About that Wislawa Szymborska line (i.e., 27th birthday)

*November 6, 2020

A few weeks before November 6, the poem Possibilities by Wislawa Szymborska came to me like a directive: “I prefer, where love’s concerned, nonspecific anniversaries/ that can be celebrated every day […] I prefer not to ask how much longer and when./ I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility/ that existence has its own reason for being.”

2019 rendered me defenseless with all its unabated intentions to let me down: struggles with personal life and mental health; opportunities I had to give up; people I held on but I eventually lost; government clownery (but what else is new?); unhealthy pressures that kept me going against my will. I welcomed my 26th year hoping there’d be better days.

Come 2020, and we’re collectively grieving with the people wasted and the times we’ve lost because of the pandemic and its arrangements (quarantine after quarantine, remote teaching, government indecisions, greed, financial difficulties). I found it hard to take a step forward and be who I was—this confident young man with a zeal to transform communities and race against time to fulfill my aspirations. The sufferances I mentioned last year didn’t come to pass, and by the looks of it, I would have to carry them.

Then again, what if we stop counting when we’d be okay and stop resisting on the things in store for us in this cold but sustaining universe? What if we look inward and unapologetically assert our character even if the world would frown upon it? What if we forgive ourselves and treat ourselves better because self-respect would make us wish to live a day more? What if other people’s (dis)approval, prejudices, veneer, and incapacity to love you back mean nothing? What is solitude, and is it necessarily a sob story?

This year, my mode of survival is deconstructing myself in this recently deconstructed world. It is an opportunity to begin again, always indebted to the gains as well as the losses. This is me recalling Leo Tolstoy’s three answers: the only important thing is now, the only important people are the people you love now, and the only important duty is to love the people you love now.
Not that I am making light of the COVID-19 situation, but with the limited cards on my deck, it’s a quest for humility when thinking that I only have one day to complete and that I only have few things to do, few things to prove.

On my 27th birthday, I thought of doing what I can do on a daily basis, true to Wislawa Szymborska’s verse: to be ordinary.

So I did what I did yesterday. I woke up at 5:30 am to run for 10 kilometers. I walked one kilometer before crushing my calories to listen to the songs I like and appreciate the surroundings this small city offers me. I took photos of my veiny left hand with a red ink, the ducks crowding in the puddle, the horizon before the sun appears.

I went home to eat my meal and finish reading the book about Chris McCandless/Alex Supertramp. I teared up commiserating about his misadventures in the wild and being proud of the little life he had. He is no different; he finds solace in nature, he underlines striking quotes from novels, and he keeps a journal. He wrote: “HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED.” Jon Krakauer, his biographer, inserts Henry David Thoreau quotes here and there, reminding me of lessons in college I had forgotten, like his caveat of leading a life of quiet desperation, his suggestions to live a simple life and see right through nature. If people only take Walden to heart, our quarantine brains would seem to be more bearable.

I slept in exhaustion, and read few birthday messages from my friends. Too bad I cannot reply today. I woke up with The Waves by Virginia Woolf beside me, and so far, the experimental book is hard to follow. I’m still getting used to the text. I highlighted this part: “I am made and remade continually.”

Dinnertime, with Mom and Dad and Eleven the Dog scratching my legs and resting his head on my lap. Cold rice and shrimp soup. They’re sorry they have no time to organize a party. Told them I have gone shy to socialize and have gone lazy washing the dishes.

I will wake up tomorrow and do the same thing, finding beauty in the little details.

I re-read my journal entries on this day. I wrote:


I’m inclined to let it be.

The world looks so good in the morning sun.

Thank you for remembering my 27th birthday!

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