You keep listening to those who seem to reject you. But they never speak about you. They speak about their own limitations. They confess their poverty in the face of your needs and desires. They simply ask for your compassion. They do not say that you are bad, ugly, or despicable. They say only that you are asking for something they cannot give and that they need to get some distance from you to survive emotionally. The sadness is that you perceive their necessary withdrawal as a rejection of you instead of as a call to return home and discover there your true belovedness.
― Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love
I can count by one hand the number of lunches you’ve joined us. Us – my friends and I. Should I worry there would come a day I cannot count any longer; that I would have to rely on my scratchy memory to remind myself of the first – when you meekly asked permission if you could join us which also revealed the fact you feared lunching alone, if we minded having you – perpetually reserved and refined – have lunch with a group known for its boisterous laughter and frivolous conversations. That I would have to recall how you awkwardly jostled behind and between occupied seats while I frantically watched from the corner of my eyes where you’d sit, where you’d end up?
And what a seat you chose.
Having lunch with you next to me was unnerving. The mind of someone who writes is a mind fertile for imagination. How was I? Did my voice break? Did a bead of sweat moisten my brow as I fought to keep my eyes on the food, rather than turn my head to my right no matter how tempting? Was I too noisy or nosy for you and your quiet charm, your mellow voice, your pensive, bespectacled gaze? Did I distract you as much as you distracted me that by the end of lunch you noticed I hadn’t finished my food? Did my lack of appetite surprise you, or was it a confirmation of what you already knew – that I did mind having you join us for lunch, having you too close for my comfort, having you laugh at my jokes or hear my effeminate voice; that you knew all along I wasn’t like you, that I wasn’t like the men you knew – the men of God you lived and worked with. And that rather than eating I opted to savor the sweet baritone which glazed the few words you were capable of.
I remember clearly the awkward silences between brief conversations on topics we both seemed to have thought about overnight. Our words appeared rehearsed even though they weren’t, as if we were testing each other’s comforts and awkwardly slicing the tension. I remember how you laughed clumsily when the talk of the table turned into jokes, as if you were hiding the uneasiness of staying with a group different from you, a group poles apart from your kind by letting out an endearingly boyish giggle. I remember how my friends and I tried to temper our wit so it never became vulgar and irreverent the way it did on our own. And when you did get in on a joke, you were perhaps amazed at how everyone erupted in laughter, roared at the unexpected jest, and welcomingly applauded the display of humor from a man who seems incapable of such, a man who seems pure, sinless: a saint dining and laughing with sinners.
And when your joke was on me, the laughter was even louder. Your eyes gleamed with the well-received jest but unused to the attention and approval coming from others, you hastily reached me with both arms and hands, patted my shoulders, then rubbed it, as if you had to physically reassure me it was all for fun, that you didn’t mean it—like I was a child who needed to be pacified. Rather than calm me, the move only unsettled me further. I did mind the touch. I did mind the joke. For even if I were impressed by your attempts at extroversion, my head was somewhere lost in the clouds recalling the doubtful yet emotionally convenient subtext which marked our place in each other’s lives—at least in my head.
I remember clearly the past. Moments when two worlds crashed. I remember the present. The endless running-into’s. The more I avoided you, the more I ran into you. I changed my lunch schedule to escape your gaze only to end up alone with you in the dining area. I moved from one room to the next hoping the busyness will keep me from your presence only to see you passing by. I ran to the washroom to clear the worries off my face. Lo and behold, you were also there. I proudly shared to my friends I had succeeded avoiding you for an entire morning – only to share the elevator with you—twice. In your own words after that strange, fated meeting inside the lift: “Oh, it’s you again.”
All of these follow an unexpected stare a few weeks before. Do you remember it?
Waiting for a lift going up, you alight from one that had just gone down. Seeing you, I looked elsewhere hoping to dodge small talk. My head was bowed. You were headed home. I hurriedly entered the elevator. Inside, I consoled myself the doors will close soon. But it didn’t close soon enough. You passed by the still open elevator, turned your head, and looked my way. It was a long and penetrating gaze, as if your eyes had scoured the small compartment determined to catch a glimpse of me before the elevator doors closed. The look lingered. It was an unpleasant feeling, as if the irises from a distance undressed me, and probed my being, body and soul; as if you caught me in disguise. It was a look which followed me until finally, the doors closed and I was headed up. Inside, I was heading down.
Why now? Why you?
You come into my life at a most inopportune time. You come when I’ve determined the life I enjoyed before was not the life I was meant for, and most certainly, not the life I want to end up with and remembered for. You come when I’ve discovered a truth that is so powerful it hurts because it demands suffering. You come with your jokes and your affectations, your disarming introversion and mystique, begging to be wanted by my old self, when I am struggling to want Christ.
