Mid thirties is a strange age to be in. I first knew about the concept of death when I was 8 and my grandfather passed away. He was 54 years old. Until his passing, he was the only man I ever looked up to. I grew up with him teaching me tennis and holding my hand. And though while we were told that he had died at the time, I never really felt grief until I became a teenager and started missing him.
I kept wondering what life would have been with him around. Oh how the dynamics in our family would have changed because he was such a central force to reckon with, a lynchpin.
The second death in my immediate circle was the passing of my grandmother at 90 years old a year ago. A death that comes naturally with a life that’s lived and in the natural order of things is easier to accept.
But all around me for two years now friends, colleagues and acquaintances have slipped to the after life, like a house of cards falling slowly one by one. When people die in their mid thirties or forties or fifties, we say, they’re too young to go.
It makes me wonder how far is this dark harvest from taking away anyone I know in my closest circle? I wonder if we are courting death too much at our age with our lifestyle choices or is it simply, as fatalists would say, when it’s your time to go, it’s time to go? Death keeps getting younger. Or have we just grown older?
And as grim and morbid as this subject may be, it’s a reality that we all have to face. Every person’s passing is a stark reminder of how fragile, how thin is the line that divides dying from living. We could be gone in an instant, leaving just memories behind.
It makes me want to fly home and attend every friend’s birthday, wedding or homecoming. It makes me want to not miss anything for fear it might be the last. It makes me want to reach out and iron every kink there ever was in any relationship I have with others and say, “Whatever it is that’s putting this wedge between us, it’s alright and it’s not significant. My love for you trumps everything else. Everything.”
It makes me want to huddle close to my children and hold them dearly so that my embrace will stay in their memory; so they feel loved with all of my life, long after I’ll be gone. It makes me want to put down in writing all the stories swirling in my head. To make a mark, to leave a legacy that will forever live in the hearts I hope will be touched.
It makes me see how precious each day can be and the only way to go is to not waste talent, to love life and above all, to live it fully.
Chicken and ginger congee is my comfort food in times of sickness. Burning from a high fever a week ago, I woke up with a squeamish stomach so I asked our house help to make one.
She made it deliciously, but there was too much chicken in the porridge. I could taste its meat in every spoonful of soup I put into my mouth. That “ruined” it for me, somehow.
You see, I flew with Philippine Airlines quite a lot in the past. And I used to hang out in their business class lounges while waiting for the flight announcement. They have a beautiful spread of canapés, open faced sandwiches and a huge pot, the kind you see in soup kitchens, of delicious chicken congee. There wasn’t always a lot of chicken so part of the challenge was how to dip the ladle deep into the pot to come up with as much chicken meat at one go – for the ladle was huge and one ladle was all you need lest the bowl will overflow.
I usually stirred the pot first to feel the chicken bits, tried to get a few pieces into the ladle and pour it into my bowl. A squeeze of half a calamansi juice, a dash of black pepper and a sprinkling of dried garlic and fresh spring onions… I remember it vividly now as I brought the spoon to my lips and tasted the chicken meat I “triumphantly” caught, for I usually get four to five small slices on a bowl of ten spoonfuls. It was heaven on an airport lounge. I couldn’t go for a second for one bowl was filling enough.
Kind of reminds me when we were young children. Hotdogs, chorizos and any processed meat never made it to my grandmother’s market basket. She bought everything fresh from the vegetables to the live organic native chicken, which was slaughtered at home, much to our fascination. Our father was the red meat guy, so on those very rare occasions he’d come home with hotdogs, corned beef and the like, it was party time for my sister and me.
Because of the scarcity of finding such on our table, my sister and I used to bury our hotdogs under our rice so we can get seconds or thirds. We ate it with gusto much to the chagrin and consternation of my grandmother for she always said,
“Oh no, those kinds of food are really bad for you. You don’t know where it’s coming from and what they put in there. It’s unhealthy.” She never took so much as a single bite of any processed meat in all the years I lived with her.
Her choices weren’t a question of money for my grandfather left her a sizeable inheritance back in the day. But she never really acquired much stuff. And hardly threw anything away either.
Today, we live in a world where everything is at our fingertips. I can’t even begin to count the hotdog varieties available from Frankfurter, kosher, Hungarian, German bratwurst, Mexican-style, Chicago and the list can go on forever. There are more than 200 kinds of cookies in the supermarket. And when I want to just go for a quick grab of salad dressing I have to make up my mind on the following: ranch, thousand island, Italian, Mediterranean, Greek, vinaigrette, reduced-calorie, low fat… it’s dizzying.
Supermarket shelves make me suffer from choice paralysis. I’ve tried this so many times and I end up going home and whipping up my own dressing. Two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, a spoonful of balsamic vinegar and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard from my fridge, sprinkling a bit of black pepper, salt and any chopped fresh herb on hand works every time. It doesn’t stress me out and I’m satisfied.
It is easy to acquire stuff these days, but do we really need most of it? When we take stock of what we have now, we don’t even use half of the things we already have in our possession. This irony is not lost on the soaring sales on how-to books on de-cluttering, Zen-like and minimalist living.
When something comes too easy and acquiring it doesn’t entail much work and sacrifice, the level of satisfaction it provides is fleeting. Paradoxically, when we know we can’t have too much of something, our tendency to appreciate it dramatically increases.
Having less makes room for creativity and experience. And experience, as opposed to material things, are the stuff wonderful memories are made of. Ten years on, who knew a pot of congee could make so much impression and elicit happy memories just from the sheer enjoyment of not having too much chicken in it?
A friendship can only last if everyone is on equal footing; no one should feel in competition or be threatened by another. Not even when it exists only in one’s head.
The deeper the angst, the more aggression it manifests. A deeply tormented soul spews equally lethal venom. And you can question the intentions of your best-est friends, no matter how well they mean. But honesty – even just to yourself, can release you from all the heavy weight of denial you carry around with you.
I’ve learned that you can be in a happy marriage, or relationship, and still be tempted. Everything can change in a single moment depending on how you act or react to it. In matters of the heart, one should love with complete abandon, and above all, have the courage to show it.
I’ve learned that even the best husband or wife can break your heart through inaction, disregard or thoughtlessness.
Relationships require a lot of effort. Even the most beautiful flower can only bloom with constant attention and care.
There are people you adore because of the sunshine they bring to your life; and there are those you love because they are your dearest friends – sunshine or not. But at times it can be equally taxing being around the latter and there are days you need to pull away if only to recover your strength from the dark energy that surrounds them.
But you treasure them anyway, no matter what.
No one wants to deal with the unpleasantries and everybody avoids drama or confrontation because it is uncool. I believe in keeping it truthful about sorrow just as we unequivocally squeal in joy and show the world our delight.
We don’t hide happiness, why should we hide sadness?
People have a hard time accepting that pain must be acknowledged alongside joy, or that falling in love is also an invitation to heartache. One has to exist for the other to be true. It goes hand in hand. It is what it is.
Still, the universe loves happy people; those who wear halos so vibrant a whole room just lights up when they enter it. It is but human nature.
The people who love you will love you no matter what. But there’s a limit to how far you can push them. Challenging that love constantly may cause it to end. Even the best of friends can annoy each other.
And when your moral compass flies out the window and no sense of reason or logic can seem to guide you, I’ve learned that if you look at the eyes of your child, you’ll find truth and meaning. You will be capable of selflessness and be willing to do what is right once again.