This article was originally published on January 28, 2018 in the Dumaguete Metro Post in Michael O’Riordan’s column Outside Looking In.

Shortly before I came to live in Negros Oriental, I read an expat’s blog where he advised foreigners to behave themselves because Dumaguete is a small town where gossip, both good and bad, travels fast. I was reminded of this last Saturday when, within a span of 30 minutes, I met four people who knew me.

I was sitting having coffee and delicious pastries in Sans Rival when in walked Faisal Alih, provost at the University where I teach. Shortly after that, I was walking along Rizal Boulevard when I literally bumped into two former students. I then went to Robinson’s before going home, and who did I meet at the checkout counter but Alex Pal, publisher of the MetroPost. Fortunately, I wasn’t misbehaving on any of these occasions.

I’m deeply grateful for so much. One aspect is that my painful arthritis is almost gone because of Indian herbal treatments, and the expert guidance of Vaidya Priyanka, a non-western Ayurvedic doctor. By March, I’ll be able to start running again. The medium-term goal is to complete a half-marathon by mid-year, then a full marathon, hopefully in Ireland, before I begin my trans-Atlantic sailing adventure from Spain to South America. That’s a lot for which to be thankful.

Continuing with the gratitude theme, I happily walked down the mountain yesterday to Valencia proper. It’s approximately seven kilometers. The moment I walked out onto what is optimistically called a road, a thick mist crept over the valley, followed soon after by blasts of powerful rainfall. I walked carefully down, all the while enjoying the mood, scents, and sounds that permeated the atmosphere.

From houses set back from the roads, I heard adults engaged in loud, animated conversation. This delight was added to by listening to children laughing and seeing them innocently playing. Singing from enthusiastic but often out-of-tune voices fueled by San Miguel beer floated through the trees. This combination of life scenes and a gentle breeze on my face made for moments of consciousness alerting me to the fact I was truly living in the Now. My spirit smiled inside as I floated on my downward journey.

The inevitable dogs are everywhere. They fall into two distinct classes. There are those with collars, signifying ownership laying lazily motionless in the middle of the road, refusing to move under any circumstances, while claiming righteous ownership of the road and mountain. But then there’s the majority, the unloved, emaciated ones, many heavily pregnant, all sad examples of the unwanted, barking loudly at me in the hope of impressing a potential master who might take notice of their warning value.

After turning one corner, I came across a group of children, aged perhaps four to eight. They were playing a game of what we used to call pop-scotch when I was a child. Over half a century later, and 12,00 kilometers away from Ireland, these children were playing exactly the same game I’d played.

Yet again, I was reminded, as I constantly am in my travels, that there is a common thread binding all humanity. We are interconnected both literally and figuratively. We are composed of one body. Sadly, we forget that politics, racial arrogance, and an evil sense of social superiority combine to overshadow our commonality, our basic humanity.

Sadly, it is us adults who are responsible for this madness. We teach children to hate others. Left alone, children are capable only of love. But then we corrupt them and they eventually become us.

An hour and a half after leaving my home, I arrived in Valencia proper and went into Naspri for a well-deserved cappuccino and copious amounts of water. Of course, the fierce rain stopped the moment I stepped inside and didn’t return until later when I was heading back up the mountain.

I felt gratitude for being able to complete that walk with no side effects. If anyone was to ask me what my mantra is for having a happy life, my suggestion would be to recommend experiencing on a daily basis gratitude, then gratitude, then more gratitude.

I’m perennially grateful for what I have, rather than what I don’t have. I’ve seen so many sad situations where people wait to set themselves free because of their perceived need to gather more money or are afraid of a financial meltdown, or would never live in a place like the Philippines because of a concern about access to high-quality health care. I could provide several other examples, but you already understand the point I’m making.

At age 67, I decided to start a new life in Southeast Asia mainly because several people I cared for, and some I loved, died prematurely. I became acutely conscious of the precarious nature of existence, the harsh reality that life circumstances can change in the flicker of an eyelid.

That’s precisely what happened last week when my son Brian, 37 years young, contacted me. Years ago while working for my company in Brazil, he met and fell in love with Cindi, a girl from Rio, magnificent, highly-intelligent, beautiful inside and out. She returned his love. They married and moved to Ireland where they have happily lived for the past 10 years. Loving Cindi was the best experience that ever happened to Brian. His early life was challenging mainly because of my selfishness and irresponsibility. With Cindi, my son Brian found a wonderful life partner. Brian had been a wild man but Cindi cast an Amazonian spell and tamed him. He literally worships the ground she walks on. But Cindi will soon either be dead or, at best, cursed with poor health. At age 39, she was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer.

By the time you read this column, Cindi will have had an operation to remove several tumors. She may, or may not, survive the operation. Perhaps it’s best she does not. I’ve never believed life is fair, but this inequity takes it to a realm that is beyond perverse. So if you contact me, please refrain from any well-intentioned offers of prayers or references to God’s will for her, or her “going to a better place.” If you were to offer those pious platitudes to my heartbroken son, you would be well advised to stand far back before he has time to react.


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