HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated February 19, 2012
People my age are currently going through what is called the empty nest syndrome where one by one, our children are opting to move out of the family home and going on their own. It’s the cycle of life, I suppose. It’s what we also did when we came of age.
Strangely enough, one of the things that parents whose children move out to live on their own actually think about is the exact same thing their kids want to do: they, too, want to move out. They think of downsizing their lives into something smaller and more manageable. While their children want to discover the bigger world, us parents want to miniaturize ours. A smaller place like a condo or a townhouse is what many have in mind. For some, it is a move to the province or a small home in places outside of Metro Manila like Tagaytay, or Quezon or Laguna.
All of a sudden, the comfortable family house has become too big for just two people. Where once the corridors, the dining area, the big sala and the spacious kitchen were the scenes of family bonding and happy moments, they now seem lonely and empty, devoid of the laughter and happy voices of the kids. The big happy house is slowly but surely being abandoned.
My wife Lydia has entertained the thought of downsizing but I am not too keen on it yet. Maybe it’s because, despite the absence of my children for the most part of the year (since two of them live in Australia and the one in Manila is moving out), this big, spacious, happy house continues to get its share of visitors. This is where my side of the family holds many of its loud, boisterous and fun dinners, after-dinner meetings, sudden gatherings that start during lunch and continue till things just wind down on their own, usually late into the afternoon.
In this house is also where I hold my photography, creativity and songwriting workshops. Here is where I receive visitors, work and conduct meetings so it is still a busy house for the most part. I also like that it is quite spacious and empty since a lot of the furniture has been shipped to Australia. Sometimes, the sparse furnishings seem to float around the house. There are still many things here for sure, like many types of tables and chairs, cushioned sofas, picture frames, some antique pieces, two pianos (one of which was once owned by Juan Luna’s wife, and the other by the songwriter Willy Cruz). There are also little mementos — abubots and figurines, bells, cups, statuettes and other souvenirs bought from different tiangges here and abroad that grab the attention of visitors who have an eye for detail.
Even if the house sorely misses the sound of laughter and life from two of my children who lived here for most of their lives, it still seems to be a living organism which sustains its life through the visitors and activities that find their way here.
Admittedly, despite the house’s relatively young age, the “ancestral home,” as my kids like to call it, has some vibrancy to it. But there are many things in it that need to be thrown away. Typhoon Ondoy, which affected us slightly with mild flooding, made spring cleaning mandatory, and sooner than we had planned. Boxes of pictures, letters, documents, old and rare vinyl records were destroyed by water and had to be thrown away. In the process, more stuff which was stacked in areas of the house that had been left untouched and unexamined for sometime was also uncovered and deemed fit for the trash bin. And the truth is, there is a lot more that needs to be thrown out.
There is that feeling of a desecration of memory when one throws away things. And I am not in any way close to being a hoarder by any definition. But getting rid of stuff can seem like closing one’s eyes and simply jettisoning things out of one’s life — objects that were once loved and even held sacred and are now treated as worthless junk. I ask myself many times what the conscious criteria should be in deciding what stays and what goes. And often, the answer is utilitarian. The useful stays and the useless goes. My son told me once to be ruthless in getting rid of things. If something has been in a box for years and you’ve never missed it, it must go!
But like all rules, there are exceptions. The gray area where many things that would have been condemned to the wastebasket find a new lease in life is whether these have been thoroughly appreciated or examined, or whether they were objects which were acquired but never opened, used or even looked at since. If they fall in this category, they are set aside for further evaluation.
Zen practice tells us that one must empty the mind to see clearly. It is logical as well to say that one must make way for new things and ideas by letting go of old stuff and paradigms.
The big house downsizes to the more humble abode fit for two people to live in. As the years go by, people learn to live with less stuff. That’s what happens when couples downsize. For parents who are empty nesters, there is also the slowly diminishing need to control our children’s lives. More and more, we leave them to make their own decisions, which is just as well since parents are now just occasionally consulted anyway.
As I sit and have my meals on my long dining table in the sprawling screened veranda, often with just my grandchild Ananda, or alone, I am happy to be accompanied by the ceiling light installation above, and the furniture that has served my family since way back. I am the man of the house, the gentleman of the manor, the king of the castle, and as I survey everything within my domain, I feel a sense of peace and accomplishment.
Where others may feel lonely because they are alone, I feel a sense of fulfillment knowing that my once little children have become adults. Soon this house will have only Lydia and me and the remaining household help for its occupants.
While this house has lost many of its occupants, it has hopefully not seen the end of happy moments that will be shared in its rooms and living areas by those left behind and the people who visit. A good sign is that Lydia still wants to do some remodeling, repainting and a minor makeover of some areas.
Downsizing does not have to mean living smaller lives. When we downsize, we can enjoy the new spaces available to live even more expanded lives.