My Petty Refugee Crisis

It is quite humbling to imagine that we are transitional creatures – that we are passing sojourners wandering around the plane of immanence finding meaning. Some might even think that this is the only place we’ve got and we only exist in moments. For some, the place we are situated is an existential fate: the only space where we can live, the only corner we can put and fit our heart into, the only bosom we belong. And we have a term for that place; it’s called home. Home, we are told, is where the heart is. And to move away from this place seems farfetched: the moment we leave it, we are no longer the same persons and a whole new horizon is just the perfect escape for a new portal of ourselves. It’s a tied historical deadlock. Here, we are in a position where we can very much echo Harun Yahya’s words: “I always wonder why birds stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on the earth. Then I ask myself the same question.”

This sentiment is perennial to me, not only ontologically, but phenomenologically as well. Until today, I have lived through several places I have considered as home. I was born and had lived my nascent years in my paternal grandparents’ house. My mother worked from the place before, where she met my father. Then my parents decided to live there temporarily even after my two brothers joined me in this world. When I was about three years old I spent my weekdays with my mother three towns away where she worked next and rented a house in front of my aunt’s for a short time only. My aunt lives in the same town and for some time I stayed there. Beside my aunt’s house is her brother-in-law’s and I stayed there also. When things were going stable, my mother rented another house not far away for such a small town, and in that place I had most of my childhood memories.

I spent my mornings in a daycare center just a block away though being accompanied by someone who fetches me vice versa while my mother worked. And in the afternoons I either remain in the rented house or go to my aunt’s, mostly in the latter’s. In some other schedules my mother brings me along in her barangay visits, which was rather fine than staying and waiting for her to come back after work. For the weekends we travel to my grandparents’ place to be with family, where my brothers were too young then. I might have jumbled the timeline a bit but I’m sure we also rented a place in that town for a brief period.

I had a transitional life growing up, travelling in two towns often. And in some occasions, the family would visit my grandparents from my mother’s side; a long trip but in the same province. Then the family transferred quite stably to the rented house until I was nine years old. Until then, our own house was finally built. Not for long, for about three years only in that house, I then transferred to the minor seminary for my secondary school studies. It was not easy to visit home since it was a three-hour trip away and we only get to visit once a month in the last (and only for a) weekend. The only longest time to be home was during summer and Christmas vacations.  And for four years, the minor seminary became another home to me. Well, enough of the nostalgia. I have a new one brewing.

After graduating in the minor seminary, I finally got here, in the UST Central Seminary, seven years ago, a plane and a four-hour drive away from home. It was a tough transition. And every time I go back to the province, lots of activities are always in store: summer apostolates, Christmas caroling, and so on, so I can only stay in the house for a short time. My first year in UST was a bit challenging or a bit of a culture shock.

But after seven straight years in this place, all I can say is that I will miss it here, the whole of it: every corner, the noise, the first-times…and so on. But I am not going to recount all the memories. That would take too long and it would be a bore for me to dig so much of past experience. Instead I will just enumerate some of the places that I will miss most in this place.

The first ones, plural yes, would be my rooms. You see, I always imagined the dorms in the seminary as a kind of a Harry Potter place where the dorms move. Here, it is quite similar except that the seminarians are the ones moving (rotating) every year. There are six dorms (the group of persons in it compose a bukluran), starting from the 2nd floor up to the 4th, with two dormitories in every floor slightly paralleled beside each other. So staying here for about seven years, I have already been in all dorms, and now I’m back to the first one when I was a freshman in philosophy. It’s a bit evolutionary how I fix my rooms; how they were so cluttered and then being tidy, how I started to post “Ending the semester right” to-do lists in them, some with motivational Nietzsche and Foucault quotes, etc. It’s amazing how before when I can barely fill a compartment in my bookshelf, now I already needed three shelves. Unfortunately, some of these books were now lost when I put them in boxes after my philosophy graduation and hid them in one of the custody rooms, but forgot to supervise their safety. Apparently all the Coehlo, Sparks, Riordan, CS Lewis novels were much preferred – all gone. But it was a good consolation nobody saw the worth of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot – that one stayed, thank heavens! Well, the loss was a necessary kenosis I guess. In a traditional look of my room, one can see three clocks for the lazy-ass (but not dumb ox), scattered bookmarked books, octopus-wired outlets, lots of envelopes and folders – pretty much a topsy-turvy office-like room, except when I’m making papers when all of these become immaculately spotless (or the opposite, depending on the cramming it would take me) to dispose myself. So I would miss all of these rooms, especially this current small one with a balcony (after seven years, I finally got a room with one) where I am typing these words. There is nothing more to say except that each of my rooms is uniquely set, as if they were really suited for me.

