A presentation I gave to the Ateneo de Davao Writers Workshop 2019 last May 23, 2019.
It’s been four months since the last transmission, said essay concerning mid-life, written at that time that I resolved to be more regular and frequent with my updates. Look how dismally that’s turned out. I’m sorry.
Of the list of ready excuses, the one that immediately pops to mind is: I’ve been busy. Believe it or not I’ve been named CIO of the company I work for (though I’m not sure whether the position is interim or permanent.) If it sounds like I should be enjoying many more perks, it doesn’t. It just means that my scope has gotten wider and I am tackling bigger problems. Truth be told, the title hasn’t quite sunk in, even though I’ve been carrying it for these same four months. As I said, I am too engrossed with the work to give it much thought. And the pay? Ah, yes, the pay. Hmm-hmm. The pay. Hmm-hmmm….
In less than two weeks, I’ll be turning 49 but Chinese tradition apparently shuns the nines so I’ll be celebrating the day as my 50th instead. Whether 49 or 50, I’m not sure exactly how to feel. This is what they call mid-life, along with its attendant crises, many of which I can now attest to after having experienced them first-hand.
All things considered, where I am is not a bad place to be. I have a string of accomplishments that I can look back on, I have passed on and continue to pass on what I know, my financial position is stable, and I have a happy home life. Excepting problems with eyesight and the inevitable maintenace medicines, my health is good. As I said, not a bad place to be.
Three years out of teaching from university and from time to time I find I still have to deal with students…which is a welcome respite, actually, as it takes me out of the usual challenges at work, even if only for some brief moments.
The latest interaction came out of the blue. An industrial engineering student texted me to ask if we had any problems that could be solved by “various IE tools.” She had been referred to a former colleague and now professor at the local university. Rather than continue the conversation by SMS, I decided to call her up instead.
Our venture into the food service business opened me up to various facets of living I wouldn’t have known existed. We are one stall in a row of eight, the newbies in the community. When we first came in, we thought the veterans were somewhat standoffish; over time, my wife made close friends with a few of them. We caught glimpses of their business operations and of their travails therein.
If you’re ever thinking of opening a canteen in a private high school, my definitive advice is “Don’t.” There are far too many restrictions and arbitrary impositions, making it extremely difficult to fight the tide of rising prices. Despite this, our friends aren’t budging: for them this is their livelihood, a make-or-break proposition. And the school we operate in isn’t fazed at all: there’s a long list of entrepreneurs waiting to take the spot if anyone ever drops out.
Without it being in our plans at all, my wife and I took over a canteen in a private school in January this year. The opportunity presented itself in December. A tenant, forced on the venture by his mother, had decided to follow his true calling. He sought someone to assume his lease. We took a look at the numbers, glanced askance at neighboring stalls that were doing extremely well, thought somewhat optimistically of our chances, and waded right in.
It wasn’t easy going, as I soon learned. Grade school and high school students are an especially finicky lot, and being generally well off, and being from Davao, feel especially entitled. Our first two days were a loss, but thanks to some of my wife’s quick pivoting, the next three weeks broke even. I felt discouraged but my wife persisted and after some more innovative ideas and adaptation, the store was humming along and actually turning a profit. Not as much as we originally envisioned, but decent enough.
To recap last week’s column: the reproachful writer, dangling dangerously close to despair, asked for a sign to show that God was not asleep. As if in response, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck that afternoon. Buildings swayed, groceries fell, houses crumbled; thankfully, no one was injured. Such an event should have been sufficient to strike terror and bring one to one’s knees. Instead, aforementioned writer laughed with delight that he should receive an answer.
And yet, having been steeped in Giovanni Guareschi’s Don Camillo in his youth and adopting that priest’s spirituality, the writer went on to address God further: “An earthquake? Thank you, but how very Old Testament! Since we’re following this theme, now you have to give THREE signs!”
What an idiot I am.
Spirituality is a deeply personal aspect of how we live and for this reason it’s not something I’m inclined to bring up in ordinary conversation. For what I’m about to relate, though, it may be necessary as a preface.
To begin with, I am a practicing Catholic of the Roman persuasion and a traditional one at that. As such, the center of my spiritual life is the Holy Eucharist. I try as best as I can to go to Mass every day, a commitment made easier by the fact that my places of work or residence have always been walking distance to a church. All else flows from that: my participation in the other sacraments, my recitation of the rosary, my daily Gospel reading and reflection, and moments of mental prayer. Some days, even weeks at a stretch, it may be a struggle, but these are always what I return to.
On August 25, the former nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, released a lengthy and explosive statement implicating high-ranking prelates, all the way up to Pope Francis himself, of conspiracy to cover up abuses perpetrated by a former cardinal against priests and seminarians spanning decades. Not only that, Archbishop Vigano’s expose also reveals the inner workings of Vatican politics and how a powerful and well-entrenched cabal of insiders controls appointments and communications with the Pope.