On becoming an adult

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated September 25, 2016 – 12:00am

Often, we look at children and wish they would never grow up. They seem perfect as they are — cute, lovable, with innocence so pure you wish you could protect them from the world so that they remain so forever. We want them kept safe from the turmoil and tribulations of life. We wish it could be possible. But life is not meant to be lived that way.

Every grown-up has a clear memory of when and how their innocence was broken, when their childhood came to an end. We have all experienced that primal pain of being kicked out of Paradise and thrown into the circumstances of our own space and time, our own reality with all its pain and suffering.

I lost a chunk of my innocence at age five when my dad died in a plane crash. Many more events happened after that which made going back to Eden an impossibility.

Something had to “break” us to drive us out of our safe cocoons and force us to be vulnerable to pain. Today, as a much older person, I can say that this is the only way. Otherwise, what gifts we were born with will never come to fruition.

Childhood is a magical place. We all have some good and bad childhood memories. But this stage doesn’t last too long. It gets rougher especially when we inch into adolescence. The teen years escalate our angst and insecurities as we evolve into grown-ups.

But being grown-up does not necessarily mean being an adult. We may look like adults because of the size and development of our bodies, and because we have reached a certain age. But in truth, adulthood requires so much more from us. One of the things it requires is control over our selves. There is an entire range of emotions we must rein in and/or indulge when needed. We also must learn to delay gratification and get socialized, meaning we must learn to live as productive, peaceful, law-abiding and generally good individuals, parents, citizens, bread earners, members of the community and the society we live in.

We must learn important traits like compassion, decisiveness and discernment. There are also lessons like accountability, grasping complexity, humility and the taming of our ego from the autocracy of our infantile stage to a more functional one that does not sabotage our intentions. Many leaders make mistakes when they cannot control their insecurities and their toxic need to have their egos massaged.

Adulthood is about being in control of oneself, and making conscious, well-thought-out decisions that affect others aside from ourselves and taking responsibility for them.

I am in awe of how the most powerful man on earth, Barack Obama, can stay calm and focused and do his job well without being ruffled or intimidated by the cruel politics, crises and problems he must deal with every day, and how he can still manage to smile and stay inspired and inspiring. When he deals with his adversaries, it often seems like he is the only adult in the room.

The modern-day philosopher Ken Wilber wrote that every man must learn to balance and manage five areas of his life. These are: money (earning, spending, saving and being trustworthy and honest, living within one’s means); career or work (knowledge, learning, passion, reliability); bodily intake (food, drugs, alcohol, substances that affect physical, mental health); inner work (character building, self-control, spirituality, esthetic appreciation); and relationships (love, sex, obsession, affection, fidelity, compassion).

Most people are weak in one area but are functional in the rest, which is, generally, still manageable. But when we fail at two or more areas at the same time, our lives become too dysfunctional and we need intervention.

If, for the most part, we can handle all five areas at the same time, one might say we have reached a high level of adulthood.

Everyone goes through the childhood phase, and if we don’t die early, we grow up. But not everyone who grows up becomes an adult. Just look around and observe many grown-ups and older people.

So what happens when we get to old age and have not reached the level of adulthood? I am not a psychologist but I see people as either happy or unhappy.

What I observe is this: Grown-ups and old people who have not learned the ways of adulthood become trapped in an unhappy life of their own making, pulled and pushed aimlessly by unsettled personal issues, and uncontrolled emotional outbursts. Where they should have generally made peace with their past and present, they have unexplained bursts of anger, regret, bitterness and a feeling of being lost in a largely unexamined life. They are cynical and angry and often lash out at the world without realizing that in order to control the world, one must first have some degree of self-control.

On the other hand, there are people who seem happy, calm, who have grown in wisdom, age and grace. They have the passion to do things and dreams to accomplish, even at an older age. They are not lacking in purpose. Every day, they discover new meanings and connections that make their lives richer. They have a calm, cool and serene way about them, too.

