Dear kabatch, kabayan and friends :
WE HAVE an uncle we’ve known practically all our life, who we thought would live forever. Not even his love affair with markang demonyo, his two-pack-a-day habit with suki Philip Morris and his weekend binges with whatever form of alcohol & barkada that happened to be available could disabuse us of the emotional conviction that he would be around for at least five more Olympics.
We also cherish a cousin from way back, who in his wild wild years could drink in one swig one bilog (Crazy Horse, they called him, and wouldn’t you?), with just water for chaser, and yet was strong enough to lift one end of the water trailer that was constantly linked to his pick-up, never lost a staring match and had the battlescars to back up his bloodshot stares.
And lastly, someone we consider as close to us as anyone was on the valedictory of his / her dramatic weight-loss / fitness regimen, after spending most of last century overweight and lardy; on the way to losing the final 10 kg needed to bring him / her over the hump of lifestyle confidence and health security. This was the eye before the storm, a meniscus ligament tear that seriously stalled his / her efforts towards a lifechanging makeover.
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The first guy, the uncle, is unsurprisingly saddled with TB, emphysema, and in the kindest terms possible, his liver has seen better days. His quality of life is such that to extend him another 2-3 years would not be doing him much of a favor, what with magnified aches and pains, an ordeal just to get through the day, and most of all the profound regret sustained by irresponsible debts of youth that make us pay with the compounded interest of twilight years.
Two years ago, the cousin felt the prelude of tightness around the chest, zipped to the hospital, and made it smoothly through a minor heart attack before the doc told him matter-of-factly that micro-tears and deep ridges riddled his aorta, and even though rehab and taking things slowly have helped, he is surely no longer the same wild, reckless and devil-may-care sort of iron man. But he’s one of the lucky ones, very easily cheating Death on the latter’s off-day.
The last fellow ? Well, his only fault was living as OC as one could the rigors of daily exercise, making up for years and years of living on saturated fats, refined sugars and meaty, greasy megameals. Ironically, if not for a routine check-up he wouldn’t have known that his knee was living on borrowed time, succumbing to the intensity of extended workouts and marathon badminton evenings, he would never have known, too, that the meniscus tear would reveal severe osteo-arthritis that had burdened his lower limbs the majority of his adult life. Just to be able to walk normally now for him, post-therapy, would be a Godsend.
We’ve heard stories and stories of this sort almost every month of our lives, from colleagues, friends and loved ones. The difference is these particular anecdotes strike a bit too close to home.
The trouble with this loyal batchmate, friend and kabayan is that, in the face of all logic and evidence, we still believe that such a thing/s could not happen to us.
It doesn’t matter that we have led a more or less healthy lifestyle after the youth of excess and bad decisions. It doesn’t matter that we have had a typical family history of the usual : hypertension, diabetes, tumors and various conditions that dot the landscape of Modern Urban Man’s health and fitness chart: fair to moderate, with clouds of high blood pressure and thunderstorms of malignant neoplasmas. scattered diabetes and prostate enlargements on the horizon, unless we’re lucky. Umbrella or raincoat ? No thanks, we’ll wing it and head for the nearest McDo if it pours.
Just an unbelievably naive faith that we live a charmed life, and bad things happen to everyone. Just not us.
There’s a fundamental disconnect between the jaded eye with which we view the ailments and physical misfortune of others, and the disbelief with which we view any kind of similar condition that may befall us, now or in the near future.
But why should we be any different from the next guy? We were born in the same hospitals, were exposed to the same pollution, tried the same vices, and now attempt to live life with the same kinds of compromise. Well and good, NOel. But underneath the pale skin and rickety bones, who knows what evil lurks in the hearts (and bodies) of men?
You’re only young once. I’ll try anything once. Pick your poison; try a new drug every week. Gosh, did you think you were bulletproof or something? Youth is truly wasted on the young.
In your teens and baby-blue 20s, when you’re so young it hurts, it’s almost a tradition to live life on the edge, live life dangerously, live life as if every day were your last. JFK, James Dean, Princess Diana, MJ, Rico Yan, even Miko Sotto all exited at (nearly) the prime of their lives and this defined their identity as celebrities that never fulfilled their dreamy potential.
Because it became cool to contemplate leaving your earthly existence while beautiful and young (or young and beautiful), you could combine looking perfectly and living recklessly. At least, that’s how some young people lived and continue to live in recent generations. Some nerds called it the dilemma of existentialism, others called it the solace of nihilism.
But come a certain age, you begin to look askance at all the wrong and incredibly stupid things you did without a second thought, like sample every kind of funny cigaret within reach ( well, you could always say I did not inhale right? ), derive happiness from chemicals of every color, and treat your throat like a testing ground for aspiring baristas, bartenders and cocktail mixers.
After you hit the big three-oh, some of the vices you loved so well begin to lose their luster, and by four-oh, they lose their appeal completely.
We’ll never be able to reverse anything negative we started in life, but we CAN try to limit their far-reaching effects, and at least try to live life happily in proportion to whatever boo-boos made in the past. Here are a few non-binding guidelines we set for ourselves :
Take life in small, measured increments. One thing for sure, we can no longer contemplate life by the gulp, lunge, or leap of faith ( faith that you can bound over whatever distance you foolishly didn’t measure ) that characterized so much of our behavior before. Easy does it, and small steps are better for those no longer able to leap without looking, and pay for all its consequences.
Savor the past, the good parts, because it’s immutable. Moreover, we can select morsels and chunks that help us get through life, through its inspiring and valuable lessons.
Lower expectations, which isn’t a good idea when you’re an up-and-comer and young-man/woman-in-a-hurry, but not that bad an idea when you’re mid-40s and at a crossroads. When the day ends without one major upheaval, without too many dramas, and with body and soul intact, then maybe you can consider it a day well spent. As they say, you live to fight another day.
That’s the short list.
Suma total, we ultimately won’t be able to live life the way we truly want, and the end in all probability won’t be pretty, but we can at least enjoy the present, live in the moment, and count our blessings.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for the memories !
PS. Uncle has plateaued, cousin is doing much much better thanks, and ka-close is patiently waiting to heal, before continuing with the makeover. Thank God for small (and big) blessings !