Quiet Storm by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 22 January 2022
I have always taken homesickness lightly, dismissing it as a simple feeling we all go through once in a while when we leave home for various reasons. Maybe that is due to my entering the seminary in high school, aged 13-16, when I left my family for three years.
Everything changed when I went on vacation to the US in 2003. For the first time in my life, I felt so homesick after extending my two-month vacation to almost five months! That was when I realized the painful truth of homesickness: it is not really that you wanted to come home but more of longing for your loved ones from home, wishing they are with you having a great time at Times Square or enjoying the views from Washington’s Monument or devouring those giant oysters at New Orleans.
Homesickness is not really missing home as a place but home as family, as persons. One writer had said it so well that “homesickness is not really about the places but the faces we miss”!
It is having that feeling while in the midst of all those sights and sounds and tastes, you wish your loved ones are with you too, doubling the fun and adventures you are having. It is wanting to go home and take everybody out to your vacation or location.
But, lately I found out there is something else deeper with the faces and company we miss when we feel homesick; it is also the time and moments lost and gone in the past you try to bring back into the present. Not just of other persons but your very self – including all your dreams and pursuits or desires that got sidelined for so many reasons, valid or not. It is not really about having regrets in life but somehow, homesickness is a feeling best described by our Filipino word panghihinayang. Or, sayang.
It is a case of wasted presence, of taking persons and things for granted.
Thanks to the COVID pandemic. Aside from the virus, we are all afflicted with homesickness, of missing our loved ones whom we cannot visit or stay with due to the corona virus. And, whether we had mild or severe symptoms, homesickness was strongest – and strangest – when we were in isolation or quarantine due to infection.
Basta, all we strongly felt was to see our family and friends because we love them.
Homesickness depends – for better or for worst – on the kind of presence we have spent with our loved ones.
If we have always been intense – and truthful – in our relationships with family and friends, homesickness becomes a soothing balm that relaxes us after a very tiring day or week specially when in isolation or quarantine. You know that kind of feeling within of assured contentment that you love and you are loved by other persons you do not see often or not even communicate with frequently. That is because when you were together, the presence you have spent with each other was so intense and pure that it had created an invisible bond between or among you that you do not seem apart from each other at all.
There is that wonderful feeling of remembering, of suddenly experiencing the warmth and loving face of your beloved. It happens briefly like a blink of an eye that seemed eternal. That’s because of the love you have.
Problem happens when our occasions of being present with one another is superficial or shallow, when we were physically present with another but emotionally and spiritually detached. That is when the hairline difference between homesickness and regrets occurs. We become homesick, trying to go back not only in place but in time to meet the persons including our old self now all gone. Our former rector, Fr. Memeng Salonga used to tell us in high school seminary that it is not really time that is passing by but you who are passing by. One cannot bring back time that had passed, specially the chances and opportunities it had for you if you do not use it wisely.
That’s the painful truth with homesickness when you miss so much how you have missed and let go of the time and moments you have to be truly present with someone and with your very self. And we say sayang.
Recently I was exchanging text messages with a former student. We last met five years ago and both promised to meet again to work on a project and just simply have another great time together over some bottles of beer.
It never happened because we were both busy. Last Friday, he told me how he had COVID last year, the Delta surge. None of his connections could even get him into the ER of any hospital in the city. It was an eye-opener for him, indeed a second life as he survived COVID with a lot of faith and prayers. And love of family.
As I told him of my plans of slowing down in life and retiring early, he texted, “The way I see it po, it can also be wanting to really live. And not function like a machine.” (See why I love talking to him?)
Exactly! Sad, but true.
That has always been the challenge of life, of authentic living – when we become truly free to live and love and be faithful to God expressed in our kindness and service to one another. Of living in the present, in the here and now, in the “today” of Jesus Christ.
Homesickness does not need to be a sickness if we are always “present”.
Then all we have are memories, persons and events we remember and make present again as part of the here and now.
We hope the experts are proven right that the Omicron could be the beginning of the end of the pandemic. And if ever they are wrong, still, may we all be present, be a gift to everyone, and be home in every today God gives us.