“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” – Terry Pratchett
June 28 of last year, my Mom dropped me off at the airport for what was supposed to be just a three-week vacation. In the plane, I sat next to a young woman my age who worked in the East Coast. She asked me why I was taking the trip. I said I was just going for a vacation to spend time with my Aunts, Uncles, and cousins.
After four weeks though, we decided that I should just stay until after Thanksgiving. I experienced some firsts: first 4th of July, first Halloween, first Thanksgiving, first experience of fall.
From summer to autumn, I was in the land our relatives called home.
I’ve been here for three times already, but this fourth time was the longest: five months. It was the longest I’ve been away from the Philippines, away from my Mom. Since I was already a full-time illustrator and writer (starting only in January 2017), I had control of my time, so it was alright to take these long vacations.
It wasn’t easy to leave though at first. I felt uncomfortable, because it’s been a while since I was last on a plane that time.
I also felt as if I was unkind for letting my Mom do everything at home without me. I still remember what she said last year: leaving doesn’t mean I didn’t love her or care about her. I just had to be that bird in the proverbial saying – the baby bird that needs to go out off her nest to see the world, to live her life.
Over the course of those five months, I learned a lot about myself and my self-perception, and the world around me and how I saw it. I was also just starting my full-time art career, so I was planning, thinking, validating what was it that I wanted to do and how I was going to do it and sustain it. During those times, I’ve been with my parents through phone calls and chats, while I was physically present with my relatives, connecting with them more, sharing meals together, telling stories to one another, living together. It wasn’t just a vacation. It was like a retreat, a sabbatical, a catharsis.
I can’t believe it’s been a year already since it all started.
I came back to the Philippines last December 3, and Christmas was nearing. I knew that this was the real test for me: if I could apply all the lessons I’ve learned in my stay in a different country here at home, here with my fellow countrymen, here on my workspace, now more serious with art, storytelling, writing, and creating than I ever was before.
A lot has already happened from January to June 2018, and I just want to say good job to myself for living and enduring throughout. I also could not have done it without the grace of God, my parents, my family’s support, and friends reaching out always.
The most important lesson I learned in my stay was to change how I saw myself and finally love myself, so I could love God and others better. I was a bit lost in my own negative thoughts towards myself for years, but there has been slow and steady redemption, and there has been forgiveness. If I had not left, I would have not realized significant things, I would have probably continued being filled with guilt, fear, insecurities, doubts, and anxiety.
I left the Philippines for a while and came back, and I had felt more hope for our country.
I left myself for a while and tried to see Arli from a spectator’s eyes and returned, and I had felt more hope for myself too.
I say hello to myself, and I whisper welcome back.