It Is Also Up To Us

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

It is time to shift gears. December always does that, even the most political of Decembers. And in case people have forgotten, the most intense political Decembers were not all really about elections. December of 2000 as a prelude to the ouster of Joseph Estrada the month after, just as December of 1985 ushered in the removal of Ferdinand Marcos two months later. Yet, even during politically charged Decembers, the spirit of Christmas cannot be denied.

And so, too, it is today. I know the airwaves and social media are very influenced by the political dynamics related to the coming presidential elections. I admit they are very interesting and so full of surprises. But I know that they are still quite subdued because a greater force is also at play – Christmas. On a collective basis, nothing beats Christmas. Its story may have started as religious, but its spirit has become already cultural to Filipinos as well.

December of 2015, though, has taken on an additional color to me. I believe it is because a senior citizen like me becomes subjected to other facets of life that are unavoidable. At one point, we celebrate reunions with more nostalgia, with more affected emotions. Of course, it is because we are not only older, but much older.

We now see Christmas very differently, in a quite expanded perspective, having experienced it as children, as parents, and then as grandparents. Reunions, too, come across with more meaning.  When we go past 65 years old, golden jubilees begin to roll in. We celebrate graduations of fifty years ago. More than that, we celebrate friendships that span more than half a century.

I studied high school and college in different schools. That means I celebrate twice the same milestones of friendships. In these two great schools I attended, many classmates found their way abroad and build their families there. Decembers become even more special because many reunions are held this month. Decembers can mean Christmas and reunions to many. It can hardly get more emotional than that.

Thank goodness that I have been in the throes of celebrating friendships that have endured. Even those that had not been string when we were younger seem much easier to move towards more intimacy today. The decades of life experiences in between graduations and reunions have mitigated and reversed many shortcomings in both character and intelligence. What seemed worth fighting about fifty years ago look quite inconsequential today. Tolerance and understanding are great blessings for senior citizens, more than enough to counter the many senior moments we suffer.

But it does not mean that the added value of vast experience and growing wisdom can dull our aspirations for a brighter future for our country. While old friends who have not seen each other for many years do spend a lot of time recounting how it was before, the subject of politics and governance is never far away. It pops up quite regularly, an affirmation that country and people continue to matter, maybe matter even more.

I have been fortunate that we have few politicians in the groups that I have been celebrating our reunions. If we had hardcore politicians and bureaucrats with us, I know more of the conversation would have been directed towards their fields of interest. Because of social media and the frequency of 24-hour news reports, however, we did not need to devote more time to politics and governance. The moments when we did focus on our country and people, there was less partisanship yet more true concern.

In many gatherings before and during reunions, a common concern expresses itself in a common question – “What is the future of our country and the generations following us?” This is a somber question, both rhetorical and literal. As senior-aged Filipinos, we are insecure about the future that we have not built very well. We do tend to point to the errors, or worse, of those who have been in government, are running government today, and may be running government tomorrow. But I sense that we are more aware, and privately accepting, of our own contribution to the general state of things.

After all, those who had been educated in the best schools and have been given greater life opportunities than most other Filipinos, had not been consistent in complying with the greater responsibility of doing more. Most of us have been dedicated in pursuing our personal careers and our families must be appreciative. But most of us may not have given our proportional share as part of the more privileged to the collective welfare, and especially to those who always had little or none. This is an onus we must bear today, and mitigate as quickly and as effectively with the active years we have left in us.

Because in asking, “What is the future of our country and the generations following us”, part of the answer has always been, “It is also up to us.”

The celebration of fifty years of friendship reminds us all the more of the many blessings that we are reaping despite the many challenges we had to confront as well. First of all is the fact that we are still alive and active. Second is the desire to remain relevant as human beings, and hopefully, as citizens, too. Third is the awareness that we have learned more lessons from the many mistakes we made, and that this wisdom is something we should share.

Friendship is a most difficult relationship to build, nurture and to make last forever. Yes, each of us has proven that we can because we did. It is not enough that we bask in that accomplishment, and we have not. We continue to try to use our friendships to help others; we have built homes for the poor, we feed thousands of children,  we help many go to school, we visit the sick and aged, and we have not forgotten our own who need help.

We can do more, and we must.

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