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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

entry arrow11:04 AM | Making God Laugh

[a longer version of an older post]

Today I celebrate the fifth anniversary of my 28th birthday. And if you don’t get what I mean by that, please realize that I mean to say it tongue-in-cheek, the root of which is the denial that comes easy the moment you realize you’re not that young anymore. Birthdays, I have found out, are everybody’s grand occasions for denial.

Forever twenty-eight years old. (Why not 29? Twenty-nine is too near Armageddon.) This has been my own running joke for all my birthdays since turning 30, but now I’ve decided enough is enough. My name is Ian Rosales Casocot. And I’m 33 years old.

There you go. Like AA. Somebody should invent group therapy for age-deniers.

But it is a tendency that is easy enough to sympathize with. Ancient cultures used to celebrate old age, and the wisdom that came with it. But things have changed. We live in an agist age—where youth is worshipped and prized. Botox, and gym membership, and mid-life crises, and plastic surgery come to mind as the embodiment of that. Photoshop, as well. (How we love our discovery of the liquefy tool!) While the international definition of youth sets the demarcation at 40—tell that to the 29-year-old slowly growing in panic as the prospect of the big Three-O springs. I used to be that youth. How silly that seems to me suddenly, now.

I used to dread this particular week—the birthday week, the seven days that come and go before you wake up to stare at the bare fact of another natal day. I’ve been dreading it since I turned 25, many years ago, and suddenly realized, like the proverbial punch to the stomach, that I had lived a quarter of a century already but there was not much I could show for a life well-lived. I had only discovered Sartre then, and felt it to my bones.

Birthday weeks after 30 are easy to describe. I’d succumb to a cliché, of course, and mope around, find a place to be a hermit for a few days, until the whole dreaded prospect of celebrating another year of turning older has cleared, and nobody has to greet me anymore a half-hearted “Happy Birthday!” followed by the inevitable query of “Where’s the party?” (My answer: “I thought you were planning to surprise me.”)

Moping became a tradition of sorts. Those closest to me expected it, and gladly gave me space to breathe while I went about living in the frame of mind of a rabid dog. Then again, I was the original emo guy. While others would go to orphanages on their birthday morning to bring good cheer to the less fortunate (like my good friend, and angel, Bing Lacdo-o), and while others would go to a spot in the Philippines they’d never been to (like my friend Moses Joshua Atega, whose birthday tradition has made him an intrepid traveler), I’d close my doors instead, pull down the blinds, and wallow in the darkness of a few hours, or days, alone.

In the occasion that I feel brilliant enough to psychoanalyze this tendency, I think of it as some Freudian wish to get back to the beginning of my own life, to get back to the cocoon of my mother’s womb. I’m not sure it is like Woody Allen’s immense existential fear that life is a cruel joke. It cannot be that depressing. I think of it as a communing with a profound sense of unrealization—a thorough reexamination of my life to see what had been done, and what had not been done.

All of us carry a certain yardstick to measure our personal best. The most competitive among us have it down to inches. I’m not that competitive, but I do (or did) have my own measurements that go (or went) by the meter. One of my favorite songs come from the Broadway musical Rent, and Jonathan Larson who wrote that wonderful Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning play, penned these wonderful lines for “Seasons of Love,” which to me spoke of that all-too-human tendency to measure all that we are: “Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes / five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear / five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes / how do you measure, measure a year? / In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee / in inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife / In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes / How do you measure a year in the life?”

Larson’s final answer is to measure life in love. And I believe that, and so do most of us, I think. We like the sound of that. Love, the antidote to everything. But we soon come to realize, of course, that it is a resolve and a philosophy that is often harder to realize in daily living, considering everything that we go through each single day that we breathe. Our lives are vacillations of all emotions, including hate and despair. To measure life fully in love? Impossible. And so we turn to other measures.

For example, the measure of life when I turned 24 went this way: “Oh my God. Next year, I’m turning 25, and I’m still living with my mother.” The next thing I knew, I got myself an apartment, and embarked on a tumultuous “independent” life that has lasted to this day.

Each year, it went like that, with one kind of measure after another. Every birthday marked a change: a new job, a new love, a new story… Some years seemed dipped in so much blessedness, but there were also times when I considered myself the utter embodiment of failure—and the most recent years between 2003 and 2005 seemed like black holes especially, years of stumbling in the proverbial dark when there seemed to be no salvation from a general sense of despairing. What is happening to me? I used to ask myself when I felt everything turning loose from all sense of control. Will things get better? The birthdays then were acute occasions of bewilderment—and the days of those long-gone birthday weeks seemed longer and slower, the way one would feel for the entire minute you dip your finger in a bowl of hot oil. But somehow, prayers do get answered. And God does listen.

And now I couldn’t care less about birthdays anymore. Let them come, I say now. I’ve already gone past the number of days in the calendar—and after enduring that, there really is no use anymore battling with the inevitable. One grows old, simple as that. The folly of the young is the false sense of “forever.” Age--and the slow physical decrepitude it brings—becomes the antidote to that, and once you take that in as the truest thing of being biological entities, each day somehow becomes a miracle of living. Finally owning up your years after thirty becomes the best gift you will ever give yourself.

Now, I don’t even have time to mope. True, I’m still convinced my life is largely incomplete -- but here suddenly comes wisdom: what can one do, really, but roll with the years, and grab whatever it is that comes your way? Life, you soon realize, is too random—we all know this truth, but it takes years for us to feel its gravity.

And the ancients were wise indeed: the best way to make God laugh is to make a plan. There is a grand and divine design for all of life—I believe that wholeheartedly—and it takes a little faith to surrender to that notion. I still do make plans—if only to unclutter my minutes and my days as well as to reassure the obsessive compulsive that lurks under my skin. But the grand scheme of things, I surrender all of that to the divine. I’ve been quite a schemer most of my young life, but less than half of the fancies I’ve made ever got realized—and I always ended up feeling a little silly for even scheming.

So here’s a cheer to life’s randomness. Here’s a cheer to unfulfilled dreams, but not plans. And here’s a cheer to the number 28, and how good it sounds mixed with the gaiety of winking denial. And here’s to ditching that, finally, and own up the blessed years.


[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich