How we seniors continue to find our own place
I MAY NOT BE TYPICAL, having found a career only in my senior years, but like other seniors, I may no longer be, if I was at all, the belle of the ball or the center of any circle.
Still, I like to think I still have a place in my community and in society. And like many seniors, despite having been slowed by age, I can still whip up an enthusiasm for a career, as a Lifestyle columnist. I had to become a senior before I could qualify for the job; I must have been preparing all my life.
Writing a weekly column has given me the joy and the privilege to relive the glory of the past, appreciate the freshness of the present and anticipate the future (oh, is it here, already?) with youthful wonder.
Everything that has ever happened, or is happening to me still, is grist to the mill. Ours, after all, has been especially interesting times, or else how could my chronicling have such resonance?
Readers, old and not so old, come up to me, as if they know me; they ask about my hair, my granddaughter and my polyp.
Seniors identify with my experiences, and soon-to-be seniors get a glimpse of their own future and may realize aging is nothing to dread.
But, I may not be typical of my species. So I’ve asked other seniors if they at all feel left out.
Of course, there will always be those happily resigned as dropouts, preferring the comforts of home to the noise, the overcrowding and the pollution out there. That’s just fine.
But there are also those who refuse the imposition of any limitation, least of all seniorhood. They’re still busy contributing to society, improving or rediscovering themselves.
At any age, these are people who find fulfillment in whatever they do and can’t imagine quitting just yet.
Here are a few of them, speaking from their place in the sun:
I don’t feel left out of society or my community, not in the least. I have had a long history of teaching. I started right after graduation from St. Theresa’s, where I taught for four years before stopping upon getting married.
I didn’t think I’d end up teaching; I had enrolled in medical school, but when I got sick my parents thought I should shift. They transferred me to St. Theresa’s. I’ve been living a full and exciting life teaching as well as running and setting up schools.
I’ve had the privilege of sharing my expertise with many schools, among them Far Eastern University, which partnered with SM’s Paulino Tan and IBM to set up a school for information technology and engineering. I took charge of the academic program.
I did the same for the University of the Philippines, the Lyceum and La Salle. I have served on several other school boards.
I’m now a consultant for Asia Pacific College, and I still go to office. Fairly regularly, I teach teachers how to teach math, physics and the sciences. Many are good in math but don’t know how to teach it. I sit in and observe their classes and give them one-on-one feedback, with recommendations.
I’m happy to be able to still contribute to society in the very important field of education. I have slowed down a bit, though; I’m 80, after all. I used to go to Holy Angel University in Angeles, Pampanga, regularly, but no longer as often; I sit on their board.
One can’t be too careful at this age; I’m on maintenance medication. For fun, I look forward to weekly lunches with good old friends.
Among us are seniors in less affluent communities who feel lost and neglected; I do hope the government would have the social conscience to provide the likes of them with the care they need, like professional caregivers.
I know of homes for the aged in several places run by nuns, but a community hall where seniors can come together would be a big help.
I think feelings of being left out or not welcome anywhere come with the individual’s personality. I myself don’t give it much thought.
But I see many welcoming signs for seniors, and not just in Makati— ramps, courtesy lines and the senior card itself, which entitles us to free movies, cash allowances, grocery discounts and free parking, among other things. I think it’s in our culture to respect and take care of old people.
I suppose there could be room for improvement, but I’d rather not dwell on what’s still lacking. I’m happy enough the way things are for seniors.
In reality, it is the wisdom that sees a long view of life, the sureness that comes only with age, and the freedom to spend time as one wishes.
A marvelous thing happened when I turned 76; I found that after years of productivity and youthfulness, freshness was not behind me! My life could still open to an exciting world ready for discovery, the world of Coursera, an online revolution in higher learning, a level of thinking beyond what I imagined possible.
My mind was set free; it felt as active as when I was in college. I enrolled in diverse subjects such as Shakespeare’s Plays, Classical Music and Films of Hollywood.
Especially fascinating was “Learning How to Learn,” which focuses on memory, mental flexibility, thinking patterns, the priceless shell of staying curious.
All the professors are superb, and I’m proud to have graduate-school students among my classmates. I don’t even think of my age; I’m a busy student.
Edna Zapanta Manlapaz
How welcoming is the world to seniors? You mean apart from the 20-percent discount we are given?
In my case, as a retired academic, I’m glad to report that I’m often invited, usually over lunch, to continue playing a role I had had for years. Surely that invitation is a form of welcome.
