Ivy Marie Apa

I AM told that you can tell more about people by what stories they read, what songs they sing or what fashion they wear. I am not told that you can tell more about a man by looking at the way he walks, gently swinging into left and right footsteps; or by listening to the manner he speaks, softly mouthing words into sensible sentences; or by watching the gesture he laughs, reflexively putting a hand over his mouth at the sound of a rather half-raised toned.

I like to think I have enough right, enough connection to talk about a man respected and admired by many like a demigod come down to earth to walk with mortals. Many of those who know the man have told their stories and sang their praises.

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The many flattering adjectives tailing his name is a testament to how he has humbly cemented himself on the pedestal of greatness. And it is the reason why I am afraid I do not have enough prerogative to tell my own story, sing my own praise, use my own adjective about a man who gives so much of himself to others and to the world. But I will still attempt to meander my way to my point on why I feel he deserves all the celebration. I owe him this much.

I remember our first conversation, during a Painting Technique class in my first year of college, when he stood beside me as I doggedly rubbed a kneaded eraser on a piece of paper. I whined and whined that the figure drawn on my 12x16 inches sketchpad is an insult to the proportions of the human anatomy. I told him my drawing looks awful and that I am disappointed at myself for failing to determine the easy distance between the left eye and the right (Actually, I was more of embarrassed at the fact that a well-respected artist and master of his craft is looking at some disgraceful human figure drawn by some frustrated wannabe).

He said it was okay, it looked good and all it needed was a little polishing—erase this one, make this a little longer, why is this here? erase, shade this part. I got more uneasy and wanted to shrink. I asked him, with a sheepish smile on my face, to reconstruct my flawed anatomy. So he took my well-sharpened 5B pencil, fixed my sketchpad and I watched in amazement as he effortlessly drew the lines, curves, and shades of a sitting classmate posing before a bunch of kids calling themselves artists.

After I thanked him for saving my dreams that day, he patted my head and assured me, in his gentle and soft voice, that I will eventually learn my craft in the course of action. I considered the idea for a moment, thought about it, and laughed and whined again some more when I realized it took him 20 long years of perfecting his art. He shook his head and smiled. I suspect he wanted to storm out of the room.

When I did not whine and laugh over my frustrations in art, and when my idealism was as stubborn as I was, I rant and ramble about madness and mayhem and the falling sky. In some of our more serious conversations, when I feel so much has gone wrong and has gone on long enough, I tell him the things nagging my head. There was a time when I told him why I believe the usurpation of power voids any claim of legitimacy to govern the affairs of state, why it is against morality that the emperor has no clothes and is stark raving naked, why I believe my country is doomed because my generation is apathetic to the state of the nation.

A time when I lamented, with all indignation, that I am forced to lay at the mercy of irrational human beings because I am supposed to follow the rules. I told him I do not understand why my common sense has to suffer when self-righteous individuals gleefully impose their incredible intelligence on others. The same intelligence that should have been improved if kids realize that it is ridiculous to cut class or skip school. As ridiculous as boys wearing tight shirts and skinny jeans and shinning, shimmering bangles and blings over pointed stilts in what appears to be fabulous fashion statements of femininity.

Another time, when I was carefully going mad with my thesis, he told me half-jokingly that I was not only stubborn, I was also very radical that he thought I came from the ranks of those who troop to the streets. I laughed out loud at the odd humor.

I said I was not being anything, only that my conscience tells me it is not right to pretend that there is nothing wrong with society. He smiled.

Every time I tell him all this, in an attempt to make sense of my existence, I notice a pensive look in his eyes, the same look he sets on the canvas when he gets to hold a pencil or a brush.

Then I wonder what he is thinking or not thinking. I laugh at myself, doubt the idealism of my youth, wish to take back my confessions and pretend the world is still a better place. Oh, but of course it is.

Unlike most of the people who have known him for many years, I cannot claim to be part of the innermost circle. I do not know him best, or longest, only that I know him.

But I like to explain, if only to myself, how it is to exchange stories with him during our many whatever-comes-to-mind conversations at the school canteen when he told me he was once a roguish kid in grade school coming home to mother with stains of dirt and earth on what was once a clean white shirt; or how he was beaten black and blue—close to risking life and limb—one lucky night after winning big time at a poker game in New York, his home of 20 years studying the arts.

At the painting room when he said he was once under the tutelage of some of the most renowned masters in Philippine art; or how he studied architecture and embraced painting and did great at it. At the Academy foyer when he told me why he opted walking the hills of the campus in going to class because he does not like to take advantage of a free shuttle service for employees, sparing the drivers of a three-peso profit loss; or when he said he loved movies and books and music and dogs.

I listen very intently to every story he tells me—the same way he does to mine—because it is a gift from the universe to hear a man his stature talk about himself, his life and his truth in the most humble manner everybody else so rarely does. He is a man of few words and many laughters. He hears and listens as much as he understands and accepts. He speaks as he sees it, as he feels it, and as he survives it.

There is a reason why I have so much respect and admiration for this man. It is because in a people full of pretensions, insecurities, and—excuse me—shit, he is the saving grace that shuns all these. He is the sincerity I wish to feel, the simplicity I struggle to adapt, the character I aspire to become. Because in a world where what is left of sanity is twisted logic and methodical madness, it is comforting—no, redeeming—to know that there is a man who lives to embody the fundamental capacity of the human person to do good.

I will tell you what I see when I sit beside him over random conversations on art, movies, stars, books, and the occasional politics. I see a man sitting on a chair, arms resting comfortably on his lap. I see his grey hair, his thick glasses, his casual shirt and jeans and rugged sneakers.

And as effortless as he carries himself, there is wisdom over the greys, knowledge behind the lenses, talent underneath the clothes. Then I realize it is difficult to find the right words to describe a man whose mere presence is as overwhelming as he is.

So here is to Jose “Kimsoy” Yap Jr.—the royalty, the master, the icon, the hero, the genius, the artist, the mentor, the friend, and sometimes, the dashing celebrity.

To a man.