The ticking clock is the only sound in the house. It’s cold. I put on some socks. The gingko trees are turning gold outside, and this makes me happy. Autumn makes me very happy.
After an eighteen hour flight back from the Philippines, vegetating in bed was a huge relief. I’m back in the vastness of Illinois, moving in and out of chunks of blank space in what isn’t traffic that makes my insides scream. Since stepping outside O’Hare however, the cold weather which I’ve always loved seems different. Or does it.
Whereas Manila feels like a hundred overlapping circles, Chicago (or America, even) feels like a connect-the-dot drawing. Manila is the hustle, traffic, and population of downtown Chicago condensed into a tenth of the space. Just how dense is it? I share dimsum with some friends, and run into an uncle and aunt. I take the plane from Manila to Hong Kong and bump into a friend (who happens to be on the same flight). I stop by Starbucks in the airport and find a high school classmate about to have breakfast in the very same place. In Manila, my world is bustling, and cozy enough to almost feel suffocated.
On the other hand, Chicago is Manila stretched out. An hour’s drive is at least fifty miles away from home. The personal spaces maintained by everyone makes it feel even more spread out. No overlaps here, but lines. It takes some more effort to be part of a community, and to see people or make friends. This is partly because I’m a foreigner to this place, but it’s just as much because the culture is sensitive to personal space and individuality. When I’m not drawing lines, I live in the spaces between the dots. The echoes in these spaces would be drowned out by the sounds of cars, birds, and construction in my hometown across the world.
I think of my mom, and all the suman we ate, and our lakwatsas together. The white noise and stickiness of humid Manila is almost like a dream. Am I really driving, or on the set of The Stepford Wives? There’s the characteristically American small talk and conversation when I went back to work. There’s that scent of fresh laundry that greets me first thing at home. I breathe, and the air is crisp. I remove layers of sweaters, and moisturize after a warm shower. I despise putting on lotion, but I guess it’s less of a nuisance than constant sweating.
This space, which has been my life the past three and a half years, is calming. If I ever needed a thinking corner, America has been gloriously it. I relish crawling into a cave to recharge just a tad more than I love being with people. The anonymity and challenge of building my life in a foreign place has been conducive to coming into my own person, uninterrupted. I’ve wanted to get out of Manila since I was nineteen. It’s still a surprise to find myself here, and I’m grateful for the ways I’ve grown from this unpredictable journey.
And yet these days, the quiet feels a little too quiet.
I’m accustomed to being time zones away from the people I’ve known all my life. From screens, I glimpse them growing, creating, traveling, finding love, and making families. Though the friendship remains, we live separate lives with stories that no longer intersect. Which explains why the past few weeks were surreal. Selfies with my childhood best friends, holding my grandma’s hand, or peering into the curious eyes of my friend’s baby. Going through traffic with mom, and turning my dad’s jokes on himself. Trying out new places with my high school barkada (and talking some of them into BBG). Conversations with friends about the way we understand the Bible and God, and the things we’re still figuring out. Board games. Sleeping next to my best friends (one of them snores). Getting lost, and friends with their own homes now. So. Many. Hugs. So many continuations that were just as warm, or warmer, than when I left it.
Before moving out of the country, Manila has meant joy, but much more pain. The sorrow has always been real and complex. But what a gift to realize that the things that were good were always brilliantly good. And now, after a little more becoming, after finding myself changed by encountering God in unfamiliar territory, I’ve grown in my capacity to see the love that has always been greater, that weathers typhoons on the fertile soil of my Manila. And more so, I’ve grown in my ability to receive that love, and to gift it.
I missed my people. Attachments are deeper than I estimated. Home, after all, is people.