Dorian Gray in your own barrio (village)

[ Note : This is a dated video, but the subject is simply a remarkable individual, and quite appropriate for my rant today.  Thanks for reading ! Happy birthday to kabatch Mr Dennis Sy, please continue to inspire us with your musical talent ! ]

MANY MANY YEARS ago, on Mom’s island hometown somewhere between Albay and Masbate, on its far end in a then-sleepy fishing village called San Pascual, our hosts brought me and my bros to a 101-year old senyorita sipping steaming coffee in the middle of the day.  I’m not sure if she had quit smoking by then, but she looked like she was having a nicotine fit, maybe for some Bataan Matamis or Champion Menthols, or maybe it was just my imagination.

Boys, magmano kayo kay Mamay,  your great-grandmother. ( Loosely translated, we were asked to kiss her hand, a beloved Filipino tradition showing respect for elders. )

Before we could appreciate the uniqueness of the moment, realizing that in this soporific hut-by-the-sea were a motley crew representing four generations, we were peppering Mamay with enthusiastic yet respectful questions.

Ilang taon na po kayoIsa’t – kalahati (a good natured joke at her expense, being that she was around 101 and a half years young).  Naabutan nyo po ba ang panahon ng Kastila?  Panahon po ni Rizal at ni Aguinaldo (funny, but she was the one making po to us).  Ilan po lahat ng apo nyo?  Di ko na po alam, kilala ko lang mga dumadalaw sa akin (a reminder no doubt for her scores of great-grandkids to visit her more often).

The day was short and the small outrigger needed at least a few hours to return us to the township, and so we bade goodbye to Mamay, in what would be the first and last time we would ever see her before she joined our Creator.  I don’t recall how old she was when she died, but till that point she had lived a considerable length of life on Earth, and there was certainly no shame in breaking the century mark, for any of God‘s creatures.

In fact, I don’t remember enjoying a personal encounter with anyone over 100 then and now, back home and in my temporary adopted land.  I hear a lot about centenarians here, and it could be due to the healthier environment, the cleaner living, but there certainly are a lot of lolos and lolas who’ve conquered Father Time in both Metro Manila and the provinces as well.  In any case, when you’ve reached triple digits, it’s a life well lived, regardless of the country code.

Whether you believe beating the odds is a result of luck, spartan living, good genes, perfect nutrition, superhuman maintenance, a combination of the above or all of the above, the massive jungle of the longevity mystery, of how and why some people reach a ripe old age while others don’t, has just been cleared a few hundred hectares of foliage.

Once the science is streamlined, even infants can be tested if they will live healthily until and after the age of 100, according to a recent article.  Newest inroads in gene mapping have made it possible for tests to reveal if you and I possess genetic characteristics shared by those who continue to live high-quality lives long after their contemporaries have died.

We can only do so much to stay healthy and avoid tempting Fate, especially with the stress and slow-death poisons of modern living, but certain people seem to stay both durable and healthy despite the said realities.  On the other hand, most of us need to contend with not just the worrying shelf life of our vital organs, but not knowing also if the rest of our bodies will start deteriorating after an unknown deadline.

And that’s just it ; at some undetermined point in our lives it’s an immutable, unassailable truth that our bodies start breaking down, and the best we can do is to one, avoid the major illnesses which science has not conquered, and two, stay fit, nimble and supple to sustain the quality of life with which we are accustomed.

Conversely, there are a few people who have avoided cancer, hypertension, diabetes and cirrhosis, mostly lifestyle diseases that ravage the system and eat us up from inside.  These same people unsurprisingly are paragons of fitness, who outrun, outstretch and outlast people half their age, and continue reaching milestones like marathons, three-day hikes and endurance events.  Supervised by medical advisers, of course.

I would love to be one of these fortunate few who keep bounding out of bed every morning ready to seize the day, conquer the mountain or cross the Rubicon, but I don’t know if it’s in my DNA to be a SuperLolo, leaving all my contemporaries to eat my dust.  (Sorry for the uncharitable mental image, I think I’m getting carried away 😦 )  But wouldn’t it be great not only to leap past the mid 21st century, but also to enjoy all your bodily functions at the height of your mental and physical powers while doing so?

Like Mamay, I would live to see all my grandkids and great-grandkids, see how well (or not-so-well) they turn out, compare notes with other SuperLolos and SuperLolas, and use the considerable wealth of my experience in dispensing unsolicited advice.  Every little bit will help.

I would be able to enjoy the momentous strides of Science begun during the previous century against disease, pestilence, poverty, pollution.  Because Man would no longer be distracted from basic struggles to acquire food, shelter and protection against the elements, naked aggression to compete for scarce resources would die a natural death, and humans would be allowed higher pursuits.

Of course these are just pie-in-the-sky assumptions I’m making.  And of course I would want my longevity to be a pleasant experience, otherwise it would be just as well if I clocked out like everybody else.

It’s just that living past your time is but part of the natural instinct to want to correct past mistakes, give vent to career frustrations, and live out childhood dreams.   We keep forgetting that in life, nine times in ten you only get to do the important things ONCE, and most of us never get a second shot.

It’s true I met the closest thing to a Dorian Gray that 1970’s summer afternoon in San Pascual when I kissed Mamay’s hand.  But looking back, I know deep in my heart that she would’ve gladly exchanged her 101-and-a-half years for the satisfaction of knowing that she did everything right.

Thanks for reading !