THINKING SPOT - Bianca Locsin (The Philippine Star) - March 23, 2014 - 12:00am

When I turned 35 my best friend told me I had officially, by UN standards, entered adulthood. As an avid reader of historical romances, I found myself aghast, to use romance novel terms, at the realization that at that ripe old age, I had only just crossed into that territory where the heroes and heroines of my escapist fodder had been frolicking since the age of 18. I don’t know how the UN decides at what point to peg adulthood but I am surprised by their accuracy at pinpointing the exact moment when I crossed over from the demographic whose opinions and choices on everything from retail and television matter to the vast demographic called “35 and over” which, when faced with the phrase in news articles, reminds me that I, a life-long champagne socialist, should be well on my way to becoming a Republican. Now, more than ever, I would come to resemble my mother.

What is it like to get old? 

“Prepare yourself,” as Elizabeth Bennet says to Colonel Fitzwilliam, “for something very dreadful.”

It was the privilege of my youth that this question didn’t bother me till I turned 30. Prior to the moment I blew out what looked to be a cake on fire, I had not felt myself standing on an edge. “The 20s,” a psychiatrist once told me to my surprise, “are hard, but the 30s are harder, because that’s when you want all of it to come together.” In my early 30s, I had considered my dismissal of an engagement as in tune with the unconscious stirrings of my heart and felt an optimism about my future belied by the fact that at the time I was underemployed and earning just enough so that I didn’t feel that sorry for myself. When a relationship ended in my mid 30s I felt, not just that the relationship, if one could call it that, was over, but that the last vestiges of youth had been blown away by the cataclysm that was that ending, of which vicious character I certainly played my part. 

I told anyone who cared to listen that I would never be the same, that I would never recover which, to those of my friends who dealt with poverty and pestilence in their line of work, seemed, understandably, a rather great (and typical of me) exaggeration. However, though unable to articulate it at the time, I knew that what I really meant was that I had irretrievably lost the idealism that had sustained me throughout my life — the conviction that if I hewed closed to my soul, listened to its peculiar calls, that if I was good, I would be safe, even blessed, and everything would naturally fall into place. Adulthood means, like that priest who sailed away in a chair attached to 1,000 balloons in the name of human rights, that all those balloons eventually get punctured and you, like any other fool, come thumping right back down to earth.

Adulthood means all those fiercely held opinions you had about the world, about right and wrong, good and evil, kindness and selfishness, the difference between the colors black and white, begin to blur. (Not much to worry about there though as from what I can see of Old Age, that’s when all one’s fierce opinions are revived.) Adulthood means the ground is always slipping, your certainties always dissolving. Adulthood also means makeup is no longer just for experimentation or augmentation but an elaborate form of self-defense.

And yet Adulthood has its benefits or experiences which, like those of one’s youth, are unique to it. I look back now at all those preternaturally mature cool kids, those who stood above and apart from the crowd with their all-knowing gazes, and see that they were, after all, like me “Just kids.” Neither they nor I nor the wallflower whose corner I more often than not shared knew what life would have in store for us, who would “win” by society’s standards and who would lose.  There is Grace, of course, if one has the courage for it. That only comes with age. There is also the finally figuring out of the rules of the Game and then, oddly, a realization that those rules can be ignored if one taps into an innate reserve of self-respect. There is, finally, the ability to see clearly what is fertile ground and what is barren and a related ability, heretofore seemingly impossible to cultivate, to walk away early from the latter. Adulthood means a settled sense of being, a kind of consolidation of self, not quite into the person one thought one would be but what one actually turned out to be.

A good Adulthood means, I believe, the ability to make, as Pema Chodron put it, a perfect cup of tea. It means you do things with a steady hand, because you are not filled with either giddiness or despair, the indulgent and sometimes invented emotions of Youth, but are rather possessed of the kind of inner calm that allows you to approach the making of a cup of tea with the right sense of proportion, the kind of quietude that stems from delicately balancing within oneself a profound sense of the futility of trying to control one’s destiny and yet also the fervency of faith, which is nothing more than the belief in the happy unknown always glimmering just at the horizon line.

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