Leaving all things familiar behind
It was May 28, 2005, when my father and I took a bus bound for Baguio. It was my first time in the city and I felt a shiver as I gazed from my window. There were pine trees and people selling mangoes with bagoong and salt. There were also souvenir shops, and some peddlers carrying sacks of vegetables.
It was a new world for a Manila boy accustomed only to high-rise buildings. When we were nearing the bus stop, my father asked if I really liked it there, and said we could still go back: “Gusto mo ba talaga dito, anak? Pwede pa tayong umuwi.”
He looked at me pensively, knowing that if things proceeded according to plan, it would be a long time before we could have the chance to see each other. I was at a loss for words. I tried to look for reasons to convince him that it was all right. I looked away and composed myself. I knew that my response would finalize a great turn in my life, and that a wrong decision would lead to a lifetime of regret. I summoned all my guts and told him that we were already there, that there was no turning back, it would be such a waste: “Nandito na tayo, Pa, eh. Wala nang atrasan ito. Sayang naman.”
My father smiled. I wish I knew what he was thinking back then. It made me think that I had only ended up trying to convince myself.
You see, the problem was that I thought I had given myself enough reason to follow something only a few could have the keen interest to pursue. Idealistic as I am, I thought I knew what was best for me at a tender age of 16. While many of my fellow high school graduates were being oriented in prestigious universities in Manila, I was in a retreat house attending a seminar, spending days reflecting on all that I had learned from the sessions.
From those sessions, I learned that this pursuit would take me out of my comfort zone. But at that moment, I did not understand what it truly meant. Young as I was then, I thought it was just an adventure, far from everything mundane, albeit a longer one. So I left everything familiar to me—our house, my friends, the humming and buzzing of Manila, not knowing what awaited me in the future.
After I spent some days and being oriented in the seminary, reality sank in. I was no longer home. I felt like I had thrown myself into an abyss where I had to face the unknown. I realized that the whole weight of my decision was actually more unnerving than my ideal self could grasp.
Indeed, it was the beginning of an adventure. But it was neither a camping trip nor a field trip. Everything was so unfamiliar, but there was the excitement of exploring and seeking to understand. I found myself getting familiar with the “highland culture.” I learned to speak some Ilokano words, to chew on nganga, and to savor the taste of rice wine. I buried my head in the lofty and complicated subject of philosophy. Occasionally I lulled myself to sleep listening to Vespers music. I learned to love the breviary. I met new people. I made new friends. I fell in love, I fell out of love.
It seemed so easy, so simple, when I shared it with my friends. If I did not tell them that I had entered the seminary, they would have thought that my experiences were those of a traveler. They would have been right in a sense. For all of us are just travelers trying to discover who we are. Each of us has dreams to pursue and somehow we find them in places where we do what we love.
But on the other hand, it was not actually a walk in the park. My experiences, although they allowed me to discover my capabilities, also led me to discover what I am not. They brought me to tears. They gave me sleepless nights. Yet, they also brought me liberation and happiness.
It is true that we should allow for emptying ourselves, to leave behind what is deemed unnecessary to respond to something (or Someone) greater than ourselves. I left behind so much “extra baggage” and learned to be content.
Looking back, I never once regretted my decision to take that bus bound for Baguio and leave everything familiar behind.
Of course, there were times of doubt and fear, of insecurity and uncertainty. But I believe that if one truly puts one’s heart in whatever one does, there would be thousands of reasons to continue moving.
As I write this, I am warm in the coldness of another country. To make it clear, I was sent here to continue responding to the One who always prods me to leave my comfort zone and to be audacious to learn and discover new things, not only about myself but also about others.
Recently, my father asked me a question similar to the one he posed when I was about to enter the seminary. He wanted to know if I liked it where I am now: “Gusto mo ba diyan, anak?”
This time, I knew that my response had a certain sureness and finality. I told him that I liked it here, that it’s not easy but I’m happy, and that I know where this would lead me: “Opo, Pa. Gusto ko rito. Hindi madali, pero masaya ako at alam ko kung saan ang patutunguhan ko.”
Leo Joshua S. Garcia, 28, is with the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which sends its members “where the Gospel is not known or lived and wherever our missionary presence is most needed.” He was sent to Senegal in 2014 and is now in the final stage of his initial formation.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.