Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Charmed

published 3 January 2016

On New Year’s Eve as I was washing the dinner dishes, it dawned on me that this was the year I had perfected my skill at gratefulness for big and little things alike.  
The previous year, the four kids and I were living in a cramped, ill-ventilated three-bedroom townhouse in Valenzuela City, which quickly became isolated in the event of a storm or even just strong rain. There, I cannot even stay long in the kitchen because of the possibility of a rat, or a cockroach, springing up on me. The smell of the previous day’s viand also lingered and stuck on one’s clothes. 
I remember wishing for the ability to rent a place nearer the office and cut my commuting time in half. If it would not be too much, I added, I’d like plenty of wide windows and natural lighting.  
By the end of the year I was alternating between rinsing plates and looking out the kitchen window above the sink, which gave me an unobstructed westward view of the metro, just when the fireworks were beginning. 
God must have taken note of the window request, too, because my room-cum-home-office facing the southeast affords me the sight of the distant skyline, and, on a clear day, mountains, when I open my eyes in the morning. 
Whereas we used to share our home with others, now the kids have their individual spaces which I always say reflect their personalities and priorities. The common areas, however, have to be fixed up as I wish. 
We’ve ditched the air-conditioning and now paying the power distribution company is less...painful. 
I had finished the dishes and was now bringing out the ingredients for the media noche. In the boys’ room, my sons (19 and 13) were trying something for the first time: doing a bass-and-violin jam of the popular song “What are you doing New Year’s Eve?” They get the music right—beautifully, I may add—until they miss a note and break out into laughter.  
How lucky one can be, I thought. My older boy was attending the UST Conservatory of Music; the younger one is in Grade 7 at the Philippine High School for the Arts. People pay to hear live entertainment on such an evening; I was getting it for free. I felt the Universe was serenading me. 
The boys are examples of my mantra that one has to find one’s passion, one’s life work, to truly thrive. Some relative once said to them that their chosen fields would not make them wealthy or successful. I was livid on that one, retorting that I raised my children to define success not by the amount of money you have. Yes, money is important. As sole breadwinner, I am reminded of that every day. But beyond a certain level, when one is done providing for basic needs, there are worthier pursuits and larger causes to live for.  
This is why “living” and “existing” are two distinct words. 
Upstairs, my girls (21 and 15) were downloading two movies we’d agreed on watching while waiting for midnight: New Year’s Eve (Ashton Kutcher, Katherine Heigl) and Love, Actually (Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant). In 2015, these girls had their fair share of struggles as well. The older one had to have her gallbladder removed in an emergency operation in February. That episode eroded my savings, which was why I did not think I would be able to transfer homes in the summer anymore. She quickly recovered, though, braved a breakup and found a job with an international NGO even as she has yet to get her literature degree this year. 
The younger girl, a student leader, learned this year that each decision has repercussions and tradeoffs. I let her stay on at her school in Caloocan because she did not want to leave her friends just yet. But the commute soon took its toll on her that she was always so tired upon getting home in the late afternoon, sometimes early evening. Her grades took a hit. 
And even without transferring schools, she lost some friends as well—good riddance, I must say—while retaining the ones that matter, even developing new bonds. That’s what friendship is. Over time, you take different paths but always come back together.
She sees this in my own friendships, which I have nurtured for 30, 20, 10 years now. Best to have a few gems rather than dozens of mere ornaments. 
As for me, I’ve stayed put, taken new challenges at my job and in other engagements, lost someone I thought was one of my best friends, cut barnacles loose, met new people, learned to apply makeup, discovered I can survive without househelp, and spent a lot of great (even not-so-great) moments with friends and family. 
There are things I wished I did more, like read more books or watch more movies, spend less time on Facebook, write the things I’d really like to write (those without a deadline) and become open to possibilities yet again. 
We have the rest of the year, and the rest of our lives, for that. 
At the stroke of 12, the five of us gathered around the upstairs window to film the fireworks displays from all fronts. After a few moments, however, I stopped trying and just put my phone down. Truly the best things in life cannot be documented or preserved. They can only be experienced.  
This is the year I turn 40. I am not waiting for my charmed life to begin. It already has.

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