Wednesday, December 30, 2009
6:48 PM |
The Year of Tumult and Transformation
“How do you measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets,
In midnights, in cups of coffee.
In inches, in miles,
In laughter, in strife.
In 525,600 minutes.
How do you measure
A year in the life?
How about love?”
—JONATHAN LARSON, Rent
The year ends with a sigh and a blue moon.
But it began with chill. It was an uncharacteristic nippiness in the air, something wonderfully and surprisingly wintry; for once it was the kind of January we in the tropics only read about in books or seen in movies—the close huddle under thick blankets, the mist that becomes our breathing or talking, the suddenly ubiquitous scarves ‘round people’s necks as they rushed through the city’s streets in post-holiday funk.
That it didn’t come with rain was providential and surprising. There was only that terrific chilliness, and when day after day we found that it didn’t dissipate into the familiar, but now absent, Dumaguete heat, we began to wonder about such strangeness. And then, later, we began to celebrate. We remember particularly well how the cold descended without so much as a warning on our city for those seemingly endless days—two straight weeks if we remember it right. The meteorologists were reporting a rare, protracted low pressure area somewhere in the horizon. But we weren’t listening to the weather reports: we went out, and smelled the air. How fresh it felt. We were only too used to Dumaguete’s yearlong seaside humidity—and this was certainly new. It felt like a harbinger for strange, happy things in the coming Year of the Ox.
“This year is going to be wonderful year,” we told ourselves with such optimistic certainty.
And it was.
And it also wasn’t.
The year 2009 was confusing, delightful, backbreakingly hard, adventurous, murderous, beautiful, and sad. No other year in memory came close to the ride we had on that Chinese oxen’s back. We certainly rode through some strange landscape. But there was no constancy to its geography; it could not be mapped. It was all joy and all pain at the same time, like a roller coaster ride we could not understand—but we knew, deep in our guts, that it was all about something. Something.
What that was? That’s
Someday, we will understand the terrible beauty that was this year.
We were all transformed by 2009, and while most of us are more than eager to bid it the farewell reserved for outcasts, I can only welcome it as my year of tumult and transformation. Still, it is not as if any year is free of tumult: 2001 was more than bad enough and the repercussions of those fallen towers still reverberate today; 2004, too, unleashed its tsunamic fury right after Christmas Day. But 2009 felt different—there were of course so many external tragedies to weep to, but the tumult felt largely internal, as if we were collectively going through personal earthquakes that had no names, only degrees of disorientation. When we, however, embraced what the year brought us—both its severest pains and its startling pleasures—that led to unexpected transformations, or at least the beginnings of them. One afternoon, in one of the last days of the year, I was in Don Atilano drinking my usual cup of afternoon brewed coffee, and then, from the playlist on my Mac, Michael Giacchino’s signature musical score from Lost
, the mournful/hopeful “Life and Death” came lilting to my ears. It suddenly made me cry—I just broke down, careful to stifle and cover everything with both hands and a trusty napkin—but it was not all because I was sad. In the prayer that I uttered in that moment, I surprised myself by thanking God and saying, “I learned a lot from this year.” The year was a game-changer. I guess it taught many people a lot about themselves, often in ways that transcended even pain, but we learned from it.
It has been a year of delirious triumphs— Barack Obama winning the U.S. presidency in a historic way, Glee
coming to our lives, Avatar
bringing back the forgotten wonder of the cinematic experience, Kate Winslet finally becoming an Oscar winner, Manny Pacquiao snagging another boxing belt, Efren Peñaflorida becoming CNN’s Hero of the Year, Lady Gaga transcending her one hit wonder status with one curiously catchy tune after another….
But it was also a year of such cutting tragedy and endless streams of public stupidity—the Copenhagen climate change standoff, reality TV losers such as the Gosselins, prominent deaths—Michael Jackson’s, Francis Magalona’s, Brittany Murphy’s, Farrah Fawcett’s, John Hughes’, Patrick Swayze’s, Frank McCourt’s, Johnny Delgado’s, Marilyn French’s, Odette Alcantara’s, Maurice Jarre’s, John Updike’s, Andrew Wyeth’s, Alexis Teosico’s, Cory Aquino’s—we weren’t exactly ready for, the Hayden Kho sex scandal, the Ondoy floods, the Ampatuan massacre, the National Artist controversy, the book tax debacle, the Mayon eruption, and every action that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ever did that makes her, easily, the worst president we’ve ever had.
And so we echo Brooks Atkinson, who once said of old passing years: “Drop the last year into the silent limbo of the past. Let it go, for it was imperfect, and thank God that it can go.”
We were warned, of course, by those who believe in the Chinese zodiac that riding the oxen this year would be tough-going. Money would be hard, we were told for example. And it was, for a lot of people, given the worldwide recession that spared no one. There were also forecasts of a constant stream of challenges in all aspects of our lives—from work to love to family to health—that necessitated belt-tightening and other cautionary measures. Our horoscopes were even more dire: Mercury would be in retrograde for months on end, and the planets and the stars were not in a generous mood.
