I have been through a lot lately in terms of both professional and personal relationships. A friend, who does counseling, blames it on midlife crisis. Somehow, I felt inadequate personally and felt unwanted and unappreciated. Somehow, all my past achievements have been swept under the rug; they no longer matter to anyone.
But trust the universe to lend you a hand when you need it most. Just as I was feeling like I'm going underwater, it gives me enough reason to hang on. And no, my life so far hasn't been so inconsequential. There are people who do appreciate some of the little things I have done for them — although I have no memory of those actions.
In the middle of the week, just as I was getting my bearings after a really difficult and stressful assignment, a fellow writer, a young woman half my age, came up to me and told me that she was inspired to become an arts writer because of my writing. For a while, I kept quiet about what she said, trying to grasp the meaning of her words. The only thing that I could blurt out at the moment was an unbelieving, "Really?"
I grew up in a family that was short on praise. In our house, you are criticized and censured for the wrong things that you do, whether real or not, but never for the good things that you do. Whatever I have achieved in life do not matter in our house. You exist because you need to be brought down to size.
That's why that young woman's statement really floored me.
"When I was apprenticing with you at…," and she mentioned the name of the broadsheet I used to work with, "I got so inspired by your writing about ballet and music. I knew then that I also wanted to do what you were doing. I wanted to write about those things, too," she said.
I stopped myself from saying anything anymore when a colleague, a magazine editor, gave me a look. He pulled me by the side and cautioned me not to say anything anymore.
"Don't spoil the moment," he told me. "She praised you for being her inspiration. You should be able to appreciate that and not belittle her feelings."
"But I never even worked with her," I told my colleague. "I was never in charge of the trainees we had because they came to the office on my day off."
"Tama na," he stressed.
I should have been the happiest person right there and then. I rarely get praised for things I do, much less things that I don't feel I did. But the realization that I was of consequence to someone's life didn't really hit me until Saturday night when I went to the silver anniversary of my high school class.
What do you do at a class reunion, but stare at your yearbook and look at old photographs of yourselves. And as you leaf through your annual, you come across the faces of people you haven't seen for years, who are not there to celebrate the moment with you.
I had a dear friend who slowly disappeared from my life when our mutual friend committed suicide just a few months before graduation. Somehow that friend who killed himself was the glue that bound the three of us. I only realized that later in life when I started accounting the friends that I have left, the people that I could count on to really shake me from sadness or simply wake me from a daydream when I needed them.
A man approached me and asked me if I was who I am. I said yes. I looked at the nametag he sported and it was vaguely familiar.
"I am the brother of…," and he mentioned the name of an old friend who has long disappeared from my life.
My friend's absence from my life, years of them to be exact, just washed over me at that instant. I took it for granted that he disappeared simply because he didn't want to be seen. In youth, we do things that we regret later in life. I always believed that I was a part of his life that he was no longer interested in remembering. It was like I was part of an old shirt that he no longer wanted and had thrown it away in the dump.
I looked at the man before me, and I looked at him really well. I asked him how his brother was.
"He's now based in New York," he said. "He has a practice as a PT. He's very busy at his clinic."
Somehow, the thought that an old friend was alive and doing well halfway around the globe was simply comforting. Even if he chose to no longer be part of my life, at that moment, I didn't really care. I was just happy at the thought that he made something of himself.
"I was hesitant to approach you because I wasn't really sure that it was you," he said. "I remember you well because of that time when you carried me during a flood."
An incredulous "I did?" was all that I could mutter.
I gave him a smile and excused myself. "You must excuse me but I have no memory of that incident. You know how it is…"
"Yes, you did!" he assured me.
I just smiled again.
"My brother's coming home on Dec. 1," he said.
It was a bit of really good news.
"Will you tell him that we are all looking for him? The whole class would like to see him again," I said. I pulled out a business card from my pocket and handed it to him. "Give him this the moment he arrives. Tell him to contact me. I would very much like to see him, too."
"Sure. Definitely," he beamed as he took his own business card from his pocket and handed it to me.
"I'll keep in touch," I told him. "I really want to see your brother."
The thought that an old friend was safe and sound that comforted me that night. But somehow the realization that I mattered to a total stranger’s life added to the moment. The memory of carrying someone through a flood escapes me now. Now that I look back at that thought, cynical me couldn't help but snicker. Did I really do that, I kept asking myself.
The day that followed was a day of mixed emotions. I was walking through the day in a haze, my mind wandering, unable to focus on a single thing. I went to Legaspi Sunday Market to take down notes and photographs for a feature assignment, but I couldn't put my mind to the task. Over at late lunch, I chatted with my old high school seatmate, another friend that I have lost touch with through the years, but I wasn't able to bring much to the conversation. He reminded me of the many things we did in school, as well as the little snide comments I would make every so often. He remembered those things about me because for him it made me different all the people he has ever met. And through coffee, I was agonizing over the fate of a model I was trying to help. Somehow, the day was full of misfires.
But when I woke up in the middle of the night, my head clear from four hours of sleep, it just hit me, this thought that I may feel inconsequential right now, but to some people I am important. It was like the universe was giving me a pat on the back to assuage me that, yes, things may not be going right just right now, but I could console myself with the thought that I had done good. A few years down the road, I wouldn't even remember this gray November day. (I just had to get that in. Such a beautiful turn of phrase that Melville coined.) But now when I feel really down, I should be able to pull myself out of any rut I'm in just knowing that I am wanted, that I made a difference in some people's life. Thoughts like that should be enough to get me through midlife crisis.