Memory is fleeting. And so we try to capture the past and the present. A face in a crowd, the light of the moon. Things one cannot hold on to.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
My Tita Lyding turned 86 last week. She suffers from arthritis and can barely walk, her hearing is impaired so we all have to raise our voices so she can hear us, but her mind is still sharp.
I first met her when I came to Manila in 1993. I was 13 then, a young lad from the province, a probinsyano, just about to enter high school. I knew little about life in the big city. Tita Lyding, or Tita Deng as I often call her, was not a blood relative but she took care of me just like her own son.
Since she rarely has the chance to go out, I decided to fetch her from Antipolo and take her out for a night in town.
"O, did you take a bath ba?" I asked her after she got in the car.
"Yes, of course! Three times!" she answered.
"Paamoy nga," I said and embraced her. Her perfume smells of lilac, and old roses, just like I remembered. "So are you ready? Baka mapuyat ka."
"I'm prepared to go home by 6:00 a.m.!" she told us.
"Naku! LAX na ito! Did you bring your dancing shoes Tita Deng?" my close friend Georgie said.
"I brought my third leg," she replied, brandishing her cane, laughing.
That's what I love about my Tita. Her humor and zest for life hasn't faded. She refuses to become an old grumpy lady who complains about everything in her life. Never mind that walking is painful. Never mind that she can't hear the world as much as she used to. I would sometimes catch her pretending to have heard something just to spare her the embarassment of having to repeat "Ano yun?" again and again.
"I'm always happy to see you Kane," she told me.
"I'm happy too Tita. Happy 86th birthday my love," I said.
I brought her to my favorite Filipino restaurant, Bistro Filipino, and we had drinks afterwards with my friends.
What do people want when they're 86, I wondered?
"So, Tita Deng, what is your birthday wish?" I asked her as she sipped her mango margarita.
She was quiet for a moment.
"One more year," she said, smiling at me. "And I want another dinner like this next year ha!"
One more year, I thought to myself. So this is how it ends. When you're younger, you dream of wealth, travel, love, a great job, a great man, great sex and a lifetime to enjoy them all. And at 86, all you ask is for one more year.
I suddenly realized the vast distance of almost six decades that separates my Tita and I. She looked at me and at that moment, we both knew she knew she was approaching the end of her life. How does she feel, I wonder? And when that time comes, how would I feel?
Our finiteness being human is what ultimately gives our lives meaning, I think. It is because we know things do not last forever that we value them. It is the time we spend with our loved ones knowing death comes, the joy of watching children grow up knowing they will not be children forever, the struggles of today knowing there is a promise of a better tomorrow.
The years fly by.
As the poet Andrew Marvell put it in his poem, “To His Coy Mistress” – “And at my back I always hear, / Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.”
Maybe one day I will be 86 and someone will ask me what is my wish. I would remember my Tita Deng, and smiling I'll say, "One more year".
I like stories. Whether they're of random strangers or close friends, people's stories hold me spellbound.
Every story leads us to an insight: Who are we? Why do we do the things we do? Why are we here, and not there?
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