What Satisfies the Soul

I look out the huge glass window of the Legazpi Domestic Airport and see passengers queuing to depart for Manila. A lady is in tears. Her right hand is holding a wet handkerchief like the one Veronica used to wipe the face of Jesus; except that the image on her hand was probably the face of someone she loves.

Mayon Volcano sets the one backdrop for these millions of goodbyes. It is our Statue of Liberty. We know we are home when we see her; we know we’re not, when she’s nowhere in sight.

After all the goodbyes of my life, I have never been used to it. Every single goodbye is like a new gash oozing with bright red blood. And I am sure I am not alone.

Someone remarked at the x-ray machine when asked about a bag she brought, “It’s bicol express!” Somehow letting go is a struggle: we know we have to do it, but we still attempt to bring a piece of home with us.

For many Bicolanos, bringing bicol express, pinangat, pilinut candies and other goodies is like having Mayon Volcano wherever they are. I bring with me memories of home-cooked meals. I guess we oftentimes miss food prepared from the heart.

Have you ever wondered why we miss the ones we eat day in and day out? But home-made food, prepared repetitively, has built us. What makes one family different from another are the stories they share and the menu on the table. It is like the mass: we don’t remember every single homily (although some are like bitter herbs), but we do share the same faith stories in the Liturgy of the Word and eat the same Bread of Life in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. No wonder, the Church encourages a simple pattern: from mesa to misa, or vice versa. Either way we experience the same relationship: as a family, and as brothers and sisters.

Okoy will never be the same to me. It is my brother Jayson’s favorite. Okoy is a handful of small shrimps (photo) or bolinao fish, coated in flour, black pepper, chili, salt and deep-fried to a crisp.

My brother-in-law loves kidney beans cooked with pork and thick coconut milk spiked with siling labuyo (bird’s eye chili). To add color, we put moringa or malunggay leaves. But there is a way to cook the beans: you wait for the time when the coconut milk curdles like milk, and the oil has began to come out. You gently mix the beans until it has become soft. Moringa leaves are then added before the wok is taken out of the fire.

Home-made food is enjoyed because memories are attached to it. It is not just the stomach that is satisfied, but the soul.

***

I get on the plane en route to Manila. I take one last glimpse of Mayon and Legazpi City. My seat is 11D and it will be difficult to take another look from the aisle.

As the plane is towed backward, I think of what I am leaving. And I know, a 45-minute flight will never be enough.

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