Friday, April 8, 2016

The Necessary Delusion

Witnesses say the fire started at around 1 a.m. on April 1, and that the most likely cause is faulty electrical wiring. It started on the third floor where I used to hold office. Reports state that there were no casualties but as a former member of this academic community, deep down I can't seem to entirely agree with that.

Yes, no one was physically hurt as a result of this tragedy, but the wounds, the depth of injury and pain resulting from this fire is something difficult to quantify. 


Photo Credit: Prof. Josefina Natividad

Photo Credit: Prof. Josefina Natividad




The University of the Philippines Faculty Center (Bulwagang Rizal or "FC" to most people) housed the department offices of the university's College of Arts and Letters (CAL), its faculty rooms, as well as those of some departments of the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy (CSSP). My home department, Sociology, used to occupy a part of the third floor. Over a year ago, they transferred to a newer building and so I'm happy to know they've been spared somehow. 

However, I can't even fully imagine the amount of loss brought upon to many others as a result of this fire. Priceless book collections, research papers, theses, dissertations, test papers both graded and ungraded, grade books, laptops and flash drives, art works and artifacts, just generations of knowledge borne out of dedicated scholarship now gone. 

And of course there is the intangible casualty of memories now floating around like lost ghosts and faint echoes, with no real center to draw and ground them, uprooted from where they were birthed. Students and Professors both roamed its dim hallways and staircases. Countless consultation hours were spent. Passionate intellectual exchanges and debates transpired in almost every room in that building, as well as jovial and lighthearted discussions among colleagues who are also undoubtedly friends and even family. 

I will never forget the few late nights spent in FC checking test papers or end of term research projects. I will always remember the sense of accomplishment I felt each and every time I got done grading every single student for the semester. Or the grueling hours that aged me while I went through reams of data begging to be coded and analyzed so I can finally write up my master's thesis or some other research project. 

The profundity of my sense of loss stems from the feeling that a part of my past had been literally erased, a significant part of my identity now physically gone. I may not have lost any physical possessions, unlike those who still call the FC their home. But I'm certain that anyone who once did at some point in their lives, no matter how brief, now grieve this death, this irreplaceable void that we're all suddenly forced to confront. I know it's been more than a decade since I left my job at the university, more than a decade since I legitimately identified myself as an academic. I have accepted that I no longer have any claim to such a self-definition and in the recent years, have learnt to mourn the death of that 'self' I've left behind. And yet, the truth is that some part of me still hoped. 

I was really hoping I could still take my son to see the FC and show him where I worked before, the one work environment that impacted my identity the most, the one I feel most connected to as it's also part of my alma mater. I was hoping to walk him through its hallways and be able to point at the doors I used to call my office. I was still hoping things could stay the same at least until I'm able to travel the thousands of miles to visit home. 

I think that most migrants have this sentiment, this sort of secret hope in our hearts that no matter how far we've traveled away from home, or how long we've been away, the home we left behind will always somehow stay the same for us, or if not, still at least feel familiar. Beyond reason, our sense of nostalgia overpowers realism, making us hope that things remain somewhat frozen in time, waiting for our return. It's a self-centered view but a delusion that serves a necessary purpose. This is the irrationality in most migrants' memories. I think we need this sense of holding on to the familiar to lessen the angst of no longer fitting in and feeling displaced, not quite knowing what or where 'home' is anymore. Any significant shift in the familiar picture we managed to preserve in our memory becomes highly remarkable and is viewed as a further weakening of our anchor to the place we struggle to still call home.

I'm certain this is part of my grief. It's not just a building lost in a fire and me being deeply sentimental about the past. It's also about having another reminder that things do move on whether we like it or not, with or without us. It's another painful reality check grabbing our shoulders to make it known that 'home' needs a redefinition, one where our hearts no longer need to catch up to what our eyes see. 

The grief I feel over FC's burning may only be a fraction of the grief felt by the current members of the university faculty and staff. But grief is grief. We all experience it differently, but the reality of having something inside of us shatter is all the same and true for each grieving soul.










8 comments:

  1. I can relate to the migrant sentiment. But perhaps unlike before, with the technology of camera phones and the Internets, one can actually see time and change slowly chip off the places and even people we've preserved in our memory. Yet still we hang on, even our senses are constantly fed with images of the change. It is hanging on to the good times, the memories that have made us the people that we are.

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    1. I guess it's a blessing, Didi. Especially being away from family and friends, I just can't imagine if there was no internet and speedier ways to communicate. As people far away from home, I guess we just have to make do with what we have and focus on the good. Thanks so much for your thoughts!

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  2. Oh Joy, I am so sorry for your loss. I am the same way about my hometown. I expect it not to change and then when it does I find myself grieving.

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  3. Oh Joy, I am so sorry for your loss. I am the same way about my hometown. I expect it not to change and then when it does I find myself grieving.

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    1. Thanks, Rena. It's always quite hard but a reality we just need to get used to being far from 'home'. Hugs to you too, my friend. xoxo

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  4. Hi Joy,
    I don't know where my comment went, so I am starting over.
    1. I know Rena and of course Stephanie. I am Janice, Stephanie's friend.
    2. I am so sorry about the fire.
    3. Congratulations on all your awards I see here. Blog Her Influencer!
    Thanks for the visit to my site this week.
    Janice

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    1. Hi Janice! I'm so sorry about your previous comment disappearing. But thanks so much for retyping! Thanks too for your thoughts and congratulations. When I visit the Philippines soon, and see this burnt building face to face, I'm sure the full acceptance will set it. It's great to 'meet' you and I'll be 'seeing' you around, okay! THANK YOU and have a great weekend ahead :-))

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  5. I'm so sorry! And you're right, we always want home to remain the same. And safe...

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