As I sit down to write this piece, I am tempted to ignore the significance of tomorrow’s date. As huge a milestone as people tell me it is, my gut is not at ease. People may think I want attention. Oh well. It is what it is!
Tomorrow is my 80th birthday!
There, I finally saw it in print. It’s a round enough figure, just like mine. Everyone tells me it’s only a number. Whatever!
I read somewhere that “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” If this is true, then here I am, blessed and breathless at 80!
Let’s talk birthdays. Here’s a little nostalgia.
There was no party on my ninth. The war was only two days old and my father was away on his ship somewhere near Palawan. Everyone was frightened, especially Mama.
My 10th and 11th were not as bleak. We shared a slice of mashed sweet camote that an American lady passed off as real cake. Sudden thought! How come she was not in a concentration camp? Someone bought bread with matamis sa bao from a street vendor. It was delicious, but had to be eaten piping hot.
My last “Japanese time” birthday we spent in and out of an air raid shelter. The small zaguan under the tiled azotea in the old Legarda house became our regular hang-out. I was 12. US planes attacked and sirens wailed every day before breakfast and also at night. It was a prelude to the end of the war. In February, Manila was liberated; 100,000 Filipinos were killed.
During the war I watched Mama do musical interludes between movies at Times Theater and stood in the wings with her cup of warm salabat when she played Mimi at the Metropolitan. Shortly after Liberation, I tagged along when she sang for the sick and wounded in a hospital outside war-torn Manila. It was there that I discovered books of poetry and novels in a library hastily put up for the soldiers and began to dream of becoming a writer.
I remember my 16th birthday. I was a high-school senior. That was the last party held in our rented accesoria before we moved to San Juan, to the first home Mama and Papa ever owned.
I felt all grown-up and had my first taste of lipstick. We had a high-fidelity record player and a stack of 33 rpm discs of Glenn Miller and Frank Sinatra. Mama frowned a little about my makeup. Papa paced the floor while we danced.
I never had a “coming out” party. But I remember going to a formal dance shortly after my 18th birthday. The next long gown I wore was on my wedding day.
On my 20th birthday I had a four-month-old son. I was suddenly an adult.
The family grew. Birthday parties now had little chairs and tables rented from Gonzales Toys or Arcega’s; balloons, games, party dresses and paper hats. Cakes were baked and decorated by Rolling Pin. Eggs were sent to a convent to ensure fair weather, and we rented 8-mm cartoons to entertain the little guests. My birthdays came and went without much fanfare.
Life took a high-speed spin after that. The babies grew up, maybe faster than their parents. Birthdays were blurred in a haze of smoke and wine. It was a time of reckless changes. I put my heart in charge and forgot that the brain was not in gear. Against all odds I took a chance. But forever was not in the cards. I soon learned that all choices have lifetime consequences. There are no exceptions.
My best friend reminds me, “Reaching 80 is God’s gift.” This is true. I had nothing to do with it. I just got here. And today I quietly wonder why.
There were turbulent times. Often I thought I would go under. A wise man once said, “There will be moments in life when you will want to turn back. That is when you have to go on.” Today I marvel at how far I have come. God is good!
As long as this journey has been, with highlights as lofty as becoming a mother, grandmother and great grandmother, and as shallow as sharing a sofa with Frank Sinatra, there still are many things I want to do.
Someone suggested I make a bucket list. Such a weird thing to call it, but it pretty much describes its intent.
Write a book
So here are a few things I still want to do.
Write a book; maybe an autobiography? Once upon a time a naughty gentleman suggested my life story could be the plot for a bestseller. I don’t know about that. With what I have seen happening around me, my story will probably read like a predictable Emily Loring novel.
Go to Greece.
One more trip to Spain with my sister.
I want to have a picture and maybe even a chat with PNoy.
Find a baby for my young childless friends in Switzerland.
Write a song.
Do something crazy, like laugh, sing and dance in the rain.
Finally find closure for hurts that have not healed.
Tie up all the loose ends and stop asking why.
Perhaps I will never get to do these things. Who knows? Regardless, my life is amazing. I am on a marvelous ride and I intend to stay on board as long as I can.
My life is sweet. I can ask for nothing more. I am surrounded by the love of my family. I have good friends who, bless their hearts, care about me. I have laughter, music and song. I write when the spirit moves me. I celebrate.
And at the end of each day, when the weary heart seeks a moment’s peace, I find silence, a precious sanctuary that allows me to commune with the Lover of my soul.
I recently found this posted on Facebook and it speaks for my heart, yes, even at 80:
“I have closed the door on my past and opened a new one to step through and move forward into the future. I have renewed hope in my heart, a spring in my step and I will make the next chapter of my life one to remember.”—Dave Hedges