Friday, March 22, 2013

The Gap Year

It seems ungrateful of me not to write about all the blessings I have been receiving since 2012.  And knowing my selective short-term memory, I might even forget some of them.

Let me start from the ending: I am now in Sydney, Australia, relaxing in a beautiful bedroom, inside a beautiful house.  How I got here from a stressful life in Metro Manila is actually a very long story.  My brain is not on full functioning mode at the moment as I've been taking a lot of medications for the flu, but I will try to recall some highlights.  I will forgive myself for this lousy writing because the point is in the message, and not the delivery.  For now.

My sister calls this my Gap Year.  It is a concept alien to us Filipinos, at least, to the circles I interacted with all throughout my thirtysomething years.  Mr. Wikipedia explains a gap year as follows:

gap year is time out to travel between life stages. It is also known as a sabbaticaltime offtime out and a year out, referring to a period of time (not necessarily 12 months) in which people disengage from curricular education and/or work and undertake activities such as traveling, volunteering or working abroad.
Usually, around 2% of Australians take a year off prior to attending tertiary education and choose to travel abroad (usually South East Asia or Europe) or within Australia backpacking. (Emphasis mine.)

So usually, in this country, teenagers go through this prior to attending university.  They would be around 18 years old.  So my gap year came 20 years too late.

I am on official time out from life as I knew it.  My life in Manila was good - I had a stable job, a loving family, a supportive circle of friends, and a venue for all my talents/interests.  It was also very stressful because of my tendency to be pressured easily by the littlest things.

The best doctor I had met in my life told me that my health condition required that my life be stress-free.  I sort of asked him if he wanted me to quit being a lawyer.  It just did not seem possible to live without stress at that time.  That was in 2010.

Around that time, my older sister and I also started seriously talking about my living in Australia.  She wanted me to experience a bigger life, and to witness her lovely daughter's growing up.  I was a restless soul - single and unattached, with no mortgage or children to think of. Together we saw an opportunity for a win-win situation.

It was hard for me to let go, however.  It would mean starting over in life.  It would mean quitting a job I had been good at;  four jobs actually, by the end of 2012, for I had become a teacher in two campuses and a lecturer in two companies, aside from being a senior court attorney.

It would mean leaving my parents who are both not getting any younger.  It would mean being the last bird to fly out of the nest.  It would mean leaving my nephews and the rest of the family in the Philippines.  This was the hardest part.

It would mean living without my several sets of friends, from grade school to the Supreme Court.  I was used to going to concerts, ballets, restaurants, and movies with my friends.  They were all within reach. I was the life of the party most of the time, wherever I was.

It would mean moving to another parish.  But I loved my parish.  It was my second home.  I had a routine.  I had my services.  I had my brothers and sisters in the Church.

It would mean letting go of the familiar - like supermarkets, roads, hideaways, beaches, mangoes, and unlimited rice.

But I wanted to try.  In me there was a clear invitation to move.  So I consulted a life coach.  I was able to confirm that I wanted more out of life, more freedom to be creative.  And then a spiritual director.   He was able to walk me through my most difficult and buried issues.  He was able to help me discern the desires of my heart, and where God was leading me, which was healing.  I was already content with carrying an emotional walking stick for my issues, but God invited me to a life where I could fly.

Since 2010, however, I tried many things.  I applied for different jobs, but for one reason or another, I did not get them.  I also looked up scholarships, but felt it was not what I wanted.  I also met people whom I thought would ask me to move to Australia, but in the end, nothing worked out.

Yet I still wanted to go.  It just meant nothing would be according to plan.  It meant saying YES, Lord, I want to try to explore a new life, but I do not know how to go about it.  I surrender to Your will.

It worked like Mary's yes, my version.  I put my trust in the one and true God.  He blessed me, and confirmed my decision many times.

It turned out that I was not only meant to go to one country, but to several, in the course of my sabbatical year.  And then, I got projects that could sustain these travel plans.  It was too good to be true.

I did not have to worry about my then existing job because they were all good and ready to hire new faces and give the older ones bigger roles.  I saw some of my good friends enter the Supreme Court and felt it could not be in better hands.  I did not have to worry about my Legal Research and Writing lectures because the MCLE compliance period had just ended and I would not be needed much for the next two years.  As for my classes, I would miss them but I would contribute to legal education by writing my own textbook. (I am still praying for this.)

My friends, in almost one voice, said they were happy for me.  They would miss me, some more than others, but they knew it was a great opportunity, just what I needed.  And I received gifts in different forms - despedidas flowing with food and wine, trips to beautiful farms and special restaurants, prayer journals, even makeup, things that could fit my limited baggage allowance.  I saw friends I had not seen in years, who fixed their schedules so they could say goodbye.  I was overwhelmed by the collective sendoff I received.  It was like I was being carried to my next destination.  The bayanihan spirit was alive!

And my family, I could not ask for more from them.  My parents took it well, and even encouraged me when I was doubting my decision.  They assured me that they would be alright, that there were enough people to look after their needs, and that they were still strong and healthy to enjoy their empty nest.  My siblings, in between jokes and laughter, shared in my dreams in many ways, like the family garage sale we put up to get rid of my stuff and create some space for new things.

I was able to spend quality time with my loved ones, as if I was leaving for good and not just a year.  I was told to write, to pursue my passions, to play music, to travel, to dance, to dream, to swim to new horizons.

All these happened during Lent, when I felt I was supposed to be sacrificing my happiness.  My SD pointed out that for me, the invitation from Jesus was perhaps to receive the gifts - whether it was caviar cake, truffle chips, envelopes of money, job offers, or date proposals.  I learned to say "Thank you" and not wonder what was being asked of me in return.  I learned to sit and watch and be grateful.  I was reminded of Philip Yancey's book, "What's So Amazing About Grace?"  One of his best works, the author wrote about how grace is precisely unearned.  Like in the movie "Babette's Feast", the giver would give, and the receiver is meant to receive, and savour the gift.  My words fail to describe both the book and the movie, let alone grace.  But all these is grace.

I went on retreat: the ultimate icing on the cake, to one of my favorite spots in the Philippines, Tagaytay.  There, for several days, I recalled the goodness of the Lord and the people around me.  There I looked at the sky and searched for God and said my thanks.

During my flight to my first stop, Sydney, I looked out the plane's window.  I saw stars scattered on the nighttime sky.  I saw real stars, and I was very close to them.  I spoke to the stars.  I cried and cried, not knowing it was possible to be happy, to be free, to start over.

There are many expectations, mostly mine, out of my gap year.  But even if all I accomplish this year is just to find peace, health, and happiness, it shall be worth it.

I was told that I had so much courage to do this.  Well if courage meant sleepless nights filled with worry then they are right who said I was courageous.

I call it faith.  I have entrusted an unknown future to a known God.   Though I still have plans and expectations, I have let them be guided by Him, and I have let Him show me how much there is in store for me.  And that makes me happy.

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