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11 April, 2006
"I Left My Heart There"
At a family gathering, I struck a conversation with an elderly man who spent most of his life in the Philippines. It didn't take long for him to warm up to me, as we both relished conversing with a newfound friend.
He regaled me with stories of his past. As a young man, he expressed his sentiments to women in song. He serenaded them on moonlit nights as was the custom at the time, singing romantic ballads called kûndímân. He even sang a few of them for me, his voice gentle and soothing, the lyrics recalling a time when life was simple and sweet.
"You must have been quite the charmer in those days," I said.
"Not at all, I was very shy. I only pursued one lady until she said yes. We've been married now for 50 years," he answered, as he looked over where his wife was and smiled.
He raised his children by fishing in the lake near his village. He learned to read the waters and the sky to foretell storms, and tell time by looking at the stars. Music was his only companion on those solitary trips when he rowed his small boat, singing how perseverance always paid off.
And pay off it did for him. Through hard work, all five children finished college and became successful professionals. One of them migrated to the United States and it is with her that he and his wife live now.
"It was hard living here at first," he said. "I miss the old country so much, but through the years I have made some friends. Elderly couples like my wife and me. We go to Mass together every Sunday and have breakfast afterwards."
"Would you like to go back to the Philippines?"
"Oh yes," he said wistfully. "It's the land of my birth. It's where I want to spend my last days. I left my heart there".
He had a faraway look in his eyes when he spoke. That very moment, I knew he was where he wanted to be.
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