Monday, January 26, 2015

Ten Things I Learned When I Turned Thirty-Five

After 35 revolutions around the sun, each round lasting for 365 and 1/4 days, I started writing about how my mindset has changed. This began as scribbles on scratch paper, ideas that came randomly and because I found them amusing, I etched them in the virtual notepad of my head, until one day, in a fit of those horrible mid-life blues, I opened my computer and started typing.

Here are some things that I realized now that I turned 35:

1. When I was younger, I learned to fight my battles. I’ve always been feisty, stubborn, and unyielding. Through the years, I have realized that I have to choose which battles to fight. And I have to choose wisely. Fighting every known battle means I will lose precious energy on efforts that are vain and I would eventually lack the energy for the more important ventures. This reminds me of the story about the big rocks and the pebbles and sand in a jar. For everything to fit, you have to get the big rocks in first. Some battles are simply not worth fighting for.

2.  When I was younger, I learned to help others. I knew then as I knew now that life is meant to be lived for others and that we only get what we give. I have always subscribed to that idea – to give and give until it hurts. As I grew older, I gradually discovered that it shouldn’t stop there. I realized I have to allow others to help me. Being on the receiving side is not a sign of weakness or helplessness. Sometimes, we have to allow others to give us something and to help us. That way, they will have an opportunity to share, to bless, to help, and therefore achieve their own purpose to be useful. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, to admit that we need something. Sometimes the best way to help others is to allow them to help you.

3. When I was younger, I learned to make plans and to eagerly pattern my life according to them. This time, I learned to make allowances for serendipity, to allow the universe to make unpredictable twists and turns in the story of my life. I learned to be thankful for the mishaps and the messed up plans, knowing that wherever I am at a particular moment is exactly where I am supposed to be.

4. When I was younger, I learned how to ferociously hold on to people and to things that I love. As I grew older, I found out that some people and things come and go no matter how fiercely you want them to stay. We must learn how to graciously let go of the things that refuse to be ours. Some relationships are meant to endure, some are meant to be ephemeral. Some are meant to wax and wane like the tide, or totally disappear like the sun, only to come back on another day. In our lifetime, we meet thousands of people, each one knowingly or unknowingly changing us in some ways. Somehow, at the end of our journey, it doesn’t really matter who we met. What would matter the most is who stayed.

5. When I was younger, I learned how to make friends and I appreciated the importance of having friends. Now that I’m older, I learned to treasure the few friends that I know are worth keeping. It doesn’t matter if I only have a few friends. What matters is that I know in my heart that these few friends I have will stay with me through good and bad, and will weather my life’s storms with me. A good friend once told me that he would rather be with the few people who know him well and who would tell him the truth even if it would hurt him, than be praised and applauded by a huge crowd who doesn’t really know him at all. As I grew older, I have learned to embrace this philosophy as well. This time, I derive more pleasure and comfort in the company of a few people that I trust, sharing seemingly ordinary moments that may be laughter-filled or quiet, mundane or profound, fast-paced or slow.

6. When I was younger, I thought that love is a feeling, the most wonderful feeling in the world they say. Now that I’m older, after so many dashed hopes and broken hearts, I know that love is a choice. It is what remains when the falling in love part is over. It is not dependent on mood or feeling. It is a decision to stick to your beloved regardless of feeling or thought.

7. When I was younger, I have always wanted to change the world. I told myself that I should live an extraordinary life and leave this world a little bit better than when I first came to it. As I got older, I realized that I don’t have to do great and extraordinary things to change the world. In fact, I stopped trying to change it. Instead, I decided to do little acts of kindness in my tiny insignificant corner of the universe, to put in a little bit of extra in everyday tasks, to welcome a few interruptions without complaint no matter how tired I am. Come to think of it, I know that I never stopped trying to change the world. I just stopped making a big deal about it.

8. When I was younger, I was taught that excellence is of utmost importance in everything that we do. Now that I’m older, I realize that excellence is good, but relevance is even better. While we aim for excellence in our job or in whatever we create, we also have to make sure that whatever we are doing is relevant for the community we serve. Excellence and relevance must go hand-in-hand. Excellence without relevance is empty. Relevance without excellence is unjust.

