Extra challenge

Or how our journey to convenience may have brought us home to a place on the brink of ‘eternal rest’

Let’s put it this way: The road to heaven is paved with challenges and, if you believe in heaven, whatever it represents, or whatever it is represented by, peace and quiet, dizzying success, fame and fortune, some sense of contentment, a life less ordinary, or life after death, you are prepared to do what it takes to get there.

Yet on earth, throughout history, we’ve tried everything there is to make things easier. Life, since we invented fire or learned to domesticate animals and cultivate the soil, has become such a journey to convenience.

Kudos to us, though. No one would have thought, at least not our hunting ancestors who would risk life and limb to have a piece of meat for lunch, that today survival would be no more challenging than taking a short walk to the elevator, down 20 floors in 20 seconds from a condominium studio to a 24-hour convenience store, to grab a cup of noodles. The rest would be as easy as 1-2-3: Just add water.

Not to say that a cup of instant noodles is comparable to meat thighs from a newly slaughtered self-hunted animal, but at least you need not risk death by fang or claw or the deadly kick of a desperate prey. If you must die of instant noodles, it will come much later in the form of a stroke or a heart attack once you collect enough sodium in your body, and MSG, as well as saturated fats and chemical preservatives, not to mention BPA that comes off the Styrofoam containers. Even then, at least you could say, ah, I’ve had such a comfortable life!

I mean, who says that? Even in this age of easy-does-it, I doubt it will be a thing to celebrate a life that’s been without a snag, not that it’s possible to have such a life, technology notwithstanding. We all like our challenges, even as we wonder: Has the one who invents shoelaces you need not tie been born? Is the one who finds a way to save us from the trouble of chewing our food now walking among us?

Maybe not in these fantastical terms, but we all do want more conveniences. We want to fly without going through airports. We want to cruise without growing through terminals. We want to ride buses, but can you cut the trip short, widen the legroom, serve Cristal please and no less, and don’t charge me way too much for it?

We like to have friends, but too much trouble, especially at a certain age, like after college, unless Mark Zuckerberg soon finds a way—or he has, come to think of it!—to allow us to skip the stage, in which we have to reveal ourselves to each other, make time for each other, be there for each other, and go straight to a solid, reliable, enriching relationship.

I know I speak for myself but if my life is without hitches I’m sure I will find a way to cause trouble just to break up the monotony, just as now that my life is full of stress, I run as far as I can, as fast as I can, as often as I can away from it all.

Don’t handicap your children by making their lives easy. ―Robert A. Heinlein

Lately, I’ve learned to accept that life is hard. Life sucks, actually, but that doesn’t mean I cannot enjoy it. In the way that, mind over matter, I’ve tricked myself into believing that by not thinking about it I can walk a block in the summer heat and look, no sweat, I’ve learned not to be bothered by things I have no control over, like 35++ degree weather in May in the Philippines or the traffic on Edsa or the mile-long lines through immigration at NAIA. On an overcrowded train from Vienna to Budapest, on which, though I bought a reserved seat, I stood by the toilets throughout the trip (this was during the early days of Europe’s migrant crisis and the train system, especially in Hungary, was a mess), I was far from stressed. Since I had no view, I read a book standing up or squatting on my suitcase.

My examples are so lame, but I guess, no matter what level of comfort you are in, you just have to roll with it. Many things in life deliver knockout punches, except that, for most of us, they leave only invisible bruises, wounds, and scars and, since these battle marks, unseen by others, are only known to us, we harbor them like secrets, sometimes allowing them to fester like a wound, spread like an infection. Thinking we can leave our broken hearts unattended, therefore unmended, we live our lives according to our traumas or what we call “lessons.”

A charmed life is an illusion, a fantasy, just like perfection. Either that or it is misdefined or misrepresented by magazine covers or movie scenes where not a hair is out of place on a windy day. Perfection is an Instagram post, where all that is “unInstagrammable” has been cropped out of the square. Yet, I won’t say Instagram is lying. It’s exactly like life. You need not see everything, not that you could, if your life depended on it.

Maybe life is charmed, period, for everybody. It doesn’t matter whether you are Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, or you are you or me or anybody—we all have our good days and our bad days and sometimes bad things lead us to good things or good things lead us to bad things. Life’s like that.

On a remote island in Romblon, there’s a beautiful house that’s lit up by a thousand citronella candles at night and, in the morning, you emerge out of a canopy bed and look out of a wide framed window onto the shimmering blue of Romblon Bay no more than 50 steps away. The mistress of the house is some kind of an enchantress, although her magic is in the way that, with the hem of her house dress in one hand and a torch in the other, she lights each of the citronella candles after dusk. It is also in the way she serves each meal in different parts of the house, such as the dining room, the patio, the beachfront, or the rooftop, using an assortment of flatware paired with a variety of flowers and linens, which makes each dish a feast for all the senses. Promptly at 6 p.m., while you are immersed in the clear blue waters, she rings the bell: Cocktail time! She serves a platter of cheese and your choice of drink—red or white wine or a rosé or a cocktail.

Alas, the only way to get there (at least back in the ’90s) is through a rickety RORO ship that is often overloaded. If you’re lucky, you could get a ticket to the airconditioned compartment, the equivalent of first class on a higher-end cruise ship, but it really is only a big room lined from side to side with rows upon rows of bunk beds and there is always a chance you will end up on the floor between the beds.

Oh but I will go through all that hassle, if only for a few bites of blue cheese and a glass of good Merlot on the shores of paradise. It’s something you have to try at least once in your life.

By the way, I’ve done it three times.