By Sylvia Hubilla
Round Rock, Texas
I stayed with my eldest daughter, Tsina and her babies aged three, two, and four months at the time, in Fort Hood, Texas. Her husband was serving in Iraq in the US Army. So most days, while their Mom was at work, I was happily surrounded by my 3 lovable grandkids. There are times we could be flying “To infinity and beyond!”, and next we are a rock band banging on toy drums and making music on keyboards and little guitars. A lot of times, we had “conversations,” as I tried my best to get through the endless “why’s?”
On one such afternoon, the then three year old Xavi ( He is 13 now.) asked me quite out of the blue, “Mehmeh, (this is what my grandkids call me. Xavi started this actually, when he would follow his Mom as she would call me, “Meh…Mommeeh!”) How old are you?” I said, “fifty-seven.” All of a sudden, he started bawling! He was crying uncontrollably, so I hugged him and asked, “Why are you crying?” And he answered between sobs, “Because I don’t want you to die!” I didn’t know whether to laugh, to be angry, or to cry. Trying my best to look and sound serious, I hugged him tighter and said, “I’m not going to die. I’m not that old! When you’re a teenager, I’ll just be in my 60s. I’ll still be around when you’re in high school.” He then asked, “Why do people grow old?“
Now, four days before yet another birthday, I find myself asking the same question; why do people grow old? I don’t quite remember how I answered Xavi’s question ten years ago, and the question in my mind now, is just rhetorical. The mind doesn’t make me feel old. But the body has a way of reminding me of my age. Some things I have discovered, the knees crackle and pop, the eyes make you live in a constant haze and fog, the ears, well, as you age, you get a license for selective hearing, if you know what I mean. And the mirror of course, is the cruelest of all. It lays before your eyes, the horrible effects of gravity! Not even the sight of my hair bedazzled with silver could soften the shock.
When I was in my teens, I couldn’t wait to be twenty. But then I thought about people in their thirties, and I said to myself then, man, that’s old! But I got there, and I didn’t feel or look old at all! If anything, I was happier! I had three of the cutest little babies anyone could wish for.
The timeline of my journey up to this point, has been amazing, marking numerous events in world history – both joyful and tragic. There was the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, the dissolution of the USSR, the end of the Cold War between Russia and the US, space travel and landing a man on the moon. I cried when President Kennedy was assassinated. I watched horrified at the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers.
Closer to home, I was starting my family just as the Philippines was entering the dark years of dictatorship. And more than twenty years later, I witnessed our triumph in the struggle to regain our democracy which led to the tragic assassination of modern day hero, Benigno Aquino.
The Catholic Church has been through several Popes – I grew up with Pope Pius XII, then Pope John XXIII, then Pope John Paul, then our canonized saint Pope Paul VI, and the present Pope Benedict.
On the lighter side of music and fashion, I like to believe my time was the best of times. I risked being expelled from school because I watched an Elvis Presley movie and watched Elvis gyrating his hips. And then of course, The Beatles! Oh I memorized every song, and swooned over Paul McCartney. I watched the little Michael Jackson grow and blossom into the ultimate entertainer. And sadly, die the way he did. And the dance moves – boogie and rock and roll – classic!
On the fashion scene – for starters, the hemline just went everywhere – up and down and middle. I went through mini, midi, and maxi. I even suffered through the itchy petticoats much earlier. The hippie generation ushered in the peace and flower power which translated into paisley prints on silk body-hugging tops and bell-bottomed pants.
Well, forty and fifty came and went, and now I’m pushing sixty going towards, (horrors!), seventy. I am three years shy of that number. “Older and wiser,” it is often said. True? I’m not really sure about that. This is what I know, every birthday that comes, is truly a happy time. It is a door opening to new possibilities. And we go through this door armed with the strength we have forged and wisdom we have earned from the experiences of years passed. This is what I believe older and wiser means.
Why do people grow old? Even at this point, I cannot claim to know the answer. I can only talk about the process as I live it. As we age, the years peel off a layer at a time, and each time reveals a fresh new layer, untouched and pure, a story waiting to be told. And as the process continues we learn to discard the trivial and the frivolous, while we come closer to the core of who we really are.
I would like to believe that we do not grow old. We age – much like a good bottle of wine, retaining only that perfect bouquet. We age to perfection.
So Xavi, I will not even attempt to try and answer your question, “Why do people grow old?” I know you can easily Google that, or ask Siri. And they will most likely tell you about genes and DNA, and oxidants and a lot of scientific and medical terms.
Let me instead tell you what I feel now that I am growing old. What I feel is, blessed. And rich, in terms you cannot quantify in numbers or currencies, but more in things intangible, and more palpable in the heart. Does that make sense?
So bring it on, 67! CHEERS!