Enjoying the inevitable process of aging
A POINT OF AWARENESS - Preciosa S. Soliven (The Philippine Star) - September 8, 2016 - 12:00am

(Part II of “On the Periphery of Family Life”)

Mary C. Morrison’s Let Evening Come: Reflections on Aging starts with a beautiful preface by Morris L. West who never met the woman who wrote it – “I cherish a faint hope that one day before we both move off the planet, we may meet and touch hands and exchange a smile of recognition and understanding… We have both faced the same questions and come up with much the same answers. To enjoy the inevitable process of aging, one needs the courage to be content – though never satisfied – to maintain a whole list of unfinished business, and to add to the list, new ventures everyday.”

“Wise elders do not engage in combat, and all their victories are quiet ones,” West concluded.

Old age is not for the fainthearted

The saying that “old age is not for the fainthearted” has become almost a proverb. Aging takes courage. To preside over the disintegration of one’s own body, looking on as sight and hearing, strength, speed, and short-term memory deteriorate, calls for a heroism that is no less impressive for being quiet and patient.

To watch the same process taking place in someone whom one loves requires another kind of heroism, expressed in patience, devotion, and care. And to endure or watch the kind of deterioration that leaves only the empty shell of a person, as with Alzheimer’s, calls for heroism in total defeat that is beyond words. Old age is not for the fainthearted and anyone who watches it closely and with a sympathetic eye can sometimes be lost in admiration for the aging and their gallantry.

Where does this gallantry come from? Where is dignity to be found in it? How shall we find in ourselves the dignity that we see is needed?

The spirit of old age produces great things

Marion Morris, a bacteriologist/immunologist, who was in her 80s said, “Strength and energy fail as time moves on, but the sprit continues to produce great things.” The spirit – psyche – the soul – the self – the inner life – by whatever name, this is the area of life and growth and work for our old age.

Flerida Romero, former Supreme Court Justice, stated in one of the Theosophy lecturers she gave: “Now that I am retired, many still ask me to give speeches regarding law and justice. I have to turn them down for I prefer to speak about spiritual concerns instead.”

The difficulties of old age give way to the challenge of finding out who we are, requiring constant spiritual introspection. Dealing with these difficulties, we can even become wise. We can learn to live into old age well and move on gracefully.

Keeping a journal of thoughtful writings

What inner tools do we need for this inner work? First, we need to begin keeping a journal – not a diary – but a thoughtful writing-down of happenings, thoughts, dreams, nightmares, things we read or hear that seem important. We need to write down thoughtfully our responses to whatever claims our attention for whatever reasons; as well as what of all our lifetime store of soul furniture we want to keep or discard. A journal is an instrument of awareness, through which we can watch what we do so we can find out who we are.

Second, we need to become comfortable in experiencing paradox. In old age, paradox rules our lives. Failure is success. Loss is gain. Defeat is victory. Every loss contains a gift. Losing one’s life is finding it. Many of the great life truths come in paradox, and we have heard them often. Now in old age we begin to experience them.

Third, we must learn to live with continuing questions to which there seems to be no immediate answers. In the speed and busyness of younger life we hardly noticed it. What has life been, in all its stages? What is it now? How are we going to respond to the inevitable and growing diminishment that is coming upon us? The first step comes when we suddenly realize that we have moved up a generation and are no longer the younger generation. For some of us it happens on the job as we see younger people beginning to take over the work that we have done well for so long. For others, it happens within the family context.

The sages of our life

The sage is an elderly person venerated and respected by members of the tribe for his wisdom, experiences and judgment. Men and women came to the sage to consult him about community and family matters. He knows many things about nature, animals and plants. He gives instructions and advises. The progress of man’s civilization passes from one stage to the next, from nomadic to pastoral life. Even at this stage the sage plays an important role. As life evolves from monarchy to exploration of empires, revolution to modernization the knowledge of the sages increases according to the needs of the group.

The sage sends the people to other places, north, south, east and west of the earth. The people left the sage carrying with them the knowledge imparted by the sage. Among the modern sages I have encountered are Cora Jacob and my sister-in-law, Mercy David. They both passed away a month ago.

Cora Jacob was venerated for raising the quality of bag handicraft to world class. She empowered the village women to make use of their homegrown fibers, bamboo and raffia with leather and mother-of-pearl to the most elegant and fashionable handbags of the world. Right after college in the 70’s she was training out of school youth in her birthplace of Meycauayan, Bulacan using leather from the family tannery combined with raffia. After organizing the Association of Philippine Leather-goods Manufacturers, she received the first order from overseas Japanese buyers, followed by invitations to symposiums in Netherlands and Melbourne, Australia.

