“To this question, as kids, my friends always gave the same answer: ‘p–sy.’ Whereas I answered: ‘the smell of old people’s house.’ The question was: What do you like most, really, in life?”
That quotation is from the Italian film “The Great Beauty,” which won this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Film. It struck me and brought me back to the moment when the same question was posed to me. If I remember it right, my reply was neither anything close to “the smell of old people’s house” nor anything exceptional. It was just an ordinary response of an ordinary person having an ordinary life, and trying to have extraordinary experiences.
The thing is, the question was asked and I answered it. It was then followed by a domino effect that ended with me getting “engaged.” Four years on and a thousand miles away from things and people familiar—all in the name of my pursuit to do what I think and feel I love doing, with and for the person that I love, I have no or little regrets.
Getting engaged is a serious thing to do (and being engaged a serious thing to be). It requires a tedious process that further necessitates much discernment and judgment, unless of course one treats it as only one of those games he has to play. In my case, I had to undergo a crisis. Not the economic one (although it formed part of it), but one you experience when you are young, bold and clueless. Experiencing a crisis is in no way a walk in the park.
Looking back, I am thankful. It was an experience I would not really fancy having. I did not know what to do, where to go, and why I had to do it in the first place. I had no direction and I lost my guide. I was like a boat in the middle of the sea that knows not where to dock, only content to sail where the wind blows it (and it did).
I jumped from one job to another, grew my hair long, climbed mountains and swam rivers, because as young, bold and clueless as I was, I hungered for experience. I could just take whatever was laid before me that could convince me to satisfy that hunger. It was a time when trying something new in the guise of exploring new horizons (ending up not landing on anything most of the time) was as strong as the desire to stretch out my hands and shout (on a mountaintop) a cry of deliverance from something that was not even clear to me. It was a time to try to make sense of any experience, mundane or extraordinary, in order to fill the gaping hole deep within. I felt like a bucket that wants to contain the waters of every source, except that it can’t hold any because it has a hole in its bottom. I felt like a life languishing in bogs and briars where the wading seemed long and tiring. The emptiness I felt, I thought, was too much for me to bear.
Well, I could go on describing how it felt like to me at that time, but I guess Duncan Sheik rightly puts it in his song: “Maybe I need to see the daylight/ to leave behind this half-life./ Don’t you see I’m breaking down?/ Oh lately, something here don’t feel right./ This is just half-life.” It was one of my soundtracks at that time. Ironically, I must admit that I somehow liked the feeling at some point. Not knowing where to go allowed me to drop by just anywhere at any time.
It stayed that way for a few long years, until I felt the love of the one with whom I am now engaged. It was for me my daylight that Duncan Sheik talked about. It was like finally finding a missing piece, or the pearl of a great price. It was like regaining the force to once more take the oars, or finding a direction after so many crossroads.
Hesitance was my initial and instinctive reaction. Feeling unworthy, feeling that I did not deserve tender loving care, I tried to move away, escape, hide. But a tender look is transforming inasmuch as a warm embrace can wash away years of longing. I was caught off-guard by the forbearance and kindness showed me. More than “finding,” I felt “found.” I felt precious. My bruises, burns and bitterness no longer mattered. I never felt so much understood until then. In fact, I never thought such a feeling existed, although I knew it was all I ever wanted.
When one is in such elation, what would hamper him? Hesitant and undeserving, I accepted the invitation.
I learned later that the word “crisis,” in its Greek origin, means “judgment.” It can be in the sense of a punishment or a condemnation, as in a court trial. On the other hand, it can mean the good use of reason, discernment, or decision. Greeks always have something to say. This time, it’s that when in crisis, it’s for us to choose what to take for ourselves: condemnation or salvation.
I saw it as an important episode that I had to go through in order to understand the weight of what would be my engagement. It made me realize that getting lost is one of the ways to discover, and that not knowing where to go does not prevent one from going on his way. The process was painstaking and onerous. But it was my way out to freedom. And freedom, I affirm, is a salient element so that one can engage with someone or something. In a marriage, no party should be coerced because freedom is at the base of their marital life.
For a contract to work, both sides should willingly and freely take the benefits and responsibilities it requires. It’s like in the ancient times, when people had to be freed first from the shackles of slavery in the hands of their Egyptian oppressors before they could make a pact with the God that liberated them. More than 2,000 years ago, the Man from Nazareth came “to set the prisoners free,” so that all men would be brought into a new alliance of love. But then, this would be of another story.
Someone once told me that it is not where you are or what you become that makes you happy in the end. It is rather the power of commitment that does, to whoever you become wherever you are. I believed him. The man who uttered the line said he was destined for sensibility, and then committed to be a writer. Perhaps I, too, am destined for something in the greater scheme of things that in turn demands my commitment.
But this is of little importance to me. Meanwhile, I am basking under the summer sun of what this engagement has brought me. It’s nice, it warms. Yet it also burns. It’s not always on high clouds (and there are only a few). On the contrary, many a time I have plummeted into the pit, and it made me bleed. Then, as the demands of this engagement started to unfold and take concrete forms day after day, it gave me a thousand reasons to be afraid, and I am. However, I also have love, the one that has been aflame since the moment I agreed to this engagement with the Man from Nazareth.
With that, I have enough for me to carry on. The search is far from over. But this time around, I know what I am looking for.
Louland Escabusa, 29, is a missionary of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM); a student of theology in Cameroon, Africa; a philosophy graduate of Saint Louis University in Baguio City; and, before entering the CICM, a transcript editor, call center agent, English tutor, and street
educator with the International Children’s Action Network.
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