A moment of sonder | Inquirer Opinion
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A moment of sonder

It was 9 a.m. on a Tuesday and, left with nothing to do, I made the abrupt decision to pack my things and head for the nearest public beach only five minutes away on my brother’s motorcycle. I set up camp under the canopy of a huge Talisay tree, then, propping myself up in a prone position, I had a moment of sonder. I’ve just been introduced to the concept of sonder days ago, but I could’ve sworn I’ve been doing it forever—I just wasn’t aware it had a name.

There was no one on the beach except for a young couple sharing a sweet talk out of earshot, a group of high school students rehearsing a dance presentation, and me. Sitting amidst the locals, I thought of stories for everyone in my head. It seemed everyone had a pretty, rich life going on, at least in my inner narrative.

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Looking at them from afar, I could’ve been any of these students. Suppose they go to their morning classes religiously, take their meals, be present at their classes in the afternoon, then wait for them to be over so they could have their dinner, study for the next day’s surprise recitation or quiz, check Google classroom to make sure they didn’t miss anything that needs to be done, and hopefully get a good night’s sleep after—in that order. That’s how my routine went before the pandemic hit, then it was downward spiral from there. The next thing I knew, my body gave in to pressure and late one night, I phoned my mom who was abroad, telling her I couldn’t take it anymore. Finally, she and my father sent me to live with my maternal grandparents. I stopped going to school. This is my life now. I go to the beach when I want to.

Because I had let go of my responsibilities as a student and refused to get a job, I am free to pursue creativity. I can crochet and knit clothes again; I went to challenge myself with tapestry. I’ve been doodling and scribbling on the empty pages of my half-used notebooks from high school, and bought myself a sketch pad to go for a more aesthetic look. Then my younger sister who owns a ukulele taught me the basic chords, and I thought, hey, maybe I could also pick up music. I play the kalimba and, later, the harmonica and the recorder. I have all these crafts going on for myself all at once. It’s a Pinterest girl’s dream—there was never a dull routine. I’m doing the things I’ve been putting off for academics. There is only one thing, though. I wasn’t born rich.

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Growing up, the only hobby I held on to was reading. In my family, keeping multiple hobbies is a strange concept because they cost money. I couldn’t play outside with my neighbors because I was tasked with looking after my younger siblings. I still love reading, but for someone who’s been through remote learning, I still need to recover from my years-long burnout. As trivial as my other interests may be for my future career, I like doing them for no other reason than they make me happy. The internet validates my feelings by calling it “healing your inner child.” Essentially, it means pursuing an object, a hobby, or an event you were shamed for or not indulged in as a kid, all because an adult thought it was silly, too expensive, or simply unacceptable. For the first time, I can say that I’m not too busy to create.

However, as much as I convince myself that I’m putting my mental health before my education, I still feel guilty, disgusted, and ashamed of myself for taking time off my studies. I knew right when I decided to quit that I’m going to be left behind by my classmates, and it hasn’t been easy. While my new interests offer me a form of escapism, the painful thought of not being able to keep up with my peers lives in my head rent-free. I’ve lost contact with friends from college to get well-rested and yet, I still feel empty. I also knew how disappointed my parents were. I’m the eldest of the brood, I’m supposed to finish early, so I could help pay the bills at home. Sometimes I lay awake at night asking and laughing to myself why I have to experience K-to-12, my first political heartbreak, and the pandemic while going into my early 20s.

A friend from Reddit told me during one of my nastiest, late-night breakdowns that a pandemic is something no other generation has had to live through. I’m two months shy of my 22nd birthday, and it might seem as if I’m only jumping from one obsession to another. A therapist I subscribe to on YouTube has this to say: “There is a value in escapism, but if it overtakes everything, nothing gets better. Sometimes things can’t be put right, which is why you escape so deep down this rabbit hole. But it’s not right here either, because you feel afraid.”

It hits so close to home. It’s difficult to not escape all the time, but after so long of spending so much time in my introverted bubble, it does make me want to go out and touch some grass. And it led me here, to the beach.

Marielle Aliah Gelsano, 21, dreams of a cottagecore house in the woods. She’s currently taking a break at her mother’s hometown in Zamboanga del Norte.

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