520 weeks

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – November 11, 2018 – 12:00am

How old are you right now? Are you healthy? Active? How many years do you think you have before you slow down? How far off is retirement? Do you still have things to do? Things to achieve? Places to see? People you want to spend time with?

When you are young, these questions are hardly important. You think you have all the time in the world to procrastinate, delay, and be lazy. You may or may not be serious about your career. You may not be thinking about pursuing your calling which is different from your career. Your calling may not even be clear to you. Life to you is a series of parties, dates, hanging around with the barkada, drinking, vacationing somewhere. Tomorrows are endless. There is time to do everything later. 

But think about this. There are 52 weeks in a year. This means that you have 260 weekends in the next five years. And 520 weeks in the next 10 years. That’s not a lot. Included here are the days when you will not be feeling well, or recuperating from illness. It includes time when you will be sleeping and doing nothing. All this may not mean anything to someone in their 20s, or maybe even in their 40s. But to someone in their 60s, those numbers are compelling.

I remember an older friend who got upset with his dive buddy because he canceled a weekend of diving. This was 10 years go. My friend was in his 60s then. He told his buddy that he just wasted one weekend he could have used up to do something he loved. He really does count his weekends. At that time, he figured he had about 500-plus weekends left before his body got too old to be doing anything as active as scuba.

Seniors have a more acute sense of the passing of time. I mostly groan during days I spend doing nothing. I feel I wasted a part of my life when it happens. More and more, I try to schedule doing stuff I want to do. I just want to fill my days doing or paying attention to things that are worth my time.

As time goes on, many older people may fret and worry. Some of them give in to impatience. They can lose their filters and get very straight to the point when they talk about things. They can speak more directly. They can sound quite abrasive. This may upset younger people. Some of the young will not understand where the oldies are coming from. They may think that the elderly are just being cranky and conclude that it goes with age (while it could also be the start of dementia).

I think the reason why some older people get cantankerous is because there is little time left to beat around the bush, or to engage in things that are a waste of time. There is also a lot of unfinished business. There are regrets. But their pride still gets in the way and they can’t do closure just yet. And so they vent out. They know there are diminishing opportunities left to say what needs to be said or to share what they need to share.

On the other hand, there are old people who are luckier. These are seniors who discover or rediscover their mojo at a late age. It is like they are going through some sort of rebirth. They have found their second wind. An example is Grandma Moses, an American art icon who started painting in her 70s when arthritis made doing embroidery too painful. Or Susan Boyle who joined a TV talent show and won the hearts of viewers everywhere, starting her singing career in her 60s. Then there’s Colonel Sanders (real name: Harland David Sanders) who started Kentucky Fried Chicken at age 65. I could a name a few more.

For these people, age is almost irrelevant. They may feel a sense of triumph and more energy at this point in their lives than they ever did before. They must feel they have defied nature and are proud of it. Instead of mourning the passage of time, they relish where they are because they are doing what they love. They still have a sense of purpose. Their sense of urgency is not because of their age and the time they have left. It is because they have a sense of mission. Time is not a tank of gasoline wasted on driving aimlessly. It is a full tank that they are ready to use to follow the path that calls them. They wish to go as far as they can. Yes, they are using all their time in building their life’s work at this late age. They are building their legacy.

And then there are these remarkable oldies, some of them I have met. They have figured out that the best way to spend the remaining time left is to do nothing and to not strive for anything. Some people may gasp at the idea. How can that be? But I have met happy retired people doing just that. At their age, they have mostly settled their issues. They have forgiven their enemies and have come to accept themselves fully. They have paid their dues and all they wish to do is smell the roses and be in the moment wherever they find themselves. Sure, they have some routines that they do to keep themselves groomed and healthy. A lot of them also meditate. But they have no sense of urgency to achieve or acquire more things. They are more into what can be described as… simply being.

Simon and Garfunkel’s 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) comes to mind:

I got no deeds to do, no promises to keep

I’m dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep

Let the morning time drop all its petals on me

Life, I love you, all is groovy.

I am probably somewhere between the urgent and the driven type, with a little bit of the last one thrown in. To be in the third category, I think I have to work out a few things. It would help if I had money to feel secure enough to not have to do anything. No more striving for things you do not own or possess.

That may be the easy part.

The harder part is embarking on peacemaking with everything and everyone in the past. It also means to come to terms and accept who you are with all your faults and talents, pluses and minuses. It means letting go of guilt, pride and being in that sweet spot where you can appreciate however life shows up. 

I am counting on the next 520 weeks to get there.

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