This little reflection has been a couple weeks coming but, coward and charlatan that I am, I hide behind cliches and poor excuses by saying ‘better late than never’ with a fake lopsided smirk and wink. I’ve been in Manila for a month and a half and to say that I’ve settled in nicely would be true but also glossing over the slow process of ‘settling’ that many take for granted. The image of solids slowly settling to the bottom of a glass, revealing a startling clarity that one doesn’t expect when the murky liquid was first poured in. That’s what I feel now – a startling clarity that was brought about by the most unlikely of sources – a recent British movie about India.
I’m continually surprised by how much that 9-month long stint in India has affected me – it wasn’t life changing per se but it’s provided me with experiences that form a particular frame of reference for and of myself that persists. And so even as I sit in front of a computer, in the the Jesuit residence for international scholastics in Manila, settling into my life as a vowed religious in the Society of Jesus, settling in as a student in Education and Philosophy, I still find myself looking at things from the lens of the Indian experience. I find myself remembering how I struggled to settle down to life in Bangalore some 4 years ago and how it just seemed so much easier…and more difficult easing into life here in the Philippines. Things change yet are the same, are different yet so familiar.
Allow me a short digression. The movie mentioned above is a recent one, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel [Trailer] – a charming story about a group of British retirees moving into a run-down hotel in Jaipur and their discoveries and adventures in the wonderful chaos that is India. I was attracted to the movie by the cast – a veritable who’s who of the older Brit actors and the memory of a reviewer who said that he would be willing to watch the cast read a telephone book. I’m with him on that. But I was drawn by a script that was trite, cliched yet somewhat apopro for me. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve a cliched soul. And I quote:
“Old habits die easier than we think, and new ones form. […] soon I might even grow accustomed to the storm of car horns and vendors. Can there be any other place in the world that is such an assault on the senses? Those who know the country just go about their business, but nothing can prepare the uninitiated for this riot of noise and colour; for the heat, the motion, the perpetual teeming crowds. […] Initially you’re overwhelmed, but gradually you realise it’s like a wave – resist and you’ll be knocked over, dive into it, and you’ll swim up at the other side.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself. Reminding myself how the process happened in India reveals a way of how it’s happening to me now. I was re-reminded of this during Mass today as we were told in the homily that we know things (and God) only through ourselves. We only settle down as we know ourselves within our new contexts better. Taking this circuitious way of seeing how I learned about myself in India shows me how I’m growing to know myself as I seek to live this new life as a Jesuit in the Philippines. I remember telling my new spiritual director how the past months have been a series of transitions that have been both bewildering and immensely exciting. Change has happened and happened in abundance. And I’ve also an equally immense sense of gratitude for the opportunity and ability to move with this change. It’s humbling yet invigorating to see how we can seem to be subject to changes in the world yet powerful enough to effect at least a little change in ourselves as a response to that. And the gratitude is for the grace to see this and move with it. So that we’ll surface at the other side.
I’m beginning to ramble so I’d better leave this post as it stands, incomplete as it is. The glass clears and light comes through. The settling has begun.