IN THIS CORONA VIRUS PANDEMIC PERIOD, elderly people over the age of 60 have been identified as the most vulnerable. While this is so, what continues to amaze me is the fact that a few of those who have continued to serve in spite of or precisely because of their age have not been afraid to make sacrifices and inspire a new generation.
The story is told, for example, of an aging Italian priest ministered to by a young medic in the Bergamo area in northern Italy. While he was being fitted a ventilator, the priest turns to a younger person in the ward and whispers: “Take it, for you have a better chance than this old man who has already lived a full life.” The doctor in attendance watches in disbelief, as the young man is fitted the ventilator and the elderly priest breathes his last prayers.
All of life is a gift
In most countries and in different places of contagion, seniors are seriously warned not to venture out of the house; to stay in, or risk incurring the wrath of authorities who consider them the most vulnerable sectors of the population.
It is rather ironic but for those who have lived long enough, solitude sometimes is a welcome blessing. Besieged by the frenetic pace of everyday life, one is given a rare chance to befriend oneself in solitude and think of the others who have become part of one’s lifelong journey. Solitude is that rare time-alone that allows us to appreciate the miracles of daily life (like breathing and seeing, tasting and touching) that we normally take for granted.
There is a time in one’s life when one turns the bend, and it begins to feel like one is reaching the homestretch period in life’s marathon journey – and now more than at any other time, one feels or is made to feel that we truly are in the proverbial “last two minutes” or in “extra-time” of one’s life. As Mary Morrison, author of “Let Evening Come: Reflections on Aging”, puts it: “The greatest challenge of old age may be the aloneness that comes as children leave home, friends move away, or longtime companions die who have shared our lives for many years.”
What never ceases to amaze me is how our lives are filled with both joys and sorrows and we survive more or less intact thanks to the Almighty’s loving-kindness. I have experienced the loss of an eldest son, the death of a student who passed away in my arms or the senseless shooting by men in uniform of fellow-protesters in the streets.
I have also seen the brutality of war in places such as Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka, Burundi and Rwanda, and Colombia. I have experienced the tragedy of “broken-ness”, of frayed relationships, the inability to attain distant dreams; yet we are given people who have embraced us, touched our lives and nurtured us.
All of life is a prayer
Gratitude is something we cannot take for granted; and I truly thank my wife Bong who has accepted me all these years for who I am, “warts and all”, and my children and grandchildren who are immense sources of joy. I am fortunate moreover to have been blessed with former classmates, batch-mates, friends from the past and present, and colleagues at work who have been both loyal and supportive.
When I was a student there was one prayer that struck me and has remained with me all throughout my journey: “Lord, teach me to be generous; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not to ask for reward, save that of knowing that I am doing Your will.” What these lines have taught me is that all of life is a prayer, an endeavor, and an enterprise “to be more” and do more in the areas of our lives that truly matter.
All of life is a learning journey.
As a student and a teacher, I learned a lot here in our country, and in Latin America where I studied the social sciences as well as in Uppsala and Oslo where I did peace studies. The irony, in fact, when I come to think of it, is that my students have taught me much more in life than I could ever have imagined.
As an advocate in the struggle against the dictatorship, in the quest to protect human rights and in the work for a just peace in the Philippines and abroad, I learned the meaning of the accompaniment of people and processes in the organizations I joined such as the militant non-violent Lakasdiwa of the “First Quarter Storm” of the ‘70s, or Ka Pepe Diokno’s Kaakbay in the ‘80s; or, the international secretariat of Amnesty International and the peacebuilding organization International Alert – where I witnessed peace agreements signed and broken time and again in different parts of the world.
As a mentor of scholar-athletes in post-retirement, I am blessed to work with young people playing together and working hard to produce a “brave brand of sportsmanship” that is both mindful and committed to do one’s best till the sound of the last buzzer.
All of life is a challenge to be the best we can be.
Life never truly ends, it is merely transformed. Yet, when we reach the three-quarters mark I am reminded of three things – some kind of ultimate challenge:
Staying the course. As we reach the homestretch, it is important it seems to me to stay true to one’s principles, to remain firm in our convictions and not to be swayed by prevailing winds or be broken by the trials that beset us. It takes courage to stay the course, even when dawn seems far too distant.
Sharing with the successor generation. I began as a teacher, and am fortunate that in post-retirement I am able to accompany young scholar-athletes in their formation to share not only what I have learned but more importantly to assist them to reach their level-best, to unleash their potential and to realize that there is life beyond basketball, volleyball, football, or any other sport; that character is what truly matters, and that competence and the formation of social conscience mean more than trophies or medals.
“Sage-ing” with courage. I believe that at this stage of one’s journey, joy comes when we accept things as they are, but continue to work to make things better than they can be. When one reaches the seventies, our frailties and ill-health normally begin to surface. Our shortcoming and limitations in life become more pronounced. Old age indeed is “not for the faint-hearted”. Thus, aging with grace, with humility and magnanimity becomes a blessing; and “sage-ing” with equal measures of love, gratitude and courage becomes a gift in the end-game.