When my father celebrated his 65th birthday, we had a small gathering. The food was simple, just enough for my parents and sibling to get by. It was lumpia ubod, pancit bihon, ice tea and the traditional chiffon cake.
It was not however the food that mattered, it was more of the reunion. I was in a provincial assignment but I took notice of the date and went to see my parents. My sister was also very busy then but took time to be with us.
The day was memorable. My father would have to bow out from public service and would have to face the future with only their savings as their fall back. My sister and I could not assure assistance then because we were still struggling in our respective work places and we had our own families to fill up and take care of.
After the ceremonial blowing of the candles, my father looked at the eyes of his guests, the three of us, mother, sister and I. He said, “In a few weeks, I would be receiving my retirement gratuities and I hope it could sustain your mother’s and my personal requirements.”
“But of course Father,” I immediately, replied.
“Except when something happens which I fear most,” my father intoned.
“What is it Father?” my sister asked.
“What if I will not die and live more than a hundred, our savings would not last that long!” my father reacted sadly.
My father led an enchanted life. During the war (World War II) he was at the forefront of enemy lines. Not as a soldier though but as interpreter. He would save countless people from execution just by reasoning out with the Japanese Kempetai that the people they arrested are not enemies—in the language of the captors. He survived wartime heroically. Then after struggling and earning his spurs in government and academe, his body was wracked with various life threatening ailments—from cancer of the liver to internal organ complications. Each of the ailments could have cost his life but he survived it all. He was even a victim of crime, the same offense my mother succumbed, but he endured and outlived his tormentors. He even withstood a fatal vehicular accident, an unfortunate criminal case and a series of accidents. Such incidents would convince father that he would live a full and almost immortal life. And indeed, he sustained all situations that bore a threat. It was no longer luck that ruled his life; it was more of charm.
On that day, his birthday, he would recall everything that he went through. He was also practical despite providence. As early as he passed probationary period in his employment, he had his funeral and life plan paid out and prepared already. All his properties and assets were meticulously filed. Everything has been organized as if he was a terminal case. It is not surprising that fate had no interest in his early demise. He would outlast almost everyone in the neighborhood and his occupation in his later years would be to review the published obituary to check on familiar contemporaries whom he would outlive.
I would be approximating that period when I too would celebrate my birthday, except that my father, my mother and my only sister had crossed over. The same is true with my Uncle Greg (he who acted as my baby sitter), Uncle Ben, whose musical wizardly impressed my juvenile years, they have all departed. And of course, the mother of my wonderful children, Ritsu, Babyruth and Karlo; she passed away at a time when she could have enjoyed her retirement period with her chosen vocation. How I wish to have my family and more so, my dear friends to be around, except that Ka Romy (Chavez), my man Friday, my bosom friend since elementary Sonny (Miranda) Jun (Dee), Nestor (Concepcion), my errand Jojo (Viray), scores of subordinates in the prison service, they have all gone also to life hereafter. I have a handful left and I would rather not bother them for my date’s sake.
Birthdays are dates of remembering, of reuniting, of celebrating past and present accomplishment. But it is merely an option, more observed as a matter of pride. Civilization even made it a commercial vessel. Birthdays of senior citizens however are more ceremonial than jovial convocations. And if there is something that separates man from the rest of living things, sentient or otherwise, is the awareness of time. Man from the standpoint of the universe is the only creation given to observing dates like birthdays.
The common housefly lives only for 6 months compared to a turtle in Galapagos where a known specie lives up to 250 years. Our pet cat can live up to 40 years longer than our doggy, which is elderly already at 20 and dying at 25. Gorillas can live up to 55 and the closest relative to man, Chimpanzee up to 60.
We all share similar genes and anatomy but differ in lifespan. We cannot even be proud of intelligence because for the most, instinct is better than intellect although it is consciousness and how it is applied that makes man a ruler in the living cosmos.
So much ado about birthdays. It comes and it goes. What is important is that for once, a person was born and no matter how long he lived, it is a matter only for his family and friends to notify. Whether a person is aware or not, humanity gained something from his existence.