When you reach a certain age, you will just notice that you are different. That, unbeknownst to you, you have changed. This may come gradually, or in sudden burst, but change will come unbidden.
I used to be filled with melancholy. The whispers of negativism and images of regret occupied my mind. They colored my worldview. They touched my reactions. They spurred my actions. And it was so dank and lonely in that corner of my mind.
And my heart was a pit. I kept on cramming things and persons into it, to plug up that existential vacuum, but in vain. The pit became a cesspool of filth – regret, disappointment, frustration. A heart like that cannot be filled with love.
Leaving the comforts of home and living in a different place entail a painful separation, and an even more horrid initiation into the unknown.
The silly child that was in me was blinded by the city lights. The bling and glitz of an international hub, the prospects of reaping more for oneself and for one’s family, the grandeur of first-would infrastructure can snatch away his or her breath, or steal one’s heartbeat. But reality has a way of rearing its ugly head, and with its claws snatches you up from that dreamscape that is your so-called new life.
How hard it is to adapt a communal mindset in a melting pot of Western and Eastern cultures? Even more a Filipino one? In my home country I am more individualistic than collective. It doesn’t matter much, because the rest of the Filipinos are utterly accommodating as long as you respect them. Not so with other Filipinos in another country. You’re a small group, and it is expected of you to maintain being Filipinos or else lose it all together. For the few months I struggled and clashed with others, such difference in lifestyles and beliefs can be truly energy-sapping. Doesn’t help with the homesickness you feel from time to time, or even every time. And the warmth was snuffed off.
The cold never bothered me anyway.
I still scolded myself for being too stubborn, but what a person who left the Philippines to be subservient to other do, given that she’s nursing her wounded pride? As she instead mops the floor with spilled liquid, since the cleaner is around after office hours, she keeps chanting “For my family, for my family” The person who gave up a possibly promising career just to escape backstabbing bitches for a lower-level start in another place when you have to be compliant, when you have to penny-pinch and resist every urge to succumb to year-round money robbers that are sales, promos, credit cards, loans, and other people who shamelessly call greed “your need” if they pressure you to throw money for their wares and frivolities.
Then your rosy expectations of work will be shattered by news of maltreatment, of labor disputes, or even tiny, subtle tricks your employer might conjure to keep the costs of hiring and retaining you as low as possible, sometimes to your expense. I am not stupid, I would remind myself, but I must ignore this, until the day comes when I can safety act on a solution. But, not now, not now. Your sister’s allowance is on you.
And I would cry myself to sleep, feeling worse than before. Why, before, my heaviest problems were the nasty whispers at work, or the scream feasts between household members, or most especially about some boy crush or object of infatuation who fails to see how good I am for him. But in a place where you do not seem to belong, where everything is different from what you were used to, this was the place where you would feel truly alone.
The cold never bothered me anyway.
The door is truly not fully shut. I went to church on my own for the first time. I bent my will to do this for weeks. I sought God on my own, not because others think it is a must to go to church. I felt so much better afterwards. I sang church hymns at the empty office and read the scriptures every day.
It was hard. The child was too selfish and too absorbed in herself. If I am not lucky in lottery or something like that, I know that perseverance will bear fruit eventually.
In time, the child in me has been placated.
Then the peace came.
It just crept on me, unknowingly.
I just found myself at ease with stillness, slowness, silence. My mind is not crammed with haphazard notions. Just a flow of things, a smooth flow, whether negative or positive. My face is still dour, but my mind is still. Anger does not come in flashes anymore. It can be stilled.
It was like me trying in vain to stay afloat without thrashing in the water. I love the sea, and I love to submerge myself in pools, but I was afraid of drowning. Weeks and weeks I did thrashing paddles and water kicks, and I tried to float by resting my head on the shallow pool steps and slowly letting go.
Then one day, I wade the water, positioned myself and float. I wanted to jump and shout from exaltation, but I was still on the water, and I just let myself a triumphant smile. I am still afraid of drowning, but I can stay afloat in still water for hours. I enjoyed being able to do what I want and not feeling afraid.
I am in control.
I learned to accept my circumstances while still keeping hope that my time to fulfill the other aspects of my life will come in the right moment. And oh, I still feel sad about my past relations, but it doesn’t matter now. It’s not important anymore. My present and my future is all I must look forward too.
When you reach a certain age, you will just notice that you are different. That, unbeknownst to you, you have changed. In mine, this has come gradually, not in a sudden burst, but change will come unbidden.