Watch Me Entertain Myself!

Sacha Guitry once said, "You can pretend to be serious, but you can't pretend to be witty." Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.
(pilot episode: 20 January 2004)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Those Were The “Days”

Back in high school, Days With The Lord (DWTL, or “Days” as we fondly called it) was this two-day retreat that started Friday evening and ended around Sunday late afternoon (just in time for the students to join their families for dinner).

There’s an activity held on the first night, usually done when all of the retreatants are asleep, when each and every retreatant is surreptitiously snatched from his sleeping mat and treated like a hostage. Blindfolded, he is assaulted by two or three “interrogators” who ask him questions about his faith, specifically on his relationship with Kuya Jess (the moniker for Jesus, designed to make Him more familiar and closer to us retreatants). The purpose, which they will explain to you the morning after, is simple. Using terror tactics, the “interrogators” are supposed to make the retreatant realize how Kuya Jess has done so much for him; then the retreatant will show just how much chastised he is for being oblivious to Kuya’s love by shouting at the top of his lungs: “Basta ikaw, Lord!” Aside from being chastised, the shouting of “Basta ikaw, Lord!” is also a form of commitment to Kuya, that from here on the retreatant will live his life as God wills it. It is such a powerful, all-encompassing commitment that the DWTL have transformed its acronym “B.I.L.” into a tagline. That’s Jesus Marketing 101 for you, guys.

Hah. I was never the usual consumer.

* * * * *

Hands shook me awake. While still half-dazed, I felt a hand clap onto my mouth while other hands pulled me up and out of the classroom that served as our bedroom for the retreat. As soon as we were outside the room, they blindfolded me and rushed me along the corridors.

They whispered into my ear: “Shhh!” “Wag kang mag-iingay!” and “Bilis, dali!” But I also heard one stray whisper amongst themselves: “Huy, siya yan, siya yan.”

You see, the year before my older brother and three other batch mates of his took the DWTL in an affiliate school because they were tasked to revive it in our high school. So everyone knew my brother for being with the pioneer batch—Batch 0. I knew being related to a more popular older brother would come in handy for me. Still, I wonder what they would do to me, why they dragged me out of bed.

Eventually they sat me down and took off the blindfold. We were at the edge of the grade three wing, on top of a hill overlooking the football field below. It was dark; no one else was there. They were around three guys, all of them standing behind me so that I can’t see their faces. I couldn’t recognize their voices either.

To keep me off-balanced they threw questions fast and furious, peppered with curses and threats. The latter was to make sure that the retreatant had no time to rationalize what was happening; everything was designed to be an emotional experience, so that the result will be cathartic. The questions were about my faith, family and friends, all hitting close to home in an effort to make me realize how I can take loved ones for granted, all leading up to the grand conclusion: how much I take Kuya Jess for granted.

When that was finally revealed to me, something inside my head just clicked. You see, my “interrogators” did not know the following about me: [1] For years now, I’ve been teaching my mind to be in control of my heart, because I was afraid that my emotions will betray me and expose my gay longings (yes, in high school I was still hoping that my homosexuality was just a phase; I was not yet ready to fully embrace who I was); [2] I hate—no, detest—being forced to do something; in my mind, there’s always at least one other option or choice.

And perhaps their biggest mistake was this: thanks to having a more popular older brother, I was treated with kid gloves. Instead of being off-balanced, I quickly figured out that I was not in any danger at all, despite their threats. Instead of being fearful, I was able to think things through. And instead of focusing on Kuya, I focused on the process.

So when I finally saw through their act, I knew that they spectacularly failed with me. I summoned the actor in me and cried out in my loudest, sorriest voice, “Basta ikaw, Loooooooord!”

And when they clapped and congratulated me afterwards while leading me back to the room, I felt triumphant and empty.

And instead of leading me back to the Lord (well, it actually did, for a few days), the retreat made me long more for B, my biggest crush since he first entered my life in my second year in high school. He was a year below me; the following year, he too joined DWTL. That made me fearless to tell him, “I love you, B” without him suspecting that I wanted more than just a platonic, brotherly love.

* * * * *

Looking back now, I realize that I was not ready for that kind of an experience. I was too rational and too proud of that capability to let go and just feel. I was also too scared of my emotions and the exquisite pain of falling in love—at that time I only fell for straight guys so my experience of love was always unrequited.

Yet ironically, Days With The Lord gave me the courage to fall more for B. Instead of just feeling brotherly love, I fell in love with my brother. Days made me one of the Gays with the Lord.


rudeboy said...

"Hah. I was never the usual consumer."

Heh. I was waiting for this.

I never could figure out the Dazers. But then again, that's faith for you.

Also, I just realized Kuya Jess preceded the Buddy Christ. Except his initials spell out KJ.

And yes, another Sunday well-spent for me.

paci said...

and so it was effective because you became a beter person. =)

Ming Meows said...

buti na lang, walang teaching sa retreat na being gay is a sin.

Fickle Cattle said...

Reminds me of frat initiations. Hmmm. Also, interesting post Joel.

Peter said...

'Gay with the Lord' -- shouldn't that be the case?

Kiks said...

Gay with the Lord would have been a more sellable tagline.

Sadly, them straights are the only consumables in an all-boys high school.

Er, sadly?

AMR said...

'that day was the start of new beginning, a more renewed person today. Reading the last paragraph it is not late to say Yes to HIM.

Anonymous said...

Over time, I've come to appreciate how genuine and inspiring other moments of that weekend were, but my initial impression of that 1st night BIL/ fake kidnapping/ interrogation crap still stands many years later -- contrived and devoid of any spiritual truth -- at least for me personally. Just goes to show you I guess that we all have different paths to finding God.

Rei Mikazuki said...

This seems a rather nice (and unique!) experience. Our retreats kasi usually involved sharing and all that crying stuff, but this is really out-of-the-box.

Wonder how it feels being tortured? >_<;