Love came disguised as fear. Professor Madrileña dela Cerna had a formidable reputation even among the terror teachers undergraduates love to parody when they are unable to separate love from the farrago of fear and awe.
Later, when I taught in the same campus, I respected from a remove a senior member of the faculty, research director, and advocate of causes from women empowerment to history and heritage.
In 2007, I crossed the threshold when Ms. Madz became my editor in the Cebu Provincial History Project.
The husband and I conducted field interviews and archival research for the histories of Badian and Alegria. We worked on the field with our two sons in tow and, once or twice, with Ms. Madz, not quite yet a tita but no longer the paragon of academia whose presence always snapped me out of my slouch, real and imagined.
After work took the husband off the research, I continued with the writing of both histories and lapsed, time and again, in meeting deadlines. I dreaded the confessionals with Ms. Madz. Bending slightly over the short maternal figure and leaning to hear her soft-voiced inquiries, I felt the weight of my transgressions.
Being Ms. Madz, she jacked me out of that sinkhole. If ever there was a person destined to be a mentor, she was. She shepherded our team to cross the finish line years after the deadline with ferociousness and empathy.
Ferocious because she recognized no obstacle in seeking the truant among us. She persisted and succeeded in getting a contemplative order to grant her a phone call so she could ask a fellow writer, who was in strict seclusion in monastic silence, about a manuscript in progress.
Empathetic because she made us listen to another writer digress into the manifold ways the families in one town cooked “humba (braised pork belly).” Ms. Madz praised the writer after this soliloquy, which made me savor history for the first time as pork lard simmered slowly melts on the tongue and suffuses the soul.
“Humana gyud (Finish it),” she said in her soft as steel Madrileña tone after she listened to my personal Calvary. And we did, those town histories. As I did years later, my master’s thesis.
When I talked to her about the dissertation I am pursuing on Cebu journalism, Ms. Madz was already my mother’s “classmate” in a renal unit, undergoing regular hemodialysis.
The familiar figure was much diminished by the machines softly whirring, flushing and cleaning blood. Somehow she always turned our talks to focus on what I had to finish. Last July 27, my shepherd, and for countless other students and mentees, went home.
“Nahuman na (It is finished).” Puhon, Ms. Madz, in our next confessional.