Super-aging in COVID times

CROSSROADS TOWARD PHILIPPINE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL PROGRESS - Gerardo P. Sicat (The Philippine Star) - October 7, 2020 - 12:00am

Anyone who reaches the mid-point between the age of 80 and 90 has a lot to be thankful for. I pause to celebrate on reaching such a glorious super-age.

Super luck, hard work, or good decisions? Growing up, I worked hard to get the education that public schools, including the UP, could offer me. Then opportunity knocked when I was offered a teaching job in Economics at UP and a unique possibility of an all-paid-for foreign study.

This gave me enough courage to marry Loretta (in 1958), my bright classmate from high school, the love of my youth. The following year, Lor accompanied me to the US as I went for my PhD study at M.I.T. When we returned home (in 1963), there were four of us.

Luck could bless us, but perseverance and purpose were ours. On a similar scholarship, Lor went alone to M.I.T. to study, and upon her return to UP where she too, had become part of the Political Science faculty. Before her own PhD (1970), also from M.I.T., my family added two more members, born at home. In early mid-careers, Lor and I welcomed our fifth child (1977). My family history, I would joke, is summed up as follows: 2 MIT PhDs = 2+2+bonus=5.

Physical fitness is life extending. I discovered this and integrated it into living my life. Thus, in early mid-career, the joy (or pain) of exercise brought endurance into my capacity for work, becoming the antidote to fatigue. Most certainly, it made my cardio-vascular system fitter and more resilient.

Mine was a stressful and demanding professional life and my work took me to a widely diverse geography of the world. At home, I learned to put a good early morning run to prepare me for the day, which habit I carried on even when in a foreign place or other part of the home country. Hardly any city or place I ever visited escaped an early morning run.

Thus, I saw the world around me beyond the business of my assignments. The many streets, the public parks, the river banks, the iconic buildings or historic places and monuments, and most of all, the smell and life of places bursting alive in the morning – I have fond memories of these streaming across my mind whenever I think of a place I have been to before.

The vistas of retirement. On a dreary winter weekend-day in Washington D.C. where I was then working, in the 1990s, I took Lor and my son Keith to the glass-enclosed Botanical Garden, an institution that is sandwiched by the US Capitol Building and NASA Museum.

We had a wonderful time watching all the beautiful plants and the various flowers, especially the many red poinsettias that dominated the scenery, a theme that announced the approach of Christmas.

Then, I saw the palm trees in the garden. I sat on a bench under the palms to feel and enjoy the moment. And that calm – 20 minutes of intensity –totally overwhelmed me. It became the magnet calling me to return home. I then vowed to spend whatever productive years I might have after retirement in the land of my birth.

That has been the case since 1997. After productive years as professor at UP, interspersed by service in the government, I returned to UP where I taught again and got immersed in academic work.

I clarified my thoughts, participated in academic and other pursuits. My mission was clear to me. Write about what I knew.

So, I wrote studies after studies on Philippine development issues. I revised the textbook on Economics that I wrote way back in the 1980s.

After having almost finished the book on the career of Cesar Virata during relevant contemporary times in our country – the 1960s to the 1980s – my free time was consumed by writing a weekly column on economic and social issues affecting Philippine development.

This is now the 499th essay in Crossroads in this newspaper, which I started in 2010. The experience has taught me many things, including about myself. The column space enabled me to discuss relevant development and business topics. Occasionally, too, I could venture into issues of nationhood, economic history, our heroes, on life and living.

The panorama of super-aging. A stroke incapacitated Lor in 2005 and our family’s priorities shifted. Caregivers took turns to nurse her in our home until the end, which went on for five years.

Though I cheered Lor with discussion and readings and history, including the many works of Jose Rizal, those sessions enriched my comprehension more than it did hers. Her illness had consumed her own substantial gifts.

Life must go on. The loneliness of life had providential blessings for me. For Lor’s younger sister, Cynthia, our own flower girl in 1958, who looked as much as Lor, was there to remind me so.

We married without acquiring new in-laws. Not only is she a perfect companion. She is a robust editor of my imperfect prose.

Super-aging under COVID times. COVID-19 measures confined us to the house we live in. My weekly tennis exercise (no longer running since injury) which usually took four hours of play-practice and my trips to the gym for other workouts went to zero.

But luckily, the staircase of the house transformed into a workout machine when multiplied and intensified in unnaturally-repeated-use. The house floor is good support for exercises and stretches.

And yes, I can read, and read, and read more. Such actions supplement my impulse to write. The laptop is my window to the world.

Additionally, learning to play the guitar became an enjoyable substitute for time use. Practice requires daily grind and commitment to task.

Perfection is not the goal any more. In the early grades, it is only incremental learning. But continual practice exercises the body’s neural networks. This might help to delay the inevitable onset of loss of skills, dullness of mind, and loss of memory in old age.



For archives of previous Crossroads essays, go to: https://www.philstar.com/authors/1336383/gerardo-p-sicat. Visit this site for more information, feedback and commentary: http://econ.upd.edu.p h/gpsicat/

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