this story originally appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on november 6, 2007.

I DIED SEVERAL YEARS AGO. I DIED DREAMING. IT happened a few years after college.

During my undergraduate years, I used to dream a lot, literally and figuratively. Dream, believe, survive—that kind of thing. I used to find R. Kelly’s song cute, romantic, inspiring, uplifting, enervating (ugh): “I believe I can fly, I believe I can soar.” I sincerely thought that if I was good and got good grades, and had great dreams, life would be easy. I would soar above the clouds in happiness, peace and contentment. I just had to be good, be nice, work hard and try to please others as best as I could.

Add to all that crap Eric Clapton’s “I can change the world.” Easy, the world was at my fingertips. I thought I was special, that I was destined for greatness. The future looked rosy and bright. In my heart of hearts, I nurtured grand dreams and good intentions.
But then I suffered a severe heart attack! And so, I died. The dreamer died. Thank goodness. I should have died sooner.

What triggered the heart attack? The mind-numbing drudgery of routine, the work, the rent, the bills, hundreds of students every semester, the salary, graduate school, the traffic, pollution, global warming, the pressure to marry and have children, the pressure to make more money, all-too-familiar telenovela plots, all the neighborhood videoke noise, the endless honking of jeepneys, our circus-like politics. I realized I was on planet earth, not up in the clouds. My heart just couldn’t take it, and so the dreamer died a natural death.
Seriously, it can be very painful to be stripped of one’s illusions and see life as it really is: that it can be unkind, even ruthless, especially to those who are “half-asleep,” “half-conscious,” to the lazy dreamers or hopeless romantics, or to those who are perennially young and idealistic, or childish, like me. If one is caught unprepared, the realities of life can be overwhelming, if not disappointing.

The earlier we rise from our deep slumber of dreaming, fantasizing and other forms of escape (how many of us simply hunker down to the routine of game shows and telenovelas, Hollywood movies, malls, Internet and, of course, alcohol?), the earlier we can redeem our lost souls.

And yet, I tell myself, the earlier we see this, the better, for we get more time to prepare for it. We have more time to work up the courage to confront it, face it, and stare at it boldly in the face. We may make mistakes along the way (and you bet, I was scared to make mistakes), but at least it may also mean we are learning life’s important lessons earlier in the game. The earlier we rise from our deep slumber of dreaming, fantasizing and other forms of escape (how many of us simply hunker down to the routine of game shows and telenovelas, Hollywood movies, malls, Internet and, of course, alcohol?), the earlier we can redeem our lost souls.

Thoreau once observed how “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” This is the mass of lost souls, and I was one of them. Many of us pray for the souls of our dead loved ones, and yet so very few take a pause and think about the lost souls among the living. I don’t mean the criminals or the crooks. I mean us, the average guy like you and me who died long ago in the hustle and bustle of life, in the middle of traffic, after a grueling job interview, after failing some major exam, after a failed relationship, after being spurned by a lover or a spouse for another partner overseas, or after having to stop going to school to attend chemotherapy sessions, or after losing a job, after marrying some girl one got pregnant but whom one doesn’t really love or marrying some guy with a US visa but whom one doesn’t really love, or after realizing that one is doomed to hold on to a job one had never imagined seeking, or getting lost in the pile of credit cards and cell-phone bills, or in a career dead end, or—simply finding that life is so unfair (sounds familiar?).

With our fantasy world shattered, our lost souls start to wander around aimlessly, blaming the government for not making things happen for us, blaming grandparents for not being filthy rich (so we don’t have to find a job), blaming our parents for not passing on to us high IQs or land titles and fat bank accounts, or blaming our religion or our neighbors’ religion for the typhoon and terrorist attacks, or blaming some embassy for not giving us the visa we desperately need, or blaming our skin color for the attention we do not get—the litany of excuses and defenses can go on endlessly. And instead of getting a grip on our lives, we sedate ourselves with regular noontime shows, with the latest bestseller, or with the idea that we have hundreds(!) of caring friends, thanks to our friendster accounts, or with videoke sessions, shopping sprees, etc. Well, sedatives can be very expensive.

So, I would rather die. The dreamer and her illusions have to go, the lost soul must rest in peace, so that I can start the real business of living—traffic jam, oil price hikes and all. Not a bad move, I guess, to take life one day at a time, to slowly carve a niche in the world of honest work, to stop and smell the flowers every now and then, and to hope that peace of mind, of a mind awake and conscious, might not be elusive after all. Who knows, but in time my heart will sing again, videoke-style, not Eric Clapton’s but Frank Sinatra’s “I did it my way”—hopefully, with just a few regrets to mention.

Meanwhile, I say, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” As Robert Herrick would advise, let us make much of our time, for “this same flower that smiles to-day, to-morrow will be dying.” 

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