HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes
The Philippine STAR 04/29/2007
Last week, the APO did a show in Mississauga near Toronto, Canada where I appeared onstage with a head of salt and pepper — okay, almost all white — hair. The Misa genes inherited from my mother gave us Paredes sibs premature gray hair. I have been dyeing my hair a dark shade of brown since my 30s, but I let it grow back to white in the past three months because at this point in my life, I finally can enjoy the naturalness of it. Besides, it goes with my status as a grandfather of a four-year-old.
As we were going around promoting the show before concert night, I could tell that people were talking about how much older I had gotten since the last time they saw me, obviously because of my white head of hair. It does not really bother me that much even if it causes a minor commotion among fans of APO who seem to be shocked that we have aged. Sometimes I think people expect us to be frozen in time, even as they themselves grow older.
After much internal debate, three days ago, I succumbed and went to the parlor to have my hair dyed back to the brown-black color that people are used to just to make it easier for our audience to concentrate on our performance and not speculate about how much older we had gotten. We have five more shows to do in the next three weeks and I don’t want anything to stand in the way of our music.
Looking back, as a young person many years ago, I used to think of aging as maturing intellectually. In theory, people grow old. I knew that. But my appreciation of it was conceptual. In other words, it was something that happened only to other people. It was almost impossible for me — an impetuous, vain, young man — to imagine that the day would come when I, too, would grow older.
It was hard to imagine aging while my body was supple and strong and my shoulder-length hair was swaying with the wind. As a young person then, I could stay up as many nights as I wanted and just collapse into sleep when I needed to, pretty much the way my son Mio does now. My body was made to party.
There were no diets, no restrictions to what I could do with my body. Maintaining it was simple. I ate when hungry, slept when tired, and looked for non-stop activities to expend energy when I was awake.
It seemed not too long ago when my body, in all its narcissistic glory, felt invincible and immortal. Death was, like aging, something that happened to other people. There was no such thing as mortal danger. There were only adventures and kicks to indulge in and live through and talk about later. I was young and that was eternal, or so it seemed.
Life as a young man was certainly more about the thrills that hormonal highs and adrenalin rushes bombarded my body with constantly than about the delights and mysteries that my neo-cortex discovered and began experiencing in my early 40s.
At the onset of my 40s, one of the things I noticed was my eyesight seeming to blur, and all too suddenly. I was always proud of my 20/20 vision and waking up every day to notice the deterioration was quite upsetting. The wrinkles, the thinning hair, a few aching joints and the noticeable slowing down of my body became obvious soon after. And so it goes.
In the showbiz workplace, the term kuya, which the younger stars used to address us with, had been replaced with tito. A few years later, it has now become “Sir Jim.” I guess that sort of puts me in the category of “kagalang-galang at matanda.”
But paradoxically, in my 50s, I feel younger than when I was in my 20s. As a young man then, I was too full of myself to really appreciate the implications of even my own parents’ aging, much less anything that did not concern me directly. I was too constricted and opinionated to get outside my own narcissism and embrace the world and others.
I was also too scared, or maybe just too self-conscious, to really go for what life had to offer. I was too cynical and too negative to see the opportunities that presented themselves for me to pursue. The beautiful body-machine I possessed was controlled by the ego’s demands, and my ego was too much of a segurista. Who was it that lamented how youth is wasted on the young?
I was probably not the worst case of negativism and narcissism in my generation, but still, I feel I missed out on a lot. Since I thought I already knew everything, I did not bother to try many other things.
Now, as an older person, I have learned to let go of the many fears and guilt that spoiled what could have been numerous opportunities for joy, growth and happiness in the past. I am more forgiving of myself, and as a result, of others as well. I also feel less uptight and opinionated. I am even learning to appreciate people and points of views that I readily condemned before. In fact, I find myself embracing many of them now.
And this newfound joy and liberation, ironic as it seems, is the gift that comes with aging. Advancing years and the body pains it brings have made me more awake and responsive to life. While I may feel the limitations aging has imposed on this body, it has also given me direction and purpose.
Others may argue that aging is the dimming of the light, the forcible abduction into the night that one, at best, can only rage against. I tend to look at aging as a point from where a person can look back at how he or she has lived so far, appreciate and accept himself or herself, warts and all, and with the remaining time left, go for the last unfulfilled dreams.
To burn brightly and tell one’s story to the world is what I am talking about. At best, I have about two decades left to sing, write, learn and teach, to love, laugh, be silly, make mistakes, to serve, give and experience joy, to learn from suffering and drink from the bittersweet cup of life.
I therefore approach aging awake and conscious so as not to miss out on its gifts the way I missed out on some of the gifts of youth.
We need not go kicking and screaming and holding on to life before the big blackout. As James Hillman put it, “We have the option to build up to a lasting, glorious, and memorable sunset like no other.”