Now I’m 76 years old. I thank all my relatives, friends, students, fans who sent me 241 greetings on my Viber. That number includes groups counted as one. I spent the whole day almost answering them. My husband threw me weird looks because I was paying no attention to him. I was one with my cellphone. If you sent a greeting and I failed to reply, forgive me. I meant to thank you very much for remembering me.
When I turned 75 I didn’t know what to make of that year. “Just passing,” I wrote, thinking of the marks in high school. But what did I pass? I suspected there was something I passed but could not define what it was. Now that I’ve turned 76, I know.
Turning 75 is like standing on the very edge of a highly rocky cliff. That cliff is really the beginning of your 76th year, which you celebrate when it ends. You’re standing there the whole year reviewing the past. You see your childhood differently now but still through your own eyes. You understand more why you have aged the way you have, why now you enjoy having a workroom where you can work alone making things. This is the room where you paste your columns and file them. You file the bills you have paid. You make jewelry and other little things that occur to you in dreams. Now you make rosaries. It’s because you were so alone when you were an orphaned child. You taught yourself how to do things, a lesson learned and treasured and constantly improved upon probably until you die or until your hands get so arthritic you can’t use them anymore.
You learned about life, the joy and sorrow of it, the beauty of adjusting to everything, to having a lot of money, then having none at all. To working hard and regaining just enough of the money so you can live contentedly on your own terms. To falling in and out of love and, in this year, finally learning how to love, how to accept, how to be open to everyone.
You learned to use evolving tools. First, your penmanship, which has grown lousier with every passing year. Then the portable typewriter, then the electric typewriter, and now the computer. You have moved from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary to the Wiktionary on Google to look up words like “oligarch,” after a person called you an oligarch. Well, according to Wiktionary an oligarch is “a member of an oligarchy; someone who is part of a small group that runs a country or (especially in Russia, USA, Europe or China) a very rich person, particularly with political power; a plutocrat.” You now want to ask the person who called you an oligarch, “Are you talking to me or are you talking to yourself?” I was always on the outside of the small group who ran the country.
You now know who you are, what you care about. You don’t listen to anyone. There are those who call you society girl, fashion model, socialite. I remember once at Sunshine Place talking to two ladies whom people always referred to as socialites. They hated the label as much as I did because it ignores the value of the person herself. I worked very hard. I began as an account executive and left as president of an advertising agency, the first who was not a member of the family that owned it, the first person hired because of her brains and other credentials, and the first woman in that position in that agency. The chairman hired me. The chairman’s mother told him, “I don’t know what to say to her. She’s a woman.” A woman who with thousands of other Filipinas broke through that mythical glass ceiling by working hard. You call me an oligarch? Today’s oligarchs are the members of Duterte’s group because they are the group in power. No offense intended. Just quoting the Wiktionary.
Finally I celebrated my 76th birthday. That day marked the end of my 76th year. It’s similar to the British Gap Year, a year they give you after you graduate high school to take a break and figure out what you want to study. Seventy-five is the barrier that marks the end of your thinking you are still young. Seventy-six is the year you think about all the lessons you’ve learned and decide that, no matter how long you live, you will keep learning and teaching till the end.
Once you’ve done that, you step off the cliff and fly into the fresh, clean air of old age. You have never been this old before. Ahead of you lies a lot of mystery. Look forward to it. You don’t know what will happen.
All you know is you will learn more and more until it’s time for you to cross over. You will age with a smile.
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