I’ve been home for almost a month now, but true to my nature, I slip in and out of my retrospection. Repeatedly my conclusion (if it even is a conclusion) is this: Has it really been a year?
Admittedly, it’s been difficult to really keep a clear sense of time these past few years. Having been a student in Manila makes me register the year as June to March, while being an ordinary human being lets me acknowledge the year as January to December. When I began my preparations for London, my sense of time simultaneously shifted and multiplied, acknowledging the year to be from September ’til July, knowing two sets of twenty-four hours, and almost feeling like I was a time traveller. Conversations with my family and friends in Manila – which both occurred in “yesterday” and “today” – often delved into my life and my friends in London, referring to “today” and “tomorrow.”
Regardless of how I look at it, however – London time, Manila time, January to December, September to July – it feels as if so much has happened in the past 525,600 minutes of my life. James, one of my teachers (and I’m now also glad to be able to call him a friend, and a dude) asked me right before the (London) academic year ended: “You’ve changed a lot, haven’t you?”
Fortunately or unfortunately, being at a loss for words is not a frequent occurrence for me, but being faced with that question certainly left me blank. Did he actually mean for me to answer that, or was it more rhetorical? There were so many ways to really understand that question, but I found I was left speechless either way. Had I really changed? Was this a bad kind of change? Oh God, please don’t let me be one of those kinds of people who change after an experience, and then go back home to friends only to be told with a heavy sigh and a disappointed shrug, “You’re just not the same anymore.”
Thankfully, James clarified it for me. “You’ve grown. You’ve become better, you learned.” And honestly, I’d like to think I have. In fact, I appreciate being told I’ve grown (internally, of course, as I do believe my height is pretty permanent at this point), rather than being told I’ve changed. Having “changed” just seems so irreversible, as if I had left some good parts of me behind, thereby making me less “me.”
Being told I’ve grown, and truly feeling it, is more rewarding. It means there was room for me to improve, that someone saw that potential in me, and that I fulfilled it. In 525,600 minutes, I expanded my patience, worked and fought harder, became more daring, did and said more things I probably didn’t ever think I’d have the courage to do or say, and became able to more accurately identify where it is that I stand, what I stand for and what I will not tolerate. It’s strange, but it feels like two things have been happening at once: I’m meeting myself for the first time, but I’m also meeting an old friend that I hadn’t embraced in so long yet have known for ages. How’s that for feeling like I’ve been time travelling?
Of course I wasn’t just knowing myself. I was meeting and getting to know all sorts of people, too. A year ago I never would have thought that I’d meet a brilliant mathematician from Bahrain who’d help break me out of my shell and make adjusting to a new city just that much easier, or that we’d form a bond akin to adopted siblings (who get along, clearly, not the kind who hate each other’s guts). A year ago the idea of meeting an older brother figure in any place other than in Manila was ridiculous – people elsewhere would just be too different! – but I believe I’ve found a friend for life in a rather-culturally-hybrid-and-confused-yet-down-to-earth dude with whom I can be so brutally honest, and from whom I can expect the same kind of honesty in return. I’ve met girls for whom I expanded my sisterly concern, my older-sister instincts pushing me to want to see them be better, be happy.
I’ve met Italians who so graciously adopted me into their tightly-knit family and made me feel at home, an intelligent and creative soul who speaks the language of music with so much passion it’s sometimes intimidating, writers, filmmakers, readers, law students, account managers – it would be
impossible to really enumerate comprehensively. And just when I thought I’d seen ’em all, and had every possible conversation I could, life surprised me like it knew my mind still had that itch it still longed to scratch, knew that there were still parts of me that felt unengaged, and I made a good friend who helps expand my mind and constantly teaches me that there’s always a way to do things better, and that there’s always something I don’t know yet (as if my mind weren’t hungry enough).
As I write this down, I wonder why some people come to mind more fondly than others, and why their memory resonates (and hopefully continues to resonate) much more strongly in my life. I recall what I told my sister one time: “The cool thing about London is that you can stay in one place and all these people will be the ones coming and going. Everyone’s in transit.” But with everyone in transit, who sticks, and who doesn’t? Do I just chalk it all up to connection and chemistry?
Maybe connection and chemistry is part of the work. Connection and chemistry, I think, help identify
where a bridge would be good to put, where it could be sturdy and useful. But I think what really keeps it together are dreams. In the past year, I’ve found that the people I feel closest to are the ones who shared their dreams with me, and to whom I’ve confided my own dreams to. The more I know about their dreams, the more connected I felt, the more passionately I felt for their goals , the more sincerely I hoped to see them happy and successful. I felt more woven into their story, and they felt more woven into mine. Anyone could talk about last weekend’s party, and it’s fairly easy to talk about how hectic everyone’s been with their exams. Trust me, it’s how I survived those elevator rides up and down my building. Knowing someone’s dream, however, and truly believing in it and in him/her, helps to make clear just how far people have come, how much further they have to go. The best part? From the very moment they tell me what it is they so desire out of life, I feel privy to this wonderful story that has yet to be told, and it feels, to me, a privilege to be able to see it unfold. It’s almost as if I, at the point of dream revelation, am transported into the future, where I suddenly become sure that this person has a place in my life, and that I have a place in his/hers, and that I will see dreams come true, even if the dreams won’t always stay the same.
Has it really been a year? Chronologically, yes. But in my retrospection, it feels a lifetime, and I am grateful. This gratitude is a good sign that tells me I’ve not yet tired of it, that I’ve more to learn from it, and that none of it was a waste. In the remaining weeks, I find I am letting home, family and friends envelope me in the familiarity that I will always hold dear, and at the same time I am taking deeper breaths and looking forward to returning to what’s become my second home.
Roughly 525,600 minutes of my life have been spent there, where laughter has echoed, smiles have been shared, hugs have been given, tears have been shed, grumbles of frustration let out, eyes widened in awe and in disbelief. It all leads me to realize that yes, I have been living there for the past year. But who says that makes it less of an adventure? I have always been under the impression that time travelling is an adventure indeed.