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Coming Home

May 14, 2014
My old Pamplona home

my other home and family

Faith has come home. To her original home, that is. The one in Florida, the one where she grew up with her family and friends and familiar surroundings. But being a Peace Corps Volunteer means you always have another home, one with new family and friends and totally different surroundings that also have become familiar. It is one where you may never be again, but one which will always remain part of your being, a “temporary and forever home” as Faith so perfectly put it. Her other home is in Thailand. Mine is in the Philippines.

In what I hope was not her final entry in her wonderful blog, Faith wrote a piece called “Goodbye, Hello and Goodbye Again” in which she expressed her feelings about coming home. Reading it brought a powerful swell of emotional recognition. It has been six weeks now for her. It has been forty-two years for me, but what Faith had to say stirred my soul because such homecomings are unforgettable, full of the joy of reconnection but also the disorienting impact of readjustment. This is a goodbye and a hello that is both singular and indelible.

Faith wrote that “Thailand is already a little blurry — the way an object looks in your rear view mirror when it’s raining.” I understand. It can be disconcerting that such a profoundly life-changing experience can seem so distant so quickly, almost surreal. It can be worrisome that this other existence can seem diminished by a return to the original one which also seems somehow altered. You’re home now, but there’s a strange sense of turbulence, of displacement. “
Somehow Thailand was already behind me. The realization that the distance between myself and them, between my family here and my life there was so extremely vast rippled within me the way you can almost feel a strong thunderstorm vibrating in your chest.”

I understand.

I wanted to reassure Faith. I wanted her to know that despite time and distance this other existence will always be a part of her. I don’t think I need to, though. She seems to already instinctively know this, for she wrote “It’s in me and it will always be, whether I’m in Florida or Washington. Whether it’s right now and I’m a 26 year old looking for the next adventure or whether it’s in the future and I’m celebrating my 88th birthday. I’ll look back and recall that one split second in my life when I lived in Thailand. When I would ride my bike past rolling, green rice fields to the bright, pink school where I spoke Thai and taught in English. I’ll remember it as the time that I discovered just how little I knew and embraced just how much I was about to learn.”

And learn one does — about the world beyond your first home, beyond your safe haven of the known. About how different life is for so many others on this planet — so elemental and challenging and demanding yet strangely fulfilling. Perhaps even more significantly you learn about the self that lies dormant within you, waiting for an unexpected and unique opportunity such as this to blossom, to discover abilities you didn’t know you possessed as well as to confront those shortcomings and insecurities that can be easily masked in a place of comfort. And Faith indeed learned. “There is so much that I experienced while in the soft embrace of Thailand’s stunning sunsets. For 27 months that steady, fast, and strong flow of the Mekong River mirrored the energy that was constantly brewing inside of me…each and every day I woke up and chose to be an open recipient of all that surrounded me. And in that I was able to see all my weakness and all my strengths.”

Faith is on the cusp of another goodbye — a move in July to Seattle, Washington. I wish her well. I know this amazing young woman has many more fulfilling chapters to come in her life and perhaps many more homes. But the home she had in that small village beside the Mekong River will live on within her as my home amidst the rice paddies of Pamplona still does. How could it not? “I farmed — felt the moist mud between fingers as I planted rice. I ate sticky rice and even bugs. I collected snails from a pond and then cooked them in a frying pan. I attended weddings and I cried at funerals. I met my little Thai sister, Nong View, and then buried her one year later. I came to teach my coteachers and my students English and ended up being schooled about life.” These experiences imbed themselves deep within regardless of what follows.

Faith intends to try to go back some day to revisit her other home, a thought that I had sometimes entertained. Often I’d have dreams — ones that felt so real — that found me walking once again down the dirt road at night to my small town past banana trees aglow with fireflies. I wondered what it would have been like to return, to see how all those missing years had changed the people and places I had known so well, to see how they remembered me. My path did not lead that way; perhaps Faith’s will. I look forward to reading about that journey if it does occur.

Though I’m not 88 quite yet, I still look back to the one split second of my life in my other home in the Philippines. Sometimes it seems unreal, another lifetime in some distant past. Other times it seems like yesterday. I look back at my fading photos and the images come clear once again. The feel of the humid tropical air just after the daily rainstorm, the sweet smell of the sampaguita blooming wildly, the perpetual sound of laughter from the children in the muddy streets, the savory taste of adobo and lechon and pancit — all of them still resonate in my very cells. Faith said she cries now when she looks at her photos. As time goes by, I believe the sadness of separation they recall will be replaced by the deep-seated gratification that having this other home is a timeless gift, one that will continue to reveal its value and wonder with each passing year.

memory of laughter

a lasting memory

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