Bahal[a(n) na] / by Anna Li

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This morning, I woke up while it was still dark and quiet, drank a cup of black coffee while sitting on my two suitcases in my kitchen, and drove to the airport. Today, I am beginning my journey to live in the Philippines for six months, where I will be teaching English at a high school in the mountains and working on a storytelling project in the Ikalahan community.

Out of the few phrases of Tagalog that I’ve learned, I keep thinking back to this one phrase: bahala na. Bahala na is a fatalistic Filipino mindset that translates to “leave it up to God.” It expresses the idea that all things shall pass and meanwhile life is to be lived. This phrase has been explained as a more passive, indifferent tone than a consoling one. When something inconvenient happens, one blog explains the phrase’s use as essentially the equivalent of “Whatever,” in an Alicia-Silverstone-Clueless kind of manner.

Maybe I have not learned enough of the language to earn this phrase, but I approach it from a different angle. I have a tendency to quote too many poets, but I can’t help but be reminded of Robert Frost’s words when he said, “Everything that I have learned about life I can summarize in three words: it goes on.” Those words carry the kind of truth that makes you ache, that life is somehow both tragic and beautiful because of its transience. We occupy a liminal space for a breath, and all we can do is make some small, good from the plots we have been given.

In all honesty, I begin this journey already hitting a wall of the uncertain and the unexpected. I did not expect to be placed in the Philippines or in a rural context. I certainly did not anticipate my supervisor passing away or for my internship to be put on hold until a week ago. All of this happened and I did not know how all of it would fall into place—I still do not in some ways. But even in the midst of everything in flux, I cannot help but feel certain that this is right, and this will be okay, and life will carry on regardless of what happens. All I can do—in some ways, the most humbling and difficult thing to do—is surrender and say, “leave it up to God,” even if I do not know how all the pieces will fit together yet. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Here’s to a rich, adventure-filled six months. Bahala na.

-A