It’s the first month of a new year. And as all first months of all new years go, it’s a time when most people are most hopeful and determined. But like in more recent years, 2020 remains unpredictable, almost enigmatic. While we remain curious about its outcome, we try to stand strong as we go through it, one day at a time. And we will certainly be fighting battles—on some days we will win, and the other days will not be ours.
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Before we charge the advancing hours and minutes, let those who left us in 2019, arm us with their wisdom, in the hope that we can do better for ourselves and for everyone this 2020.
The wisdom of the greats
John Gokongwei, Jr., who passed away on November 9, was the epitome of hard work. But he also showed us how love for work is just as important as diligence. In October of 2018, Gokongwei, Jr., gave a speech in his alma matter, San Carlos University in Cebu City. He said then, “I always tell my children, my grandchildren, and my colleagues: Love your work. Work hard for it. Love your family. Love your country. Never stop learning. And always look back and be grateful to where you came from.” He also told his single grandson, to “play around,” as shared by his daughter, Robina Gokongwei Pe, when she gave her eulogy.
So, maybe, for this new year, we must learn to love our jobs—or whatever it is that allows us to put food on our table, to help our families, to pay the bills. But also, we need to learn how to decompress, and “play around”—because why bother working, if you can’t live your life.
Then there was Eddie Garcia, one of the most revered actors of his and this generation, who passed away on June 20. In 2015, Bench released a book titled Love Local,” where Garcia talked about his craft. His attitude toward it has always been pragmatic, yet sincere. And he never sounded pretentious. On the book, he was quoted as saying [in part], “I work on anything because it’s my job—I don’t choose projects, they are just given to me, because my job is to do movies and television. It’s a job, nothing highfalutin about it. And it’s something I’ll do and keep doing as long as I can do it.” There, Manoy said it: Just do your job.
While Carlos Celdran was a public figure, he enjoyed a colorful private life. When he needed to be heard, he could get your attention more than his fedora and modish garb could. The great historian, who died on October 8, was a sophisticated intellectual, yet his love for his country and countrymen took precedence over anything. His good friend Nash Tysmans once talked to ANCX about the man who made us fall in love with our history again through his “Walk this Way Intramuros Tour.” She wrote, “Always a people’s artist and a naive believer in the power of art to force us to think and be critical, he just did what he thought would made people think.” In a world drowned by the noise of different sides battling it out on TV, on social media, in the radio, may he remind us that if we are fighting for something, we fight to at least let people engage in critical thinking.
Theater icon Tony Mabesa doesn’t like doing things without thinking, too, about every detail, at least more than once. And his body of work will show that: his effortless performance is a result of a constant state of readiness. When Mabesa passed away on October 4, director Floy Quintos wrote for ANCX about his very good friend. He described Mabesa: “He also hated disorganized efforts. He wanted things and processes to be thought out clearly and executed thoroughly. But he also knew that in the hour of dread (“Hora de Peligro”), The Next Best Thing/Person/Execution would just have to do. Oh, and ‘Never, ever let the effort show,’ was one life-long lesson we all learned from him.”
On the other, more audacious, side of the spectrum is Pepe Smith, legendary guitarist who loved, well, life. The King of Pinoy Rock died on January 28, but his name will linger for as long as Pinoys still listen to music. This was a guy who knew he who was (unless if he was sozzled), and was never apologetic about it. In fact, according to an article written by Rafael A.S.G Ongpin for ANCX, Smith once told thieves who were beating him and his friends up, “Huwag mo kaming bugbugin. Si Pepe Smith ako, pare!” The thieves stopped beating them, but still took their wallets. He lived fast, and died not-so-young. He lived the “YOLO” way, decades before the word was ever invented. It might work for some of us for 2020.
Lastly, Gina Lopez, the philanthropist and founder of Bantay Batay 163 foundation, taught us that a life well-lived is a life of service. While self-care is important and must not be ignored, maybe we should learn from the former Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Care for people—and not just by sharing posts and writing on social media—but by actually doing something.
In an article Lopez wrote for Rogue in 2016, re-published by ANCX, she said, “Life is what you make of it. The experience of life is how you see it. You can see it negatively or you can see even the seeming failures as a positive opportunity to grow. If we take on this positive bent, everyone around benefits. My consistent experience in life is that as long as one commits to integrity and service, there are Divine Forces that help.”
And may the Divine Forces be with us all in 2020—we will need all of them.