Stories at 54

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - January 7, 2019 - 12:00am

I’d like to be called Father Time, because nobody can stop Father Time.This writer is wondering why no high-profile athlete ever took on this moniker. Perhaps it would be paradoxical, as we are actually on the other side of that battle. And as the cliché goes, we’re not getting out of this fight alive.

Today, this writer turns 54. So much has happened in sports, politics and personally, making 2018 extremely painful and, in the wrong way, unforgettable. No less than 18 people I knew personally died last year, testing my strong aversion to funerals. But simultaneously, the gift of 2018 was realization, and closed doors forcing us to turn to new vistas. 

Fitness crossroads. Most of the time, we are not conscious of the miniscule changes that take place in us over time. This is very obvious in sports like boxing, where the competitive fire or desire for big purses results in the patented denial that you’re slower or don’t hit as hard as you used to. In other sports like basketball, you compensate by shooting more from the outside, having less physical contact, using your hands more on defense. And you may get away with it, but only for a while. In your 40s, you can cheat and still recreate flashes of past athletic brilliance. But in your 50s, that is so much harder to do. You stand at the crossroads if whether or not spending more time staying fit actually eats up too much of your time, and if the adjustment is worth it. And you choose a side. It would be so easy to give up the fight against getting fat. And slow. And sick.

Urgency to connect with the past. The good old days were the colorful, intense, best days of our lives, usually between high school to early adulthood. When I was growing up in the 1989’s, the 1960’s felt like ancient history, even though I was born there. Ali, the Celtics, Rucker Park, the Beatles, rock and roll, all had a patina of the ancient. Now, my glorious 1980’s are ancient, and I’m the one have “Greatest of All Time” sports debates with the young whippersnappers. Ouch. 

A new point of view. Over time, the minutiae of new records start to become less striking, less significant. Of course, the ones you’ve committed to long-term memory are still there. But it feels like the older feats of transcendence seemed more... transcendent. Ironically, older events seem larger than life, then are forgotten, as more people who lived through those times are no longer around. When I was twelve, my great-grandfather was telling me stories of how, when he was my age, he met actual Katipuneros passing through our town in Pangasinan. I barely listened. Today, it sounds so much heftier than just having lived on the street named Katipunan.

Growing abhorrence of death and funerals. Knowing that you’ve already lived longer than you’re still going to is scary. I know I won’t reach 108, so I’m definitely in the third quarter of my life. One by one, people who were touchstones of your life disappear, and you feel a sense of abandonment. I’ll never get to meet Wilt Chamberlain or Ali or Abebe Bikila or other icons of the past. They’re now part of the pantheon of dead celebrities you wish you could bring back for one conversation. And it hurts more when someone you know dies, more so if they’re younger.

Increasing importance of family. The weekend was a great blessing. For the first time in years, my family was complete, my three children were together in one place. My two sons have made their own lives, and I have the mixed feelings of immense pride and wishing I could have done more. I had seen each of them only once in s year, and truthfully, it hurt. They both have plans of leaving the country, one now, the other in the future. My mother was in the first generation from our province to get a scholarship to study in the US. Now, I don’t know where my children – or I – will end up. My daughter will certainly be a global citizen. A big part of me is saddened by the looming disconnect with our past. But there is no longer anyone to curate those memories, teach us the dialect. I should have paid more attention.

Being nicer. You realize that fights weren’t worth the stress. As a student, the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry was life or death. Slowly, the athletes became friends, teammates on the national team and commercial teams, went to the same bars, played together in the PBA. Hostility has diminished somewhat. As you get older, you learn that the smaller fights are just petty, and cost too much. Burned bridges and closed doors only mean you have to take the longer way around. And unless you stubbornly choose to bear a grudge, you really don’t want to expend your energy on it anymore.

Lastly, you want to change what you can, while you still can, for as Shakespeare says “for what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause”. It’s a one-way trip. Love who you want to, play what you need to, skip over the stuff you shouldn’t sweat over, and live unhampered. So when you leave, you have no carry-on baggage.

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