by ANTONIO MELOTO
2006 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, Philippines
This new year is the beginning of my final journey home.
I am turning 73 on January 17, 2023.
I resolve to celebrate the remaining years of my life - while the mind is lucid, the eyes can see, the legs can walk and the hands can drive - creating joyfully and willfully the best legacy I can leave behind to my family, community and the generation that will come after me.
One can deliberately plan with clarity of vision and a deep sense of purpose once our compass is set on the exciting end in sight. And we can go high gear faster once we unload our baggage of bad memories, past grievances, unforgiveness, guilt and fear we've burdened ourselves with over the years that will slow us down.
God will heal the wounds of our heart and give us amnesia over painful events in our life if we desire and pray for it.
My mother lived to be a hundred years old and remained lucid and peaceful in her last 20 years remembering only the happy milestones with people she loved. It didn't matter anymore as she aged that she raised with great difficulty two severely retarded children and grieved deeply the loss of three of them to cancer at the prime of their life - the eldest son at 37, the second son at 44 - each leaving 4 young children behind. The third one was a daughter who died at 33. Her greatest pleasure in her advanced years was collecting the newspaper and magazine articles about the homeless we gave shelter to and my speeches in local and foreign universities and the numerous awards Gawad Kalinga received for the heroism of our countless volunteers and the generosity of our numerous benefactors and partners. She was proudest when I received the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2006 and enjoyed immensely my interviews with Boy Abunda and Kris Aquino.
We surround ourselves with people who sincerely care for us and those we genuinely love.
At our age, we should avoid meaningless arguments with our spouse. It's better to love than to be right. To be wise is to tame our ego and our tongue and let love rule. I have gained much freedom and peace in recent years by making it my day to day goal to make my wife happy.
We must forgive everyone, including those who have not forgiven us. Definitely, this is easier said than done. Some wounds are just too deep, the painful memories keep recurring and the anger resurfacing.
Daily Prayer, Mass and Rosary can liberate us as a slave of guilt, pride and unforgiveness. They are a source of grace for sins we commit from lapses of sanity caused by forces we did not understand or tempers we could not control.
At the heart of God's love is forgiveness. It is also the deepest expression of our love for God that we must constantly pray and strive for.
Men particularly need the company of other men to live longer. Loneliness kills the zest for life and the will to live, as the loss of virility saps the elderly men of vitality and value. Regular morning coffee and hiking among Senior men and hearty conversations over whiskey or brandy at night can give more life to our remaining years.
Women gain more freedom to enjoy life to the fullest after their child-bearing years, with less motherly chores and more time and money to travel and shop and serve in worthy causes with amigas. This is their longevity edge generally by nearly a decade over men.
This year is the beginning of my second childhood and I would like to approach it with childlike enthusiasm and awe in the company of other Seniors who want to achieve the most with the least in their timeline.
First in my bucket list is to grow the Seniors Faith Club Movement in every town in Batangas in the next 3 years.
Next is to make Paraiso Village Farm the happy home for Seniors and the premier destination for Senior tourists from all over the world. There will be barako coffee and lomi daily with music for dancing at the Seniors Sunrise Park.
Presently, there are 13 available senior-friendly Bed and Breakfast rooms and a swimming pool with hot jacuzzi amidst the rustling bamboo trees where mahjong tables and card games can be set up. Revenue raised from our Agri-tourism will help provide a better life for our elderly.
Next is to grow the Paraiso Red Barn Social Enterprise, delivering the best quality fruits, vegetables and other farm products to the plush villages in Metro Manila to raise revenue to improve the lives of our farmers and also help fund our programs and benefits to our Senior Citizens.
In line with our Kabuhayan Program, we will create a Perma Farm in Paraiso ran by Seniors and hopefully open the Paraiso Seniors Cafe along the San Jose Highway to Batangas City to offer the best delicacies made by Seniors from the different towns of the province - Taal Tapa, Tanauan sinaing na tulingan and tawilis, Cuenca biya, Ibaan lomi, Bauan caldereta, and many more.
Finally, open the Paraiso Hope Village next year with initially 20 homes for retiring corporate friends from the big city looking for a healthy and happy life as hobby farmers. We will give priority to those who are willing to support and serve our SFC Movement in Batangas.
As I write this piece, I have in my thoughts fond memories of my dear friends I lost recently - Bobby Joseph, Vic Magdaraog, Melo Villaroman, Buddy Firmacion and Tom Achacoso. May they rest in peace.
And as we thank God for the gift of long life, let us strive harder to make our world kinder, safer and happier while our time is not yet up.
I was born a slave to poverty in Bacolod City. Now I only wish in my little way as an ordinary elderly to help set free those who are captives to material and emotional poverty. And finally rest in Batangas peacefully among the white bougainvillea and lilies in the fields of Paraiso Village Farm - leaving only the best of myself to those with the least.
ANTONIO MELOTO is the founder of Gawad Kalinga, a Philippine-based poverty alleviation movement. In 2006, ANTONIO MELOTO received the Ramon Magsaysay Award, Asia's premier prize and highest honor, for "his inspiring Filipinos to believe with pride that theirs can be a nation without slums."