Why gray matters? | Inquirer Opinion
Gray Matters

Why gray matters?

/ 04:20 AM October 04, 2022

It came slowly, a restlessness that occurs more often as I journey through senior citizenship, a need for variety, even for adventures (less physical than mental). So one day I sat down and wrote Inquirer’s associate publisher Juliet Javellana to explain that after 25 years of writing “Pinoy Kasi,” with almost 3,000 columns, I wanted to start a new one to be called “Gray Matters.”

Let me explain the new name.


Foremost was the gray, a reflection of my being a senior citizen. Gray hair yes. But then there’s also gray matter, the stuff in our brain so important for thinking. I want to share the fruits of all that thinking, tapping into years of experiences in the public and private spheres, locally and globally. I’d like to think the experiences usually meant becoming wiser, but I will admit as well to the lapses that do occur, sometimes from a stubborn clinging to biases and habits, and learning the hard way with heartbreak, even grief.


I quickly spring back because I continue to teach and that has kept me an active listener, marveling at young people’s stories and insights, helping me piece the many bits and pieces of life’s mysteries.

Far from being retired, I teach in three of UP’s campuses: in Manila with the medical school, in Los Baños with the veterinary college, and in Diliman for … everything else. That’s a lot of students and exciting partnerships in learning to share with readers.

Our numbers—we graying denizens—are growing. More than absolute numbers though, seniors all over the world are living longer and healthier lives than previous generations. Our government statistics show, too, that more and more senior citizens are staying active. There are professions, especially those that require gray matter, where older people need to contribute, even as we watch ourselves to not monopolize the conversations, and cultivate the virtues of patience and humility.

“Gray matters” will allow me to advocate for the many issues of senior citizens, feeling we are becoming easy prey for swindlers and extortionists, and I’m not just referring to the criminal syndicates but the ones who work in legitimate jobs and companies, capitalizing on senior citizens’ anxieties and peddling some of the worst frauds. “Budol” is enough for an entire column.

I cared for my own parents as they struggled with dementia for nearly a decade, as well as relatives and friends, some of whom are just beginning to deal with old age’s health challenges and are surprised when I explain the basics for a long life of wellness endorsed by the best scientific studies: nutrition, exercise, sleep, humor, sunlight, and best friends. There, that’s six more columns.

I will continue to write on issues of our times, always with broader social and historical contexts. “Pinoy Kasi” was a play on words, reflecting anthropologists’ rejection of notions that our predispositions and habits are in our DNA. Age has certainly taught me that it’s never too late to change how we do things, and, more importantly, how to look at the world not just in black and white but in its many nuanced shades, gray especially.


My choice of Oct. 4 for this “Gray Matters” launch was simple: my column comes out on Tuesdays and that date was the first Tuesday of the month. But it turns out it’s a good date for other reasons.

In China, it is the ninth day of the ninth lunar month, a day dedicated to seniors.

Globally, it’s World Animal Day, taking off from the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. My first degree was in veterinary medicine and after years of dormancy and working more in medical anthropology, I’ve become more active again in that field.

Thank you, Inquirer, and Juliet, for letting me embark on this new adventure … and for allowing me a new photograph, taken just a few days after I turned 70 last month. Chi, my dachshund, and I sat for an entire morning of more than 200 photos taken at the UP College of Home Economics by faculty member Kitty Caragay and researcher Michael Joseph Bawar.

Chi keeps me exercised mentally and physically together with my other dogs and cats, and five wonderful two-legged children. Together, they are my wellsprings for a life of unlimited joy and goodness.

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After 25 years of writing his weekly “Pinoy Kasi” column, Michael Tan will continue writing under a new title, “Gray Matters,” reflecting a new focus and more, beginning with today’s issue.

TAGS: Seniors

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