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Friday, February 19

A Funny Thing Happened in the Philippines


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This is a series of stories that is part of my own healing. I welcome you to read along, or not, but I'm going to write it anyway. I hope you take something good from it, and I hope I do too.
I’ve been having a difficult time articulating how my recent trip to the Philippines impacted me - physically, mentally, emotionally.

I suppose I should start with what I hoped it would be.

I am a romantic by nature. I want to see only beautiful things, and I want to believe the ugly things exist only to amplify the nature of the beautiful things. Symbiosis, y’know? Except that beauty always wins, and ugliness was like a parasite eating beauty alive and destroying them both.

I went with an open heart, hoping for it to be filled with beauty and wonder, and to give me a sense of completeness about who I am, who I was, who my family is, where I come from. I think most people visit their ancestral homelands in search of something like that.

But that’s not what happened.

What did happen..
A dream, it seems. Something I’m not sure yet was reality. Maybe because I can’t accept that it was real, or I can’t accept that my feelings about it were real. But a dream happened. And I walked through the dream, trying to find reality - to wake up, to see, to feel - and I couldn’t find it. And I stayed in the dream, got lost in it, clawed my way out, and now I’m left with pieces.

Me, in pieces.

(I know this doesn’t make sense, but if you’ve ever witnessed something that gave you such a sense of wonder and awe - chills, even - it was so mystifying and spellbinding that you couldn’t believe someone could create such a thing. A piece of music, a piece of art, a kiss. The feeling is like that. But this one, I wanted to escape.)


Like putting together a puzzle and not knowing what the final picture will be. That was my trip. And that was me at the end of it.

What I did see was my grandmother’s land. Vast, green, sprinkled with palm trees bursting with coconuts. I woke up to the sun gently lighting the fog clinging closely to the corn stalks. I saw the light rising and illuminating vast parcels of land. And it was her’s. My grandmother’s. This was her’s. Where she raised her children, where she hid from Japanese soldiers, where she came to start a new life.

So much life had happened there, in one place, in one seemingly vast but really small parcel of land. Life and death, in one place, remnants of a life lived and still, hope clinging that life could start again.

The dichotomy of this was too much for me to comprehend at the time. I found peace in a hammock reading Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal - highly recommended, for the record. No really, please read it. Can you read? Read this book.

Thinking of it now, I feel a heaviness in my heart. I can’t explain this heaviness quite yet, except to say that my hope for only good things faded a little there. Faded almost to nonexistence. And I fought with this feeling for the next two weeks, trying to make it make sense, when now I’m realizing, it may never do that.

How could so much life and death exist in one place? And how can you be happy still, knowing that?

I thought about the Earth. The Earth was like this parcel of land that belonged to my grandmother. So full of joy and light, life but death also. And I tried to reason with myself - how could this exist? Why would this exist? Who put us here? Why did nature create such a beautiful and daunting thing at once? Why was nature destroying itself? Why life, if death? Why?

And I couldn’t answer that question.

And I still can’t answer that question.

And I tried to ask so many people.

And no one could answer it for me.

And then I was Baker Acted.

And then I stopped to think, that maybe there is no answer. Maybe death exists and darkness exists, because light does. Because it’s one and the same. That nature, by design, is life and death, light and dark. And I’m sure nature exists, and I’m sure I’m nature. And now I’m sure that I have light and dark too.

That’s the only thing I can ever be truly sure of, at least in this moment right now.

Maybe the story will change.

I’m not sure yet.

I’m still writing it.


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