As a Pastor’s Kid, I am no stranger to goodbyes. As a five-year old boy, I remember saying goodbye to neighbors and playmates in Dasmarinas, Cavite as my father graduated from the Union Theological Seminary and we moved back to our province in Isabela. I can no longer remember the names of my playmates and our neighbors then. Since then, I’ve experienced constant moving–from one church parsonage to another, from one set of playmates and neighbors to new ones every two years or so.
I don’t really have childhood friends that I still hangout with today. They’ve all been relegated to the dustbins of my past movings, almost forgotten except for the occasional remembrance and passing glance at Facebook. Though we may chat every now and then online, it’s just not the same, we feel the weight of the distant years between us.
My wife, though, has two bestfriends that have stuck with her since Grade School. Last week, they got together for dinner, together with the kids that they now have. Sometimes I wonder what that is like–having a friend who knows you inside out, who could remember every single embarrassing moment of your life, and who would know just by a single glance what you think and how you feel.
But such indulgence isn’t really available for a lot of us, Pastor’s Kids.
Because of such frequent moving from place to place, I’ve often joked with Pastors and Methodist friends that there are two kinds of Pastors’ Kids: the ones who could easily win friends out of strangers within a few days of meeting each other. The other kind, which I think I fell into, tend to be reclusive, preferring to conserve their emotional energies, refusing to invest in relationships, because in their minds, these friendships will not last anyway. We will move again within a year, or two, so why bother?
It is with the latter mindset that I found myself writing the following poem on the eve of moving from yet another church parsonage that we stayed at. My father became the Pastor of a church in San Mateo, Isabela for two years and we had to move again. I wrote this poem back in 2004, and I could remember how I felt from the moving.
Moving to Our Tenth House in Twenty Years
Heavy boxes slide on the floor—
essential things accumulated over
the years. Empty now
are the shelves, lockers and cabinets.
of filling this space—of people living
in this seeming fortress near the church
with broken bell tower.
The weeds are tall around
the house—taller than the weeds
that litter the yard of the church
with the broken bell tower.
The plants sit quiet in front of the parsonage—
they endured the sun, they reveled
by the waters
from the sky, enjoyed the kisses
of the dew. Now
they shall be moved:
to a place they never knew.
The colors leave
this house today.
how can the trees be moved? They refuse
to leave though they want to. They cannot
unless they are cut
down to the roots.
Cabinets and chairs, the washing machine and the fridge,
the tables and racks, dividers—all
lined up on the lawn, waiting
impatiently for yet another moving—
and this is not the final one—
just a part of a tired routine,
endless moving, never setting
down on a single place for a long time.
It goes on, we move,
we arrive, only to move
again and again to another place. Today we shall arrive
to another house—
beside a church—
never our own.
* * * * *
I no longer share the maudlin and jaded tone of me speaking in the poem. You could say that I have moved on; that I have accepted my fate as a Pastor’s Kid, and now, as a mobile Filipino. The fear of investing emotionally in relationships has faded through the years. I have friends I love and would sorely miss. For that, I have the United Methodist Youth Fellowship to thank. I’ve met friends throughout the years, and I’ve learned how to tone down my introversion.
But the past two weeks, we’ve been saying goodbye to lots of family and friends.
Mostly, we’ve been eating dinner with them, or enjoying coffee, conversing with our usual conversations, and except for scattered questions about transitions, and adjusting to another country and culture, you wouldn’t really know that we are about to move halfway around the world and part with these beloved friends. We didn’t really shed tears. Neither did we reminisce of the past with deep sighs and feelings of regrets.
Maybe the pain of parting had been blunted by Facebook and Social Media. Because when we see each other’s updates, it can feel as if we are together, that we aren’t really separated, except for the time zone and the interval of likes and replies.
Or maybe, as adults, we feel that physical parting is no longer as painful, because we know in our hearts that true connections are difficult to erase, that the love of friends and family could stay on, even if thousands of kilometers separate us.
Along the way, how I know my friends will be frozen in time. After a year, a decade, we all evolve into different persons: we’ll still be the same people, essentially, but with new experiences, new memories, and new stories that we will no longer be part of. But that’s just the way life works. I still suck at goodbyes, after all these years, and after all those moving from one parsonage to another.
As I post this, I just arrived in Nashville, together with my wife and my son, eager to start a new life. And when I meet my friends again sometime in the future, I will have loads of stories to share with them, and they with me.