9. Now that I’m older, I realized I am beautiful. I have my imperfections, so many, in fact. I am fat, my legs are too big, my boobs are too small (even non-existent) and my butt is too flat. I have muffin-tops, and lovehandles, and cellulites. I have pimples, and scars, and my feet are hideous. I walk in a funny way, I have knock-knees, collapsed podiatric transverse arches. I am clumsy and I trip on imaginary things. A good friend affectionately calls me “slidey” because I slip and fall and sprain my ankles even when walking on level ground. But despite these physical peculiarities, I know I’m beautiful. In fact, everyone is beautiful. There are moments when I mindlessly stare at strangers, and I notice every face has its own brand of beauty. That mole on the nose, that arch of the eyebrow, or that wisp of hair stubbornly sticking out, that scar on the cheek. Every person is beautiful. I am too.

10. Life goes on. Even if we sometimes grieve, even if we don’t get what we want, it goes on. This reminds me of a line from a Rolling Stones song: “You can’t always get what you want but if you try, sometimes you find you get what you need.” Life has a way of unfolding according to an incomprehensible plan that is definitely not yours but that of a greater entity - God, a Law, Karma, whichever way you call it, it's an entity you can trust to go on. This also brings to mind some lines from the Bhagavad Gita: Whatever happened, happened for good. Whatever is happening, is happening for good. Whatever will happen, that will be for good as well. We lose, but life goes on. We throw tantrums, still life goes on. We rebel, and life goes on. We are specks of dust floating in a boundless universe, albeit loved by an infinite and incomprehensible entity. We stumble into each other for unknown reasons, in perpetual Brownian motion, and life goes on. We die. Life goes on. And I am so glad that it does.

I didn't learn these things overnight. They took 35 years of musing and rethinking and reshaping and deleting.  And I know these realizations will not be permanent. They are evolving and ever-changing. One day I will read these and I will probably laugh at myself for being too jaded, or immature, or shallow, or cerebral. People who read this now may also think differently. Some will laugh at me or hate me or tell me I'm wrong. Some will congratulate me while some will shake their heads and consider me petty. Some will not even give a damn.  Some will smile and say, "Poor Jean, she's really going through a tough mid-life crisis." But if I can write a note to my younger worrier self, it would be simple: “Dear Jean, everything will be alright.” No matter what people think, no matter how the world changes, everything will be alright.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Twenty-Five to Thirty-Five

It's new year's eve. The old 2014 is about to come to a close and the promise of an even better 2015 beckons. I usually sleep through new year's eve, but tonight I was startled awake by an unknown entity that has absolutely nothing to do with the noise of firecrackers and banging pots and pans.

In the middle of the night, I got up, opened my computer, and started writing. It was a Jerry Maguire moment, when that fuse suddenly blew in my head, cold sweat broke out, and I just had to write, uncaring about grammar or syntax. Write on, write on, you can edit this later. Let the thoughts flow, on and on…

I realized I had this in my subconscious for a while, and it just had to be expressed in due time. I’m suddenly in a state of panic. Palpitations, horrendous images of myself in oversized pajamas that used to be the lower half of my med school scrub suit, frown lines on my forehead, sagging belly, cellulites, my dying eggs, deviations from my planned timeline, and oh I’m am alone, always alone, still alone. In the midst of all this confusion, I am appalled. I am petrified. I realized that I will be 35 in twenty-five days. 

In less than a month,  I will be crossing that imaginary threshold, that thin red line separating the young from the middle-aged. It is the age that separates the "rejects" from the women who are beautiful and interesting enough to be desired by anyone enough to involve them as the other half in a committed (or even a non-committal so-so) relationship. It is the age that separates the old runners from the younger ones in marathons, the age that separates the "high-risk pregnancies" from those who can be seen in regular pre-natal check-up clinics. Hello, Mid-life. You better set up your banners and prepare your confetti for you are about to welcome this fat old Jean into your ranks soon.

