I actually think that my thirty-first year began when May did. Usually, the time that starts sometime before my birthday happens to be one of the most difficult times. It’s when the worst emotions tend to show themselves. I sense it has recently been because taking stock is an unconscious activity that tends not to be worked out. Now it may be that I found the way out. Why not write about what I learned that year and see where next to go?
First. There is so much to see
May began with a surprise trip. In my last job, I was suddenly asked to take a trip to Vigan, Ilocos Sur, to document an activity my organization then was staging. I enjoyed this trip very much.
It was a new place. And I got to enjoy food I knew about—hello, Vigan empanada—in its “natural” setting. But what I discovered was that there was so much to see that I made a note to come back. Since then, I have not bothered.
The sad thing was that I did not get to travel as much this year. I really do not know whether it was my finances or my lack of travel-willing friends (I suspect the latter). Maybe the next year will be a year when I will be out and about. It is an ambitious goal. But with what I am doing now, there will be a chance to see other places in this country. Perhaps, God willing, I could be elsewhere too.
There is so much to see.
Second. The quietest places are the best places.
If there was one trip that defined my year, it was my trip to Baguio. I did so in the off-season. It was part of an event that an acquaintance staged that year, but I had another reason. The weekend events led up to my arriving, one fine Sunday afternoon, at the Mirador Jesuit Villa. From Sunday night onwards, the retreat house became my home.
It was a place of utter silence, punctuated by the rhythms of liturgy, the sounds of the outside world that intruded at times, and the noises of steps, doors, showers and plates. The view was amazing, but the silence was something I enjoyed.
Perhaps the silence disturbs me. I do come to terms with the mystery that is myself when I am silent. But it awakens something. I do know what it was. It was that hope in myself, that even when I had given up on myself, it sometimes pushed me on. And I was not alone in that hope. For my silence echoed the silences of many others who could not bring themselves to speak that hope, and even if they did, it would ring hollow.
Hope is silent, I think. A virtue that strikes me dumb. Sometimes I understand why I can’t be hopeful.
And it took the quietest places to awaken just that.
Third. Love is not really what I expect.
The day after my thirty-first birthday was when I finally asked someone out after a long time. This attempt did not last long. I felt defeated after that.
No matter how open I would like to be to the surprise of love, the kind of surprises led me to the kind of love with which I am (hopefully, again) most familiar: friendships. I thought this year would be different but I seemed to find that my expectations were challenged.
Maybe it was because I could not get the trick right. Maybe it was because there were people I took for granted, especially those who have stuck with me over the years. But maybe it was because the point of the exercise was that I expected wrong.
This was the year I would have to learn how to build friendships that last, those that work for good. I failed at love that way, and the fact that I am still alive means a second shot at it.
Fourth. Music shapes my life more than I have imagined.
I discovered music more than ever this year.
Not long after returning from Vigan, I began a long journey whose end just happened today. Suffice to say I met a special group of musicians, one of whom is my age. I discovered what she and her friends, who belong to a band that enjoys a somewhat unmixed reputation in the musical community, were capable of doing. And I fell in love again.
I can say that the whole tale began maybe last year, in my thirtieth, with the singer-songwriter gig that changed my life. But the story starts much earlier. It may have started when I discovered the thrill of Wagner and Beethoven while the likes of romantic pop songs became ear worm at six. It continued with those days that my dad exposed me to bossa nova before it became a tiresome fad whilst my friends at the Jose Abad Santos Memorial School opened my ears to Nirvana, the New Kids on the Block, and Metallica. It continued with my discovery of Eighties New Wave as the local music scene was startled awake by the Eraserheads in my high school years. And there was the time my friends in high school started making music together, the roots of a story I consider my best music piece ever.
Space and modesty will stop me from continuing, but what I learned was that music has shaped my life more than I ever realized. I discovered too that I could share my enthusiasm, albeit muted, with the rest of the world. Perhaps, assuming a friend of mine is right, if something good came out of everything that has happened, it is that the next part of this story has to happen. The next part, as it turns out, is contrapunctal, the one about looking elsewhere than what I have been encountering. That is the shape of my musical story.
So I suppose I can move on.
Fifth. Again, surprise.
It turns out that, if we are to look at everything I have learned this past year, it is the theme I have oft repeated. It is a beautiful refrain. It is an unexpected one.
I live in hope for the next surprise to happen. I believe in the kind of Providence that is not concerned with the details, but in One who desires that I live a life that is indifferent to expectations.
Perhaps the one thing I did not learn from the Jesuits in school (I think) but one which I discovered later in life was this adapted paragraph from the Spiritual Exercises:
In everyday life, then, we should hold ourselves in balance before all of these created gifts when we have an option and we do not have the clarity of what would be a better choice. We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, or even life or death itself.
Rather, our only desire and our one choice should be that option which better leads us to the goal for which God created us.
(from the “Principle and Foundation,” based on the paraphrase by David L. Fleming, SJ)
The choice, then, for me is to find my calling in the surprises of life, and to say with the Psalmist the one answer worth giving:
“How shall I repay the Lord for all he has done for me?
I will take up the cup of salvation and call upon the Name of the Lord.”