am grateful that he trusted me with it. I know how much he treasured and cared for his parents, how he looked forward to weekends to spend time with his children, and how proud he was for such great siblings. If he can be faulted for something, it was in making a choice to remain a gentleman to the very end.

As a person, Ray was one of the most amiable that I've ever met. Coupled with that ready smile, his positive aura and handsome bedimpled face was an outright assurance that life's difficult moments are fleeting. Seeing him in campus wearing that smile worked wonders on an otherwise stressful day. He was a wonderful person and unfortunately, not everyone knew about it. During that brief encounter that I had with his mom at his wake, she mentioned that she and her family were surprised at the turn out of people who came to pay their last respects for him. He had a multitude of friends that his family never imagined him to have. They never knew his "other side", not until that day at his funeral. Men found in him a great fellow who leveled with them, no matter who they are. (Ray once told me that as a young brother, he loved the feeling of being able to mingle with the older and more knowledgeable ones, so that he learned from the way they taught and dealt with the less experienced ones. It was a lesson of humility that he was shown, and that which he remembered in dealing with others.) On the other hand, women found him very charming, witty and fascinating. Children and students found a good friend and confidante in him. To me, he was enigmatic, precocious, but strikingly senstive and warm.

As a friend, Ray taught me that life is worth living. I've had an ample share of difficult times, and all he had to say were words of encouragement, appreciation and support. I didn't think I was worthy of such support, as I myself often doubted my decisions (my ex-husband often made me feel that I was wrong, never astute and capable of making sound decisions). But Ray showed me otherwise. He shunned at those who wronged me, not only because we're friends, but also because he always had the right explanation to the way people should think. At times, we'd make up secret names for people we both know and end up laughing as if we didn't care if the world ended that day. Whenever I was down, he'd speak with fire and vindicate my position, stating fallacies in latin...and i'll find myself trying to understand in vain what he meant to say... when all he'd say in the end is, "this, too, shall pass..."

Mitch Albom said that "there are no random acts. We are all connected. You can no longer separate one life from another than you can separate a breeze from the wind..." I will not end this tribute without saying that he dearly loved DLSZ, and how he connected to each and everyone of us. We were blessed to have experienced his wonder for one school-year and, indeed, it left special memories amongst all of us. Below is an excerpt of his speech during the turnover ceremony held July of last year. It is proof of the love that he had for the school, and was so sorry to have professed only on that day.

"’s truly nice to be back again even for just a short time.
I guess, as far as De La Salle Zobel is concerned, one year was really more than
enough for me to fall in love not only with the place, but also with the people—with you.

And when I look back in hindsight, the school year that was, and as I view in my
mind each event that happened in a sort of slow-motion—I can only smile and say with
utmost honesty and sincerity: It was a great year—it was the best that I have had in years— and definitely, no regrets..."

"My Lord:
I am thankful that I don't have everything I desire.

If I did, what would there be to look forward to?

I am thankful when I don't know something,
for it gives me the opportunity to learn.

I am thankful for the difficult times.
During those times I truly grow.

I am thankful for my limitations,
because they give me opportunities for improvement.

I am thankful for each new challenge,
because it will build my strength and character.
I am thankful for my mistakes. They will teach me very valuable lessons.

I am thankful when I’m tired and weary,
because it means I've made a difference.

Lord, it is easy to be thankful for the good things,
But I also know that a life of rich fulfillment comes to those
who are also thankful for the setbacks, for the trials, and for the tribulations..."

In Mitch Albom's The Five People you Meet In Heaven, he said, "...fairness does not govern life and death. If it did, no good person would ever die young. Death doesn't just take someone, it misses someone else. And in the small distance between being taken and being missed, lives are changed..."

Ray's passing away is certain to bring a lot of changes in people whose lives he's touched. In my case, unknowingly he taught me Job's and St. La Salle's charism. He lived these beliefs, that God knows He had a good and hard working steward in Sir Ray. Bro. Ceci Hojilla, FSC, witnessed him as "God's gift to us!" I've seen God's miracle at work, and it was he. For *"it is when we're torn apart that we become REAL. It is when we become real, that we are truly LOVED. " Sir Ray basked in this wisdom...and truly, he was loved!

It was a beautiful experience to have known you, Sir. It's time you went home.

*from the Velveteen Rabbit