For nearly three decades, I served as room adviser to college freshmen and mentor to graduate students. Those hundreds of hours of counseling have prepared me for my current role as a life coach to middle-aged women.
These women, many of whom were once my students, are now entering their 50s. Some of these women exult that they are now “50 and free!”
But many of these same women confide fears as well: Why does it seem that my body is aging so fast? Are there ways to slow down the process? Is it true that a woman just cannot have it all? How can I possibly handle caring for my teenage kids and my aging parents at the same time? Am I doomed to become more and more like my mother? Is there a way to age gracefully?
Naturally, I am flattered that they come to me. They must have their reasons to think I am growing old graciously. I am less sure.
But I know that I am at least growing wiser. Why do I have the immodesty to believe that I am now, if not truly wise, at least wiser than I used to be?
Because now I can tell them the truth: I don’t have the answers to their questions. They have to find the answers themselves.
To help them begin their long search for answers, I ask them questions, and more questions.
Then I sit back and listen. Really listen. And that, I have discovered is why I believe myself a wiser mentor now. I talk less and listen more.
That may be the one sure way we seniors can assure ourselves of welcome in this
hyper-busy world: Taking time to listen.
I welcome doing whatever I’m still able to do for long as people are receptive to having a senior like me do the job. But I usually wait until asked.
When I was asked to be the president of St. Theresa’s Alumni Board, after only six months on it, I accepted and stayed for six years, 2000-2006. I encouraged computerization, and raised more funds by assessing members individually and by class and by encouraging more members to join, not only in the work but also in the fun.
It was not only about raising funds but also about giving back to our alma mater in terms of time, effort and talent, and always making it a fun undertaking.
I’ve tried to attract our younger graduates to be more involved by listening to their fresh ideas and youthful inputs. We have many younger members of the board now, and as a result, it seems more dynamic and energetic.
I feel I still have something to contribute, in the way especially of mature advice, as expected of seniors.
I particularly admire what fellow senior and classmate Susan Macuja is doing, with her daughter, the prima ballerina Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, a Theresian herself.
They are making ballet attractive, accessible, and affordable to students all over the country.
That’s worth doing at any age. As for me, whatever else I may do in the future, I’ll only do it if I think I can make a difference.
Times have changed for seniors. Many countries have begun to recognize the importance of the elderly and have provided them with benefits and privileges.
Even our own officials in Congress are trying to outdo each other in sponsoring bills and passing laws granting seniors more benefits. They have realized that the voice of the seniors are getting louder as their numbers increase. They are visibly at the forefront of many issues being discussed and debated publicly.
How, indeed, can we seniors be ignored? We are a proud class of citizens eager to wave our senior cards to demand our well-deserved privileges and rights.
I was with the Department of Foreign Affairs for 43 years, as an ambassador. Many friends had the wrong notion that diplomatic life was one of pleasure, traveling around the world. Yes, life as a diplomat is challenging and exciting—meeting world leaders, royalty, dignitaries; endless cocktails and receptions; attending international conferences; interacting with Filipino communities, and all the diplomatic immunities and privileges that go with all that.
But it is also a life of stress, deadlines and frustrations, a life lived out of suitcases, going from one diplomatic post to another, setting up a new residence, adjusting to a new country.
When my time came, I looked forward to retirement and said goodbye to my career with a Hawaiian party at the penthouse of the department. I surprised even myself by dancing the boogie, cha-cha and swing all night.
Surely, there is good reason why the Lord has blessed me with good health and a clear mind, and an extended stay on earth.
Retirement, though, could be a shock initially. Being a retired diplomat, I was asked to help mediate issues between two groups of leaders in our village. Just when I was about to settle their issues, one side decided to file a case against the other.
I was shocked, incredulous that educated neighbors would take such drastic action against each other. So I resigned. I guess, having just retired, I had not yet fully grounded myself on the realities of life outside my career.
But I got by in time. I was approached by a group of young leaders in our community to help fight corruption in our own backyard. Those were exciting days, campaigning in our neighborhood to fight for a cause against corruption. Our candidates won and took over our barangay.
During the presidential election of 2010, my adrenalin was at its highest level as I joined a group of equally passionate ladies to improve the situation of our country. I found myself out in the streets, a place unknown to me as a diplomat.
The experience was so exhilarating and in ways so morally fulfilling that I was at it again in this year’s election.
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