I will be 35. I know I should be thankful to even reach this age. Many people die younger than that. Yeah, in the middle ages, or during the Greco-Roman war. But kidding aside, I should just look at the brighter side. I will be wiser. Yeah, right. Tanga ka pa rin sa love, for sure. There are fabulous single women way older than 35 out there who are having so much fun with their lives. Really, can you name anyone? Aaarrgh, these Jekyll and Hyde voices in my head are arguing again. I'm transforming into a Gollum - Smeagol mess. Perhaps I should just shut up and watch them lash at each other's throats.

The point of the matter is: I'll be 35 soon.  And I'm scared. Horrible questions start plaguing my head. Am I a disappointment? Am I a failure?  Will I end up miserable and lonely and bitter and ugly? Will I just be another shark in the big ocean? Another fat, greedy, nameless shark in an ocean of sharks? Does it even matter? If I am a speck of dust in this infinite universe, does one day even matter? Would my life even matter?

I guess I have to stop. I need to stop thinking and start living.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Ernest Hemingway once said, "Never go on trips with anyone you do not love."
It's been exactly one month since I left for an amazing journey, this time, for the first time, with someone. Mr. Hemingway turned out to be right. I hope whoever I traveled with has read this particular quote too.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Peanut Butter

One of the most popular quotes about unrequited love is that of Charlie Brown" Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter quite like unrequited love." Being a huge fan of peanut butter myself, I can relate to this. During the past days, peanut butter tastes like paper. Well, everything tastes like paper.

I have been holding on to this silly kind of hope for the last few months, that maybe, just maybe, this is it. That perhaps, for the first time in my life, peanut butter would taste like peanut butter, in all its creamy, luscious, sinful, delightful goodness. But no, sorry Jean, you got yourself into a big disappointment again.

For the nth time in your life, get over it. You've been through this so many times before, you could walk out of this hell even with your eyes closed. Eat your bread without peanut butter. Stand up, walk on, and get over it!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

This is already insane. This loneliness is getting unbearable. Why must we get lonelier when we get older? Why make a big deal about one more day, or even one more hour of being alone when you've been alone all your life?

There's got to be something better than merely getting by. There has to be something greater than this miserable and monotonous existence. The's got to be a cure for broken hearts and hapless victims of one-sided romances. There has to be a way out for me. Somewhere. Somehow. Soon.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Hunchback of Boracay

I’ve been staring at this blank computer screen for some time now. I’m down to my last few days of vacation and it is imperative that I should at least get some decent writing done. Witty Facebook status updates with poorly-taken phone-camera photos are far from being acceptable. I have to squeeze something out of my lethargic brain, at least. Or else, this hiatus from work will be no more than a figment of memory from sweeter, slower, work-free days.

I’ve been spending my time reading books. The first is Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, which, as my good friend M said, is a must-read – something that a romantic, onion-skinned, trying-hard-to-be-an-intellectual-but-only-succeeds-in-being-a-lunatic like me must read before they die. Well, I finished the book two days ago. Does that mean that I’m ready to die?

My friend M and I discussed mortality once. I remember this quite vividly and very fondly because M rarely opens up about anything personal and this conversation is just about as personal as we could get. In fact, this is the only time he ever agreed to discuss death, which is quite surprising because M and I hang out as often as possible and melancholy Jean here loves to talk about it. It was one of those impromptu dinners when we talked about how we’ve always felt about dying young. A decade ago, my friend has always felt he’d die at 38. He’s now 40, and very much alive, literally and metaphorically. I have always thought I’d die by 40 too. But then of course, I’m still several years away from that. Nevertheless, because of our conviction that we’d die young, we both developed this crazy obsession for life. We strive everyday to learn, to love, to be grateful, to appreciate every single breath. This is probably the reason why we had an instant bond, a certain chemistry that is rather rare for strangers who meet in mid-life. To make a long story short, M and I concluded that even if we live a little bit on the edge daily, always anticipating our mortality, always ready to leave the world as unexpectedly as when we arrived, this is how we’re all supposed to live – to appreciate every single breath, to enjoy life as a gift and not as a right, to learn and love as much as we can, and to be thankful for everyday and live it as if it’s your last.

