Yesterday afternoon — perhaps because it was a dreary grey day — I suddenly felt I wanted to go home. Not to my current home in Bonn, but the home that I once knew as a child. Home, as in a place that encompassed and still encompasses all that was and is safe and familiar, where I am not a stranger, where friends and family are, all the time. Or so it seemed then.
Born and raised in Manila, I realize with great sorrow that that city is no longer home, and has not been for a long time. My family moved to the States not long after I graduated from high school. All but a few relatives remain in Manila. And friends that I grew up with have also moved to the States. All the people that made me feel at home in Manila, save for a handful, have made the exodus to America.
My last three visits to Manila in 2008, 2010, and 2011, made me feel as if I were Urashimataro or Rip van Winkle. The city that I had once known had become unrecognizable – all the familiar landmarks torn down or obstructed by massive overhead road infrastructure. Even being in the family home, I did not feel the same. First of all, neither my parents nor all my siblings were there. I kept seeing from the side of my eyes flickering images of friends who had once habitually dropped by. And once or twice looking at someone walking in the neighbourhood, I wistfully hoped that when that person turned around, it would be someone I had known from way back, just by some odd chance passing by. Weird isn’t it – this unsettling feeling of switching between past and present, just by being in one’s family home after a long, long absence.
What is this home that I hanker for, that leaves me with such a deep, deep yearning to go back to? Home is where we are comforted when we feel rather out of sorts. Home is where when we are down, we find encouraging words and comforting warm hugs. Home is where we are delighted and uplifted by someone’s joy at a new job, or a great adventure, a new addition to the family. Home is also where we find solace when sorrow and despair invade our lives. Home then is not merely a place, but a distinct space in time, occupied by faces and feelings. And although we can go back to a place, we cannot, at least without divine or other intervention (technology perhaps still to be developed?), go back in time. Nor have people who have departed this earth, fill once again those spaces they once did. Home, the home I yearn for, is ultimately lodged in my heart.
Do not our close friendships and family provide somehow some vestiges of these familiar comforts of home? And in the reality of our far-flung lives, is it not the next best thing to being at home, the home we all once had when we were growing up – having some of our friends and family from different slices of time and space to connect with synchronously on Facebook?
I know that virtual connections cannot ever replace being there in the moment together with friends and family, sharing the same physical and emotional space. But for now, my friends and family that I meet with and greet and chat with and connect with on an almost daily basis on Facebook are, in a sense, Home for now. Sad, I have to admit and inevitably accept, but true.
It’s sunny out this morning. I leave you with one of the delights of early spring here in Bonn – the ephemeral magic of snowdrops blooming in the forest just a few minutes’ walk from the house. They bloom and set the seed for future flowers all in the space of a few weeks. Once the trees’ leaves are out and form a closed canopy, these tiny understorey plants have no chance of accessing much-needed sunlight. Nor can they compete for nutrients or water with tree roots. And so they have accepted and adapted to the inevitable reality of these conditions and go dormant, biding their time to be in the spotlight once again in early spring, when the trees, in their turn, are dormant still.