Dear John Temerity,
I am writing to you to wish you a happy birthday. It’s a terribly late greeting and I apologize that I wasn’t there on your birthday. I was so caught up with my job and I lost sight of what’s important. I never had something stable like this and sometimes I feel like I’m becoming too preoccupied with it.
A few years ago, I was trying to write for a living, which didn’t pay enough but made me completely happy. I was content living in the moment, taking one day at a time, with no worries for tomorrow or plans for the future. There were goals to achieve, but it was more about realizing a dream than proving something. When I woke up in the morning, I was just thankful that I was alive.
But then, familial responsibilities came and money, or lack thereof, became an issue. When Bubbles and I got married and our son was born, I didn’t have a regular job. It was a concern, but not much that it made our everyday life miserable. Fortunately, we had an opportunity to work for ourselves and earn a decent income.
A complete family and a fulfilling job bring happiness, but it’s not the same happiness that I felt before. The happiness from living in the moment comes with calmness and being at peace with yourself. But the happiness from being a family man is mixed with dread and discontent. There’s pressure to earn more to provide your family the most comfortable life, and there’s a fear that someone or something may harm your loved ones.
When your Aunt Lia died, it was my birthday. She was only 34. It was a cloudy, drizzly January morning, not meant for celebration. Your Grandma was inconsolable, and she couldn’t comprehend how her daughter who just spent Christmas with her died two weeks later.
Death is always over our shoulders, trying to get us and only missing most of the time. Six hours of commute by bus every day without a 10-ton truck flipping on the road. Countless viruses and bacteria slithering through our bodies without us contracting a monstrous disease. But it makes no difference, because there are people who die while walking on a pedestrian crossing, and there are people who live after having been shot at point-blank range.
People die without being aware of their own mortality and being able to make proper goodbyes. I don’t know if it’s imperative to get down on our knees and thank the heavens every time a disaster misses, but it seems that it’s infinitely useless to weep when tragedy finally strikes. Because we are all dying every day and it’s only a blind chance that we get to live another day, another hour, another breath. Maybe there’s truth to the saying that we only live once.
Right now, the world is suffering from a contagion for which a cure has yet to be found. It’s the reason why you can’t play outside and visit your cousins. Probably one day, you’ll read about it in books, mentioned along with bubonic plague and Spanish flu. I am taking all precautionary and preventive measures to not get infected, but there’s no guarantee that I won’t fall ill from it. Although the odds of dying from this virus is significantly lower than getting dealt a pair of aces in poker, it’s still a lethal threat. Dying from it can be very painful, like drowning in your own antibodies.
Life is temporary and no one will stay here forever. Any moment, anyone can be given their final due. I’m telling you these things not to scare you but to open your mind at an early age. Babies are sung lullabies, but kids shouldn’t be babied. Young people are unlearned, not idiots. Being aware of death, but not being obsessed with it, is one way of accepting and acknowledging who we really are.
My parents never talked about such things; in fact, they never bothered to tell me anything. They didn’t tell me about Kubrick or Coppola or Welles, or even about plain old Brocka and Bernal. They didn’t tell me that sex causes more unhappiness than pleasure because men and women want different things, and one of them only ends up being disappointed. They didn’t tell me that profound sadness cannot be tamed by alcohol but by confronting your own demons. I remember my mother telling me to stop buying books because they are worthless, and now it’s starting to dawn on me why they didn’t tell me anything.
Did your parents ever tell you how they came up with your name? Your parents are two completely different people and named you after their only commonality — hardheadedness. Being hardheaded isn’t a bad thing if you know how to use it properly. Skill, intelligence, and a pound of audacity can make a difference toward a better world. When everyone is saying that you can’t, always remember that you are a beloved brash kid.
Lastly, do not ever read Dr. Seuss’ stories, because they are racist. Instead, start with “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and then you can have the rest of my books.
Your ever-loving protector,
* * *
John Thomas Miranda, 29, is co-owner of the Bado ni Buri clothing store.
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