My Love (and Goodbye) Letter to Baguio

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Two years ago I had given everything up to be with you. I had a good career in Manila and was thriving in multiple fields. I was doing what I loved and more- a life that most people would normally envy. But to be with you, I chose to give up everything, to explore what you had to give, to complete a part of me that at that time, seemed to be missing. Newness always excites me, and oddly, so does familiarity. You are both old and new, urban and the rustic, familiar and unfamiliar. You are both the smell of pine and vehicular smoke, both verdant and a motley of colors, both silent and cacophonic. I fell in love with your paradox and that was enough to convince me to give up the life I carefully built and start anew. It was a trade-off that I don’t regret. I was in many ways, like you; with you, my eccentricity and hybridity made sense. You offer a world in which I thought I would finally fit in. It was through you that I felt I was important because I am the only living gift of my parents to the world. This makes me want to live a richer and more meaningful life. You made it possible for me to reconnect with my roots and my family; to feel my father alive again in all the places he lived in you. With security and certainty, I found the place I can call my home. Now I feel safe. I am with a family who gives love that I don’t have to qualify or compete for, love that warrants nothing in return. This sort of thing purifies and redeems even the most jaded of people. I reconnected with family who accepts me for who I am, entirely.

It was through you that I got to train alongside the best yet most humble athletes in the country, even if I thought I didn’t deserve it. I met the most amazing people who gave themselves completely to what they do; great people who still manage to remain human, real, and forgiving to the flaws of the world because no matter how successful they are, they recognize that they are still, like everyone else, works in progress. These people work relentlessly to inspire and pave the way for others to succeed. Everyone in the team contributes to helping each one achieve his/her full potential and this is the reason why I resolve to be even more humble and grounded, to stick to the same work-ethic and help lift people up the way to the top. I learned that the most important thing, more than success, dreams or false morality, is that we treat everyone like human beings, no matter who or what they are.  I met a few but real friends who chose me without reason and consequence. The last months with you was agonizing but you made them bearable by bringing me to a place where I got to know amazing and intelligent teachers- true colleagues who encourage an environment of growth and learning. I also got the opportunity to teach students who are good kids brimming with potential. Both these are precious and are not always present in all learning institutions.

However, the Janus-faced reality is that beauty will only exist with ugliness and evil. This cannot be more true than in the “classical” music or whatever you call the world you built. I can and will make such claim that you allowed some people to bastardize a pure art form. It was, historically and fundamentally based on the principles of beauty and truth. Yet you allowed people to use it and make it a reflection of who they are:  selfish, righteous, ignorant and egoistic. Here’s the thing- classical music should never, ever be about the person; not the composer, teacher nor performer. The life of the person is inessential. Music- what you hear, see or feel is ultimately what matters. I realized that no matter where I go, there will still be people who think they have the moral high ground to finger wag and shame others; people who have absolutely nothing good in them that they would fight and spend their lives pulling other people down desperately just because they do not have the talent, intelligence, and sensibility to rise and make the most of who they are. Mediocrity almost always exists alongside hypocrisy; little people are little because they are shaped by their view of the world. Success- the hard work, passion, talent, and struggle that comes with it will never make sense to those who have never experienced it. Even if you give people a chance to get out of their bubble, their environment- the people and institutions that shaped them and the city that molded them will almost always dictate the size of their dreams.

Baguio, it is also through you that I fell in love again, deeply.  But again, you taught me how easily we can lose love. The kind of love I know does not own or coerce. People do not exist for us to possess and the best kind of love is the love that does not thrive in fear. The truth is that love should not be contrived nor should it turn people to someone they’re not. To be authentic, love must be reciprocal; must be given freely and without conditions. No matter how much love and kindness we give, we cannot save anyone. The universe will ultimately decide who is and isn’t for us. I had to fight from a place of disadvantage. I didn’t think I won, well, nobody did. But I guess I can say I fought hard, and being a martial artist, I can only be proud of the fact that I know I fought with all my heart. I know when the fight is over and when it’s time to hang my gloves and spit my mouth guard out.

This is your most important message: You cannot heal me and put me together. All you can do is teach. I’m leaving you now because no matter how much love and pain you brought me, this is not the time for us. I still call you my home, where I can find rest and solace whenever I feel tired from flying. I need to be back to the place where I was initially planted and nurtured. Manila, my second home, is where I can put my wings to use and chase the dreams that I have for myself. This place brings out the worst and the best in people. It makes even the most timid have the balls to live a rough and ready life. Manila defines the part of me that is difficult to love-  gritty, tough, flawed, and fearlessly alive. The two years with you was revelatory; I do not have to “fit in” anywhere to be accepted. It is because of you that the next person I will love will have the “me” that is whole, the one who isn’t trying to escape or find a part of herself. I leave you now, Baguio, my love, demystified, whole, purified and grateful that I got to see a glimpse of the life I would have had. You made it possible for me to come to terms with the fact that what I had been looking for- my roots, my identity, had been inside me all along.

(Rica Olivar Aquino is a violinist, writer, music researcher and martial artist. She dreams of bringing more awareness and appreciation to Cordillera music and culture through research and education. She also aspires to strengthen the understanding and performance of varied Filipino art and musical forms- indigenous, classical and modern, in order for the youth to use them to express and define themselves.)

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