HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes
Sunday, October 28, 2007
To be able to be unhurried when hurried;
To be able not to slack off
When relaxed; to be able not to be
Frightened and at a loss for what to
Do when frightened and at a loss;
This is the learning that returns us
To our natural state and
Transforms our lives. — Liu Wenmin (early 16th century)
I can still feel it. I may be 56 but I have not forgotten what it was like being in my 20s. It doesn’t seem too long ago when my mates and I were as sharp as knives, our bodies taut and ready to spring on the world at a moment’s notice. When we heard the clarion call of youth and juvenile thrills loud and clear and almost always answered it. We could stay out partying every night, drink and smoke and feel none the less for wear.
No challenge was too scary when we were in our 20s. While our minds comprehended that there was danger in the world we should be worrying about, emotionally, we believed in our hearts that nothing, not even death, would befall us. Death and disaster were things that happened to other people.
Even if I had classmates who died early in high school due mainly to sickness, and while I prayed for them, I never felt their death was proof that I would also die someday. My youth enveloped me with some sort of Teflon of invincibility, which also made me believe that I would be young forever. Aging was something that happened to other people, but not to me.
Even when I already had my three kids, I still felt that I belonged to the youth demographic. I believed, and in many ways I still do, that this is my world and I still want to participate in it.
In many ways, my youth has not left me. I still dive head-on in pursuit of new things and experiences. I still wear my heart on my sleeve quite often. Many will say that I am crazy to have moved to another country in my 50s. While I knew the perils of uprooting and taking on a new country and culture at my age, after weighing everything, I came to the decision that I would rather be a foolish old man than spend the rest of my life speculating on, or worse, regretting how things would have been if I hadn’t done what I wanted to do.
There are people I know who resonate with this boldness (some would call it recklessness and abandon) which I indulge in occasionally. One of them is the esteemed writer Gilda Cordero Fernando. I first met Gilda seven or eight years ago, and we immediately hit it off. We sensed in each other a kindred spirit. I remember once at lunch when she asked me what the Seventies were like for me. How wild was it? Was it really all about sex and drugs? As I narrated crazy experiences I had during that era, she was wide-eyed, not with shock, but with the excitement of a teenager listening attentively.
Gilda, who is already so accomplished and esteemed, even in her senior age still has books to write and dreams to pursue. She is forever young.
There is also Mariel Francisco, another person I admire for changing careers in her 40s and for her boldness to question the most fundamental beliefs she grew up with. I have learned a lot from her after spending countless hours with her in book clubs and discussion groups. People like Gilda and Mariel have auras much younger, more alive and more sprightly than their actual ages. They exude a sense of the possible that is more common among much younger people.
Ironically there are some young ones, at least age-wise, whose auras exude just the opposite. They communicate not openness but blockages, or at least, a sense of very little possibilities. Only in their 20s, they express a rigidity that is found mostly among the elderly who have lived long and bitter lives, who got old never getting to live the lives they wanted. These “young people” hold on to opinions and conclusions about life like they have been around forever and have seen enough to be dogmatic about it. So young and so set in their ways.
While I know where they are coming from (since I went through such a stage for a while), I still pity them. They are the ones who prove the truism that youth is wasted on the young. Too full of their own opinions, they fear letting go of them because they are uncomfortable with the emptying needed for new experiences to come in. They cling tightly to their biases, seeming to come from a place of contraction. They fear new ideas, or the prospect of changing their preferences or their core values for new ones that will make them expand more.
But what can we really expect of the young? In their hurry to be adults, they tend to overdo it, and while they let new ideas come in and embrace them, they form their opinions and sadly close their minds too soon. When Georges Clemenceau, the former French Premier, found out that his son had joined the Communist Party, his reaction was not only surprising for a man of his political stature, but wise. “My son is 22 years old,” he said. “If he had not become a Communist at 22, I would have disowned him. If he is still a Communist at 30, I will do it then!”
I have also observed that many older people, in their fear of aging, tend to cling to their youth by blindly emulating everything young. They have their bodies and faces ‘Belo-ed not just once but many times, and submit to rigorous treatments of all sorts so they look younger than their real age. All this puffing up is not for me. I will dye my hair occasionally, but that’s about as far as I will go.
While I tend to live and let live, it can look pathetic when one is not comfortable in one’s own skin. But it is hard to pass judgment on this since the world seems to tell old people that it is a crime to age.
The world, especially the youth, is the big loser when the seniors in our society are pressured to deny their own status in order to feel relevant. This way, they withhold the gifts that life has taught them from being passed on to the young who could certainly learn from them. This is the bane that we baby boomers have unwittingly inflicted on the world. In our fixation to celebrate our children and give them every material opportunity to live life fully, we have encouraged a cult of youth even as we have abandoned our introspection about our own aging.
This very world we crafted for our children has now relegated us to the periphery; we are becoming increasingly irrelevant. While the chasm between generations has been there forever, I believe that these days, the gap is greater than ever. But it does not have to be this way.
The answer lies in awareness, and in celebrating the ever present joy that was with us at the onset of our lives and will be there when we breathe our last. This is the joy of timeless spirit that does not age, that makes itself known to anyone who bothers to be conscious of it. It is the joy that continuously makes us feel expansive, just as the universe that houses us is expanding. It is the glue that connects us to everything.
This joy has no exclusivity. Anyone can access it. It is the ticket to being constantly relevant and participative in the world, regardless of how old or young we are.
Many people may feel that the world belongs to the young. I say it belongs to those who live it consciously.