Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 9 October 2019


One of my grandchildren asked me the ultimate question during a recent family gathering to honor my many years:

“What are your immediate plans and what do you hope to accomplish still?”

Ninety-nine percent done. One percent waiting. I do not know what prompted me to answer summarily by saying, “I have done 99 percent of what I could reasonably accomplish. I have one percent more to go.”

But my grandchild asked persistently : And what is the one percent more that you want to do ? My mysterious or impish answer was, “Waiting….”

I guess what I meant by this was to wait out the long life, to live it fully still, and to do as much that can be done as bonus!

Perhaps my answer was influenced by two mystifying incidents within days of each other last June. As I was winding down my vacation in the US, two shocks happened to me.

One landed me in a 911 ambulance and in the emergency ward of a US hospital after being hurt in a human stampede.

The other incident could have been a great misfortune. (It was an encounter with a deadly poisonous viper with a body as solid as my wrist in my daughter’s garden by the woods, the head of which I had unknowingly grated with the lawnmower.)

The weight and tear of years have helped to slow me down and my balance a little wobbly. My doctors have added prescriptions for maintenance of blood pressure and proper body chemistry.

Thankfully, I am on my own power, I still have my own thoughts, and have my own volition still!

Next year, I will be on my mid-octogenarian point and I think the genetic odds are good that nonagenarian-life is within reach. My mother died at 96 years, but my father did not survive beyond 50.

Genetics, luck, and our chosen paths. We reach this point in our lives through factors that we only partially control. There is much element of luck.

Genetics is the luck of the draw. DNA from parental characteristics mix and match at random as part of natural law. Beyond the genes passed on to us, we live long partly because our parents shielded us when we were helpless and guided us when we were growing up.

There is also pure survival. We reach a certain age because we are lucky not to fall victim to random accidents and we have survived natural disasters.

Beyond luck, there are the decisions we take. They are significant, I think.

These are those decisions we have made for ourselves – the choice of partners in life, the professions or work we do, the lifestyles we adopt, and the disciplines we self-impose.

All these become more significantly clear as we age toward the very golden years of life. A happy mixture of physical fitness, mental alertness and vibrancy, and good disposition are all an important recipe for living the long life. Some say diet and exercise mix well. In my case, I love food and I am accused of eating to excess.

Aging will weaken all, in time. But we slowdown that weakening by this mystical that we could call the formula.

These ingredients do not just happen in isolation. There is an interaction that is positive among all of these traits or activities. Perhaps they all start with the idea that physical fitness is the anchor of successful achievements in the mental and social aspects of well-being.

It is important to nurture those things we cherish most, to enable us to go on further along each front. In short, we should keep honing our skills, be they physical, mental, or other capacities.

Active, productive, interesting, and varied. In my life, physical fitness as an objective was not always there. There was a stage when I was mainly burning my energies doing my professional work, which has been essentially the life of teacher and of the mind.

Discovery happened when I found out that I was unfit. During a basketball match (in my early 30s) when, after playing briefly, I was completely worn out within five minutes of joining.

That was my revelation. I sought help to rebuild my physical well-being. It required a disciplined application of effort and commitment. It happened slowly, but I became aerobically fit, by the standards of Dr. Kenneth Cooper and the lay propagator of running, James Fixx.

In time, my portfolio of choice of exercise – swimming, tennis, and then running – helped me through the years.

When injury prevented me from running, I shifted and honed my skills elsewhere. Today, I am dedicated more to tennis as sport, taking it seriously as a sport requiring continuous training and testing on the courts.

Even at an old age, I find it enjoyable, playing singles still, with trainers who give me good, punishing, and lively games. I found in the last two years that supplementing this with gym workouts has improved my performance and movement. Age is not yet taking over.

For mental work, it is anyone’s own effort. The mind has to be challenged so that we do not lose the skills we learned when we trained for our professions.

My solution to this is to keep honing them. I write, write, and write. My shelves are full of notebooks – random notes which are the fruit of ideas heard or encountered, and transcriptions in long hand of some novels I have enjoyed in their French language versions, including the New Testament.

I read, read, and read more. I read new works and history, and I reread the novels that I enjoyed when I was young. These days, I am focused on all the writings that Jose Rizal has written – epistles, diaries, novels, biographies of him by others, articles, some in Spanish.

I practice the skills I am not using any more by repetitive or cumulative effort so as not to forget.