When old age creeps in

Or, when they think you are superannuated, so obsolete and defunct! By “they” I mean not only my grandchildren, grand nieces and nephews, but also my own children, even if they themselves will be senior citizens in less than a decade. I must look rather frail and helpless to them. My son who lives across the street has showered me with even more love and attention. During this pustule of a year, studded with ECQs and MCQs and whatever, my son and grandson have pampered me, guarded me with eagle eyes lest I escape to the nearest mall and expose myself to all kinds of dangers. They are thankful that I have accumulated a lot of books and love to read.

A week ago, I asked my former classmates — we have cackling zoom sessions every Monday– how old they feel. The consensus was that none of us feels that she is a day more than 40. By the way, my mother had just turned 42 when she accompanied me to Long Beach, California where I represented the Philippines in the Miss International Beauty pageant, in August 1964. Did she feel her life’s journey was reaching a milestone? When I won the title, did that make her feel old? Maybe, or maybe not, because whenever we were seen together in Long Beach someone would always exclaim, “Next year, put the mother in the contest!” That must have made Mommy feel that she was not more than 20 years old.

So, here we are, Maryknoll College batch ‘63, now septuagenarians: How did we get here? What happened? —we always tease one another. Yet, we are carrying on as if we were still in our 40s. This can only mean that, thank the Almighty, we are in good shape physically, mentally and emotionally, despite the onslaught of years and vicissitudes of life. Happily, some of us do not have maintenance medicines yet, only one has more than a dozen medications and, ironically, she happens to be one of the doctors in the group.

Those who migrated to the USA and Canada shortly after graduation now enjoy gardening in their old age; they post pretty pictures as proof of their hitherto undetected green thumbs. They have gotten used to not having domestic helpers and actually enjoy taking on the household chores of their empty nests. Before the pandemic, they used to go on Nordic and Mediterranean cruises, drive cross state to play mahjong or go malling. Some have taken up painting and crocheting. But we do have to be realistic. Once in a while we remind ourselves that we are already in the departure lounge, or perhaps, we already have seatbelts securely fastened. There have been a few deaths, unrelated to Covid.

They have also been vaccinated against Covid, thanks to the well-planned response of the Biden administration. Last Monday, we argued about Ivermectin, for almost two hours. It was obvious that those who live in the USA and Canada where FDA laws are strictly applied have misgivings about the efficacy and safety of the said medicine. When they learned that some of our friends here are already taking Ivermectin, that raised an alarm. Testimonies on social media from people who have taken it should not be considered as scientific evidence that the medicine can protect one from contracting the Covid virus. They have more faith in the vaccines. We informed them about the Philippine government allowing “compassionate use” of Ivermectin with the caveat that those taking the drug should stop when they are vaccinated. During that spirited debate, I saw a kind of disparity between them of the First World and us living in the Third. Are we barely out of the babaylan stage?

In Antonio Pigafetta’s 16 th century account of Magellan’s voyage, he described the babaylan as a decrepit old woman, a far cry from the young and sinuous creatures portrayed by Botong Francisco in his famous murals. Rajahs, principalia and commonfolk would consult their community babaylan before making momentous decisions or when they needed miraculous cures for ailments. The babaylan’s attributes were most probably founded on decades of experience and knowledge (of curative herbs and plants and folklore), so those who live to a ripe old age become the oracles and spiritual leaders of their communities.

Had we lived in the 16 th century, my zoom mates and I would probably be the babaylans. Frankly speaking, there are times when I feel waves of prescience which make me feel that I am living too long. I used to call it X-ray vision, until the MRI and CTScan became commonplace. It is when you have a resonance imaging of how events are going to turn out because you have felt or seen them before. Here you are talking to someone whom you know is about to commit the most fatal mistake in his/her life if your advice is ignored. Or, you barely escape imminent danger, thanks to blinking red flag from your memory file. Or, you are wary of a person because you detect cross sectional sophistry in his/her behavior. Wisdom brought about by old age is extremely useful, but it can be frightening.

Be that as it may, the point is to enjoy one’s ripe old age, and to do that one must not squander the present but live it to the fullest. “Youth is wasted on the young!” was my mother’s clarion call whenever I was too timid, indecisive, too frightened to face challenges which she was certain would make me a better person, a good citizen. Of course, one has to have faith in God, both my mother and grandma would say. Do the very best you can and God will fill in the rest; He will help you, but you first have to use the blessings you receive to help others, not only yourself. When you look back and see that you have done nothing, you will be miserable in your old age.