The second probably is the St. Thomas conference room. The place is where I imagine myself in that training room where the Saiyans upgrade their energy levels and power; a place where the time continuum is not equal to the current timeline: one hour is like a month in that room. Of course, fiction aside, that room too gives a sense of focus, as if I have spent a long time already. In that large room, I practiced reading aloud, rehearsed my talks or reports, and so on. It was even in that place where I started practicing how to rap, which I did during my early stay here for a requirement in our Filipino course and for some embarrassing moments in public. I have finished reading lots of books in that room. Occasionally, brothers gather there to eat and have group studies together. The Good times. I also admit I slept there maybe once or twice – you know the lyrics – for the air-conditioning unit during summer. I would surely miss that room.

And ah, how can I forget the oratory. That place gives me the Old Testament feels, like one in the Ark of the Covenant. I have to literally take off my sandals before I enter holy grounds. Too much tears were shed in that room while conversing with God, examining my vocation, and discerning the real trajectory of my truest freedom. True freedom is for me, and I believe in the psychoanalytical interpretation of it, the choice where one necessarily should take. I cannot also forget the frequent confessions I had with lolo Tejero every time I ambush him and ask for the sacrament as he passes there. I can only smile at the times he advised me every confession that I seem to be unhappy and so I should go out. Years have passed, I am still here, and Fr. Tejero already moved from the seminary. So, am I happy here? One must think over the Desiderata of Max Ehrmann posted in my room this year.

The St. Dominic’s hall also is special; there, conversations with my spiritual directors throughout the years take place. That place knew most of my inner self, next to the oratory. It was also in that place where I had my first interview to enter the seminary. During breaks when I choose not to go home, the place also gives me focus.

Of course, some public areas are also memorable. The refectory where we eat, the chapel where we pray together, the gym and bukluran halls, and so on. I must also say that the classrooms outside the seminary are its extensions.

The seminary, or even the whole university, has become my new home. And I find it hard anymore to imagine where I will go next. This would be challenging for me.

You see, these homes are not perfect. I might be able to feel nostalgia over these places, as if they are ideal ones but no. If I would have to be nostalgic about it, I will only imagine the kind of feeling where these homes have become homes – that is, when they have also held my heart in place. Isn’t it the same with relationships? We have a kind of idealized person who will feed our fantasy, but when we already know the person, we realize the imperfections and the ideal fancy vanishes. In the different homes where I have been into, before, I had initially thought that they were perfect. In fact, when I first entered the minor seminary, I thought the people there were perfect (because it is a seminary – for those who want to become priests). Also here in UST, I thought people are already mature in handling things. When I lived in this institution for quite a long time, imperfections began to reveal themselves. But you know, even so, I will still miss the imperfections, because those are marks of uniqueness. Didn’t you notice that the flaws we have are variedly exclusive; they have an eccentric mark in them. For me, this is my petty refugee crisis: how to be able to bear another set of imperfections in setting my heart for a new home. I am scared – aren’t we all are – of the unknown. But it is also exciting. If there is a lesson I have in going to places transitionally, it is that things will just come to place: our contingency is nothing compared to the route ahead of us. When we finally realize this path, nothing will be the same.

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