If you have thoughts of suicide, please call 1 (800) 273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Crisis Hotline, or call 911. Please know, admitting help is not a failure. Life can be beautiful, you just have to live it first.
When I returned home from the hospital, nine weeks ago, I was wholly, completely exhausted.
My body needed time to decompress.
I had come home from my trip just two weeks before I was hospitalized. I had lost a significant amount of weight and was having a hard time eating - I was depressed and had been before I left for the Philippines in January. The stress of travel, jet lag and poor access to a variety of nutritionally dense food had finally come crashing down on me; something like a perfect storm.
You know, it’s funny. As a child of Floridian Hurricanes, storms bring to me a sense of awe and wonder in the same measure with which some may feel fear.
I suppose you could say that I grew up loving the rain.
Today it happened to rain.
I have been watching the Earth be alive these past few days. I am realizing life is all around me. I feel a bit like Pocahontas.
I wondered for many nights what it meant to “be alive.”
I feel sometimes the Earth answers me, and shows me in the wind, in the rising of a new day, in the pink glow of a setting sun.
I had, for so long it seems, moved through life a bit like a zombie. Full autopilot. Letting the world pass me by. Living and not all at once. Brain dead.
Seeing the beautiful, tropical landscape that was once my mother’s, and her mother’s home touched me in a way I had never known existed.
I felt at once a profound sadness, coupled with a profound sense of belonging, a profound sense of love.
I wonder if people who return to their ancestral homelands, or learn about the histories of their family also feel this way.
A place can so adequately depict and encapsulate a time. In the Philippines, in that small town called Tampakan, time seemed to stand still. The wind smelled of fire and smoke. The mountains were so grand and green - jutting out like spines in the Earth’s crust. Trees towered up above, pigs squealed, and cows bathed in the sun’s glow. Fresh coconut burst from the palms. And with it, I nourished my body.
What connection to the Earth - what an exhilarating thrill that was. To eat of the same tree as my ancestors. To stand, feet in the soil, connected through time. Watching the sun rise and fall over the same horizon - feeling so grand and so small all at once.
I don’t know why this made me sad.
So much beauty was to be seen and all I could cling to was the darkness - poverty, pollution, corruption, scarcity, starvation, overpopulation, sexism, militias. A feeling of being trapped.
You see, the Philippines is not quite like me. Though I am Filipino through heritage and blood, I am culturally American, born in Chicago, educated in American schools, a daughter of American art, media, language, and technology. In fact, I only speak English fluently. (You know this surprises some people. I suppose they see me and are convinced that it cannot be true. But it is. I might look exotic, but I am very much a boring ol’ American. Sorry to those disappointed. Lol.)
This may not sound relevant and I wasn’t aware it was until I came home.
My mother was a resilient and intelligent woman who was fluent in many dialects and two languages. My father was well-educated, both of his parents teachers, and was tri-lingual. My father was born in 1937. He was 10 at the end of World War II. My mother was born in 1948. Both of them lived through Martial Law as well as the tattered remnants of 300+ years of Spanish Colonialism, several dramatic turnovers of government, and an active racial, ethnic and economic caste system - oh and my grandmother was a single mother of seven living on a farm.
They raised me to be resilient, to know how to survive because that is what they had to do when they were children.
I suppose the biggest difference between my parents’ upbringing and my own is that I grew up here, in America.
You know, that tiny island nation with little-to-no influence in the world.
Oh wait, no, I mean the other one.
I was a child of the 90s and a Bill Clinton presidency. I learned the words “consumerism” and “fellatio” very early on in my life.
I’m getting off topic.
What I’m trying to say is, going to the Philippines connected me to a way of life that was completely unfamiliar to me. But I didn’t mind. Cold, fresh water showers were at once exotic and refreshing. Water from the depths of the Earth, pumped up from the ground. The Philippines is H-O-T, so trust me, you would love the cold showers, too.
I liked that time moved slow. Too much time, I thought at first.
“Too much time,” was not a phrase or feeling familiar to me. Did I mention that the internet came into homes like yours and mine somewhere in the middle of my childhood? Oh yea, it did.
My entire life, time seemed to move faster and faster. Suddenly everything was accessible. Suddenly everything was instant.
And sitting in a hammock, reading Atul Gawande, listening to the wind and smelling the smoke in the air - watching the sun bake the dry earth, watching leaves move in the wind, watching trees reach toward the sky to feel the sun’s glow - time, stopped.
It was there on the porch that I realized the Earth was speaking. The Earth had a breath of its own, songs of its own, smells of its own; a whole life of its own and I, me, Kristine from Florida, was just a tiny blip in its existence.
So yes, since returning from my trip, the Earth has a new significance to me but Life does as well.
To be alive on the Earth - gigantic, moving, electric thing - that is a true and marvelous thrill. To be a human - having known the capacity of human ingenuity, having watched your brothers and sisters be catapulted into space, to be pioneers paving the frontier for the world of tomorrow - Wow. Earth Day, huh? Pretty cool.
So, I guess I’m saying Happy Earth Day. Thanks for reading this, and thanks for being alive with me. It’s pretty spectacular don’t you think?