HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated February 12, 2012 12:00 AM
When we speak of “quality of life,” we generally mean the well-being of individuals and societies. There are so-called standards of living brought about through hard work and prosperity that rich societies like to brag about.
This is well and good and societies should strive to attain some freedom from many of the challenges human beings need to overcome to achieve a so-called “decent life.” That includes freedom from starvation, ignorance, unemployment, lack of opportunity, etc. Essentially, it is freedom from want.
I have visited many countries where the people’s basic needs and wants are more than fulfilled, yet there seems to be much unhappiness or meaninglessness in the lives of their citizens.
I have been pondering over this lately. Granted that physical needs have been met, what makes one person seem to be more put together, more a person of substance and meaning, than another who remains vapid, shallow and generally discontented with life?
I am referring here to the quality of life of people I have met. Some are rich and some are poor but in the end, it hardly matters what their status in life is. It’s not about how materialistically or ascetically they have lived their lives; it is more about how much marrow they have sucked out of their lives to nourish their existence.
This is an essay for those who have lived their lives fully and well and, may I say half-jokingly, have earned the right to sing the song My Way. The fact that all the people I refer to here are still alive is perhaps because they wouldn’t be so careless as to sing this song in a karaoke bar. The following are some of what they’ve been through that have made their lives rich, and kept their cups full.
1. To desire something or someone so badly and not get it, but to live long enough to talk about it without the pain of loss or disappointment.
2. To dream, to have ambition and to fulfill it.
3. To do foolish things — spend a fortune, face danger, maybe even challenge a rival — for the glory of winning a loved one.
4. To discover something that is burningly true for you, and perhaps for you alone.
5. To decide to do something you truly believe in that goes against your parents’ wishes or society’s norms and stick to it despite the extreme pressure to conform.
6. To have had a teacher, a mentor or someone older who opened your eyes and changed you and set you on a path that greatly defined who you have eventually become.
7. To have risked possibly being on the side of error and still doing what you thought needed to be done, rather than not doing anything and remaining safe in your comfort zone.
8. To discover an author you learned a lot from and to read every book he/she has written.
9. To come to terms with a God that you may or may not have grown up with but, more importantly, to believe in a God whose wonder and unfathomable quality have grown in you as you matured.
10. To have fallen into a deep rut — financially, psychologically, spiritually — and picked yourself up.
11. To have tasted forbidden pleasures in moderate doses, and even thanked life and God such “poisons” existed.
12. To have loved someone so completely as to lose your ego-identity and become one with the other, and perhaps even with everything.
13. To have engaged in and continued to develop at least five things that you are passionate about.
14. To experience aloneness and be at peace with it without feeling loneliness. In fact, it brings you to a state of contentment.
15. To have experienced not just the ecstasy of love but also the ordeal of commitment and stayed there long enough to enjoy its gifts and pleasures.
16. To feel that the sum of your life means something not just to yourself but also to others.
17. To have turned your back on something so temptingly pleasurable or materially rewarding, or something that would have given you much prestige, for the simple reason that you knew, deep down, there was something dishonest or wrong about it, and so it wasn’t the right thing to say yes to.
18. To try with all of your might and strength to be true to someone, to some ideal or commitment.
19. To be able to see people beyond their stature in life, their money or their reputation.
20. To experience great fear and dread and still go on doing what needs to be done or what you set out to do.
21. To have continued on a path (career, love, etc.) even if sometimes it seemed like a blur and you weren’t sure what was up ahead.
22. To have been on the wrong side and being big enough to admit it and move on with life gracefully.
23. To have forgiven those who have hurt you, and most importantly yourself, for whatever you have done.
24. To feel a shared belonging to a community of people, an extended family, society or nation, and a deep connection with all of humanity.
25. To pass on to others many of the good things you have learned or even the things that you possess.
26. To be able to enjoy the little things as well as the big things.
27. To have friends who you would die for and who would do the same for you.
28. To have developed daily habits that strengthen your sense of integrity.
29. To have both loved and lost, and loved and gained.
30. To have a keen sense of proportion and appropriateness in deciding which things are important and trivial, and which are not worth your time.
These are some of the things I have heard from older, accomplished and evolved people I have met. There must be many more that we can all learn from. Looking at this list alone, I am not sure if I have completely earned the right to sing My Way and dodge a bullet. But if I live to see another day, I will work on it.
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