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Birthdays on my mind

As 2020 crawls in, my mind turns to my birthday this January, as well as to birthdays of times past.

Yes, I still remember my birthdays as a child, especially my seventh birthday. On that special day in January 1949, my mother prepared pancit for merienda. My playmates and I then washed it down merrily with canned pineapple juice diluted with water. I was twice as happy then because my father also told me I had become eligible for

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Grade 1. How easy it was then to make a child happy!

Later when I hit age 13, I had the usual pancit and pineapple juice with my friends. I was more excited, however, that I had grown taller and would now wear my first long pants inherited from an older brother.

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My birthdays during the rest of my teens and early youth were less eventful. Rather than occasions to party and celebrate, they were more like prayerful junctures for decision-making—what to take in college and whether to enter the seminary or not.

As a young adult, my birthdays turned into reflective moments of finding my true self, with questions like: ‘‘Why am I here?” and “Where am I going?”

When I got married later and raised a family, my birthdays suddenly took on the character of my childhood celebrations. They became meaningful and joyful occasions once again.

Last year, however, the excitement I used to have to celebrate my birthday was, for some reason, suddenly gone. And it would take a child with his childlike attitude to bring it back again.

While we were in a party at McDonald’s recently, I told my eight-year-old grandson Derek that I no longer wanted a celebration for my upcoming birthday. Curious as always, he asked me: “Why, Lolo? How old are you on your next birthday?” I replied: “78.” And he said: “Wow! Are you not supposed to celebrate and be thankful you got to be that old, Lolo? I know I will when I become old like you!”

Thanks to my grandson, I realized then that I did have a reason to celebrate, and much to be thankful for when my birthday comes around.

Yes, I thank God for being with me all along my journey for the past 78 years, showering me with both gratuitous blessings and painful lessons.

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I am grateful to God for His gift of family. There is my ever-patient wife, Thelma, who has put up with all my moods and inadequacies for the past 41 years of our marriage. And there, too, are my children and grandchildren who have brought untold joys in my old age. To all of them, I say thank you for making me a fulfilled husband, father and grandfather.

How can I forget my dear departed parents, Domingo and Paz, who had given me life as well as my life’s root and wings? I thank and honor them for raising me up the way they knew best, given the meager resources they had.

Then there are the special friends who have invested part of themselves in me that I may grow to be the person God meant me to be. I thank them for the gift of friendship that has made a difference in my life.

As I look further into the new decade, I recall what Henri J. M. Nouwen wrote in his journal, “Bread for the Journey,” as a new year began: “Often we want to be able to see into the future. We ask, ‘How will this year be for me? Where will I be five or 10 years from now?’ There are no answers to these questions. Mostly we have just enough light to see the next step: what we have to do in the coming hour or the following day. The art of living is to enjoy what we can see and not complain about what remains in the dark. When we are able to see the next step that follows, we can walk through life with joy and be surprised at how far we can go. Let’s rejoice in the little light we carry and not ask for the great beam that would take all the shadows away.”

I end with another quote, this time from Dag Hammarksjold: “For all that has been: ‘Thank you!’ For all that is to come: ‘Yes!’”

Danilo G. Mendiola, turning 78 this January, is the proud father of four grown-ups and a doting grandfather to four lovable grandchildren. He and his wife live a quiet life in their Quezon City home.

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TAGS: Birthdays, growing up, life
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