The fact is, one could argue about the arbitrariness of all these: a year is just a year is just a year. That a year is bad or good means nothing. “Shit just sometimes happens,” so the philosopher of randomness would say. A year is just an invented means of “control” of elusive time, and horoscopes and other forms of divination are our wishy-washy attempts to peer into the inherent unknowability of time’s relentless march through our lives. We invest the magical, I think, into any given year out of habit, or the human characteristic to just behold a pattern in the randomness. Sometimes I feel that all our collective expectations make true the predictions of how a year will be. So the Ox was supposed to be a burden for most of us. And so it was.
And we felt it in very personal ways.
I don't know your own story but I began 2009 fat and heartbroken. A five-year relationship just ended for me around Christmas time—I was famously dumped in Facebook. And I was carrying around my 5’7” frame the 185-pound result of stress eating. In hindsight, I guess everything I did this year—losing 40 pounds by relentless gym-going, rebelling against my image as a staid and strict professor, burning the reliability of an old doormat everybody could abuse because he couldn’t say “no,” living the utmost of the high life, and falling in love with the recklessness of a teenager—was probably my way of trying to move on from the constancy of half a decade. My old life bored me. A bloody revolution was in order. And I can understand all that now: when the very definition of your existence suddenly ceases to be, I guess one flounders for a while in trying to find new footing, a new paradigm for a life. This was my year of wonderful, painful floundering. In the end, what counts is that you finally find yourself, which comes after a long process of constant self-evaluation and reinvention and perfecting the art of picking one’s self up after the nth stumbling into the metaphorical blocks.
In that journey, the one difference that made it worthwhile is friends. Old ones, new ones. I lost a best friend, too—something I grieve over, but do not regret. But I gained better ones, too—mostly people you never expected to be part of your life, but came to it as beautiful additions: Mark Fabillar and Jay Altarejos, both of whom I love like my life; my college best friends—Kristyn Maslog-Levis, Beth Castillo-Winsor, Eric Joven, James Dalman, Clee Villasor, and Ted Regencia; my spiritual and artistic gurus—Arlene Delloso Uypitching, Wing del Prado, and Ces Uhing; my academic mothers who’ve tried to balance my inconstant tempests—Betsy Joy Tan, Betty Cernol-McCann, Margie Udarbe, Gina Fontejon-Bonior, Ceres Pioquinto, Laurie Raymundo, and Elizabeth Susan Vista-Suarez; my beautiful sidekicks and trusted dreamers—Annabelle Lee-Adriano, Jacqueline Veloso-Antonio, Justine Colburn, Hendri Go, and Myrish Cadapan-Antonio; my patient teaching buddies—Sherro Lee Lagrimas, Rina Hill, and Warlito Caturay; my original pink gang—Patrick Chua, Gideon Caballes, Gerard Adiong, Moses Atega, Ed Yumul, and Joey Alar—all of whom I can always count on as the foundation of deepest friendship; the Silliman High denizens of Class 1993 (and 1994, who kinda adopted me in their partying days); my former students (or students who wished, ehem
, I were their teacher) who don’t even treat me as a teacher anymore kay
feel ra nila
—Marianne Tapales, Rodrigo Bolivar, Cessy Rivera, Fred Jordan Carnice, Michelle Eve de Guzman, Robert Jed Malayang, Lyde Villanueva, Jai Dollente, Anthony Odtohan, Zusabel Digaum, Mariekhan Edding, Eliora Bernedo, Zakiyah Sidri, Jasper Lagang, Bogy Lim, Kathleen Hynson Patacsil, Angel Catada, Aiken Quipot, Jet Tumapa, Likko Tiongson, Razceljan Salvarita, and many others; my writer friends—Kit Kwe, Ginny Mata, Padmapani Perez, Rica Bolipata-Santos, Naya Valdellon, Dean Francis Alfar, Kristian Cordero, Jean Claire Dy, James Neish, Nicolas Pichay, Luis Katigbak, Frank Cimatu, J. Neil Garcia, Yvette Tan, Wendell Capili, and Tara FT Sering; my editors—Lito Zulueta, Irma Pal, and Allen del Carmen—who just let me rant on anything in this space for years and years; and a group of great friends I call The Hive—Anna Katrina Espino, Miko Tingne, Carlo Regalado, Ramuel Reambonanza, Yves Villareal, Ren Dy, Irish Reambonanza, Nice Guerrero, and Roui Faelnar—who took me in when I was floundering, and gave me a sense of community. And, of course, Federico Regencia, who promises something new.
It was, I realize, a year of great friendships. What a wonderful year it was then.
Happy New Year, everybody. And thanks for everything.
Labels: friends, holidays, life
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