By the ’80s she received the first Golden Shell Award for outstanding exports and the Lion’s International Award for “Outstanding Woman in National Service.“ By 1984 she expanded the market to the US selling at high-end store of Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale, Lord and Taylor, etc. The following year she captured the discriminating taste of the French market and sold at Gallerie Lafayette and Printemps, Christian Dior and Lacroix. Yves St. Laurent ordered her exclusive design to carry their signature brand. Her factory workers in Meycauayan rose to 3,000 to be able to produce the huge orders of 40,000 bags at one time.

Cora gave time to training the poor provincial folks of Leyte and Samar including the prison inmates of Vigan in Basic Handbag Making to provide them sustainable livelihood. The knowhow she left enabled them to develop their own small enterprises. When the World Heritage site of Ifugao Rice Terraces had to be included in the UNESCO Endangered List, she helped remove it by training 10 Ifugao weavers of Hungduan in her factory for a whole month to design, cut patterns for handbags and office table tops that were sold out readily in Trade Fairs.

They in turn were to echo the training to 10 other weavers of the four Heritage sites of Hungduan, Kiangan, Mayuyao, Banawe, and Lamut. Like the sages of old, Cora reached out to different directions of the world, becoming close to royalties of Malaysia, Thailand and India. When she passed away 40 days ago, her project with the Malaysian princess of making Prayer Mats with the Muslim village of Palawan was pending.

The poetry sage who worked with children for 28 years

Mercy David, my sister-in-law, will forever be remembered yearly by 5,000 preschool, gradeschool and highschool students of Operation Brotherhood Montessori schools who by now are outstanding leaders and company managers all over the world, due to her illustrious efforts. She would travel from New Jersey to Manila, from October to April to coach our students to compete in our yearly Poetry Festival.

As the school English speech consultant, she would spend the whole day individually training the students from as young as five years old to 17-year-old high school students in the Fairview, Las Pinas, Sta Ana, Greenhills and Angeles Pampanga branches. She recounts, “I kept my promise to Max, that I would let the O.B. Montessori students, and none other, to excel in poetry and speech.” Their parents and teachers had to collaborate to make sure their diction and inflections are flawless for Mercy was a perfectionist. For this Mercy has collected four albums of most loved poems for each level and a special selection of choral recitations for Christmas, declamation and elocution. They are carefully kept in the school archives by her loyal secretary, Gretchen Diaz.

A Fr. Reuter’s girl from her college days, Mercy used to assist the Jesuit priest before she got married to Engineer Mariano David of Cebu. After a short stint in the gold mines of Benguet, Mercy brought up her family of nine children in Maluso Basilan for 15 years braving the danger of attacking bandits and rebels. They were her “Cornelia’s jewels” as she closely home-schooled them to reinforce their education in the local Muslim school. Together with her husband, Mariano, who died on May 1989, they planted rubber trees to 80 hectares of the David Family Farm and tended to the existing 20 hectares of coconut trees. However, due to the growing rebel activities that escalated at the outbreak of martial rule, they had to evacuate to Manila. The government later effected land reform on the 100-hectare property just when the trees had already matured.

All their children finished at the Ateneo de Manila University. The oldest child Fr. Luis David became a Jesuit priest and college professor. The only girl, Marites Ramos is a registered nurse in New Jersey, USA. Ramon David works as senior vice president in Banco de Oro. Eddie David is an IT manager at Pearson, USA. Samuel David is the country manager of SDI Media, Philippines. Cesar David is a full time dad to his three children in New Jersey, USA, Dan David is the country manager of Oracle Philippines. Hector and Marcelino are deceased.

The last quarter of a hundred years of long life

All throughout our lives, we are engaged in a natural process which, if we let it, will bring us out in this good place. The first half of life insists that we develop a good, energetic, driving ego that will enable us to do what we need to do in the world – learn, work, establish a household, be a citizen. But, somewhere along in the second half, a different voice begins to speaking inside us.

We fear less, because the long tomorrow presents itself as a respite and a relief from the grief of today. The love we can still give is unconditional. The love we receive is doubly precious.

(For feedback email to precious.soliven@yahoo.com)

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