Wednesday, January 6, 2016

One Year to Live

Screengrab from Instagram @hilariohalili. Acapulco Bay, Mexico. New Year's Eve.  
A new year is here again. We who have survived beyond the fireworks of new year's eve are blessed that we still have another chance to reach for our dreams and/or make up for the mistakes of the past. There were a lot who were not lucky to see the dawn of a new year.

Let me just share with you a part of what I've written last year for Buhay Pinoy of the Philippine Online Chronicles in an article called "If you had one year to live." 

Death is a touchy subject and more often than not, not many would openly talk about it, thinking of it as something morbid. But come to think of it, it is only when we are open about death which none of us will ever escape, that we could perhaps see life differently. We will learn to appreciate life more and make each day count for eternity. (Well, unless one doesn’t believe in the afterlife. But that’s a different story.)

According to a writer, Mark Manson, “…thinking about our own death surprisingly has a lot of practical advantages. One of those advantages is that it forces us to zero in on what’s actually important in our lives and what’s just frivolous and distracting.”

No one really knows when we will die exactly. But have you ever thought what would you do if out of the blue, you’re given a “life sentence” of just 365 days more to live? Let’s put it this way, what would you do in 31,536,000 seconds? Whew! That’s a lot of seconds. Let us assume you are healthy all throughout that time and then you will just be called to face the light and cross over after the 365th day.

Let me share this favorite quote of mine, a life motto actually, more often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson,

“To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” 

Perhaps we can start from here and think of practical ways to spend 52 weeks of our lives.

1. To laugh often and much.

What are the things that give you joy? What stories amuse you? Are there books or movies you’ve read or watched or you still want to read and watch that you find utterly hilarious you can fall off your chair laughing? There’s a proverb that says, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.” Laugh away the stresses of your life then. Feel young, be young! Feel the tension go away and enjoy your every waking moment.

2. To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children.

You are blessed if you have a child or children. They are life’s joys. Although it will surely tear their hearts apart if you leave them after a year, you will have enough time to give them your love and appreciation and leave an impact that will resound into the future as you spend quality time with them. Read together. Watch a movie together. Go to the beach and be crazy with them. Take road trips with them. Talk a lot. Hug and kiss them a lot. Never mind their sticky kisses and never mind being mushy with them. It’s worth it all in the end.

3.  To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends.

Many people mourn for people passing away especially if the person is a well-known personality in the community or the country or the world. But in the end, no one really remembers except the members of one’s family unless someone does something worth remembering or if someone leaves a concrete legacy for others to see and experience.

I am often in awe of writers, inventors, discoverers, philosophers and moviemakers and even those who starred in those movies. Their contributions to mankind transcend time and win more than the respect of intelligent people and appreciation of honest critics. I usually take time to watch the “In Memoriam” part of Awards Nights and marvel at the people mentioned especially when clips of them are shown. Somehow, they become immortal that way, whether in movies or books or music. One classical example that pops out of my mind is our national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal.

Would one year be enough to write a book or compose music? Or have one’s own “eureka” moment?

One year is more than enough though to make up with friends and even family who have deeply wounded your heart. Or you could be the cause of one’s heartache. Make up by writing, calling or visiting. Apologize and really be remorseful. Show retribution. Have that cup of coffee or tea with them with chocolate cake on the side. You wouldn’t want to regret not taking a step to ask for forgiveness or to forgive and reconcile because time lost will never be regained.

4. To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others.

These days, it seems like a lot of people are conditioned to see the ugly and the bad in others. Browse the comments in social media and you will often see long threads of bashing and finding fault. Some may be legit but a lot are simply ways to attract other people and make them sound like intellectuals. A year to live would probably be a good medicine for those people, don’t you think?
Remember that story about a man in a hospital room who described all things beautiful to his roommate who couldn’t see and was sulking all day? It turned out he was actually facing a blank wall instead of a window. There’s a nugget of wisdom to what Helen Keller said: "The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart." 

What can you do? You can stay at home and appreciate your garden even if it’s just in those pots. Or you can travel and see the countryside. You don’t need go to the other side of the world to see beauty. It may just be at your doorstep. Or perhaps it can be found in the face of the one you woke up with this morning. 

5. To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition.

It would be nice to take up a really good cause and not count the cost of doing so. You don’t have to wait for a typhoon or an earthquake to hit before you lend a hand to those in need. There are plenty of people just around you who need a bowl of hot soup on a cold day or a shirt on their back. The need may not always be physical or economical need. It could be psychological and emotional and even spiritual. Donate. Volunteer. Reach out. Save a life.

Pay forward whatever good that has been done to you and pretty soon, there will be a chain of good deeds and kindness going around. What a beautiful sight that will be and it’s good for the soul.

6. To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.

One year. One life. One family. One community. One country.

There’s really nothing special in all these. It’s not in the number of days or weeks or months or years that matter for as long as we have a zest and appreciation for life and for one another. What matters is that we have made a difference in someone else’s life.

Even if it means just a year to live.

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