Homecoming (Peregrine Notes, my column at Business Mirror)


The word makes me wonder if most of us, like me, were born to leave home and later pine to return. Are we somehow reflections of homing birds, like the swallows of Capistrano, or the terns and geese of North America? Or closer to what I know, do we return where we come from like the salmon of British Columbia that swims back when matured to the river where it was spawned?

But unlike birds and fishes, home, for me, is no longer a place. I suppose it has ceased being one as I changed from one whom I recall even as recently as a year ago. This sense of being alien, which in a way is a reality, could have started to deepen like a whorl in my heart since six years ago when I hurriedly unloaded six decades of my life to live in Canada. At first, I couldn’t imagine going back home.

Where is home? Not that last apartment I emptied not only of accumulated debris but also of mementos and tags of moments lived, which my mother moved from house to house. Or an architect’s house that stood in an ancestral lot owned by five generations I was married into, which I had to sell. Where my sister and I lived with our parents for twenty years close to her high school is now a meaningless shell along smoggy Ramon Magsaysay Boulevard.

Not even where I was born already a vacant space shaded by an ageing pomelo by the time I learned how to read, the borrowed hut lent by an uncle of my father for my mother’s family driven into homelessness by WWII. Or where I grew up with my father’s mother said to be another temporary home built after their stone house from across was burnt. When my mother had to move back to her mother’s for care on the birth of my sister and my other grandmother debilitated with arthritis had to be hauled to a daughter in Manila, I watched it painfully torn down piece by piece and hoisted on to a carabao cart, with my childhood in it.

Massive convent walls where I was sent after high school and the dormitory run by nuns from across UST where I lived for six years sort of healed the gnawing loss I nursed from seeing those fragile walls just gone but I couldn’t call them home. Where then lies home? In my recent homecoming to Manila, I realized that home is both not a place and a structure but something “visible only to the heart” as The Little Prince of Antoine de Saint Exupery told the fox.

My homecoming last month was both ideal and deeply sad. Like a tide surge, my cousin’s death, Ceferino ‘Nonoy’ M. Acosta III, left no space for me to waver about a flight and waffle about gifts to bring. I was so wrapped up in my emotions that the smog, which swarmed the path of United Airlines on its descent to NAIA, failed to daunt me. Nor did the snarl in Baclaran, being a Wednesday, through Roxas Blvd. unnerve me. The landscape though felt shrunken and tighter with buildings now unfamiliar to me, and a crowd thrice multiplied; yet as the SUV that fetched me coughed through clogged streets, it had seemed normal.

I couldn’t guess how I would feel arriving at Paz Memorial Homes; it would be my first as a balikbayan. But with my first step into the chapel where Nonoy lay in state, I felt like I’ve been in it the day before—how many times have I bristled in the arctic air conditioning during a wake of relatives and friends? My uncle and aunt soon swept me in their grieving arms and we wept, sobbing words for the smiling Nonoy, a scene I have watched with other relatives countless of times.

When I turned to the faces riveted on us, there were my other uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces, nephews, relatives, and former neighbors sniveling with us. While most like me bore marks of time’s subtle scratches, each was whom I knew through the eyes—that invisible space impermeable to time, where I met theirs and my unchanged self.

We laughed, relishing not what was said but simply from the thrill of retrieving lost moments of being together. In the few days that followed, as we exchanged more of such moments–some with Nonoy in our midst–we kept flinging open the closed doors that had been shut by years. And as the burial crowd thinned out, when our clan gathered for what for me was yet another last time together, I had ceased to wonder if I have a home to go back to.

So like a homing bird and the salmon I had managed, indeed, with a tracker so precise scientists remain baffled, to land in or swim back to the same exact spot called, home. Yet unlike them, it’s not a spot I arrived at but a roof with walls I carry around unseen.

Published on January 6, 2013 Peregrine Notes, Opinion Page, Business Mirror Philippines

Photo: waders roosting at high tide in Roebuck Bay, Australia courtesy of wikipedia

6 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Well, for us living and working abroad, especially those who has been away for so long, home, becomes a spiritual place. Here we connect with our roots, the people we hold dear and memories, good or bad.

Just added Business Mirror on my bookmark page. They’re lucky to have you. Will share your article on my FB page.

Comment by De AnDA

So true, Arnold!! And they become more priceless with each passing season. Thanks for bookmarking BM, I’ll tell my uncle about it (Mama’s youngest sibling, the executive publisher and editor, which why I’m in it actually as he sort of pulled me in). I’ll search for you on FB– you’ll recognize my family names. Thanks again hugely for your comment. Find me soon in your blog soon!!

Comment by filipineses09

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piece of writing here at this website, I have read all that, so now me also commenting here.

Comment by brocade definition

Thanks for coming by and your nice comment.

Comment by filipineses09

Hi! I am surfing the net for any info on Bacarra’s traditional “dombe” if that’s even the right word for it when I chanced on your website. I love your articles and actually I have a copy of your book “Points in Time” a collection of your selected interviews. I was very much impressed on my first reading. What you wrote in Homecoming is a revelation. One way or another anyone who leaves home feels a certain tug in their guts which is deeper and more complex than mere homesickness. It’s a restlessness, an itch that can’t be scratched off. You may have your love ones with you and yet you long to go where they are not. I’m here in Bacarra now!

Comment by Bonnie de la Cruz

Hi, Bonnie! Thank you so much for your kind and generous words on my writing! And I’m thrilled to know that you have a copy of “Points in Time”. I left soon after I launched it, hence, totally unaware of UST’s marketing sites. I suppose you found it in a bookstore. I’m also glad that my homecoming piece touched you. How lucky you are to be in Bacarra! I have gone home only a few times since I left for university when I was 15 years old, and since those visits were as brief as a day or three days, I can’t say I was home. Perhaps such absence has intensified my memories, often made vivid with pangs of nostalgia. But I hope a dream of really going home will soon come true as my sister and I talk about it more. How pictures in my heart I had treasured will meet me both excites and scares me–what if they no longer exists, what if I’ll be lost in their transformations? Maybe I’ll find a sequel to this piece, then? Thanks again!

Comment by filipineses09

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