July 1, 2010
Ana Gabi at her college graduation, with her mother Martha and classmate, Omar
We cannot understand why some things happen… Today I attended the funeral of one of my former students. She was just 24 years old.
“Ana Gabi” was popular, intelligent, kind and participative… a dream of a student. She was always full of questions and listened carefully to the answers.
I remember once when I complimented her on her English language skills (she did speak beautifully) she said, “Oh I just love English!” She then added, “And I’m trying to love French.” A few months later at a student talent night, she stood alone on the stage and recited the 1940 poem “Liberté” by Paul Eluard. There are twenty verses and she delivered them all, receiving a spontaneous standing ovation from all present.
That poem was special to her because she too longed to be free. Free from her wheelchair, her crutches, her dependence on others and her pain. She was born with spina bifida and had to work hard to do the things many of us take so for granted. Yet she was no complainer. If she needed help, she asked quietly.
Many international students who have spent a term at our college, lived with Gabi and her family. The students were made to feel so welcome and today I was told that many of them called to offer their sympathy and share their tears. Gabi couldn’t move around too well but she moved hearts from all over the world.
At the Mass today, one of her classmates told me, “Ana Gabi gave us all the opportunity to be better human beings.” Cesar, a strapping young guy always sat near her so he could bring her what she needed. In not-so-wheelchair-accessible Merida, when necessary, he gently picked her up and carried her. Omar, another of her friends told me she was the bravest person he had ever met. And that she was.
Gabi attended our college for four years. As a Modern Languages student, I know she learned a lot and she was very proud of her accomplishment. But although I was her teacher, she was the one who taught us all… just by being present. At the end of each academic year, one graduate is chosen by the professors as the most exemplary student. Gabriela won the award last year.
We could all see that Martha, Gabi’s mom and her sister Martita were devotedly supportive and yet encouraged her to be all she could be. I can’t imagine what they’ll do without her.
But somehow they will find their way, as will we all because that’s what Gabi would want us to do. In my mind’s eye, I can see her swinging on her crutches and waving goodbye to me and I can hear the echo of her voice calling out, “¡Adios Maestra Joanna!”
¡Adios dearest Gabriela… it was my honor to have known and loved you!