My family is heavy on August birthdays with two daughters and a sister wailing their waaaah on this month continuing monthly thereafter with markings until November. In our Asian tradition of wearing something new on natal day (the personal New Year, as it were), my mother always prepared a new set of clothes that would then be given to the children starting August onward.
My daughter in Hawaii sent her greetings this year with the title "the gift of life," a reverence towards a gift that others of questionable sanity seem to casually snuffed, as in the recent attempt at another bombing in Pune, the deranged drama at the Aurora moviehouse shooting, and more recently, the racially loaded deep-seated hate crime at the Wisconsin Sheik temple and the burning twice within a month of a mosque in Missouri.
St. Augustine’s original sin dogma had the consequence of many in the Christian communion growing up trying to emerge out of the handicap of perceiving birth as a lamentation in a tragedy at the Garden of Eden. I was schooled thoroughly in the objectivity of genetics and gynecology. I had repeated my mantra often enough in this page but given the tenacity of Augustine’s centuries-old life apology, I will state it again. "I am a unique, unrepeateable gift of life into human history. There has never been one like me before, and there will never be another one like me ever again." The same holds true of everyone who survive the watery world of nine months in the womb to the polluted air of the 20th century.
The science of the above statement is the truth that only one out of some 200 million sperms is chosen to fertilize a single ovum. That is a winning statistical probability by any casino odds!
In my own myth-making, image-inventing chore, an August birthday is exactly what the name of the month implies: imposing, impressive, grand, majestic, dignified, stately, noble, and eminent. And this is a matter of course. Add our free willful choices, and the incidence of our birth is truly no less than the "gift of life" of my daughter’s salutation.
Now, you may ask, what has this to do with the price of camote tops at the Subalu market? A lot! What has become clear in our life journey, the story we tell about our entry, upbringing, maturity, and inevitable demise, pretty much determines the style by which we live it. We all know the plethora of whining stories that are floating around, constantly broadcast, preached, and written about even in this page. That we do not deprive anyone the constitutional right to whine, goes without saying, but the affirmation of a treasured life is lost in the cynicism and despair of our age, left to romantic poets to extol since they sense the wonder of the chrysalis metamorphosing into a butterfly.
As former Pea Eye Solicitor General Rudy Orbiztondo was fond of saying during our student days, "Life is simply a matter of attitude!"
I don’t think he meant then, as I do not, even now, mean a cold rational assessment of our existential prospects. Recent discovery of the larger cardio-neural system of every human being, as compared to our mental (brainy) faculties, renders our processes of cognition and recognition, a function of the whole body-sensually, emotionally, and intellectually. Our hearts can be stout, really. That affirms the democratic notion that every individual’s uniqueness needs to be culturally affirmed and politically protected. Attitudes may be learned, but they require our consent, if not our conscious choice, and that is why we are insistent on the virtue of individual response-ability.
We nod to the long tradition of celebrating birthdays as the quintessential affirmation of life itself. No two people are alike. Not even twins. Therein lies the challenge of any utopian dreamer of any socialist and collectivist dream. It must, of necessity, affirm diversity asthe basis of unity, and make the preeminence of individual choice to finally prevail!
As a parent, I must confess that the urge to protect and shield offsprings from the viccissitudes of life looms large in every cultural orientation. I was blessed with parents who made it clear when I was old enough to understand that "we want you to be an extension of our personality, and therefore, your choice will be our choice."
My parenting style followed the same pattern and showed when my second daughter wanted to learn how to swim in a public swimming pool in Guam. I threw her into the pool. Of course, I was ready to jump after her, should her flailing fail to revive her instinct of having survived watery existence for nine months. It didn’t. She survived and learned to swim in great style.
Liu Xiang, the tendon-challenged 2004 Olympics gold medal hurdler of China, withdrew in the Beijing 2008 after a false start, and came back with a vengeance since. In his heat in London, the hurt showed when he stumbled in his first hurdle, but instead of bemoaning his ailment, he turned around on his way to the lockers and skipped with his remaining foot while a wheel chair trailed, kissing the last hurdle and joining the first finisher of the heat at the end of the course. Born in July ’83, he just turned 29. We make the champion an honorary August celebrant!
Birthdays. Everyone has one. It is a time to reflect on one’s life journey, and the story one lives to tell about it.