Anyway, back to Victor Hugo. Sorry for digressing. I got carried away. It’s one of the most tragic novels I’ve read. Everyone seems to be nurturing unrequited affections for somebody else. Although it was beautifully written, I could not help but feel like I’ve wasted my time. I loved the book, don’t get me wrong. Mr. Hugo weaves every word into a masterpiece. I, however, am very much acquainted with unrequited love already. Too much that a mere mention of it is enough to make me retch. I didn’t retch when I read the book, of course. I was merely exaggerating.  I felt so much for Quasimodo. Because whether I admit it or not, I am a Quasimodo too. I've always felt as deformed, as alienated, as unloved. Perhaps being unloved induces a vicious cycle of being unloved more. I may not have that hunchback or that horrible blind eye, or those grossly malformed limbs, but I am a Quasimodo too, in more ways than one can ever imagine. It's the deformity of the spirit that's harder to cure.

And my Esmeralda? I guess I talked about him a few paragraphs ago. I’m on vacation, but my thoughts drift back to him. I was supposed to run away, to keep my distance, but here I am writing about him. The only difference this entry has from my last several blog posts is the fact that I’m writing this in Boracay, far from the maddening stress of work, far from that lovely place we both call home.

Borrowing the last line from the novel, “When they tried to pull his skeleton away from the one he held in his arms it crumbled into dust.” I must crumble into dust soon enough.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Writer's Block

So this is what they call writer's block. Or maybe I'm just too lazy to write. Or too happy, perhaps. My diagnosis is writer's block secondary to too much happiness secondary to spending time with you. Aargh. This blog is getting cheesy. And I hate it. But nobody reads this anymore anyway, so I might as well ventilate. I could not tell you anything. No, not yet. Maybe one day, I will. But for now I will write. Write for no one at all. Write for myself. Write for the you I created in my head. Write for the you who might come across this one day and realize that that girl you traveled with, drank beer with, danced like mad with, was in fact dreaming to travel with you forever.

Last Saturday night, you brought me to that place you've talked about many times before. You've mentioned several times that you wanted to take me there. This weekend, you did. It was a resort on top of a hill, with a breathtaking view of the city. The evening was cool, and they stars were bright. The city lights were dazzling. I didn't even notice them that much. I was with you, and we were talking about dreams and aiming for the stars and landing on the moon, or the other way around. It was a little past midnight when I said I wanted to dance. So we went back to the city and got into this sleazy bar filled with drunk kids half our age dancing to trance music. And we danced with them.

On Sunday morning, I asked you to go diving with me. You were tired and very busy. I was surprised and very grateful that you said yes. You even brought your lovely little niece along. For awhile, we stayed by the ocean reading the paper, looking wistfully at the water, saying nothing most of the time. There is always something about you that recharges me. It's the beauty and strength of your spirit, I guess. You have a countenance that radiates peace, and it's contagious. You probably think the same of me. Or else, why would you be wasting time with me?

I wish we could talk about these things. You are shy. I am scared. You are scared. I am shy. So we just kept quiet. Let's just enjoy these moments and let our actions do the talking.

It took me one more day to write about the weekend. So that's what they call writer's block. Or maybe I was just too lazy to write. Or too happy. Yes, I was too happy.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


Reoxygenation. That's your word. In medical parlance, it's called "detoxification" - it's what we do to relieve ourselves of life's toxicities and stresses. For example, medical students party hard to detoxify after a major exam. But as I grew older, detoxification has evolved into something entirely different from parties. For me, it's staying by the beach, or drinking beer on a quiet evening with soothing music playing, or getting lost in some mountain trail by a river. And most recently, detoxification, or reoxygenation as you would like to call it, means spending time with you.

We both have been extremely busy these days. And though I would have really wanted to spend time with you, our workloads have been very prohibitive. I didn't call you at all, because I didn't want to be a bother, but I have been fervently praying for Fate to intervene. In a small city of half a million people, perhaps it wasn't too much to ask for our paths to randomly cross. This morning, Fate was kind.

