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.