Titas of Manila on figuring out life and the elusive pursuit of happiness
“Use oral contraceptives and condoms,” my Tita Marisa, an OB-GYN doctor turning 60 in two weeks, candidly tells me when I ask her for general life advice for 20-somethings. I burst out laughing, but for someone who has made a living out of delivering babies—some for very young mothers—her statement made absolute sense.
It was the first time in two years that my extended family and I gathered together in the pandemic, now that we’re all fully vaccinated, and I was adamant to pick their brains on life advice they would give to millennials and Gen Zs trying to navigate through life. Having weathered an economic recession, multiple job transfers, the loss of a parent and a child, and now a pandemic, I knew my mother and her sisters were the best people to ask.
“Huwag masyadong seryosohin ‘yung mag bagay na prinoproblema mo, hindi naman kasi nangyayari (Don’t take your problems too seriously, they don’t even end up happening). What you worry about most of the time doesn’t happen,” shares my Tita, the professional health worker. She adds, “Nung nag-asawa na ako, ang dami-dami kong concerns about how to raise [my] kids, how to juggle being a mother and wife, kaya parang and dami kong worries about things na hindi naman pala importante (When I got married, I had many concerns about how to raise [my] kids, how to juggle being a mother and wife, and I worried about things that aren’t important). If I could go back and know what I know now…[it would have] saved me the trouble, the arte (conceit) and the arguments.”
Tita Marisa goes on to narrate about life in her 20s and what happiness at the time meant to her, all while expertly multitasking and making us hot chocolate. She shares, “That was how my life was like, I did everything by the book; I studied, I finished residency, I made sure I was in residency before I got married. Pero meron namang iba ‘yung buhay nila and masaya rin naman sila (There are others who end up living differently and they end up being happy.) In the end, it’s not just material things or success in your career [that makes you happy]. It’s really up to you to know what makes you happy.”
For my mother, Ruby, a newly retired tax lawyer who nurtured three rowdy children in her 20s—and ended up applying for law school in her early 30s—happiness in her 20s meant “getting enough sleep because, in my 20s, I had three babies.” If she could give her 20-something self some advice, she would tell her not to get married early. She shares, “‘Wag muna mag-asawa ng maaga (Don’t get married early.) I got married at age 23 so I could have waited a few more years. Baby pa’ko nun, wala akong kaalam-alam (I was a baby, I didn’t know anything.) Everything—financial, someone to help you care for the children—kanya-kanya (you’re on your own.)”
These unprecedented challenges as a young mother and whatever else life threw her way had their own advantages. Mama shares, “Pero ako, ang tingin ko, lahat ng mga ‘yan, we became stronger because of all of these hardships (For me, we became stronger because of all of these hardships). Tsaka parang generous ka kapag pinagdaanan mo ‘yung difficulties because you can empathize with what the people are going through (And you become more generous when you go through difficulties because you can empathize with what the people are going through). Naiintindihan mo sila, so gusto mong tumulong (You understand them, so you want to help.)”
Like an all-knowing, omniscient fortune cookie from Panda Express, my mother adds, “What won’t kill you will make you stronger. Everybody has to go through difficulties and challenges, and you just have to face them and learn from them; and even if you fail, you learn something from it.”
The ongoing pandemic has undoubtedly changed people’s priorities, especially for my Tita Edith, a small business owner and the oldest among five sisters. After weathering harrowing losses in her life and now a pandemic, she looks for happiness beyond the material. She notes,“Kahit gaano ka karaming properties, isang idlap lang pwede kang mamatay dahil sa COVID (No matter how many properties you own, in an instant, you can die because of COVID). You should prepare for the worst, but enjoy your life, and live simply.”
She adds, “Syempre material ang iniisip mo kapag bata ka ‘di ba? Kaya nga dapat ayusin mo ‘yung priorities mo para makita mo talaga kung ano dapat i-aim for (Of course you look for material wealth when you’re young, but in time, you change your priorities and what you aim for).”
For these women who have lived such full, colorful lives, many lessons can only be learned through experience. Don’t worry if nothing makes sense at this point, you have the rest of your life to have it figured out.
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver