Thank you in advance, 2023

I’ve learned that there is indeed a place that belongs only to me, that only I and the One who made me can occupy

The author in her comfort zone: ‘After making it this far, it became so very clear to me that God’s way isn’t our way; it’s a lot better’ (Photo by Dodong Uy)

Everything is a gift. The degree to which we are awake to this truth is a measure of our gratefulness, and gratefulness is a measure of our aliveness. – Bro. David Steindl-Rast

HERE’s a lightbulb moment I had in 2022: In the long run, everything in life really does make sense.

I had suspected that earlier, but for some reason, looking back on my 58th year, I could see, with unprecedented clarity, why things in my life turned out the way they did.

Rationalizing? Consuelo de bobo (which, I learned, is quite poetically translated as “fool’s comfort”)? Maybe. Then again, with age comes a greater willingness to accept things as they are: There are friends you weren’t meant to keep, places you weren’t meant to be, and things you can’t quite do anymore—no long explanations needed, no alternative scenarios to thresh out. It is what it is, and no, that’s not a cop-out; to an extent—and unless there’s a gross injustice taking place—that’s the secret to survival.

Well, you could try to desperately catch up. My nephew was on my case about learning to surf, saying my yoga training would make me a natural. I figured I didn’t want to take any more time, effort, and resources away from my one great vice, scuba-diving (so great, it’s almost a basic need). Almost 30 years ago, when I thought I would be getting married and relocating to temperate (read: very cold) waters, I contemplated selling my scuba gear. Since the relationship ended, I have since kept my gear, worn most of it out, bought a new set, and worn that out, too, and I intend to keep diving until they have to throw me into the water to help me do it.

Between late 2021 and 2022, as COVID-19 became less of an issue, I spent more time underwater in the Philippines than I had in a long time, making myself utterly happy, cementing friendships, and helping plow money back into the local economy as resorts got back on their feet. I will never forget being in Tagbilaran, Bohol, on a near-deserted Panglao Island—and then returning a few months later to see the place jumping with visitors again, as our favorite dive shop had survived a pandemic and two typhoons, thank God.

And that was just one bright side to not relocating decades ago, staying in my home country where I probably belonged and could be more useful. Since I graduated from university, because my family couldn’t afford graduate school for me, I had applied for every imaginable scholarship program abroad, from Fulbright (thrice) and East-West to Reuters and the British Council, and I would make it to some final selections—but never got in. (Not enough intellectual gravitas, I guess.) A brother living in Canada wanted to petition me to immigrate, but I sat on the paperwork—until he passed away, and flying into a Toronto winter for his funeral made me understand why I couldn’t do it. Instead, I stayed home and built a career I love, and which might not have been possible if I had lived elsewhere. Most of the places I had dreamt of visiting, I did, in the course of my work.

I’m a long-time depressive and was diagnosed with bipolar illness in 2019, but had only one episode this year (which is pretty good already), a year after I lost my beloved psychiatrist Dr. June Lopez. With her help, I’ve learned to see it coming, and I got through it with no damage, supervised by my psychiatrist cousin—just lying low, keeping quiet, sleeping a lot, and tweaking my meds a bit.

That was when it hit me, why I never became a wife and mother

That was when it hit me, why I never became a wife and mother (aside from the fact that I honestly prefer four-legged children that bark, so sue me): I know many wives and mothers who live with mental illness quite well, but I don’t think I could have managed such truly intimate relationships without slashing my wrists if my husband cheated on me, or if my son or daughter was disrespectful of my feelings.

It takes enough work to keep myself on track

“OA ka naman!” Pessimistic? No, realistic. I know myself. People will hurt other people, in small or devastating ways. It takes enough work to keep myself on track—hell, it took a lot out of me to take care of an ageing, difficult mother for the last few years of her life. While I enjoy meaningful relationships and love the people in my life, I’ve learned that there is indeed a place that belongs only to me, that only I and the One who made me can occupy—and letting anybody else in there would not feel quite right.

“How selfish naman!” “Sayang!” I have gotten over being upset when conservative people, as well as my own religion, would sometimes imply that my life was a waste because I didn’t use my uterus. I’m glad “single blessedness” has become a respectable term—no convent will take me at this point (as they shouldn’t), and I like to think I am capable of making a difference in the lives of some people, other than my own family.

I have friends who had a terrible 2022, losing partners, jobs, futures; a dear friend of decades closed the year with the double whammy of her husband’s cancer and her mother’s dementia, but we still manage to meet up for lunch, laughs, and the little mall-based rituals that make life bearable. Yes, I relish being there for my friends, nephews, nieces, and people who need my help—and I know I can do it better because I am alone. Finally, after a youth spent desperately searching for Mr. Right, or even Mr. Puede Na (!), I can now truly tell the difference between solitude and loneliness. I almost never felt lonely in 2022.

At the ripe old age of 58, after making it this far through illness, heartbreak, death among my family and friends, living uncomfortably close to Philippine politics (the horror), and loss of income—after emerging this year from a pandemic that had felt like the end of the world, it became so very clear to me that God’s way truly isn’t our way: His way is a hell of a lot better (sorry, Lord), and we need to stop trying to impose our feeble, limited constructs on it.

When I attended Mass in person in 2022 for the very first time since the lockdowns, in our parish church down the street, I almost wept in gratitude. It’s the only fitting response to the fact that we’re alive, and there remains much to live for. I adopted that mantra from Bro. David Steindl-Rast after my bout with breast cancer in 2013, and I have kept it: Everything is a gift.

In 2022, I had to deal with injuries and physical degeneration that reminded me of my mortality, and the futility of thinking I can be strong forever; even my yoga practice has become gentler for me, and I no longer get frustrated when difficult poses are beyond my reach. Still, early in 2023, I am going on a much-anticipated dive trip out of the country—“revenge travel” at its finest—and hoping for more good work waiting when I get back.

FB post of author and Kikay from 2009, when Kikay was first adopted: ‘I also suspect in my heart that 2023 is when my dear oldest dog Kikay will probably cross the Rainbow Bridge’

I also suspect in my heart that 2023 is when my dear oldest dog Kikay, almost 14, will probably cross the Rainbow Bridge, because her work on me is done; dogs are like that. I’ve assured her, even now, that Mommy will be okay. I think she needs more convincing, though.

I have no New Year’s resolutions, other than sleeping earlier. I’m choosing to just let life happen; to try to be more kind and patient; to find the balance between practicality and living in the moment, while leaning towards the latter, as such moments become less and less assured with time.

So this early, I’m saying to 2023, the New Year, thanks in advance—for the clarity of hindsight, the promise of substance, and the determination to always live in a place of gratitude, no matter what happens.

About author


She is a writer, editor, breast cancer and depression survivor, environmental advocate, dog mother to three asPins, Iyengar yoga instructor and BTS Army Tita. She edits part-time for a broadsheet, but is headed towards a full-time vocation as an online English writing coach and grammar nazi.

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