The choir began singing Catholic hymns in the Tagalog native language. Tears started streaming down my face. It had been a while since I last attended a Catholic mass, and it had been eons since I last heard Tagalog hymns during mass. All the nuns were in a table upfront. I didn’t recognize any of them. Fortunately, I recognized 4 of the retired teachers sitting in the adjacent table to the nuns. One of them was Miss Lourdes Castillo, my favorite. I had expressed my deepest gratitude to her when I handed her a gift prior to mass. I had always wanted to see her and thank her for being such a good educator. A part of me couldn’t believe that what I had hope to do for a long time actually just happened. Everything that was transpiring during my high school homecoming felt unreal. I was overcome with emotions I couldn’t explain during the entire mass. I was transported to my life in a distant past.
The last time I was in that gym, I was proudly receiving my high school diploma. 36 years later, there I was, still jet lagged after traveling over 7,000 miles to attend my High School’s Grand Alumnae Homecoming. Visions from my past life came into my awareness. I had visions of me hanging out with my high school friends, visions of me singing at our high school chorale concert, and visions of me getting in trouble and being called by a nun to her office for wearing a half-slip instead of a full camisole. An indescribable feeling of amazement rose up from within my core. “Being here feels like a different lifetime”, I observed my mind thinking. It was as if I was in a foreign place surrounded by people singing and talking in a language that is no longer in my everyday experience and yet the language and the experience felt familiar to the cells in my body. I understood what they were saying and singing and I could respond back to them. Well, ok. I forgot some words so I spoke in the hybrid Taglish which is quite common in the Philippines. Miss Castillo told me to just speak in English when she noticed that I couldn’t remember a Filipino word. She was our phenomenal English teacher who imbued in us the importance of speaking with correct grammar.
I couldn’t help but reflect on the many lives I have lived after I graduated from high school, to my life till that very moment. My life as a new immigrant in the US, a fob (fresh off the boat) as my cousin used to call us…. to my college life in California working part time, sometimes fulltime to support myself and pay for my education…. to my life as an accountant in corporate America…. to my life going to grad school at night while I work full time during the day so I can go for a different calling……to my life as a psychotherapist intern in non-profit mental health agencies….to having a psychotherapist private practice….to the radical change in my life when I decided to sell most of my belongings and move to Peru…. to all my travels after Peru to Costa Rica, Greece, Hawaii, and Italy that made me feel my being has dispersed in different parts of the world……to my life now as a healer not only of the mind but of the soul and spirit as well. I felt like I have lived a lot of different life times during this lifetime. “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”, the priest concluded the mass. And there I was, back where I was born…. my origin, my roots.
At age 52, I have mastered the art of being a chameleon as I adapted and assimilated to the many places where I have lived and visited. It is a far cry from that confused teenager who didn’t know where she belonged when she traveled back and forth between the U.S. and the Philippines. At this point in my life, I felt the whispers of my soul call me back to my ancestral land. My initial purpose in going back to the land of my birth was to honor my roots. But little did I know that I was to receive so much more from my journey.
After visiting family and friends and attending my high school homecoming in Manila, I traveled alone to other beautiful islands in my birth country of over 7,000 islands. As I spent time alone immersed in the sheer beauty of white sand, pristine aqua waters, lush tropical greens, and unusual land forms of chocolate hills. I dined in a floating restaurant on a river. I spent time around wild animals including the tarsiers; I even dared to hold a large yellow snake in my hands. I felt not only refreshed by mother nature but also a sense of wholeness. It was as if I have come full circle. I felt complete. My roots, both the land and my ancestors had pulled me all together. That part of me I felt I had to disown, in order to assimilate and belong to mainstream America so I could achieve the American dream is now fully integrated back to my being. I now own all parts of me. I am the sum of all my experiences and all my past lives. I am a descendant of a white American who migrated to the Philippines and the native browns. I am Filipino. I am American. I am human owning all of me.
I invite you to visit your ancestral land and receive the medicine, the gifts your ancestors and your ancestral land has in store for you.