January 02, 2009

The audacity of hope*

THE second day of the New Year and I’m in a virtual coma. Too much food, too much to drink, and too many yappy relatives. You can understand why my brain is half-functioning today.

I could bore you with the details of my family’s Christmas Eve celebration (basically, it was eating, opening gifts, eating, drinking, more opening of presents, eating again, then sleep, only to be repeated the next day), or I could make up my New Year’s resolutions (stop eating pork, go to yoga class three times a week, walk more, read more books, less computer time, etc. etc. etc.). But what would that accomplish?

Mercifully, I read a news story about Filipinos feeling more hopeful for 2009. According to the latest survey from the Social Weather Stations, 92 percent of its respondents said they would be welcoming the New Year “with hope”, while only 8 percent said they would be entering 2009 “with fear.” Of course, we’re only talking about 1,500 respondents here, mostly living in Metro Manila, thus hardly a representative sampling of us 76 million Filipinos.

Still, I tend to believe the results. Sure the entire economy is pretty much in the dumps, no thanks to the presidentita, and her continued machinations to extend her term beyond 2010. But Filipinos are very much the contrapelo in any situation; even in tragedy, we smile our sadness away. Beaten down by economic and political burdens, we still crack jokes and laugh. When the stacks are all against us, we will try to find some way to be more optimistic.

I suppose we have no choice; we need to trust that our desperate lives or any negative situation will turn around, or we would all fling ourselves off the San Juanico bridge. The alternative is just too depressing to even think about.

Being mostly Roman Catholics and believing in some Higher Power who listens to our prayers and pleas for succor and comfort also help us banish whatever gloom threatens to engulf our being, especially during the critical days of Christmas. I know for a fact that many people who normally don’t go to Sunday Mass usually go to Church for midnight Christmas Eve Mass, ardently praying for more blessings in the New Year. (“Lord, I need a better job. Lord, I need more money to be able to buy food for the kids. Lord, I need you to inspire my son to study harder. Lord, I need you to make my husband stop fooling around. Etc. etc. etc.”)

And then my cynicism surfaces and I think, maybe it’s because we’re so used to being at the bottom of the barrel, that we think there is no way but to reach up and out. Consider rich countries like Germany, whose own “hope” survey results were also published by the SWS on its web site. Compared to most Filipinos, Germans seem to be extremely fearful of their future. Every year from 2001 to 2007, their survey showed 50 percent or less of German citizens entering a new year with hope. (There were no results yet for 2008 entering 2009.) In contrast, Filipinos were very much above 80 percent on the “hope” meter every same year.

If you’re used to being on top, being rich, and powerful, and then you lose all your money because of a mistaken investment, how hopeful would you feel about the New Year? Already, there have been reports of a couple of suicides from the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the U.S. and the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme.

Perhaps it is all a matter of trying to readjust one’s attitude as well, and finding out one’s priorities. If it’s money that moves you, having it will give you a perpetual high and makes you want more. Losing it, will push you off the edge. But you and I know (though we do sometimes forget especially when confronted by the latest Prada bag in the shop window) that there are more important things in life than money – like family, moral values, and spirituality.

So whatever ill or mean thing which may have happened to us in 2008, or no matter how disgusted we are with how our country has plummeted to the dark abyss of nothingness, we’re still here, alive. We have our good health, a roof over our heads, and are still able to eat three square meals a day.

Personally, I felt extremely blessed that during Christmas, my entire family was together despite earlier events in the year pointing to what could have been a tragic disunity amongst us. And I prayed hard every day that all the hurts and pain amongst the family members would be healed. With that prayer answered, how can I not feel anything but even more hopeful of what the New Year would bring? How audacious is that?

Most of you readers also realize that like me, our families are still better off financially than 70 percent of our kababayan, so how dare we be depressed or sad or fearful for 2009? We should in fact give thanks that He has not forgotten us, and that even though we sometimes think we don’t deserve it, we continue to get the good stuff from Him.

Of course, in the same breath, we should maybe pray some more for those less fortunate than us – like those who were not able to be with their families last Christmas, for our kababayan abroad who have lost their jobs because of this global economic crisis, and especially for those who are in poor health, that their situation will turn around in the New Year.

I don’t mean to sound preachy, but really, we have so many things to be thankful for. List ‘em down. 2008 may have been awful year for a number of us, but hey, we’re still standing! Who was it who said: “What does not kill us makes us stronger”?

And I firmly believe that 2009 will turn out just splendid. For one, it’s a year before the next presidential elections, and we have the power to change our country’s direction. So that is something to look forward to. (Register to vote people!)

So in the same joyous spirit and ebullient words of a good buddy of mine, I wish you all a Happy New Year. Let’s rock and roll, baby!

(*With apologies to the U.S. president-elect. Photo from www.5pie.net. Btw, this piece would have been my column for today in BusinessMirror, but someone decided to close shop earlier than usual. That's the New Year for you. Something Like Life is usually published every Friday in the BusinessMirror, unless someone throws a fit. As you can very tell, "stop being bitchy" isn't part of my New Year's resolutions.)

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