APRIL 7, 2018

Bonding with Balikbayans


Of my high school graduating class of 59 students, over half left for parts abroad after college. They left the country to pursue graduate studies, join their immigrant families who had gone ahead, or follow their boyfriends to get married abroad. Some fled after the break-up of a bad marriage. For whatever reason, they flourished in their new environments. Many became professionals, some

remained single, and most raised their families either alone or in a marriage.

I was tasked to edit my class yearbook when we observed the golden jubilee of our high school graduation six years ago. Each of us was required to write about herself and what has happened in her life since high school. Most of my classmates obliged so there was a write-up on every one. If the person was dead or could not be found, we researched her life and came up with something.

The stories of people I’ve known for over half a century were impressive, some of which have remained with me. I learned that my shy seatmate in first year high school who hardly spoke, is a specialist in neonatology in the United States.  One was a psychiatrist who worked with the Navajo Indians in Arizona.  The craziest girl in class became the no-nonsense finance manager of a missile systems company who helped integrate the financial systems, budgeting, forecasting and financial planning when it entered into multibillion dollar mergers. Someone who took up secretarial in college became a software engineer in Silicon Valley. A classmate’s handiwork as a tile maker – the Magnificat in Tagalog -- is enshrined in the Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem near Jerusalem.

And so on.

Many classmates have come home for special events — the passing of their parents and other relatives, a family reunion, a class homecoming, or simply as tourists getting re-acquainted with the motherland. Invariably, the classmates get together for a meal or two, a road trip, or line dancing. Invariably, the gatherings are filled with laughter and memories of times past.

They have come home for our silver jubilee in 1992, our coral anniversary in 2007, our golden in 2017 and various other milestones in between that the class likes to celebrate. Each time, they have added to the excitement of class reunions, and enriched our memory banks.

But each time, there are less of us, which makes more urgent the need to bond and hold each other close.

I have always looked forward to seeing my small group of intimates among my classmates and I considered the presence of others a welcome bonus. While I knew their stories, having edited them for the yearbook, my interest in them was, shall we say, journalistic. Until I attended a lunch in honor of a visiting classmate who I had not seen since high school graduation. She was home for a family emergency. Amid the noise of women getting together, she gently reached across the table and said that I was sad. I had had a hard week and she saw right through me.  She was not in my close circle in school, but here she was, someone I hadn’t seen in decades, reading me so accurately and sensitively. We have become close confidantes since.

I am sure there are other gems to discover among my classmates, if given the opportunity to reach out and touch.

Many balikbayan classmates come during the first quarter of the year as “snow birds” escaping from the bitter cold in the West for the balmy winds of the Philippines’ tropical “winter.” It is also the time when our school observes its annual alumnae homecoming and their presence makes such reunions more fun and meaningful.

Retired and living on pensions and savings, they are out for pleasure and adventure. A few have bought condos in Manila where they live part of the year. Line dancing at retro clubs is a favorite activity. There are those who chase golf balls in country clubs, while some come as medical tourists availing of cheaper dental, dermatological and other services. Others make Manila the take -off point for discovering the rest of the country and the Asian region. There is also the element of volunteerism in medical missions that brings them home.

Thanks to a class that insists on getting together as often as possible, and the balikbayans’ willingness to travel, I have gotten to know more of my classmates better over the years. I treasure the time we have left as septuagenarians. Some classmates are already talking about the grandest reunion ever when we observe 60 years out of high school in 2022.

Hopefully, the balikbayans can still fly.  As for me, I will be there, either in person or in spirit. (www.philstar.com)

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