At least I am not alone. Many of my friends have also reached the age when it is deemed prudent to talk with our eyes when the subject of celebrating birthdays comes up.
When we reach the line of five, we like to think we have reached the age of maturity. There are different reactions to this certainty. Women rush to the nearest plastic surgeon, while men go crazy over some sweet young thing.
I try to play it cool, like the zeroes in the speedometer of a five-year-old car that clicks into place as it turns over a new 10,000-mile mark.
It is not so bad. People in their 50s and beyond can be interesting—that is, if they don’t get anxiety attacks. Let’s mention some: Mila Magsaysay Valenzuela, Kim Henares, Portia Leuterio, Joseph Estrada, Crispina Belen, Jullie Yap Daza, LJM, Niñez Olivares, Baby Arenas, Robert Arevalo, Susan Roces and Vic del Rosario. Okay, me too.
Fifty is, I observed from not too great a distance, an awkward age. It is an age when people have personal histories to speak of, when they have more options. At 40, they have perhaps less history. At 60, perhaps fewer options. Older than that, one hangs in the balance. The status quo is weighed against the possible. So I hang in the balance as this odd-numbered birthday looms darkly, like unpaid taxes.
I keep thinking that at this age, Rizal had been long dead and a national hero. But who cares about being a hero if you are dead? When Mae West reached this age, it was just a start. Zsa Zsa Gabor was collecting diamonds way past the age of balance. And the Duchess of Windsor got the King of England when she was already in her 40s.
Positive thinking helps. I think that a certain age only riles us when we measure our accomplishment against those of known role models. Margaret Trudeau became First Lady just after her drug years.
Elizabeth was already queen at this age, and for an escort, has the gorgeous Prince Philip walking a few steps behind.
One does not have to go far. Remember when you were in grade school and proud that you could tie your shoelaces?
In Bacolod, the high school dream was to go to Manila. My best friend Buddai Piccio went to Manila several times. The fact that she was hit by firecrackers during the town fiesta and had to see doctors in Manila did not shatter the dream. Then, when I was struggling with my first story, another friend wrote a play that was later presented in school.
Most of us were prodded to be number one at a young age. There was no such thing as an overachiever then. It helped to have someone ahead of us to emulate. To have someone to prod us to give chase.
But not anymore. At this certain age, it is wiser to be just comfortable. For one thing, I don’t aspire to be a hero. Ninoy Aquino died trying. Perhaps it is too late to make the Fortune top 100.
Right now I’m laboring on a film script for Viva, “Tiniis Ko ang Daigdig,” which perhaps will bring in more money. And instead of whipping myself in misery over the goals set by others, I slowly begin to realize that I have to reset my goals. All this is about learning to live with yourself: a how-to on basic survival, considering the times. As one happy friend put it, “If I’m not going to win the Nobel Prize, I might as well enjoy life.”
I always become despicably philosophical during my birthdays. You realize that the years have gone by so fast. Jacqueline Kennedy dies of cancer, the Duchess of Windsor is now with her beloved king in the sky. Baby Arenas is now a congresswoman of Pangasinan, Mila Magsaysay Valenzuela who retired from The Peninsula now heads her own PR agency. Jullie Yap Daza is back to writing, Portia Leuterio is into special crafts as business and hobby. Former President Joseph Estrada, who once announced his retirement from politics, is now mayor of Manila.
The optimist in me says that we will get our dreams yet, despite coups, “Yolanda,” senate investigations, PDAF scandals and all kinds of corruption put together. I realized one truth that comes with the candles: living in these colorful times and hurdling all the problems of the present is better than being a monument at Rizal Park.