Sunday, April 24, 2016


6:02 AM

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Perhaps memory is all we have when home is far away and hard to return to.


The story of collapse has always been imprinted in the geography of our archipelago: Before fire was first discovered in caves, before balangay boats landed on Luzon shores, seven thousand islands split apart from an initial Pangaea. The motion of atoms echoed throughout the splitting of continents.

In my visit to Boston, Massachusetts, I wonder at the same scars brought about by the collapse which we still wear upon our hearts. In Boston College, there’s a mass for Filipino-Americans presided over by a Filipino Jesuit who lives in the nearby residence with a multinational group of brothers and priests. I may not know the stories of those who enter these church’s doors, but I can imagine them.

An overseas worker who migrated to Boston twenty, thirty years ago in search of a better job walks in. This is someone who still wears a heavy winter coat during autumn season. She’s used to the cold now, but she will always remember her first winter in the States, and the greetings she got from her aging mother and father over Skype. She remembers the coat she was wearing when they logged off. Today, she holds it close as if to bring them back to her side.

There’s a sophomore college student in a hoodie who applied to MIT. He sits huddled on a church seat, with earphones plugged in, listening to an album by Arcade Fire. He’s always been an excellent student—international math medalist, expert coder, constant volunteer for charity work back home—but spending some time on his own far away from home has changed him. It made him miss the old glow of the PlayStation on their condo’s seventh floor and the warm smell of pork adobo served over rice. Though his grades are fine, he’s never made any real friends since arriving.

A child—five years old, wearing a dress and not quite understanding what prayer is yet. She asks her father whether he misses home. Whenever that happens, he smiles and says there isn’t much to miss—the Internet speed is slower, the traffic makes a fifteen-minute drive take two hours, typhoons hit every so often and suspend working days. The truth is that they don’t have enough money to pay the rent, much less to pay for the flight back. So when her father misses home, he keeps it as a quiet hurt inside his chest. So she wears the dress she’s always worn, and her father takes out his battered suit, and together they close their eyes anticipating the beginning of the mass.

Then the mass begins, and the songs are sung in a familiar tongue. The humming is so familiar I remember my high school’s own congregation of students singing together. Perhaps the other church-attenders have some sort of memory like this, running through their minds. The overseas worker recalls the prayer before meals her family would always say together, the prayer she still whispers over her food up to now: Bless us O Lord and these Thy gifts. The college student remembers his short stint as a part of the school choir, harmonizing amen, amen, amen. The father looks back on the memory of his wife praying the rosary in October before tucking their daughter to sleep: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with You. It is in the warmth of this familiarity that loneliness is given meaning within the church’s humble doors. Though they will be leaving with hearts still heavy and hands still lost, these small gifts remain. Perhaps memory is all we have when home is far away and hard to return to.

I’m only here as a visitor; I’ll be home in a few weeks. Yet somehow, the longing for home is palpable, even to me: The small rows of chairs are lined up for travelers who are forever lost, wandering on the edges of islands, navigating boats across rivers, discovering new worlds after leaving old. The joy of exploration has long ceased, and there is no promise of land, gold, or glory. Together they have been forced out as unceremoniously as atoms misaligned and continents misplaced, landmasses collapsing into their constituent parts.

But within our single selves miracles can occur. We believe in things which we have no proof of; we hope for that which we can never obtain; we dream still for the return of those who were lost, those who were long gone, those who never wanted to stay in the first place.

I walk out of the Boston church as the air lies heavy with the promise of a cold winter to come. But I walk out less lonely, contradictions bandaging my heart, believing that seven thousand separate islands can still be called a nation; that seventy separate souls can still be called a family; that seventy chairs, a function room off a Boston hallway, and a second hand podium, in all their singularity, can still be called a home.

Essay by Ethan
Art by Yeda
Ethan Chua is a spoken word poet. 
Yeda is a 15-year-old with a very odd egg obsession. She's into making blackout poetry, collages, stickers, and even clay pins. She has no stable aesthetic or taste whatsoever and is very eager about what the world has yet to show her. Right now, her only friends are newspaper scraps, a Sharpie marker, and a cup of purple coffee.


  1. This was such a touching essay and I absolutely loved it. :)