Today, we met. It must have been random, or maybe not. You knew I have breakfast in that diner every Sunday morning. And that has always been our favorite breakfast place. You must have known all along that I would be there. Perhaps you were wishing I would be there. Maybe, maybe not. But I must admit I was hoping you'd have breakfast in the same place too. Praying, in fact. I almost lost all hope of seeing you and was about to leave when you came.

I was checking the news on-line and when I looked up, you were outside. You smiled that big shy smile of yours when you saw me. You have so much work to do, you said. We talked about so many things, planned future journeys and business ventures, talked about national issues and politics, laughed a lot about life and the jokes it plays on us. You have always been the smartest person I know. People tell me I'm a smart one. They should meet you, I say.

After you had your breakfast you said you would have to get some reports done. I told you I would leave you so you can work. You asked me to stay. Just stay. You can read while I work, you said. And so we just sat there for some time, with you working on your computer and me reading my book. No words said. Just a strange, restful, soothing quiet. At 9am, I said that I had to start seeing my patients. And you said that you have a meeting to attend to. And we parted ways. Just like that.

I walked out of the diner feeling refreshed. That quiet time with you was a draft of fresh air. I hope I gave you a fresh supply of oxygen too. It will be another busy week ahead. This time, I am no longer worried about it. You had me refreshed and recharged. Reoxygenated, you would say. I am now looking forward to a challenging week. I hope, no, I know, that you are too.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


I saw you pass by the hospital today. I happened to be in my car, at the parking lot, wondering how I should spend the free evening. I was trying to stop myself from texting you. Geesh, I missed you terribly! Just when I was already convinced to send you a message, your car passed by. And I set my phone aside and decided against texting you.

Something tells me that if you're not busy, you'll be with me. That even if you're busy, you'll find time to be with me. After so many years of unrequited affections for so many men,  something tells me that this thing I have with you is different. I know that somehow you like me back. I only need to text you and you'll come to me. But what if I'm wrong? What if this time, at the height of my hopes, you would reject me and break my heart?

I could not risk it. I will wait for you to make your move. Or better yet, I have to heal myself from this obsession of you.

What if you feel the same apprehension I'm feeling? What if you're only waiting for me? Nah. Wake up and get real, Jean. There's no such thing. There's no such thing.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

You Again

Oh no. I'm sorry. I tried to avoid this. This blog is supposed to talk about anything substantial (ie something people can learn from, laugh at, or ponder on), but this is the second consecutive post about you. I don't think anybody is reading this blog anymore, anyway. My last entry, which was entirely about you, only garnered 11 reads as of now. So I figured it's probably safe to just blabber on. I need some form of catharsis for my thoughts. And since you're my secret crush, there really is nobody I can talk to about you. So I might as well put my thoughts in writing, lest I would someday forget about it.

Honestly, I feel weird writing about crushes. Geeez, I'm old, old enough to be labeled a spinster, actually. I wonder why I still get these silly "kilig" feelings whenever you're around. Can anybody give the exact English translation of that word? I don't think anybody can. But I know how that feels. Thanks to you.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is this. I miss you. Terribly. You're out there somewhere far away right now, and it would be several days before you'll be back home. Knowing you're away makes me lonely. Well, we really don't see each other all the time, even if you're home. But the fact that you're around, just a few kilometers away from where I work, energizes me somehow. I always look forward to this little possibility of bumping into you in the most unlikely places, in restaurants, in malls, in streets, wherever. Fate has given us several chances of bumping into each other, actually. I said "it's a small world". You said "it's serendipity".

Since you left the city, I've been in a daze. I walk around mindlessly, not looking at people's faces, not staring at license plates of lithium-colored trucks. I've been having breakfast and coffee at the usual places, but I didn't really care about the next person who walks through the door. The certainty that I will never bump into you drains me of my usual enthusiasm for the city. Since you left, I feel my age more. I'm an old lady who feels old.

Do you ever think of me from where you are now? Are you also staring at the scenery mindlessly because you know you will never find me there? Do you also look forward to coming home because you miss our conversations and our laughter and this tiny weeny possibility that you'd bump into me in the most unlikely places?

I hope you do.

I look forward to having you home. Please come see me as soon as you can.