Manila—Thoughts about mortality have never been this constant as we are stuck in a pandemic caused by the most destructive virus in living memory. In conversations with friends, our topics shift to death and dying as we’re seeing more people we knew who either passed or lost their loved ones. This happens when disease and death are at your doorstep.
And because the first year of the pandemic just dropped by so fast, we are terrified about growing old so fast too, especially at this time when we’re all forced to stop and be still. Old age is staring at us and we feel uncomfortable being ancient.
One of my friends defines ancient as 100 years old, not 50. She’s just trying to comfort herself because she’s pushing 60. I belong to small circles of friends who are all similarly looking at a few years to 60. We talk about what the not-so-distant future will be, how we will look like, and what we should be doing because we have only a few years left. These are thoughts when you’re moving past mid-century.
But barring any circumstances that may lead to an early demise, I considered thinking about it too during a chat with another friend who was suddenly hit with the terror of old age. She thought about the things she has not done and those she wished she should have accomplished. I reminded her of her accomplishments, but she insisted at not having achieved anything at all, and now, she’s old.
I have known this friend since we were wide-eyed young women in our 20s. Like everyone else, we thought of ourselves as the girls most likely to succeed, even if many things turned out differently. Nevertheless, we lived life without handbooks telling us how to do it. Somewhere around 30 or probably 40, there were moments when we asked ourselves if this was the life we wanted, because there were a lot of mistakes and bad decisions.
But we moved on and talked about our shared years and decades in having similar jobs and similar liking for books, but with contrasting choices in fashion and relationships.
And so, she went to her happy place, and it entails ruffling her wardrobe and wearing her gear even on grocery runs or just heading out to the street. Fashion-wise, I go by simple, no-frills, comfortable wear and I can disappear in a crowd as I dread attention, while she stands out as your neighborhood fashion plate who can pull off anything.
In my 30s, I recall a 64-year-old work colleague who came to a meeting in cropped ash-blonde dyed hair, a surprising contrast to her regular black, boring ponytail. Seeing us startled, she asked for calm, saying she’s just an old girl trying to be happy, without a care about what people say.
Someone said the trick to being happy is to live a life without regrets. That works for some people, but I can live with regrets and I’m not bothered at all, because often, I’m doing some things the right way and I feel good about it, even with the inevitability of laugh lines and the possibility of another bad decision coming.
I can choose a happy place where I may not want the same things anymore but I’m not leaving the party yet. I still have little blank boxes on my checklist. I’m not even thinking about what my last act in the world would be. But I can consider having my hair dyed ash blonde with blue streaks, and live.
Diana Mendoza is a journalist based in Manila. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org