The unofficial group started when my brother and his guy friends noticed a pattern among their female friends: burned by a romantic relationship, the girls would flee to Boracay to recoup and would invariably quit their jobs (and their city life), find work in the island and relocate there. When enough girls from my brother's circle of friends had done this, the boys lumped the girls together and called them A.B.E.R. (pronounced ah-bear).
I recently met one of the group's "pioneers" (the young woman that my brother's friend jokingly pinpointed as my sister's "recruiter") at a restaurant one evening when she had just returned from a trip to India for a Yoga teacher's training at an ashram. Tanned, toned and lithe, the A.B.E.R. grand dame glowed with a luminosity and vitality that I don't get to see very often. She had a lovely smile that she flashed generously, lighting up her pretty face so that my sister and I found ourselves naturally drawn to her like teenage girls to a Topshop store.
When she spoke of her India experience, her voice rang with barely contained excitement and her eyes twinkled (twinkled!) like those of a fairy tale princess talking about the prince she had met at the palace ball. My sister and I were transfixed. I thought, This girl don't look like no escapist to me. If anything, she looked like she went after something, brought it home with her, boiled it, chopped and pureed it, added some mint and honey and crushed ice and, I don't know, drank the stuff. She looked like somebody who was concocting her own life, her own "realidad", and deriving immense pleasure from it. She didn't just take it as it was--she was adding her own flair, making it into a palatable thing for her and was taking it all in, so that there she was in her thin-strapped dress and sandals, brimming with the effect of her own special concoction and inspiring at least two women at the table simply by being her fabulous self. My sister and I couldn't take our eyes off her. For my part, I wanted to fold her up, stuff her in my bag and prop her on my shelf at home.
People who are creating their own life in a way that makes it reflect who they are inside glow with an incandescent quality that stretches out and seems to switch on the light in others. I feel my own light switch on and grow brighter when I'm with such people, many of whom I'm lucky enough to call my friends. And that girl, with her wry humor and refreshing earnestness, did switch on some pretty bright lights in my sister and me that night at the restaurant so that we were glowing like...OK, a couple of scary Jack O' Lanterns. But still.
If there were any lingering doubts in my sister's mind regarding her decision to step off the paved road of her burgeoning fashion design career and walk down one little dirt path just because it looked interesting, that night chatting with the Astigirl erased all of it.
There is always that kind of worry that is reserved for the youngest child who tries to strike out on her own, no matter how much self-sufficiency and level-headedness that child may exhibit. But perhaps because we're so much older now (that sister is 25, hardly a "child")--and my parents have gotten used to us doing what we will, anyway--the worry over my sister's move has been almost imperceptible. Still, it's there. So as an older sister, I'm glad to know she's in Boracay with that Astigirl and driven to the island by reasons that I suspect aren't that different from when the latter left the comfortable familiarity of her own city life years ago.
Perhaps people who up and leave a life that they are used to are escaping reality. But I think it's the "reality" of others--that is, other people's idea of what life is supposed to be and how it's supposed to be lived--that they are actually shedding, so that they can make space for the kind of life, a way of living, that takes into consideration the things that they most value. A life, in other words, that reflects who they really are.
I speak as a proud ate when I say I'm glad to see that my sister is making space for that kind of life now. ;)