More importantly, they have a great sense of self-acceptance. They can move on from the past and are at peace and accepting of who they are in the present. They can move on when they commit mistakes and look back at their blunders and folly and embrace them as teachable moments.

It is not easy being an adult. It takes conscious and deliberate inner work. But not achieving adulthood as one gets older guarantees an infinitely more difficult life.

As we age, we realize more and more that we are spending more time alone. We might as well start growing up and learning how to be good, pleasant company.

God’s neatest trick

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated September 18, 2016 – 12:00am

I have attended four wakes since last Sunday.

As one ages, the rate of deaths within one’s circle increases — slowly at first, and then it accelerates as one gets older. But even at age 65, four wakes in one week is pretty much. And as I write, I am told there is still another wake I have to go to tonight. A classmate died of dengue.

The first wake was of a good friend’s mom. She had been sick for some eight years, most of which she spent on life support. Several times in the past, when she was on the brink, the family decided to resuscitate her. For years, she had not spoken and could not even recognize her relatives anymore. Cared for by nurses, she had hardly any engagement with anyone else.

Surprisingly, when she passed away, my friend’s family still went into shock. Even if, at the back of their minds, they expected her to die any moment, the actual moment and the reality of death still caught them off-guard. My friend felt helpless and did not know what to do. It took two days for him to grasp and accept the reality that he had lost his mother.

The second wake was that of comedienne Joy Viado who was in the same mortuary as my friend’s mother. I met Joy more than two decades ago when she auditioned for and got a slot in a performance scholarship program put up by OPM (Organisasyon ng Pilipinong Mang-aawit) for unknown artists. I remember how even when she was new and raw, she was quite funny. She had already honed her performance instincts. Joy suffered from complications due to diabetes, which led to a stroke.

I thought about how relatively young she was. There is no rhyme or reason that explains when someone’s time is up.

On my way out, I saw that another friend’s sister was also interred in a room on the second floor. The circumstances leading to the death of this woman were tragic, macabre even. She died of gunshot wounds in what looks like an execution, an extrajudicial killing. She was left for dead complete with a cardboard sign that claimed she was a pusher.

I entered the room and immediately saw my friend whom I have worked with on acting jobs in teleseryes. I hugged her, expressing my condolences. I tried to imagine how hard it must be to lose a sister under such painful and demeaning circumstances. When she narrated how it happened, I could sense that she was trying to be objective but her rage and sadness shook her composure. It was with great effort that she succeeded in finishing her story. I did not stay long. I hugged her again, whispered comforting words and left.

On another day, I went to visit the wake of the father of a close friend in another mortuary. The scene was more pleasant. The room was big and the chairs and sofas were spread out to look more like a big comfortable living room. There were clusters of chairs surrounding low tables, perfect for entertaining the different groups of people who visited.

My friend’s dad died after heart surgery. He actually struggled hard to keep alive and at times the doctors felt that he would actually make it. But suddenly, like a thief in the night, death came and snuffed out his life.

The love of family was everywhere. Happy pictures and video clips of him singing and playing with his children and grandchildren were shown. The conversation was light, even cheerful, as family members talked with their guests about their dad. Even as my friend said that losing her dad was devastating, she could smile and even giggle as she reminisced over fond memories of her father.

Death is probably the biggest event in anyone’s life. Even while it is inevitable, it almost always comes as a shock to loved ones. And where one goes is an uninsured mystery.

I have always thought of death as the neatest trick God has ever done. For the living, it is one of the greatest mysteries. The questions we ask about death are among what the Buddhists call the “imponderables.”

Billions of people have died yet no one has come back to say what is out there after the great passing. For the one who dies, it is the final, much-awaited unraveling of that mystery.

Philosophies and religions have their takes on what comes after death. But no empirical, scientific evidence has been found to tell us what to expect.

