Jojo, our eldest brother, left the Philippines for the United States in 1986. There he got married, had children and settled down.
Since then he has been able to return to the country only twice. The first one was in 1992 when he first brought his family here for a short visit. The second homecoming was a sad one and took place in 1996 when he and his wife had to rush here attend Papa's funeral.
Today he and his family, after an absence of almost eleven years, will be in Lianga. It will be their first visit here since our father passed away over a decade ago and Mama and the rest of our family are frantic with the preparations for the event.
I have often wondered how it would feel to be in his shoes when he finally sets foot again in this town.
To come back, after more than a decade of absence, to a place you once had called your home. To see again the familiar sights, once so vivid in your mind, and smell, hear and touch once more the lingering and hauntingly familiar scents, sounds and textures of an old life. To come face to face with the faces of the past and rekindle old memories of the things that were.
What does one feel?
Would there be pure and simple exhilaration made more meaningfully joyous by the sense of getting in touch again with one's roots and the origins of one's existence? The satisfaction of returning or coming back to where one's life began, a pilgrimage of remembrance of sorts?
Or would there be a sense of angst there? Of celebration tinged by the vaguely somber colors and memories of things that remained uncompleted, unfinished business and matters that have to be done or undone.
It has been said that returning home after a long absence is like gazing at yourself full length on a magic mirror. In it you see yourself not as you are today but the blurry image of the person you once were.
But the image is still only a reflection of your present self and a pseudo reality distorted by the doubts, fears and anxieties of the person you are today. You only see what you expect to see and what you see is often only half true.
One returns home not only to try to recapture the memories of the past but, more importantly, to understand the present by confronting the incertitudes we have left behind. It is not just about getting in touch again with one's roots but more of determining and understanding how we have come to be what we are by coming to grips with the events and circumstances that have shaped us into what we have become.
So a journey home from places far away is always a voyage of discovery, understanding and acceptance. It is also a pilgrimage of sorts, the kind a religious man makes at least once but often many times in his life to sacred places and shrines.
For to do it properly one's life comes to a full circle every time and what is incomplete in his life becomes more whole again. Each time.