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High blood

Approaching 80

I contributed this piece to Inquirer Opinion’s High Blood column although, happily enough, I am not suffering from hypertension.  My blood pressure is a very desirable 110/70.  Sometimes, I am tempted to make it shoot up, but the consequences of getting excited always get the better of me.

I like the songs of Harry Belafonte, my favorite being “Man Smart, Woman Smarter.” Here is part of it: “Methuselah spent his time in tears/ skipping women for 900 years/ till one day he decided to have some fun/ he never lived to 900 and one.”

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Of course, I don’t aspire for Methuselah’s longevity. I want the aging process to take its natural course.  The stem cell procedure does not appeal to me. I was born in 1937, like former president (and now Mayor) Joseph Estrada, former US secretaries of state Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell, and Saddam Hussein.  It is an unbelievable company, to say the least! Except for Saddam Hussein (may he rest in peace), we will all become octogenarians next year, God willing.

My life now revolves in a gerontogeous (Random House dictionary: belonging to the Old World) environment.  The Psalmists said: “Seventy is the sum of all our years, 80 if we are strong.” Almost 40 years of my life were spent in the foreign service of our country; I rose from the ranks to become a career ambassador. After retiring in 2003, I found out that there was still a place in the sun for retirees. I became a member of the board of governors of the Philippine Ambassadors Foundation Inc. (Pafi) under the chairmanship of Ambassador Alfonso T. Yuchengco, and later served as Pafi secretary general in 2008-2012.

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The Pafi board is a sort of gerontocracy. Its members are ripe in years but green at heart. Our monthly meeting usually starts with banter and green jokes, to which our two female members and secretary have become immune. Indeed, laughter is the best medicine for seniors, for it helps keep us hale and hearty despite the ravages of time on our bodies.

To be sure, Pafi is not in the business of tomfoolery. It is a serious organization that has adopted advocacies pertaining not only to foreign affairs but also to our nationhood.  It has made known its position on the Mindanao peace process, overseas Filipino workers, the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea issue, and the US “pivot” to Asia. It strongly advocated the preservation of the Kudan in Tokyo, the official residence of the Philippine ambassador to Japan, to the extent of petitioning the Supreme Court. Modesty aside, I initiated Pafi’s move to have the Kudan declared a national historical landmark by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. This became a reality in 2013.

I resigned from the Pafi board in October 2012, but the vacuousness of retirement made me realize that I have to stimulate my brain somehow to keep atrophy at bay. In January 2015, I started contributing articles to Pafi’s Ambassadors’ Corner in The Manila Times.  Nine articles of mine have seen print since then, three of them touching on the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea issue, which I dealt with in 1997-1999 as assistant secretary for Asia and Pacific Affairs in the Department of Foreign Affairs.

It is said that nostalgia is the kingdom of the retired. My own little kingdom in our house is a small room where I keep most of the mementos and memorabilia of my diplomatic career.  The room is multipurpose, for it also serves as music/TV hive as well as exercise room. How soothing and relaxing it is to listen to the classics and the standards, the mellow music of yesteryear. I find the late Luciano Pavarotti’s rendition of “Nessun Dorma” truly uplifting, and I am appalled by the “birit” of the wannabes.

I used to do the treadmill in my little kingdom to the bouncy tune of Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog,” “In the Ghetto” and “Suspicious Minds” until osteoarthritis caught up with me. Now, walking in the malls and watching movies constitute a preoccupation. Eating is regulated by caveats because there is a doctor in the family—my youngest daughter.

Even before Dr. Andrew Weil came out with his best-selling book “Healthy Aging,” I have been practicing his advice of doing the things that one loves to do. I have an “addiction” to sports although my physical attributes do not allow me to give vent to it. When the NBA finals, the golf majors, the tennis grand slams and Manny Pacquiao’s fights come around, I become the couch potato that my wife and children detest. They cannot figure out how I can stay awake in the wee hours of the morning to see Tiger Woods, Rafael Nadal and LeBron James do their thing.

Sports mirror life’s struggle. I have a strong affinity with the underdog. It’s glorious when somebody beats the odds. I relished the moment when Croatian Goran Ivanisevic finally won the Wimbledon tennis crown on his fourth championship final.

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It was the same feeling I had when I succeeded in publishing my 300-page memoirs. Socrates’ notable aphorism was “A life unexamined is a life unlived.” Not recounting where we came from and how we have lived is tantamount to merely existing, not living. I hope to be around on June 12 next year to celebrate my 80th birthday.

Juanito P. Jarasa served as ambassador to Hungary, India and South Korea before retiring in 2003.

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TAGS: Juanito P. Jarasa, Philippine Ambassadors Foundation Inc., retirees, Socrates, sports, unexamined life
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