Just a few days ago, my wife and I learned about a distant relative who has just been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Of course, his close-knit family vowed to help him fight it. But the sad truth is that it is he alone who will have to go through this excruciating ordeal. No one will be able take his place and suffer the physical, mental and emotional agony and pain of someone afflicted with cancer.
As the self-publishing author and life coach Cara Alwill Leyba says: “No one is coming to save you. You must love yourself so fiercely and fully that you have no choice but to be strong for yourself.”
There’s this line in a movie I watched some time ago: “We are in the same storm, but we’re not in the same boat.”
Now in our 60s or 70s, each of us is piloting a boat that is leaking. We find ourselves facing a perfect storm of ailments, diseases and health problems that are common to people in our age bracket. Heart disease. Kidney problem. Arthritis. Diabetes. Dementia. Cancer. There’s no escape from this dreaded checklist. As one colleague puts it: Singilan na (It’s payback time).
How each of us will fare in this developing storm depends on the kind of boat we had built for ourselves in our previous years.
We can commiserate with each other, but the truth is each of us is an island, alone in his pain or struggle, for the breaking down process of the aged body is not exactly the same for everyone. It now all depends who is at the helm, the one steering the boat.
One cautionary tale is about a former officemate named J. He was already warned about his elevated vital signs, but he arrogantly scoffed at them. He still kept on smoking heavily. When well-meaning friends called him out, he said his elevated blood pressure levels were normal for him.
Then I learned he suffered a stroke. Half paralyzed, he can no longer drive, which makes it all the more agonizing for him since the love of his life are his two cars which, he used to tell us flippantly, he cares more about than his wife.
The same thing happened to P., an event producer, although more tragic. A heavy smoker and drinker, separated from his legal wife, he had another family. His skillful juggling of so many affairs finally came crashing down when he fell unconscious while directing an event and was rushed to the ER. Dead on arrival.
These are two “captains” of their own boats, who stubbornly headed towards dangerous waters, ignoring the warning signs, or the hollering voices of concerned people in nearby boats.
How do we keep our individual leaking boats afloat a little longer?
The only way is to lighten and unload the stuff we don’t need to carry anymore. Time to throw away unwanted baggage: resentments, simmering hatreds, emotional wounds without closures, neglected obligations, and so on.
What we need is quality time for ourselves now. Consider unloading so-called friends who have been hitching a ride on our respective boats for years. To be able to do that, “you have to excuse yourself from the presence of shallow and callow minded individuals,” as suggested by author and poet Michael Bassey Johnson. The great African-American educator Booker T. Washington agrees: “It is better to be alone than in bad company.”
How about our “psychological boats?” Now that we cannot go out as much as before because of an aching back, arthritic knees, failing eyesight or poor hearing, we don’t have a choice but to go in—into ourselves. Are we comfortable hanging out alone with ourselves? How’s our relationship with our family? Do we have that serenity, that peace of mind?
As the aging captain of your own boat, you need to be more self-dependent and self-trusting. You must focus on taking care of yourself instead of depending on others. Be your own helper.
Find the light inside of you. All of us have a light inside of ourselves. Our duty is to find it. Listen to the voice inside of you. Trust your intuition.
The time has come to bring to fore those boats we’ve failed to put out to sea. With the time you are still given, perhaps, you can steer your boat in the direction of your past dream or desire. You don’t need permission from anyone to live fearlessly and start living your dream.
Stop calling on others to give you a big contract or big project. Instead of waiting, create your own opportunities. Develop content for your own digital channel, write a blog, or a movie script, start a journal, do contemplative photography and share it online, write songs, paint landscapes, portraits or still lifes. How about upcycling old stuff? Give gardening a try. Why not be creative in the kitchen and put a new twist to old traditional recipes?
Shirley MacLaine, the famous actress and a spiritual seeker, said: “In the end we all know that our best friend is ourselves. We are born alone and we die alone. That’s the journey.”
At the same time, look around. Not everyone has a boat. Make sure to throw a life buoy to others when you can. While it’s true we are in separate boats, we need to stay connected to our basic humanity through our sense of compassion and empathy. When you do, you will not only become a better captain of your own life but also some others will follow.
One man. One boat. In the middle of the sea. That’s the image I have in my mind about “The Old Man and the Sea,” one of Hemingway’s most enduring works, which was made into a classic film, featuring Spencer Tracy. Its simple message is that in our aloneness, each of us must battle through struggles in life with perseverance and dignity.
We are sailing in different directions, with varying degrees of struggle. Some harder than others. I pray that all of us will go through this storm in the best way we can, our own way… “to reach our safe haven in heaven.”