Do you have lunch with me so I should suffer? Do you look my way the way you do knowing what it can cause in me? Do you joke with me because you want to find out if you’re funny, want to think you’re clever? Do you lead me on to test me? Do you do all this on purpose because you know my wound?
And yet you, saintly in every way, are everything I aspire to be. I admire you. I wish I could be as good of a person as you are. And perhaps this is why I find myself fighting you, trying to squelch sentiments I do not want to indulge any further. You are the past – the numerous men I had fawned over, supposedly loved, wanted, adored, hated, longed for, forgotten; you are the future – the kindness, the goodness, the Christian I want to become. And you are the present – a part of the reality I face daily, the reality I wish I could overcome with steadfastness in faith, and with confidence in a God who has led me to where I am now.
It is true isn’t it, that it is our very humanity which can be incredibly glorious and insufferable often at the same time. See, there are two sides to any story. I’ve known only one – the side which tells how an amiable face can carry a fierceness brimming and pouring from the edges of one’s eyes.
The lives of men like me were formed with the desire to tame such wilderness; taper the edges, draw the line between vulnerability and violence, and capture in words the perfectly satisfying delicateness of a man. Catching such vastness is sheer impossibility. And yet I try. I scratch at every surface of the floor washed by my thoughts with the foolish hope I will know, as if your self-containment meant nothing less than life. Hours have been spent decoding every movement, every breath; the nuances which flicker in the spotlight of a morning; the crossing of paths blurring fiction and truth; the minute variations in voice and in glance which lead me to believe I am closer than before to unearthing the other story – your story – and how it intertwines with the unfolding of mine.
But perhaps I have been reading you wrong. Perhaps, all the seemingly fated moments were nothing more but manifestations of probability. A scientific approach does not escape me. You’re better at math. Maybe you could tell me. Maybe it would be easier accepting this tragedy-turned-comedy if it were an equation. Rather than take what appears as “meant” as it is, maybe it would be more practical to think of them as circumstances bound to happen, chances produced by the universe’s machinery.
But while I am not a man of science, I am a man of curiosity. This has always been where I excel the most. With age, I am inclined to believe curiosity is less of a virtue than when I was a young boy and it served its purpose of making meaning out of things, out of people. But it isn’t less useful now. At twenty-six, I am just as hungry to know things, to probe the matters of the heart, and the affairs of my mind. Why do I keep running into you? Why do you keep running in my thoughts? Why am I beginning to let you triumph over my senses? Why are you always there when I least expect you?
And why has God allowed me to hurt in a time of healing? Why has he allowed my wounds to re-open?
I wish I had answers. I wish I could laugh at all of this. Do you remember that joke I was on the receiving end which I described earlier, when you had to reassure me you didn’t mean it? We were all discussing about the cartoons we grew up with and how as children they all seemed entertaining – talking babies, a cowardly dog, talking cows and chickens, an androgynous devil – but in hindsight they were really strange and perhaps, negatively impacted our minds.
“Ang weird pala ng mga pinapanood natin noon? Kaya pala naging ganito generation natin.” (The cartoons we watched as kids were weird. No wonder our generation turned out like this.)
“Kaya ka pala naging ganyan,” you quipped. Translated in English, rather lamely by me: No wonder you turned out like that.
In hindsight, I wonder if that remark you made carried with it presumptions. Jokes, they say, are half-meant. Was it you realizing I was different? Was it you seeing my wound? Was it you sensing the damage?
But I only end up with more questions than answers. Still, the confusion isn’t the worst of it. What remains most searing to my heart is the fact that with the lenses of faith, this trouble I have put myself into is most likely imagined. All of it is in my mind. That is how it has always been. You mostly likely didn’t mean to lead me on. You most likely only happened to be at the wrong place at the right time. You most likely weren’t interested in fooling me. You most likely had no intention of making me feel the way I do. This is most likely just another case out of the almost hundreds in my life wherein the deep wound of my identity stirred in me affections that were all made up. Maybe, I had once again mistaken fraternal affection as romantic interest. If there is any grief or sorrow to be experienced or immersed in, most likely, it was on my own doing. I let the writer write beyond the blank pages.
If it had just been me all along, and on the off chance you actually read this, then pray for me, that I can forget you, and that the sins of my past, my sins because of you, will not be held against me. Pray for me that I do not discourage you. Pray for me that I do not scandalize you any longer. Pray for me that I can overcome my imaginations. Pray for me that the day will come when I have lunch with you again, I wouldn’t think twice what you mean, I wouldn’t mind a joke or touch, I wouldn’t mind the gaze or the silence. Pray I can persevere in fighting “you”. Pray that I simply believe that the seat you chose is simply the only one left. And if I had caused you any harm, then I pray that I live long enough to make atonement; live long enough to say, even in silence, sorry.