I overheard two men talking in a restaurant. They were probably in their late sixties or early seventies. Their conversation started out very casually, the usual exchange between friends who had something to talk about while having lunch together. It was the kind of exchange that was dispensable and that can be dropped at any moment once lunchtime was over. At one point in their conversation, I heard one of the men recall with fondness memories from his childhood. One thing that struck me, as I went about my inadvertent eavesdropping, was the remark he made after detailing a childhood experience, or what he remembered of it: How happy it is to be a child (“Ang saya talaga maging bata”).
That simple, unpretentious and earnest remark whirled me back to my past, then gradually brought me forward to my present. For a moment it seemed like a self-produced movie flashing through the eyes of the mind.
I remember fairly a lot from my childhood—my father, mother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, old places, old church, old schools, old playgrounds, house, friends’ houses, toys, games played inside the house and outside, fights with friends, tantrums, punishments from parents and other close relatives, quarrels between and among friends and family, etc.
Some of the memories, however, are indistinct and unclear, and more often it seems that it is the mind which artificially adds on to the fuzzy images and memories just to make sense of them, because certain details have been left out or forgotten.
Still, in a very important way it is a delight to be able to revisit the life you have so far lived and the emotions you felt when certain and particular events took place. Somehow it allows you to reexamine your present, evaluate the person you have become, and envision the future that is truly meaningful for you. It is a cathartic experience to be able to go back to those moments when life-changing opportunities presented themselves to you, providing you with the chance to take a step forward toward betterment. And with a thankful heart you recall those moments when you took those steps—one at a time—sometimes carefully, at other times carelessly, and occasionally fearful of the uncertainty of the future and the possibility of a wrong choice made, but every so often thrilled about finding out what lies after and beyond the choices taken.
The experiences, however, were not always delightful. There were also the unforgettable, sometimes traumatic, unhappy ones. While there are those that unfailingly make you laugh, there are also others that still drive you to shed a tear, and yet others that deeply make you want to go back in time and do things differently, and better. There are memories that make you want to go back, to be with people who, you know, you will never have a chance to be with again.
And then you come face to face once again with some of the opportunities that were missed.
Unlike many I know, I have regrets in this life. There are things I wish I had done differently. There are people I wish I had loved more and spent more time with. There are hours and days I wish I had spent with those who really cared and whom I truly loved. I recognize the stumble. And perhaps it pays to always remember at what points the stumble happened.
The old man was right. There is nothing quite like childhood. And it is mostly because childhood is that time in your life when you carry a clean slate: so much unadulterated hope, dreams, vision, inspiration, and the desire to be your best self, to love, to laugh at nothing, to be happy about everything, to care, and to love some more. It is the time when you are still in the beginning point of the proverbial race that is life: a little foolish, maybe, and careless, but unaffectedly hopeful and pure.
Sometimes in my silent reverie I wonder how it would be like for someone to be given just one chance to restart his life. In this way he can begin with it wiser and better prepared to face its uncertainties. But reality stares at us sharply in both eyes: There is no dry run. There is no second take. There is no rerun.
Nevertheless there is comfort in knowing that while at it, the runner can always choose to take the different and hopefully better course.
It is a charm to be able to relive, even if it is only in that colorful world in your head, your life from childhood up to the point just right before your present. On one hand those happy memories push you further to keep moving forward and running the race. On the other hand the painful memories inspire you to be a better person for yourself and, equally importantly, for everyone else. This is because in certain significant ways, they made you understand what it is like to be in pain, to want, to need, to long, to regret, to experience loss, to feel abandoned, to be misunderstood, and ultimately to be human.
In reliving the past, however, you can only look back so much. At a certain point the memories end. And then you will see that there is a present to live and likewise a future to look forward to. But the divide between the past, present, and future is artificial. What is real, though, is that the experiences created beckon us to welcome the future and embrace the present. They rouse and teach us to hold on to every chance we get to create new, worthwhile, and meaningful memories today, and then the day after, and then another day more.
Kirk D. Avestruz, 29, is a graduate of the University of the Philippines College of Law.
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