It is only faith that can convince one that there is an afterlife, even if many do not need persuading. As for me, the lack of proof notwithstanding, I believe that in death, we graduate to a different plane, sphere or level of being. I am not sure how to describe it but I know that the before and after of the short life we live is book-shelved by eternity. We have existed from the beginning of time and will continue to do so after death.

Life is that brief moment in our specific time and space where we can accomplish our mission.

Death ends time and space on earth. But I believe that we were already in timelessness before birth and will continue to be there after life as we know it has ended.

Keep the light burning

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated September 4, 2016 – 12:00am

Last Monday, I went to my old school, the Ateneo de Manila, where I joined a gathering in front of the Church of Gesu. We were there in response to a call for prayers for the victims of martial law, and for the Supreme Court to be guided in its decision on the President’s plan to bury Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Similar gatherings were also held in different places in the country.

As I was praying with the crowd, I noticed that there were very few people my age who were present. The crowd was composed mostly of young people, students from Ateneo and nearby Miriam College, as well as seminarians, priests and teachers, most of them millennials.

That gave me a feeling of hope. Here they were present, even if they had no direct experience of martial law. I smiled, pleased that these young people had taken it upon themselves to become educated about the past and speak out in shaping the future they want.

After a short prayer, we lighted candles and walked somberly in procession, singing church songs. It was getting dark. It was windy, too. We were having a hard time keeping the candles lit. In my mind, I was asking myself if the flames flickering out was an ominous sign. Were we destined to fail? But I also asked myself what it meant that we kept lighting our candles again and again — which probably spoke more truth about the people involved. In this time of darkness, we were doing our best to keep the light going. I felt hopeful.

While the procession was going on, the names of Ateneans who were killed during the dark days of military rule were broadcast through a megaphone. We prayed for each one of them. I teared up when I heard the names of people I knew, classmates, fellow students on campus in the Seventies. The names Manny Yap, Jun Celestial, Billy Begg and Edgar Jopson brought back a flood of memories of campus life when many of our college classes became sit-ins, venues for discussion on the relevance of our education, and what it ought to be.

It was a time of anger and confusion. Things were changing rapidly. Many of us were not the students our parents expected us to be. We dreamed a different future. We were adopting different values. Many of us were either hippies or activists, or both. We were rebellious and we questioned everything.

We walked along the campus road leading to Gate 3. It was a short 10 to 15 minutes until we reached a little corner near the pedestrian overpass where we stopped. Outside our circle was Katipunan Avenue with cars passing by, oblivious to what we were doing. We said more prayers. By this time, all our candles were lit.

It was a nostalgic moment for me. I have attended many mass actions before. This one felt different for so many reasons. There were more young people than old. They were the organizers and leaders of the event. I felt my age creeping in, not because the procession was tiring. It was not. While I felt hope, I also felt sadness that decades after we got rid of martial law, Marcos is still imposing himself on us with his family’s insistence on giving him a hero’s burial at LNMB.

What a disgrace! What infamy! While we have moved forward in so many ways, our politics is still so dysfunctional that an issue such as this can dominate the headlines and derail us from the gains we have made since EDSA.

We Filipinos have always had a problem with our heroes. Since the days of the Katipunan, we have managed to turn a blind eye to the cads, traitors and villains who have ruined our lives. We always seem to be oblivious to truth and indecisive in dealing with the traitors in our historical struggles.

After EDSA, we also fell short in dispensing justice to the thieves, unrepentant cronies and killers of the Marcos regime. We simply allowed them to return after a brief exile in order to stage their social, political and financial comebacks.

That night, as we gathered, I prayed that the emerging millennial leaders will be more decisive and courageous in correcting the historical injustices in our society.

In a few days, the Supreme Court will decide on the issue of Marcos’ burial. If the justices decide to allow the burial at the LNMB, we know that we must do more to ensure that our interpretation of history prevails. We mustn’t stop. The candle may be snuffed out, but only momentarily. We just have to keep lighting it again and again and continue the march.

Such is the call of vigilance, the prize of which is truth and justice.