Not even the steady downpour and messy traffic that Saturday December 10 could discourage me from driving to Manila Polo to attend the 90th birthday celebration of our friend, writer Conchita Razon. Her family planned the small celebration of family and a few friends also to be the launch of her book, My Chair Rocks, a compilation of essays and columns she’s written over the years and which have resonated with a good readership.
The moment one stepped into the Turf Room, one felt how this milestone occasion was indeed a labor of love of Conchita’s family, from her children (Luigi, Tere, Gina, twins Martin and Vicky, Rachel) to 18 grandchildren, 11 great grandchildren. It was evident that no stone had been left unturned to turn it into a cozy gettogether, with special loving touches such as pretty cards at the reception table you could write your personal notes on for Conchita.
Eldest son Luigi started the program with a prayer, then the “other favorite son” Martin Nievera sang on to the program, with his twin Vicky, and one by one Conchita’s grandsons offered her a rose and led their lola to a sweet sway as Martin sang The Way You Look Tonight.
When Conchita’s turn onstage came, seated at the desk for her book signing, she said she hoped her readers like the book because it is her “heart talking to you.” Then after thanking her family for the book launch and celebration, she said, “If you want something like this, trying reaching 90.”
Indeed the woman rocks.
With her permission, we’re running the foreword I wrote for her book. (For inquiries about the book, log on to mychair.rocks)
My friend Conchita is one of the major reasons I resent the inhuman speed of time. How I wish and pray that Conchita and the many things she does and stands for, indeed the sum of who she is—from her writing, her character, her values and ethics, her passions, to even her pet peeves—would not vanish in time. Yes, even if everything now zips by in a blink, each day becoming shorter and shorter so that you feel helpless to stop it, or at least to prolong it.
It’s not about aging; we all grow old, except that this generation rubs it in by being so into ageism. In truth, Conchita is not one woman who can be boxed in by age or an era. She could be as cool as her grandkid, and I don’t have to go into specifics.
But what Conchita has, and which I wish would not disappear in the present and future generations, is her sense of the past and her respect and appreciation of it, no matter that the past (e.g. the World War II) brought her fear and pain. Always, she has a way of seeing joy and redemption in the tragedy and sadness of the past. Again, this is something that today’s generation is losing, the generation whose sense of the moment is defined by technology. Conchita’s grateful heart, I am afraid, is hard to replicate in this day and age. How you wish you could repost it as easily as you do photos in Instagram and Facebook.
Conchita and I met decades ago (who’s counting?) through our friend and colleague Lydia Castillo, whose return to journalism after retiring as marketing head of Cathay Pacific was then becoming as impactful as her career in the airline industry. Lydia was writing about food and restaurants for us. She would gather up friends living in the south for regular lunches, Conchita among them. It would be a gathering of alpha women whose opinions and stock knowledge I found as filling as, if not more appetizing than the dishes we were having (name the restaurant in and around Alabang, we’d tried it). It was to this lunch huddle that I first broke the news that I would be rejoining Inquirer as Lifestyle editor, after more than a decade with ABS-CBN magazine publishing. Not only did I trust these women with this secret, but I also drew strength from this ladies-who-lunch group who had been my biggest rah-rah force. They inspired me and kept me strong in my career and personal life, through the hiccups and major quakes.
When, at the behest of Inquirer editor in chief Letty Jimenez Magsanoc, I launched the S section to stand for savvy and sexy, I and our ladies-who-lunch were able to convince Conchita to do a weekly column, My Chair Rocks. With columnists Gilda Cordero-Fernando and later Chit Roces-Santos, Conchita drew a growing Sunday readership, making S one of the most read sections of Sunday Inquirer. Even the Lifestyle desk looked forward to reading Conchita ahead of the Sunday run.
“The wisdom,” I remember a Lifestyle desk editor telling me why she loved Conchita’s column. And to us editors, wisdom plus impeccable grammar equals heaven.
Unlike typical columnists, Conchita writes not to show off wisdom or to make you feel she knows better than you; she writes because she wants to come clean about life. It is this sincerity and honesty that yield wisdom. You get a eureka me-too moment as you read her, and suddenly you realize you’re not alone in your clumsy, faltering arm-wrestling with life. Indeed Conchita can teach today’s writers a thing or two about not showing off intelligence and wisdom.
Hers is the subtlety of wisdom. Perhaps this fine touch, her finesse in writing, arises from the fact that she came from the era of gentility. Or is it simply because she is gifted with the grace and elegance of prose?
But while that gift could be God-given, her strong sense of empathy is especially human. Her writing resonates because she has empathy; she reaches out. Her writing uplifts because it goes beyond you and me, beyond her own self, into the time-honored values she believes in. When you read her, you get reminded that yes, there’s still hope, and yes, life can be decent.
She belongs to a breed of writers and journalists that is facing extinction just because it has delicadeza—and urbanidad. I will not attempt to define those because Conchita herself has done so, quite lucidly, in her writings. It is that sense of delicadeza that inhibited her from, say, even mentioning the famous members of her family in her columns (believe me, as her editor, I tried). In an age of self-absorbed prose, there is a Conchita who will not do a striptease using the printed word. She can be noble, elegant and look beyond herself even as she betrays a little of her happiness and sadness.
Every time her chair rocks, so does our world.